The Delhi High Court recently suggested formulation of a "Litigation Policy" by the Railways to address tortuous claims of compensation filed against it.
Directing a copy of the order to be sent to the Ministry of Railways, Justice Pratibha M. Singh suggested, "The Railways ought to adopt a `Litigation policy’ to deal with cases when tortuous claims for compensation are filed against them. In such cases, compulsory pre-litigation mediation can also be explored to bring about an early settlement. Such a step would reduce the costs for the Railways as also reduce the number of cases filed, and finally ensure timely and efficient payment of compensation."
The Petition concerned a train accident that had occurred three decades ago at the Muzaffarnagar station, resulting in one Mr. Tilak Raj Singh being injured and one of his legs being amputated.
Mr. Singh had then approached the District Court at Meerut in 1990. His suit was, however, returned 12 years later in 2002 for want of jurisdiction. Thereafter, he approached the Railways Claims Tribunal, which also dismissed his Petition holding that the case was to be tried by a Civil Court as the incident had taken place after the enactment of the Railways Act, 1989.
To Mr. Singh's dismay, the Civil Court refused to accept the case opining that the Tribunal was not competent to transfer it. With another round of litigation and appeal before the Delhi High Court, the District and Sessions Judge finally decreed a sum of Rs. 6.6 lakhs to Mr. Singh. This had now been challenged by the Centre before the High Court.
As regards the fastening of liability on the Railways, the High Court now observed that it was negligent not just during the incident, but also after it, by not providing the necessary medical attention to Mr. Singh. It opined, "Thus, there is no doubt whatsoever that the Railways are liable for breach of duty as also thereafter for not providing the standard of care required. The immediate first aid was also not provided to the Plaintiff and it led to the loss of blood and an injury which was life-threatening."
Thereafter, the Court noted that since the Railways Act had not come into force when the incident took place, the quantum of compensation had to be assessed on general principles of torts.
It then enhanced the compensation awarded to him to Rs. 9 lakhs along with simple interest at the rate of 8% for the entire period from filing of the suit before the District Judge Meerut till the date of decree. The amount was directed to be paid within eight weeks, failing which the interest on the decretal amount would be increased to 12% till date of payment.
As a parting note, the Court noted that Mr. Singh was left entangled in a technical objection of jurisdiction for a long time before finally being awarded compensation, and opined that the entire purpose of granting compensation gets defeated with such delay. It in fact noted that the Railways continued to take technical objections, leading to Singh's suit being rejected and his petition before the Tribunal being dismissed.
It then observed, "An organization such as the Railways which is located across the length and breadth of this country ought not to delay cases of compensation in this manner. The whole purpose of granting compensation is defeated if the amounts do not become available to the victim."