Thirty-six victims of last year’s stampede at the foot-overbridge of Elphinstone railway station in Mumbai were awarded compensation from Railway Claims Tribunal (RCT) on Tuesday after the Railways refused to contest their claims in a departure from norm.
Following directions from Railway Minister Piyush Goyal, the Railway Board on February 28 had decided that Western Railway will not contest the claim at the Tribunal on humanitarian grounds, even though legally stampede does not qualify for compensation from the transporter under the Railway Claims Tribunal Act, 1987.
The matter was discussed and accordingly it was decided to treat this as a one-time gesture. The development also took place without the involvement of lawyers, completed in less than six months since the stampede on September 29 last year — unlike a few years the process normally takes.
“Railways do not admit to any legal liability, and this decision may not be treated as a precedent for other such cases,” according to the Railway Board’s February 28 letter to the Western Railway. “Minister, Railways and Coal, has decided that as a special case on humanitarian grounds, Western Railway may not contest these claims before RCTs,” it said.
On Tuesday, the Mumbai bench of RCT awarded the next of kin of 17 dead Rs 8 lakh each; 19 others got money proportionate to their injuries. Those with simple injuries got around Rs 25,000 each, and people who were seriously injured got more. This is over and above the ex-gratia payment of Rs 5 lakh each already given to the family of the deceased.
The number of claims is actually 39 — 18 dead and 21 injured — but three cases (one death, two injuries) could not be awarded Tuesday due to technical reasons such as unavailability of documents. The amounts will be settled later.
Railways always contests claims in stampede cases because as per the Act governing the Tribunal, only victims of “untoward incidents” in railway premises are eligible for damages. The definition of untoward incidents does not contain stampede.
A terror act under Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, 1987, or a violent attack, robbery or dacoity; or indulging in rioting, shootout or arson in railway premises and accidental falling off from a moving train are termed “untoward incident”. Stampede is not covered in it.