National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission Presiding Member Ajit Bharihoke and Member Suresh Chandra, in a recent order, said that the mindset of service providers needs to change as new age consumers refuse to bear the brunt of nonchalance.
Offering relief to Shobha Agarwal, a resident of Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh whose luggage was stolen, for the railways' deficiency in service, the commission said, "Undisputedly, Agarwal and her daughter were travelling in a reserved coach and it was the duty of the train ticket examiner (TTE) to ensure that no intruders entered the reserved compartment."
Agarwal's luggage, locked to the seat with a chain, was stolen despite the presence of a ticket checker in the 2nd AC coach.
"The price difference between the unreserved ticket and a reserved ticket is quite high and the travelling public who buy a reserved ticket would expect that they can enjoy the train journey with a certain minimum amount of security and safety," the commission said.
"Apparently, there was a failure on the part of the TTE to prevent entry of unauthorised persons in the coach during the night, the fora below were right in holding the railways liable for deficiency in service to Agarwal," the national commission said of the state commission's order awarding compensation.
Bharihoke said: "We have entered the 21st century and we cannot carry on our daily life in the same age-old fashion with bearing brunt of indifferent service provided by public authorities like the railways."
"People expect in the 21st century a modicum of efficient and reliable service, which provides at least the safety of a person and property while travelling in reserved compartments," he said.
At the time of the luggage theft Oct 10, 1996, Agarwal and her daughter were travelling from Gorakhpur to Beena in the Kushinagar Express. She could not find her luggage when she woke up in the morning.
The railways denied negligence on their part.
Unless the goods in question were booked with the railways, the railway administration under the provisions of the Railway Act were not liable to pay the compensation, the railways' counsel said.
He submitted that the luggage in question was being carried by Agarwal in her custody and it was for her to take care of it.
The onus of proof regarding negligence on the part of the railway staff lay on Agarwal, which she had failed to discharge, the railways said. The national commission dismissed this defence.
"One has to presume that a passenger would take reasonable care of his luggage. But he cannot be expected to take measures against intruders easily getting into reserved compartments and running away with goods when the railway administration is charged with the responsibility to prevent such unauthorised entry," Bharihoke said.
The national commission cited several similar cases where the liability of the railways had been examined in the light of sections 97 and 100 of the Railways Act.
Bharihoke quoted from the case of Sanjiv Dilsukhraj Dave & Anr. (supra) and said: "A major responsibility cast on the TTE, in addition to examining the tickets, is that of ensuring that no intruders enter the reserved compartments...this is certainly a gross dereliction of duty which resulted in deficiency in service to Agarwal."
He directed the railways to pay Rs.1.50 lakh, along with interest, and Rs.50,000 on account of mental and physical agony and Rs.1,000 as costs.
The railways now have the option of challenging the national commission's decision in the Supreme Court.
With inputs from IANS.