consumers beware!
Railways responsible for theft
Pushpa Girimaji Pushpa Girimaji

I lost a brand new suitcase containing my expensive sarees while returning from a family wedding by train. This was despite securing the suitcase with the chain provided underneath the berth and locking it up. Can I file a complaint before the consumer court to recover my losses? Have there been such cases before the consumer court?

In a number of cases of theft on moving trains, the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission has held the TTE and the Railways guilty of negligence for allowing unauthorised persons into reserved coaches, resulting in the theft. It has awarded compensation to the victims of such thefts. So you can certainly file a complaint before the consumer court.

In South Eastern Railways vs Bharti Arora (RP No 2241 of 2003, decided on 20-11-2003), for example, the Commission even elaborated on the responsibilities of the Railways in general and the TTE in particular, in ensuring the safety of passengers' belongings and said that failure to perform these duties constituted negligence. The Commission, in fact, quoted the Railway Rules which clearly define the responsibilities of the TTE. Rule 16 for example, says: "He (the TTE) shall ensure that the end doors of the vestibule are kept locked between 22.00 and 06.00 hours to prevent outsiders entering the coach." Rule 17 says: "He shall remain vigilant, particularly during night time, and ensure that intruders, beggars, hawkers and unauthorised persons do not enter the coach."

Even recently, the National Commission upheld the decision of the lower consumer court awarding a compensation of over Rs 2 lakh to the passenger who lost her suitcase in a somewhat similar circumstance as yours Rs 1.5 lakh towards loss of baggage (along with interest calculated from the date of filing the complaint), Rs 50,000 towards compensation for mental agony and Rs 1,000 towards costs.

This case has its origin in the journey that Dr Shobha Agarwal took on October 10, 1996, along with her daughter by an airconditioned Second class Sleeper in 1016 UP Kushinagar Express from Gorakhpur to Beena. Apparently, a person was found snooping around in a suspicious manner and this was reported to the TTE, who however did not take any action. In the morning, when the passengers woke up, they found their suitcase, tied under the berth with the help of the chain and a lock, missing. The chain had in fact been cut open. (Union India vs Dr Shobha Agarwal, Revision Petition No 602 of 2013, decided on July 22, 2013)

What kind of evidence does one need for such a complaint against the Railways before the consumer court?

Basically, you have to prove that you took reasonable care of your baggage and despite that your baggage was stolen on account of the negligence of the Railways or the TTE. In other words, you have to show negligence on the part of the Railways in preventing unauthorised persons from entering the reserved coach and also any negligence in dealing with your complaint about the theft.

So along with your complaint narrating the incident and the relief sought, you need to provide a copy of your ticket to show that you travelled on that day. You also need to give a copy of the FIR filed with the police describing the circumstances in which the suitcase was lost and its contents and value. Since most mobiles have cameras these days, it will be a good idea to take a picture of the place of theft indicating how the baggage was stolen. If you have complained about unauthorised passengers to the TTE, specify that too and mention the name of the TTE. If more passengers lost their baggage, you can mention them too.