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Court clears air on rail mishap damages

New Delhi, May 5: The Supreme Court today ruled that the Railway Accident Claims Tribunal and courts could not “lower the amount of compensation” prescribed in the tribunal rules.

A division bench of Justices S.N. Variava and B.N. Agrawal said in an order dated April 25: “We cannot agree with the view of the Claims Tribunal and the (Punjab and Haryana) high court that courts have the discretion to prescribe a lower amount of compensation.”

The order is likely to impact ongoing accident claim cases and set a precedent. The bench ordered the tribunal to pay the full compensation of Rs 4 lakh to an accident victim. In this case, the tribunal had settled on an amount of Rs 1,84,000 instead of Rs 4 lakh as prescribed under the Railway Accident Claims Rules. The victim’s petition was dismissed by the Punjab and Haryana High Court.

Appearing for the petitioner, counsel Parthapratim Chaudhuri said Rs 4 lakh had been prescribed for railway accident deaths and a smaller amount for the injured. But if an injured subsequently died, the full Rs 4 lakh should become payable, from which the amount already paid for injuries should be deducted, he said.

In this case, the victim sustained injuries and was paid Rs 1,84,000. But as he died of his injuries later, he should be paid the remainder of the Rs 4 lakh, Chaudhuri argued. He said it was clear from the “specific words” used in Rule 3(1) for compensation that courts or tribunals could not reduce the amount.

Accepting this, the apex court said the tribunal or courts did not have “a discretion to prescribe lower amount of compensation”. It also ordered that the appellant was entitled to 9 per cent interest for the period of non-payment of the compensation amount and said this should be paid within three months.

Rule 3(1) says: “Where compensation has been paid for any injury which is less than the amount which would have been payable as compensation if the injured person had subsequently died ..., a further compensation equal to the difference between the amount payable for death and the already paid shall become payable”.

The Supreme Court said this rule could not be altered.

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