The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Long wait for rail damages

First the wait for news, then the wait for the body bags and the bleeding, and finally, the wait for compensation. For those injured in Monday’s Rajdhani Express mishap and the next-of-kin of those who took the 2301 Up to their death, the wait — when they line up to claim compensation before the Railway Claims Tribunal (RCT) — could be very long. For, the claimant queue at the tribunal runs into thousands.

To put it in figures, the Calcutta bench of the RCT has around 5,500 pending cases, say officials. The bench is now functioning at half-strength, with three posts of the six-member bench lying vacant. In October, one member is set to retire. The six tribunal posts comprise three judicial members, two technical members and one vice-chairman, with the chairman functioning from Delhi.

But the sole judicial member in the tribunal is B.D.S. Shrivastava, and the two technical members are R.N. Bhattacharya and K.K. Chakraborty.

The tribunal needs a two-bench quorum (one of them has to be a judicial member and the other from the technical side) while dealing with claims worth more than Rs 1 lakh. “In the Rajdhani mishap, it’s obvious that most cases will fall into the Rs 1 lakh-plus category,” said an RCT official in Calcutta, admitting that they would face an “impossible situation” in October, when most cases come up.

“Either the government has to fill up the vacancies immediately or depute members of tribunals of some other states,” an official said. The first option appears unlikely, considering that the three posts have been lying vacant for quite a while.

“Given our experience, the second option is more likely,” he added, citing the example of the hearings of the Gaisal train tragedy claims in 1999, when the then tribunal chairman would come down from Delhi once a month.

Many of the 5,500-odd cases pending before the Calcutta bench do not belong to the “urgent” category, involving “destruction of consignments or delay in sending perishable goods”.

These can be pushed back for the Rajdhani claims by the tribunal that now hears cases from Monday to Friday. But it will be a while before the Rafiganj tragedy rail actually reaches the Calcutta bench. According to rules, the application for compensation must be filed (in triplicate) in the tribunal where an accident occurs — in this case, the Patna bench.

As a large number of passengers are from Bengal, rules allow them to apply — to Delhi — for a transfer of their cases from the Patna to the Calcutta bench, which will then despatch notices, informing applicants about the date of hearing. Applicants can appear in person or appoint an advocate, say officials.

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