Trespassers’ responsibility for risk in crossing railway tracks

Your Editor,
Justice and sympathy are not synonymous. Courts are temples of justice. While there are temples of justice, there are no temples of sympathy. Orissa High Court has ruled that the trespassers crossing railway tracks must accept responsibility and they must be prepared to bear the risk associated with crossing the railway tracks. Trains cannot deviate from their tracks. If accidents happen due to the fault of the railway authorities, the passengers are entitled for monetary compensation. But when the people in haste cross the railway tracks and they are run over or hit by train, the railway authorities cannot be held responsible. In line with this view the Orissa High Court has dismissed a writ for compensation. Even though railway authorities are not responsible for the fatal or non-fatal accidents affecting the people due to their fault, the railway authorities take every possible action to prevent accidents enabling the people to cross to the other side from the foot over bridge across the tracks, with fences erected not giving accessibility to cross the tracks, with boards put up explaining the dangers of crossing in manned or unmanned level crossings or in Railway Stations, considering the life of people precious. Dr. Justice Sanjeeb Kumar Panigrahi has reportedly dismissed a writ petition seeking compensation from Railways in two separate fatal accidents on railway tracks.
It has been reported that the two struck by a train are not passengers but trespassers. The Court has viewed that trespassing on railway tracks is inherently risky and people crossing the tracks are exposed to potential dangers associated with trains and the railway environment. Trespassing is unlawful. Those who go against the spirit of law must accept the responsibility and face the consequences. The Court has expressed that the Railways plays a fundamental role. Railways is the backbone of the nation’s transportation infrastructure connecting vast areas.
It is undoubtedly and undeniably the lifeline of the nation serving as a vital link in the country’s socio-economic fabric. Statistics reportedly show that in 2021 that there were 1752 rail-related deaths with majority of them accounting for crossing the tracks. Accidents result in loss of precious lives and they also have bearings on the economy of nation.
This is confined not just to railway transport but also road transport. The facts of the case are that in the first incident Biswanath Pradhan, the Railway Master reported the discovery of a body on railway track No. 43/7 near Andhari village. One by name Bhakta Pradhan was mentally challenged and fatally struck by a passing train. The second one, petitioner’s son was struck by a goods train in Soro Railway Station resulting in fatality. The petitioners argued that the negligence on the part of the railway administration caused the accident. Therefore Section 124-A of the Railways Act 1989 warrants payment of compensation.
With counter argument, the State stated that trespassing of railway tracks constituted violations of Section 147 of the Railway Act, 1989 claiming that the deceased unlawfully entered railway property making their actions criminal offences. In the second case, the state argued that the deceased’s deliberate positioning on the track may even be construed as an act of suicide or attempted suicide. The High Court observed that Section 124-A of the Railway Act, 1989 makes it mandatory for payment of compensation regardless of the wrongful act or negligence on the part of the railway administration.
The compensation is payable to “passenger”, not “trespasser”. The Court concluded that the deceased were not passengers but trespassers. The claim of the petitioners for compensation does not fall under the purview of Section 124A. In assessing negligence, the High Court referred to the principle of re ipsa loquitur. It means this principle establishes a prima facie case of negligence. This judgment must be an eye-opener to realize that Section 124-A of the Act benefits the “passengers” or their kin, not the “trespassers” or their kin in the event of accidents.
K.V. Seetharamaiah

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