Madhya Pradesh High Court: Atul Sreedharan, J., requested Indian Railways to re-prioritize the berth allotment by giving the highest priority to pregnant women, then to senior citizens and thereafter to VVIPs.
Public Interest Litigation
A PIL was registered suo-motu by Court with regard to certain measures regarding railway journeys in the public interest.
PIL transpires from an event wherein, a train journey was undertaken by a Judge of this Court while travelling from Gwalior to Jabalpur on an official visit.
When the train reached the Katni-Murwara station, the Judge got off the train for a cup of tea and suddenly, the train started pulling out from the platform without blowing its horn. The Judge was put to great inconvenience and the accompanying hazard of boarding the running train.
In view of the above incident, few suggestions were made by the Judge with the intent of ensuring a comfortable journey for passengers.
Following are the three suggestions put forth by the Judge:
- “It would be in the interest of the public at large that some light signal/sound be fixed on each bogie enabling the passengers outside the train to be alert prior to departure of train with a view to avoid mis-happening/accident.
- If the website/app is updated by displaying the position of the seats/berths to be allotted at the time of making reservation, that would be more convenient and suitable for the public in general.
- The size/number of doors of the bogies should be increased or in the alternative, duration of stoppage of the trains should be increased from two minute to at least five minute, to make the people smooth and easy while boarding of getting off the train.”
Respondent in view of the above-made suggestions stated that, as regard the first suggestion, the train does not move without at least two whistles and without a display of the green/amber signal on the platform in front of each train. Further instructions have been issued to the staff concerned that greater caution and care should be taken to ensure that the horn of the engine is loud and audible.
Adding to the above, it was stated that the modification of the coach requires a policy decision and design approval affecting thousands of trains all over the country and that it would not be possible to switch over to a new system of signalling overnight or even over months.
With regard to the second suggestion made, respondent stated that though berths which are vacant for allotment are not displayed on the official website of the railways, a comparison with the airlines would not be an accurate assessment of the problem.
IT experts associated with the railways have stated that providing information relating to vacant berths and their position in the coach is presently not possible.
Further, while answering the issue of granting lower berths to senior citizens has stated that in the priority list of the railways, the VVIPs like ministers, Supreme Court/High Court Judges etc., fall very high and they have to be first allotted the lower berths. After the VVIPs are accommodated, priorities are given to pregnant women and senior citizens. The respondent expressed their inability to manage to the extent that each and every person should be given the lower berth.
With regard to widening the doors or increasing the stoppage time of the trains respondent stated that widening the size of the doors will decrease the passenger carrying capacity of the coach and will also compromise the safety of the passengers.
Bench stated that Court cannot force respondent to incur expenses which the respondent does not consider as economically viable and also on account of the large number of trains on which the said measures would have to be implemented which makes the proposals difficult, also impossible to implement.
Hence, Court cannot pass a judicial order in matters which would interfere with aspects of policy relating to the respondent for which this Court lacks the technical expertise to appreciate the difficulties that would be faced by the railways in giving effect to the suggestions.
Though Court did request the respondent to consider the re-prioritising the berth allotment by giving the highest priority to pregnant women, then to senior citizens and thereafter to VVIPs.
As regards the priority of allocation of the lower berth is concerned, the same as it exists on date is unpragmatic. Pregnant women are most vulnerable on account of their medical condition and it would cause them great inconvenience in occupying the middle or upper berth.
Passengers suffering from terminal illness or life threatening ailments like cancer and those who are physically or mentally challenged, be considered as priority no.1 for allotment of the lower berth.
The senior citizens who on account of their advanced age and attendant medical issues should be considered at priority no. 2
Lastly, the VVIP’s who are usually serving state functionaries are invariably those blessed with better health and so be considered at priority no. 3.
In view of the above directions, petition was disposed of. [In Reference v. UOI, 2020 SCC OnLine MP 1658, decided on 27-07-2020]