Bombay HC |A bonafide train passenger being forced to walk on the railway tracks due to absence of overbridge cannot be said as ‘negligent’

Bombay High Court

Bombay High Court: In a case filed by the family of the deceased passenger challenging the order passed by Railway Claims Tribunal rejecting their claim for compensation made under the Railways Act, 1989 on the ground that neither the deceased was a bonafide passenger at the time of the incident nor the incident was an “untoward incident” as defined in Section 123(c)(2) of the Railways Act, 1989, Abhay Ahuja J., directed the State to pay compensation of Rs. 8,00,000/-, to the appellants within a period of six weeks subject to due verification on establishing that the deceased is a bonafide passenger at the time of incident as well as the incident is an “untoward incident” which mandates compensation by the railway authorities.

Facts: The deceased travelled from Gondia to Rewral in the general coach of a passenger train on valid journey ticket, and deboarded at Rewral. After alighting, as there was no foot overbridge, the deceased had to walk along the track with head loads and thereby, got hit by a train killing him.

Issue 1: Whether the deceased ceases to be a bonafide passenger on alighting the train?

The Court noted that as per the definition of ‘bonafide passenger’ under Section 2(29) Railways Act, 1989, it means a person travelling with a valid pass or ticket and it does not qualify that a person holding a ticket during journey ceases to be ticketless or ceases to be a passenger after alighting just because he meets with an accident.

The Court further noted that neither the definition nor any of the provisions of the Railways Act suggest that a passenger ceases to be a passenger for this reason. Once it is held that a passenger was travelling with a valid ticket that fact cannot be negatived on the purported ground that the incident is not an untoward incident.

Thus, the Court held that the deceased was a bonafide passenger and continued to be one at the time of the incident, as well.

Issue 2: Whether the incident would or would not be an untoward incident?

Placing reliance on Budho Devi v. Union of India, 2017 SCC OnLine P&H 1131 and Rakesh Saini v. Union of India, 2003 SCC OnLine Del 1077, the Court noted that Rewral Station did not have an overbridge at the time of the incident and the passengers would have been forced to, after alighting a train, walk along the tracks or cross them. Moreover, while walking along railway track, the deceased could not have imagined that a high speed train would hit him. This was an untoward incident.

The Court further noted that the Railways Act is a beneficial Legislation and the provisions should receive liberal and purposive interpretation and not a literal or a narrow or a hyper-technical one.

Issue 3: Whether the dependents would or would not be entitled to compensation under Section 124-A of the Railways Act, 1989?

The Court noted that neither the Railway Authorities have claimed nor is there any finding by the Tribunal that it was a case of suicide or attempt to commit suicide or self-inflicted injury or the deceased’s own criminal act or any act committed by him in a state of intoxication or insanity or that the deceased died due to natural cause or disease or medical or surgical treatment not necessary due to injury caused by the said untoward incident.

The Court held that the deceased, who was a bonafide passenger who died due to an untoward incident and the appellants being the dependents of the deceased would be entitled to compensation under Section 124-A of the Railways Act, 1989.

[Sunita v. Union of India, 2022 SCC OnLine Bom 3630, decided on 10-10-2022]

Advocates who appeared in this case:

R.G. Bagul, Advocate, for the Appellants;

Neerja Chaubey, Advocate, for the Respondent.

*Arunima Bose, Editorial Assistant has put this report together.

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