New Delhi: The families of 16 migrants who lost their lives Friday when a goods train ran over them in Aurangabad district of Maharashtra are unlikely to receive an ex gratia compensation from the Railways. The reason: the nature of the accident.
The Railways has a set of rules under which it pays compensation and the Aurangabad incident does not fall in any of the categories. In the past, the Railways had refused to pay compensation to the families of 59 people who died when a train ploughed through a crowd watching a burning Ravana effigy during Dussehra fireworks in Amritsar in 2018.
The Railways had then said it was a case of trespassing and hence it wasn’t liable to pay compensation.
Rules do not cover Aurangabad-type incidents
While there exist an elaborate set of rules that detail the circumstances under which Railways is liable to pay compensation to a victim in case of any accident, they typically pertain to injuries and deaths arising from derailments, collisions and fire on trains or within the precincts of a railway station.
Rules do not cover for accidents or injuries that occur in case of walking on or crossing the tracks, which technically amounts to trespassing on the Railway premises — a punishable offence under Section 147 of the Railways Act, 1989, with imprisonment of up to six months and/or a fine of up to Rs 1,000.
While the Railways seeks to actively prevent such accidents, it hesitates in paying compensation for them as there is technically no negligence on its part.
That is the reason as to why in the aftermath of Friday’s accident, it was the Maharashtra chief secretary and Aurangabad district magistrate who were served a notice by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), and not the Indian Railways.
Similarly, it is the Maharashtra government that has announced a compensation for the victims’ families as of now, and not the Railways.
“However painful and tragic yesterday’s accident was, walking on or crossing the tracks amounts to trespassing,” said a senior Railways officer. “Railways hesitate to compensate people killed while crossing the tracks or at level crossings. They do so under public or political pressure.”
In normal circumstances, the default stand of Railways is that no compensation should be paid in such accidents, the official added. However, the rules aside, the political executive is free to pay compensation in such cases if it deems necessary for political or other reasons.
What happened in Aurangabad
In Friday’s accident, the Railways had said the migrant workers had left Jalna in Madhya Pradesh at 7 pm Thursday and initially walked on road and then on the track towards Aurangabad. After walking for over 35 km, the workers, worn out and tired by the long walk, rested on the railway tracks between Karnad and Badnapur stations, and eventually ended up falling asleep.
At 5.22 am, an approaching goods train ran over them, even though the driver tried to stop the train but couldn’t do so in time.
While the Railways watchdog wrote to the Railway Board to issue instructions to all railway zones to take “abundant precaution”, there was no mention of compensation for the labourers.
The official quoted above said it is for this reason that the Railways spends so much on publicity of the dangers of trespassing, especially at level crossings, to caution the public travelling by road.
Level crossings are provided on the railway lines to allow the road traffic to pass across the track. As the road traffic passes at the same level as that of the railway track, the crossing is termed as level crossing.
According to the Motor Vehicles Act, the Railways gets priority in movement at such crossings. However, there have been attempts by the government to eliminate such crossings, wherever traffic is high and the state government is willing to share the cost. In several countries in the West, both sides of the railway track, where high speed trains move, are fenced from both sides to prevent any human or animal trespassing.
What do the rules cover?
Under Section 124 of the Railways Act, 1989, the railway administration is liable to pay compensation “when in the course of working a railway, an accident occurs, being either a collision between trains of which one is a train carrying passengers or the derailment of or other accident to a train or any part of a train carrying passengers”.
In these cases, “whether or not there has been any wrongful act, neglect or default on the part of the railway administration”, it is liable to pay compensation to the victim, the quantum of which too is specified under the Act.
Further, in 1994, the rules were amended to add other criteria to the circumstances under which the Railways is liable to pay compensation.
According to the additions, the Railway administration is “liable to pay compensation for loss of life or injury to bonafide rail passengers, who become victims of untoward incidents such as terrorist acts, violent attack, robbery, dacoity, rioting, shoot-out or arson by any persons in or on any train carrying passengers, waiting hall, cloak room, reservation or booking office, platform, any place within the precincts of a railway station or the accidental falling of any passenger from a train carrying passengers”.
In 2016, after 19 years, the Ministry of Railways had doubled the compensation paid for the death or injury to a passenger in rail accidents.
The decision had come after at least two high courts — Delhi and Bombay — had observed that the government ought to enhance the compensation in order to make sure that the compensation takes into consideration the increased inflation rates since 1997.
For example, the family of a deceased person in a rail accident is now entitled to a compensation of Rs 8 lakh as opposed to the Rs 4 lakh earlier.