It must have happened to many of us – you missed a flight because your train was late. And you couldn’t question the Indian Railways, a behemoth stretching more than 1.2 lakh kilometres.
But the Supreme Court (SC) has now noted that there is a need to fix accountability.
In a ruling that will be music to the ears of the common man so used to arriving hours late to his destination, the SC has hauled up the Indian Railways for delay in service and ordered it to compensate aggrieved passengers.
One such man missed his flight because the Ajmer-Jammu Express he was travelling in reached its destination four hours late, just when the Jammu-Srinagar flight he was supposed to be on was taking off.
A bench of Justices M.R. Shah and Aniruddha Bose has ordered the Railways to pay a compensation of Rs 30,000 to the man and his family, dismissing the Additional Solicitor General’s argument that the Indian Railways was not liable to pay compensation for train delays.
The bench noted that passengers’ time was precious. “If the public transportation has to survive and compete with private players, they have to improve the system and their work culture. Citizen/passenger cannot be at the mercy of the authorities,” the judges said in their unprecedented order.
The court ordered that if the Railways cannot explain why a train reached late, it would have to pay compensation if the aggrieved party complains in writing to the consumer forum.
In this case of 2016, the man had complained to the Alwar district consumer forum, which ordered reimbursement of the travel and lodging fares that the man incurred after missing his flight, and also Rs 5,000 extra for the mental anguish and inconvenience he suffered, as also litigation expenses.
The order was later upheld by the State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission and the National Commission, after which the Railways approached the SC.
The Railways, having one of the world’s largest networks, consider a train delayed if it arrives more than 15 minutes beyond its scheduled time. The rail ministry has earlier explained in Parliament that trains are delayed because of not just internal but also external factors beyond its control, including asset failures, infrastructural issues, increase in passenger and freight traffic, weather and law and order problems.
While the situation has improved in the recent past – as Rail Minister Piyush Goel declared on Twitter this July 1 that the Indian Railways “had achieved 100 per cent punctuality” – a major reason for better performance was curtailment of train schedule because of the Covid pandemic.