An attempt by the Railways to put a stop to what it believes are dubious compensation claims by train accident victims was Tuesday stalled by a parliamentary panel, which questioned the national transporter’s motive behind such a move.
The Railways had moved an amendment to the Railways Act so that it could deny compensation to victims who fell off a moving train, if it was found that the fall was because of their own fault or negligence. In effect, the Railways had implied that a large number of compensation claims were bogus, doctored or fraudulent. It also sought to shift the burden of proof on the injured passenger or kin of the deceased, who would be required to prove that the commuter had taken due care to prevent the incident.
Calling the justification by the Railways “illogical” and a “narrow interpretation” of the law, the Standing Committee on Railways under TMC MP Dinesh Trivedi said it is “perturbed by several aspects of the Bill, which can adversely affect the victims of untoward incident/accidental falling and prevent them from getting any compensation from the service provider, that is, the Indian Railways”.
While pushing for the amendment, the Railways has maintained that a large number of passengers fall off trains due to “wilful carelessness, negligence and known misadventure and attempt to entrain or detrain”, but due to omissions in the Act, they are able to get compensation on the basis of technical pleas. “In a few such cases, it is also noticed that the claims are preferred even when the dead body of the person involved is lying near the railway track and is in no way related to ‘accidental falling’,” the Railways had said — a submission that the committee found hard to believe.
Notably, BJP MP Kirit Somaiya had deposed before the Committee against the Bill’s proposals.
Compensation claims because of accidental falling have been bleeding the government’s coffers. As per data provided to the committee, in four years since 2008-09, 24,442 people died and 5,527 were injured due to “accidental falling”. The compensation for this amounted to Rs 535.70 crore. In one year, 2010-11, that amount shot up to Rs 164 crore, whereas in 1994-95, it was just Rs 26 lakh. As per the law, the compensation amount ranges between Rs 32,000 and Rs 4 lakh per victim.
The Standing Committee, instead, recommended that the Railways should install systems that prevent accidental falling. It also called for increasing the compensation amount.
As the Bill goes back without finding favour with the Standing Committee, senior Railway Ministry officials said it would be difficult to get it through the Lok Sabha, especially in light of the fact that several BJP and Shiv Sena members are opposed to its provisions.