Calcutta, July 3: If what happened to Bhaichung Bhutia, who lost a bag in train, happens to you, the Indian Railways can be made to pay for the loss and the “mental agony”.
The apex court for consumers in the country — the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission — has asked the railway to compensate for a woman’s lost jewellery. In the first-of-its-kind verdict, it has also awarded her Rs 10,000 more for the trauma she suffered because of the absence of any assistance from the railway authorities when she reported the loss.
Consumer protection activists and lawyers in the city have hailed the ruling. “The apex consumer court’s verdict is likely to open a floodgate of similar complaints,” said Consumers’ Unity and Guidance Forum spokesperson Anjan Dutta.
“Most people do not know that they can get compensation in such cases as conventional wisdom suggests that law and order problems constitute a state subject,” he added.
The case did the rounds in three courts before M. Kanthimathi (the complainant) got her dues. According to the complaint, she was travelling from Chennai to Delhi with her husband a couple of years ago when a group of armed men entered the (reserved) compartment and snatched away the gold necklace she was wearing.
Kanthimathi also alleged that little help was forthcoming when she lodged a complaint with the railway authorities.
The case finally came up before the national commission in Delhi. Chaired by president Justice D.P. Wadhwa, the panel directed the railway to pay Rs 15,840 (the estimated value of the jewellery snatched) and Rs 10,000 “as compensation for the mental agony and hardship suffered by the complainant”. The railway was also ordered top bear Kanthimathi’s legal costs and sleeping-berth charges.
The railway argument that the couple should have been capable of verifying the identity of the robbers (whether they were bona fide passengers or not) did not cut much ice with the court. “We think it is too much to expect passengers to perform this duty,” the commission said.
Taking a dim view of the fact that nothing was done to prevent the entry of unauthorised persons into a reserved compartment and very little assistance was offered to complainants, the commission said the jewellery could be termed as “luggage” in transit by rail.
“This verdict scores a lot of firsts,” Consumer Lawyers’ Association spokesperson Prabir Basu said. “The most important is that passengers, for the first time, have been told categorically that the loss of the jewellery they wear during travel is liable to be compensated.”
Without referring to any particular case, chief security commissioner of Eastern Railway B. Pasha said the court could have been guided by allegations of negligence. “Maintaining law and order is the state government’s headache and the various arms of the railways, whose primary duty is to protect railway property, are there to coordinate with Government Railway Police about passenger security,” he added.