New Delhi: On 25 December 1999, Tungnath Chaturvedi walked up to the booking window of the Mathura Cantonment railway station to buy two tickets to Moradabad. The cost of one ticket was Rs 35 at the time. Chaturvedi gave the clerk at the window a hundred rupee note. But instead of getting back thirty rupees, he was given just Rs 10.
“I was given a handwritten ticket as there were no computers at the time,” Chaturvedi, a lawyer from Mathura district of Uttar Pradesh, told ThePrint. “The booking clerk charged us Rs 20 extra and refused to return the remaining amount even though I brought it to his notice immediately.”
Chaturvedi then filed a complaint with the district consumer forum against “North East Railway” (Gorakhpur) and “booking clerk”, and included the Mathura Cantonment railway station as a party.
What followed was a seemingly endless legal battle spread across more than a hundred court hearings. But now, almost 22 years after he sued them for Rs 20, Chaturvedi has finally won. A consumer court in Mathura ruled in his favour on 5 August.
Navneet Kumar, president of the District Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, Matura, directed the Indian Railways to pay the lawyer the twenty rupees within a period of 30 days with interest at a rate of 12 per cent per annum from 1999 to 2022. Additionally, the railways have to shell out a fine of Rs 15,000 in lieu of the financial and mental strain caused to the ligitant apart from legal expenses.
Kumar also ordered that if the said amount is not paid within a month, the interest rate will be increased to 15 per cent per annum.
Chaturvedi, now 66, believes the compensation amount is small and doesn’t quite make up for the years he spent fighting the case, but added that for him, the fight was more about “justice than money”.
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It took years, but he knew he would win
Consumer courts in India deal with grievances related to services. But since they are overburdened, they can sometimes take years to pass orders even in the simplest of cases.
“During those days, there weren’t many newspapers either that could bring the situation to light the way they can in today’s times,” he added.
While the matter took years to reach a resolution, Chaturvedi said he was confident from the beginning that he would win. He added that being an advocate himself, he did not have to pay a lawyer or bear the cost of travelling to court, which could otherwise have cost a significant sum over 22 years.
“You can’t put a price on the energy and time I have lost fighting this case,” said Chaturvedi. But even as he persisted for all those years, he never lost trust in the process of law.
“Kanoon ke ghar der hain, andher nahi,” said Chaturvedi. Loosely translated, it means there might be delays in the court of law, but justice will be served.
At one point, recalled Chaturvedi, the railways said that complaints against them are not addressed in a consumer court and he should approach the Railway Claims Tribunal. Chaturvedi then used a 2021 Supreme Court ruling to prove that there is precedent and the matter could be heard in a consumer court.
An acquaintance of Chaturvedi, who did not wish to not be named, told ThePrint, “From a young age, sir has pursued truth and justice. He has always fought for the same, be it for others or himself. He has won many accolades for his contributions to society.”
Chaturvedi is also a recipient of the Sangram Medal for his service during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971.
“I was around 15 years old at the time. I helped serve people food and water, made sure the lights were off at all times [so as to not be detected by enemy planes] and helped maintain peace and order among people to assist the government and the administration at the time,” said Chaturvedi.
The lawyer’s family tried several times over the past two decades to get him to give up on the case, but to no avail. “I kept going. I hope my case inspires people to pursue justice, even when the odds aren’t necessarily in their favour,” he said.
(Edited by Zinnia Ray Chaudhuri)
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