In a significant ruling on Monday, the Odisha High Court asked the Indian Railways to pay compensation to all the victims of the August 25 train accident that took place at an unmanned level-crossing near Sambalpur in which at least 14 people died and five others were injured.
This direction from the High Court came despite the Railways had strongly opposed paying compensation saying there was no provision to pay damage to the non-passengers under the Railways Act.
Disposing of a PIL filed by social activist and advocate Prabir Das, a Division Bench headed by Chief Justice V Gopala Gowda asked the Chairman of the Railway Board to pay Rs 5 lakh each to the families of all the 14 victims who died while the vehicle in which they were travelling was hit by an Express train.
The HC also asked the Railways to pay Rs 1 lakh to one of the grievously injured woman, who is still undergoing treatment. Similarly, the Railways was asked to compensate other injured persons of the accident by paying damage ranging between Rs 5,000 and Rs 25,000 as per the gravity of the injury they sustained. The mishap had taken place when an Express train hit a good lorry in which the victims were crossing the railway track at Khairapalli. All the victims were farm labourers under the BPL category and were socially and economically disadvantaged. While 13 of the 14 deceased were women and belonged to the SC community, their family members could not independently fight to seek damage and, therefore, the PIL was filed on August 28.
The HC asked the Railways to pay the compensation from the date of filing of the PIL with a six-per cent interest. The authorities were asked to complete the process of payment within two months, informed advocate Das.The HC also directed the Railways to convert all the unmanned level-crossings into manned level-crossings and deploy Home Guards with red flags to alert the road users about the approaching trains. “Provide road under-bridges (RUBs) and limited height subways (LHSs) wherever necessary,” the HC order said. Similarly, the State Government was asked to provide necessary cooperation to the Railways for construction of all these structures within six months. The police and transport authorities were also asked to take stringent action against the drivers who are using mobile phones while driving. It was alleged that the goods lorry driver was listening to music from his cell phone when the accident took place.