Imagine losing your passport on the eve of your travel. That is exactly what happened to 20-year-old Bobli Roy. But what made matters even worse was the fact that she had secured a good job in the US and was on her way to that country when she lost her passport and all her certificates.

Bobli was full of joy when she got on to Kerala Express at Thiruvananthapuram to travel to Delhi, from where she was to catch her flight to the US. That joy, however, turned to shock and grief when she discovered her hand baggage containing her passport and certificates stolen from her compartment. What made matters worse was the unprofessional attitude of the TTE, who refused to act on her complaint with alacrity. So much so that Bobli had to wait till the train reached the Vijayawada station to lodge a complaint with the police there.

This incident that happened in the first week of October highlights yet again, not only the failure on the part of the Railways to prevent thefts on trains, but also the response of the railway staff to such thefts.

The Railway authorities have often said that the passengers who are victims of thefts need not disembark at the next station to lodge a complaint, but can do so on board. Forms, the Railways have said, are provided for the purpose and on receiving such complaints, the nearest police post would immediately be informed. In this age of wireless communication, this is certainly not difficult. Yet, passengers who have lost their belongings say that they got no such help on the train.

In fact in a number of cases of such thefts brought before the consumer courts, too, what is apparent is the negligence of the railway staff that creates situations conducive for such thefts, and then their inaction that helps thieves escape.

In the case of Union of India vs J.S.Kunwar, for example (RP No 4007 of 2009, decided on Dec 15, 2009), the complaint of the passenger was that (a) the Railways allowed unauthorised persons to enter the compartment, as a result of which his attache got stolen from the compartment; and (b) when informed of it, the TTE and the train escort refused to register an FIR and, therefore, it was only the next day, when the train reached Dehradun could he lodge a complaint. He was travelling from Lucknow to Haridwar on July 18, 2002, when the theft took place.

In this case, the lower courts had awarded the consumer a compensation of Rs 7000 along with 9 per cent interest, but the Railways went on to challenge even that before the national consumer disputes redressal commission. What was the argument of the Railways here? That the passenger was careless and had slept without securing his baggage under the seat with a lock and chain as any prudent man would do!

I wonder if the railway officials are aware that even the chain and lock have not prevented thieves from decamping with passengers’ baggage.

The commission here also quoted one of its earlier orders in the case of Union of India vs Sanjiv Dilsukhraj Dave (2003 CTJ 196 (CP) (NCDRC), wherein it had pointed out that in addition to examining the tickets, a major responsibility was cast on the TTE to ensure that no intruders entered the reserved compartments. Failure to do so constituted gross dereliction of duty.

The commission had also pointed to the price difference between a reserved and an unreserved compartment and had emphasised the need for the Railways to ensure that the reserved compartments were kept free of unauthorised passengers. Any failure on this front constituted deficiency in the service provided, the commission had pointed out.

So instead of fighting a losing battle before courts, the Railways would do well to adopt modern methods of crime prevention and detection to ensure the safety of passengers’ belongings.