Vs. Union of India & Ors  INSC 101
(13 February 1998)
Anand, S. Rjendra Babu. Dr. Anand. J.:
appellant is aggrieved by the judgment of the High Court dated 1st July, 1991 by which his appeal against summary
dismissal of Writ Petition No. 2048 of 1985 was dismissed.
an unfortunate case. The wife of the appellant Smt. Shantadevi was at the
relevant time working as a Senior Lecturer in English. On 3rd January, 1981, the fateful day, sha left for her
college and travelled, as usual, by Harbour Line local train to Bandra from Kings Circle. From Bandra, she boarded Western
Railway local train for Andheri. She was travelling on a first class railway
pass in the first class ladies' compartment. Before she could reach her
destination at Andheri, she was criminally assaulted and also robbed of her
gold chain, three bangles and a wrist watch between Bandra and Andheri railway
station while the train was in motion. She pulled the alarm chain but despite
of the ringing of the alarm bell neither the guard nor the motorman stopped the
train. She ultimately succumbed to the injuries in the compartment. The guard,
in his statement recorded during the criminal trail by the learned Additional
Sessions Judge, Bombay, admitted that "After I heard
the bell. I looked to the eastern and western side of the train and I could not
find any untoward incident, Meanwhile the driver had reduced his speed of the
train and asked me by giving two beats whether train should stop or not. In
reply I gave two beats asking the driver to proceed as there was no necessity
to stop the train." The court want on to admit that because of clearances
for the signal not having been obtained, the train stopped towards the south or
gate no. 22 for about a minute and "even at that time the bell in this
cabin was ringing". The train reached platform no. 4 of Andheri railway
station at 10.47 a.m. At Andheri railway station, the
guard came near the ladies' first class compartment from where the alarm chain
had been pulled. He peeped inside and found that a woman was lying a pool of
blood, On being asked.
When you heard the warning bell of the alarm, did you give instruction to the
driver to stop the train ?" The guard replied:
No." So as the motorman is concerned, his evidence is almost on the same
lines as that of the guard.
accused who were absconding were subsequently tried but we are not concened at
the moment with the outcome of the trial of that case.
appellant made a representation to the Chairman, Railway Board on 29th March, 1981 requesting for compensation for the
death of his wife. His representation was rejected by respondent no. 2 who
informed him that the liability of the railways could arise only in case of
railway accidents and not where death takes place as a result of an attempted
murder in a running train. The appellant's writ petition and writ appeal
thereafter failed in the High Court. Hence this appeal.
have hard learned counsel for the parties and Or. Singhvi, whom we had
requested to act as amicus curiae in this case.
the evidence of the guard and the motorman, it is quite obvious that despite
the pulling of the alarm chain the train was not made to stop. The whole
purpose of providing alarm chain in the compartments of a railway train was,
thus, frustrated. This Court can take judicial notice of the fact, that if an
alarm chain is wrongly pulled, the person responsible for pulling it is liable
to be fined.
is a common law duty of taking reasonable care which must be attached to all
carriers including the railways. In this case, there has been breach of that
duty and the negligence on the part of the railway staff is writ large. Had the
train been stopped and first-aid provided when the alarm chain was pulled, the
possibility that the deceased may not have met her death, even after the
assault in the course of robbery, is a possibility which we cannot totally rule
out. The manner in which the guard and the motorman acted exposes a total
casual approach on their part, Because of the failure of those railway
officials, a precious life has ben lost.
attention has been drawn by Dr. Singhvi, the learned amious, curiae to the
Railways Act. 1989 which came into force on 1st July, 1990 to urge that the new Act which extensively
modifies, amends and consolidates the old 1890 Act, unequivocally incorporates
the concept of [liability of the railway administration for death and/or injury
to passengers due to any untoward incident while travelling in the train.
Section 1239(c) of the Railways Act, 1989 defines and "untoward
incident" and inter alia provides the making of a violent attack or the
commission of robbery or dacoity as an "untoward incident". According
to the learned amicus curiae, the case of the appellant was required to be
considered on the basis of res ipsa locquitor (thing speaks for itself) rather
than on narrow technicalities based on the provisions of the Railways Act,
learned counsel appearing for the railway administration does not dispute that
under the new Act, there is statutory liability on the railways but submits
that the 1989 Act does not have any retrospective operation.
not wish to go into that question in these case and leave that issue open. We
are resting our case on the breach of common law duty of reasonable care, which
lies upon all carriers including the railways. The standard of care is high and
strict. It is not a case where the omission on the part of the railway
officials can be said to be wholly unforeseen or beyond their control. Here
there has been a complete dereliction of duty which resulted in a precious life
been taken away, rendering the guarantee under Article 21 of the Constitution
illusory. Had the deceased not pulled the alarm chain with a view to stop the
train, the position might have been different. Liability in this case is fault
based. Such a liability is not inconsistent with the scheme of the Railways Act
of 1890 either (Refer Section 80 with advantage). The proof of a fault in this
case is strong and Mr. Goswami has not rightly challenged it either. To
relegate the appellant to approach the Railway Claims Tribunal or the Civil Court, as suggested by Mr. Goswami does
not appear to us to be proper. More than 17 years have already gone by since
the occurrence and, therefore, it appears appropriate to us to give a quietus
to this litigation now.
established facts and circumstances of this particular case, keeping in view
the evidence of the guard and the motorman, and with a view to do complete
justice between the parties, It appears appropriate to us to award a sum of Rs.
2,00,00/- (Rupees two lakhs) as compensation to the appellant for the death of
his wife. This amount shall be in addition to Rs. 50.000/- (Rupees fifty
thousand) which had been given by the appellant. The among of Rs. 2 lakhs shall
be paid to the appellant on or before 31st March, 1998.
appeal,, therefore, succeeds and is allowed. The judgment of the High Court is
set aside. No costs.
parting with the case, we wish to place on record our appreciation for the
valuable assistance rendered to us by Dr. Singhvi, the learned amicus curiae.