THE RAILWAYS ARE LIABLE TO COMPENSATE PASSENGERS FOR STOLEN GOODS—SUPREME COURT
*Railways’ appeal against NCDRC Order dismissed
1.A Bench headed by Justice DY Chandrachud upheld the compensation of Rs. 1,33,000 awarded to the passenger whose baggage was stolen when she was on her way from Delhi to Secunderabad.
2.The respondent passenger while travelling from Delhi to Secunderabad had raised a concern that there was no chain under her seat and later claimed that one of her bags was stolen from under the seat.
3.The passenger alleged that Railway Protection Force did not take steps to stop the entry of unauthorized persons in the coaches and that people without tickets were also getting inside.
4.LAME CONTENTION OF THE RAILWAYS REJECTED
4.1. The Railways claimed that the passenger never informed the authorities that she was carrying valuable like Saree and Jewellery. It was also submitted that she had failed to prove that she was carrying anything valuable.
4.2. Importantly, it was contended by the Railways the passenger, in this case, would not fall within the definition of consumer under Section 2(d) of the Consumer Protection Act since she did not avail services of Railways for the transport of the goods alleged to have been stolen.
4.3. As per Section 100 of the Railways Act 1989, railways cannot be held responsible for loss, damage, or destruction of goods unless railways were booked specifically for the transportation of the said goods, it was submitted.
4.4. This was turned down by the District and State forums.
5.NCDRC ORDER POINTS
5.1. The NCDRC relying on Rubi Chandra vs United Insurance had ruled that the commission can only look into whether there was a jurisdictional error leading to miscarriage of justice.
5.2. It had stated that it cannot reassess and re-appreciate evidence to see who was at fault in a particular case.
6.RUBI CHANDRA VS UNITED INDIA ASSURANCE CASE
6.1. Rubi (Chandra) Dutta vs M/S United India Insurance Co. Ltd on 18 March 2011
6.2. CIVIL APPEAL NO. 2588 OF 2011[Arising out of SLP(C) No.19246 of 2009]
6.3. FACTS IN BRIEF
6.3.1. The Appellant’s truck hit against a neem tree and was badly damaged.
6.3.2. She filed an FIR, appointed Insurance Company approved Surveyors who assessed the damage at Rs.2.72 laks.
6.3.3. The Appellant also claimed that she had actually spent and paid Rs.5.33 Lakhs to get the vehicle repaired.
6.3.4. Thus, the Appellant was constrained to file a complaint under Section 12 of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 (in short `the Act’) before District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum, Berhampore, Murshidabad, being Consumer Protection Case No. 202/2005.
6.3.5. The United India Insurance Company, as usual, DENIED ALL THE CLAIMS MADE BY THE APPELLANT.
6.3.6. Small mercy, it had to admit that the vehicle was insured with it on the date of the accident and the appellant HAD PAID THE PREMIUM.
6.3.7. It also took the USUAL plea that at the time of the accident, the bus was being driven by a person who was not holding a valid driving licence.
6.3.8. The District Consumer Forum summoned the RTO who confirmed with evidence that the driver was issued a duplicate driving licence which was VAILD at the time of the accident.
6.3.9. Considering the matter from all angles the District Forum was pleased to allow the complaint of the Appellant and directed the Respondent to pay to the Appellant a total sum of Rs. 4,00,000/- together with an interest at the rate of 9%, if the payment was not made within two months from the date of the said order.
7.UNITED INDIA INSURANCE GOES IN APPEAL
7.1. The Company filed an appeal under Section 15 of the Act. The State Commission also perused the matter in due detail and agreed with the findings that at the relevant point of time bus was being driven by a person holding a valid driving licence.
7.2. However, it concluded that that Appellant would be entitled to a sum of Rs.2,72,517/- only, which was assessed as damages by the C.A. @ SLP(C)No.19246 of 2009.
7.3. The amount was ordered to be paid within six weeks failing which it will carry interest at the rate of 9% per annum till the amount is paid in full.
8.UNITED INDIA INSURANCE FILES REVISION PETITION
8.1. Against the aforesaid orders of District Forum and State Commission, Respondent preferred a Revision Petition under Section 21(b) of the Act, before the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (for short, `National Commission’). National Commission after considering the matter concluded that the driver of the bus at the relevant point of time was not holding a valid driving licence.
8.2. Accordingly, it allowed the plea of the Respondent and thereby set aside and quashed the orders passed and thereby set aside and quashed the orders passed by District Forum and State Commission.
9.RUBY CHANDRA DUTTA FILES AN SLP IN SUPREME COURT
9.1. CIVIL APPEAL NO. 2588 OF 2011[Arising out of SLP(C) No.19246 of 2009]
9.2. SC JUDGEMENT
9.2.1. Insured is before us challenging the correctness, legality, and propriety of the order passed by National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, New Delhi (in short `National Commission’) in Revision Petition No. 2899 of 2008 on 18.12.2008 titled M/s. United India Insurance Company Ltd. Vs. Rubi (Chandra) Dutta.
9.3. We have heard learned Counsel Shri Sanjay Kumar Ghosh for Appellant and Shri P.R. Sikka for Respondent at length and perused the record.
9.4. . In the appeal the sole ground to be examined by us is whether at the relevant point of time Sirajul Haque was having a valid driving licence or not. We have once again critically gone through the evidence produced by the parties, and the statements made by the authorized officer of the RTO, and other material documents filed by the parties. In the light of the admission of the witness, who had appeared with the relevant records from the office of RTO, we have absolutely no doubt in our mind that at the relevant point of time Sirajul Haque was having a valid driving licence. The reasoning behind our opinion is explained hereunder.
9.5 No doubt, it is true that the original application of Sirajul Haque bearing No. 676/96 was missing in the Register of Driving Licences but on C.A. @ SLP(C)No.19246 of 2009
9.6. On the strength of other available documents, he was issued a duplicate licence by the same RTO, a fact admitted by the Court witness. After having gone through the copy of the duplicate licence we are further reassured that the same was duly issued following normal procedure by the Licensing Authority.
9.7. Apart from the above, we have also seen the preliminary report of Surveyor Mr. Sujit Kumar Sarkar who has mentioned that Sirajul Haque was having a driving licence bearing No. 676/96 issued by Licensing Authority, Murshidabad. Similar is the report of another Surveyor Mr. Surya Dutt who has mentioned in the report that at the time of driving the bus, the driver was having a valid driving licence.
9.8. On close scrutiny of the Copy of the Duplicate Licence issued by Licensing Authority, Murshidabad we also observed a noting which categorically states C.A. @ SLP(C)No.19246 of 2009 …. Contd.
9.9. that the said duplicate license was issued only after “verification from the original.”
9.10. This unequivocal admission made by the said witness of RTO fully establishes this fact.
9.11. The cumulative effect of the aforesaid facts would clearly establish that at the relevant point of time driver Sirajul Haque was holding a valid driving licence to drive the bus.
9.12. Unfortunately, all these facts have not been carefully dealt with by the National Commission and still, it went on to upset and quash the concurrent findings of the two lower fora.
9.13. The decision of the National Commission rests not on the basis of some legal principle that was ignored by the Courts below, but on a different (and in our opinion, an erroneous) interpretation of the same set of facts. This is not the manner in which revisional powers should be invoked. In this view of the matter, we are of the considered opinion that the jurisdiction conferred on the National Commission under Section 21(b) of the Act has been transgressed.
9.14. The order of the National Commission is set aside and quashed. We accordingly hold that Respondent is liable to pay the aforesaid amount of Rs. 2,72,517/-
9.15. to the Appellant together with interest at the rate of 9% per annum, from the date of filing of the application till it is actually paid. The appeal thus stands allowed to the aforesaid extent. Respondent to bear the cost of the litigation throughout.
[Justice. DEEPAK VERMA] March 18, 2011, New Delhi.