Is there any “Body” existing for Railway Dispute?

By Tanushree Dubey

Published on: November 02, 2023 at 18:20 IST

Yes, in India, there are bodies and mechanisms in place to address railway disputes. The primary organization responsible for addressing disputes related to Indian Railways is the Railway Claims Tribunal (RCT). The RCT is a quasi-judicial body established under the Railway Claims Tribunal Act, 1987. Its purpose is to adjudicate claims against Indian Railways, including those related to accidents, injuries, or loss of goods during transit.

The RCT has multiple benches across the country, and individuals and organizations can file claims and seek redressal for railway-related disputes through this tribunal. The RCT process involves legal proceedings and is designed to provide a platform for resolving disputes related to railway operation, In this comprehensive article we will discuss about Railway claim tribunal, when there is a railway dispute

Formation and Significance of Railway Claims Tribunals

The Railway Claims Tribunal, an institution of great importance for the railway administration, which was brought into existence with the enactment of the Railway Claims Tribunal Act in 1987.

The role of the railways extends beyond the mere operation of trains; it includes many issues, ranging from the loss or damage of goods to thefts and the unfortunate occurrence of railway accidents resulting in injury or loss of life for passengers. This led to a need for a dedicated mechanism to address these concerns.

The Railway Claims Tribunal was known as a specialized forum to efficiently handle claims lodged against the railway administration, making it a representative of the Union of India in this regard.

Before the establishment of this tribunal, individuals seeking redressal for losses or damages arising from railway-related incidents, as well as those affected by accidents, faced a significant challenge. They often struggle with the question of which court has jurisdiction over their cases.

In this context, the introduction of the Railway Claims Tribunal brought a welcome solution. It streamlined the process by centralizing the adjudication of claims about the loss or damage of goods, as well as injuries or fatalities resulting from railway accidents.

The renaming of the tribunal to the “Railway Claims Tribunal” under the Railways Act of 1989 further solidified its identity and purpose. This specialized body plays a crucial role in ensuring that cases are handled with precision and expertise. Creating a dedicated forum for addressing railway-related claims, significantly reduced the burden on the general court system, allowing regular courts to focus on other legal matters.

This has not only improved the efficiency of case resolution but also relieved the judicial system of the complex and often voluminous caseload associated with railway incidents. In essence, the establishment of Railway Claims Tribunals represents a pivotal step in enhancing the accessibility and effectiveness of justice for individuals affected by railway-related losses and accidents, while simultaneously streamlining the broader judicial process.

Aim and Mission of the Railway Claims Tribunal

The establishment of the Railway Claims Tribunal has a clear set of objectives aimed at enhancing the efficiency and accessibility of justice for the people. These goals are instrumental in shaping the mission and purpose of this specialized tribunal.

  • Speedy and Expeditious Adjudication: One of the primary aims of the Railway Claims Tribunal is to ensure the swift and efficient resolution of cases. Railway-related issues, which include claims for losses, damages, and accidents, can have a significant impact on the lives and livelihoods of individuals. By providing a forum dedicated to expeditious adjudication, the tribunal ensures that people do not have to endure prolonged legal proceedings. This expediency is critical in addressing the needs and concerns of those affected by railway incidents.
  • Simplified Procedure with Reduced Formality: The Railway Claims Tribunal offers a simplified legal procedure with minimal formalities. The intention is to make the process accessible and understandable for individuals who may not have legal expertise. This streamlined approach helps claimants navigate the legal system without being overwhelmed by complex formalities and procedures. It promotes inclusivity and ensures that justice is within reach for all, regardless of their legal background or resources.
  • Widespread Access to Justice: To fulfil its mission of providing accessible justice, the Railway Claims Tribunal has established benches across the country. This extensive geographical coverage means that individuals from all regions have local access to the tribunal’s services. By bringing justice closer to the people, the tribunal ensures that claimants do not face barriers related to distance or geographical constraints in pursuing their cases. This widespread presence reflects the commitment to making justice a reality for all, irrespective of their location.
  • Relieving the Burden on Courts: One of the significant contributions of the Railway Claims Tribunal is its role in reducing the burden on the regular courts of law. Before its establishment, railway-related cases added to the workload of the general judicial system. By creating a specialized forum for these cases, the tribunal not only expedites their resolution but also allows the broader court system to focus on other legal matters. This efficient allocation of cases enhances the overall efficiency and effectiveness of the judicial system, ensuring that cases are handled by experts in railway-related matters.

Benches of Railway Claims Tribunal located in pan-India

  • Chandigarh
  • Delhi (principle bench)
  • Jaipur
  • Lucknow
  • Gorakhpur
  • Allahabad
  • Patna
  • Guwahati
  • Ahmedabad
  • Bhopal
  • Ranchi
  • Kolkata
  • Mumbai
  • Nagpur
  • Bhubaneswar
  • Secunderabad 
  • Amravati
  • Bengaluru
  • Chennai
  • Ernakulum

Functioning of the Railway Claims Tribunal

The Railway Claims Tribunal functions as a specialized entity, addressing a range of railway-related issues, operating by specific sections of the Railway Claims Tribunal (Procedure) Rules, 1989. Here’s a breakdown of how the tribunal operates under these provisions:

  • Distinct Application Forms: Section 5 of the Railway Claims Tribunal (Procedure) Rules, 1989 mandates the use of separate application forms tailored to different types of claims. These specialized forms are designed to address specific concerns, such as the loss of goods within the railway system or cases involving unfortunate injuries or fatalities resulting from railway accidents. This categorization ensures a structured and precise approach to handling diverse claims.
  • Filing and Presentation Protocol: Section 5 further outlines the procedure for submitting claims. Applicants are required to initiate the process by filing and presenting their claims at the office of the Registrar, Additional Registrar, or Assistant Registrar, depending on the respective Bench responsible for adjudicating the case. This initial step serves to organize and systematically process the claims, ensuring that they are directed to the appropriate forum for consideration.
  • Documentary Requirements: Section 7 of the Railway Claims Tribunal (Procedure) Rules, 1989, plays a critical role in governing the claims process. This section enumerates a specific list of documents that must accompany the claim application. These documents include essential records like original sale invoices, copies of railway receipts, parcel way bills, luggage tickets, and other pertinent paperwork. Compliance with these requirements is crucial, as these documents substantiate the claim and assist in a comprehensive evaluation of the case.
  • Compensation Regulations: The Railway Accident (Compensation) Rules, 1990, framed by the central government, establish clear regulations related to compensation. These rules are embodied in Section 8 of the Rules and specify a maximum limit for compensation, capped at Rs. 8 lakh. This regulatory framework ensures consistency and equity in compensating individuals affected by railway accidents, setting a precedent for fair and just resolution of claims.

Composition of the Tribunal’s Adjudicatory Panel

According to Section 4 of the Railway Claims Tribunal Act, 1987, the composition of the Claims Tribunal is as follows:

The tribunal is constituted by a Chairman, four Vice-Chairmen, and a variable number of Judicial Members and Technical Members, as deemed appropriate by the Central Government.

Furthermore, the Act stipulates that a Bench within the Tribunal is comprised of a Judicial Member and a Technical Member. This assembly ensures a multifaceted perspective in the adjudication of cases, where the Judicial Member contributes legal expertise, and the Technical Member provides specialized knowledge, enhancing the tribunal’s ability to effectively address a wide range of railway-related claims.

Furthermore, the Act stipulates that a Bench within the Tribunal is comprised of a Judicial Member and a Technical Member. This assembly ensures a multifaceted perspective in the adjudication of cases, where the Judicial Member contributes legal expertise, and the Technical Member provides specialized knowledge, enhancing the tribunal’s ability to effectively address a wide range of railway-related claims.

Chairman and his powers

Appointment and Tenure:

The Chairman of the Railway Claims Tribunal in India holds a pivotal position, marked by a five-year appointment. The Chairman also functions as a judge with the responsibility of presiding over cases within the tribunal’s jurisdiction. This dual role underscores the Chairman’s significance in the tribunal’s operations.

Financial and Administrative Powers:

The authority vested in the Chairman is substantial, especially in terms of financial and administrative matters.

This authority is primarily outlined in Section 11 of the Railway Claims Tribunal Act, 1987, providing the Chairman with a wide range of powers to make administrative and financial decisions.

The finer details and limitations of these financial and administrative powers are defined in The Railways Claims Tribunal (Financial And Administrative Powers) Rules, 1989, further ensuring the efficient functioning of the tribunal.

Transferring and Authorizing Members:

A crucial aspect of the Chairman’s role is the ability to transfer and authorize members within their specific bench.

Section 4(3) of the Act explicitly grants the Chairman the authority to effect such transfers, which can be instrumental in balancing workloads and optimizing resources within the tribunal.

Additionally, this authority extends to transferring the Vice-Chairman or any other member from one bench to another, enabling the Chairman to strategically allocate personnel and expertise as needed.

Procedure followed by RCT

An important departure from the conventional legal procedures is introduced in Section 18  of  The Railway Claims Tribunal Act (1987). This section also states that the tribunal is not bound by the procedures laid down in the Code of Civil Procedure (1908), distinguishing the tribunal’s operations from those of traditional civil courts.

Instead, the tribunal is directed to adhere to the principles of natural justice, emphasizing justice, equity, and good conscience. This approach allows for a more flexible and equitable pursuit of justice in the railway claims cases adjudicated by the tribunal.

Railway claim Tribunal’s Powers:

The tribunal’s authority is further highlighted in Section 18(3) of the Railway Claims Tribunal Act (1987)

The above section grants the tribunal the same powers as are vested in a civil court under the Code of Civil Procedure (1908). Such powers include a broad range of legal authorities and tools that are essential for the tribunal to efficiently and effectively resolve the cases that fall within its jurisdiction.

These powers empower the tribunal to conduct its proceedings with the legal authority and rigour necessary for fair and just decisions.

The Chairman of the Railway Claims Tribunal in India assumes a pivotal role within the tribunal, wielding significant authority in both administrative and judicial matters.

This unique blend of powers and the departure from traditional legal procedures in favour of principles of natural justice make the Chairman a central figure in ensuring justice, equity, and good conscience in the adjudication of railway claims cases across the nation.

The Chairman’s powers and the tribunal’s legal authority together contribute to the tribunal’s capacity to provide timely and equitable resolutions to claimants within its jurisdiction.

Compensation under the Railway Claims Tribunal

The Railway Claims Tribunal primarily facilitates expedited relief and compensation in the following scenarios:

  • Railway Accidents and Untoward Incidents:

In cases of death or injury resulting from railway accidents or untoward incidents, claimants are directed to file their claims directly with the Railway Claims Tribunal. This approach ensures swift resolution and compensation for the affected parties.

  • Loss, Damage, Destruction, Deterioration, Non-Delivery of Goods/Animals:

When individuals experience loss, destruction, damage, deterioration, or non-delivery of goods or animals shipped by railway, or when they are dissatisfied with the relief offered by the railway administration, the Railway Claims Tribunal offers a recourse.

Claimants can seek compensation through the tribunal, providing a means to address their grievances and obtain fair compensation for their losses.

  • Refund of Fare or Freight Disputes:

The Railway Claims Tribunal also plays a role in settling disputes related to the refund of fare or freight.

Claimants who find the relief provided by the railway administration unsatisfactory can turn to the tribunal to seek a fair resolution and compensation.

  • Appeals

If anybody is unsatisfied with the decision of the Railway Claims Tribunal, they have the option to initiate an appeal, as outlined in Section 23 of the Railway Claims Tribunal Act of 1987.

Section 23 specifies that, with exceptions as detailed in subsection (2) and without contravening the provisions of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 (5 of 1908), or any other applicable legislation, an appeal can be made for any order issued by the Claims Tribunal, provided that it is not an interim decision. This appeal should be directed to the High Court with jurisdiction over the location of the tribunal bench.

It is also mentioned in Clause 2 of the same section, that it is stipulated that no appeal can be lodged for an order issued by the Claims Tribunal if all parties involved have given their consent to that order.

In Clause 3 of the section, it is specified that any appeal must be submitted within 90 days from the date of the order being contested.

Does anyone have to hire a Lawyer to present their case before the Railway Claims Tribunal?

Under the provisions outlined in Section 19 of the Railway Claims Tribunal Act, 1987, individuals who apply with the Claims Tribunal are afforded a degree of choice when it comes to the presentation of their case. They have the following options:

Personal Representation: If an individual is comfortable doing so, they have the right to personally appear before the Claims Tribunal and present their case. This means that they can advocate for themselves and provide the tribunal with all the relevant information and arguments about their claim.

Legal Practitioner: Alternatively, those seeking to file a claim with the Railway Claims Tribunal may choose to seek professional legal assistance. They have the liberty to engage the services of a legal practitioner of their choosing. This legal expert can then represent their interests, provide legal counsel, and advocate on their behalf before the Claims Tribunal. This option can be particularly valuable for those who may not possess the legal expertise or the confidence to represent themselves effectively.

In addition to the options available to claimants, the Railway administration also has a role in these proceedings. The Railway administration is granted the authority to appoint one or more legal practitioners or even its officers as presenting officers.

These presenting officers act as representatives for the Railway administration’s interests in connection with any application brought before the Claims Tribunal. This is an important aspect of the process, as it ensures that the Railway administration has the opportunity to present its side of the case effectively.

Notable cases adjudicated by RTC

  • Kamukayi v. Union of India, 2023

Facts:

In September 2014, the deceased and his son arrived at Lalapettai Railway Station, purchased a railway ticket to Karur, and boarded Train No. 56841, the Trichy Erode Passenger. While at Mahadanapuram Railway Station, he fell from the moving train due to overcrowding and jolting, sustaining severe injuries, including decapitation and amputation of his right hand, resulting in his immediate death. A subsequent investigation confirmed that the death was the result of an untoward railway incident, as per an FIR and a postmortem report.

Held:

The court clarified that a “passenger” includes anyone with a valid ticket who becomes a victim of such an incident. The claim petition, statements from various sources, and official reports consistently confirmed the presence of a valid ticket. The Railway Administration failed to disprove this fact, merely noting the absence of the ticket during recovery. Relying on precedents, the Court said that the absence of a ticket does not negate one’s status as a bona fide passenger.

The Court concluded that the deceased was indeed a bona fide passenger who tragically lost his life in an untoward incident while travelling on the specified train. Therefore, the appellants were entitled to compensation as per Section 124-A of the Railways Act and Railway Accidents and Untoward Incidents (Compensation) Rules, 1990. Given the amended Compensation Rules, effective from January 1, 2017, the Court determined that compensation should be calculated based on the date of the accident, with reasonable interest.

The Court allowed the appeal, set aside previous judgments, and granted compensation of Rs. 4,00,000 with 7 per cent interest per annum from the date of filing the claim application. If this amount, with interest applied, amounted to less than Rs. 8,00,000, the appellants would receive the higher of the two amounts. The respondents were directed to pay the compensation within eight weeks.

  • M/S Harsh Transport Private V. Union of India, 2022

Facts:

A dispute arose concerning freight charges demanded by the Railways from the petitioner for the carriage of goods between two stations. The petitioner contended that they had paid the regular freight charges, which were duly accepted. However, the Railways later imposed additional freight charges. The petitioner initially sought a remedy through a writ petition.

In response to a query from the Court about the availability of an alternative remedy, the petitioner cited a Division Bench order, claiming that the writ petition was maintainable. Upon reviewing the Division Bench judgment, the High Court found that the issue regarding applying Section 13 of the Railways Claims Tribunal Act, 1987, had not been raised or decided.

The High Court referred to the Supreme Court’s decision in Shree Shyam Agency Vs. Union of India and Ors, which emphasized the role of the Railway Claims Tribunal in determining claims against the Railway Administration related to various matters, including loss, damage, and compensation.

The High Court also noted Section 36 of the Act, which allows complaints against the railway administration for charging unreasonable rates for the carriage of commodities between two stations.

Held:

The High Court held that the Railway Claims Tribunal has the competence to adjudicate disputes related to freight charges for the carriage of goods and any disputes, including the imposition of punitive charges. By the nature of the petitioner’s dispute, it was concluded that their case fell under subsection (b) of Section 13 of the Act, which pertains to claims for the refund of fares or part thereof and the refund of any “freight” paid for goods entrusted to the Railway Administration.

As a result, the High Court refused to quash the demand notices issued by the Senior Divisional Commercial Manager for Rs. 51 lakhs and directed the parties to pursue the alternate remedy available by filing an appropriate application under Section 13 of the Railways Claims Tribunal Act, 1987.

  • Nookala Venkateswarlu died & anr V. Union of India, 2022

Facts:

On May 6, 2008, the deceased, accompanied by her relatives, boarded the Howrah-Tirupati Express to reach Kandukuru. While attempting to disembark at Kandukuru, tragedy struck. The approaching Navajeen Express from the Kavali side, without blowing its whistle, startled the deceased. As she moved backwards, her sari became entangled with the tracks, leading to a fatal collision with the train. She died due to her injuries on the spot. Subsequently, the claimants sought compensation of Rs. 8,00,000 from the Railways.

The Railway Claims Tribunal, Secunderabad, dismissed the compensation application. The appellants, who were the claimants in the Tribunal, filed an appeal contesting this decision.

The appellants argued that the Tribunal’s order failed to properly consider the evidence.

The Standing Counsel for Railways contended that the deceased’s demise resulted from her own negligence in crossing the tracks as the train approached, and thus, it did not qualify as an “untoward incident.”

Held:

The Court observed that the deceased’s death did not result from an accidental fall from the train, which would qualify it as an untoward incident. Furthermore, the deceased’s son admitted during cross-examination that his mother’s negligence had caused the incident. The deceased’s decision to cross the railway tracks instead of using the provided foot-over bridge amounted to criminal trespass. Importantly, the appellants failed to provide evidence that the deceased’s sari had become stuck on the tracks, leading to the accident.

Section 124A of the Railways Act holds the railway administration liable for compensation in the event of an untoward incident. The Court determined that the applicants had not proven that the deceased’s death resulted from an untoward incident. It was held that the appellants were not entitled to compensation from the Railways, and the appeal was dismissed.

  • Abhinandan V. Union of India. 2017

Facts:

The appellant intended to board a train bound for Delhi at Gurgaon Railway Station. When he attempted to board the moving train, the crowded conditions within the carriage caused him to fall, resulting in injuries. Subsequent medical examination revealed that he had suffered amputation of both his legs. The appellant claimed to be a bona fide passenger with a valid ticket, and he filed an appeal under Section 23 of the Railway Claims Tribunal Act, 1987.

The respondents contested the appeal on the ground that the appellant was not a bona fide passenger and the injuries sustained were self-inflicted.

Held:

The Delhi High Court heard the appeal and determined that the appellant was not a bona fide passenger. It was brought to the notice that at the time of the accident, the appellant was intoxicated. According to the proviso of Section 124A of the Act, no compensation would be awarded if the person was intoxicated.

The Court concluded that the appellant’s claim for compensation could not be entertained due to his intoxicated state at the time of the accident.

  • Mrs Bharathi and Others vs GM Southern Railway, 2018

Facts:

The appellant, Mrs Bharathi, is the wife of the deceased, Krishnamoorthy, who was a passenger travelling from Thanjavur to Kozhikode by train. Tragically, he fell from the train during the journey, resulting in his untimely death. Mrs Bharathi claimed that her husband’s demise was a result of the railways’ negligence and sought compensation.

In response, the respondent, the GM Southern Railway, disputed the claim of negligence on the part of the railways and argued that the passenger had fallen due to his own negligence.

Held:

The Court ruled in favour of the respondent after careful consideration of the circumstances. Enquiries revealed that the passenger’s fall from the train occurred due to his own negligence, and the railways were not at fault. As per the proviso of Section 124A of the Railway Claims Tribunal Act 1987, no compensation is to be awarded if the passenger’s death resulted from self-inflicted injuries.

Therefore, the Court found that the passenger’s demise resulted from his actions, and the railways were not negligent in this case. Consequently, the compensation claim was not upheld.

Conclusion

Railway Claims Tribunals have significantly improved the efficiency of the Indian judicial system by expediting the resolution of cases related to railway incidents. These specialized forums have reduced the backlog of such cases in regular courts, allowing them to focus on other matters.

The quick and expert handling of cases by these tribunals has led to faster resolutions, instilling trust in the judicial system. Passengers and claimants find their grievances addressed more promptly compared to traditional courts, leading to the growing popularity of Railway Claims Tribunals. Despite challenges, these tribunals fulfil their purpose by expediting justice and enhancing the overall efficiency of the legal system.

Also Read: What is the Railway Claims Tribunal?

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