Railways cannot escape responsibility for coach roof deaths

The Supreme Court on Tuesday held the railway administration liable for the tragic deaths of 19 youths who fatally hit a foot-over bridge while travelling on the roof of an express train, which failed to stop even after the incident.

A Bench of Chief Justice T.S. Thakur and Justice U.U Lalit ordered the government to pay Rs. 5 lakh compensation to each of the families of the dead, while dismissing the Railways’ plea to be absolved of liability.

Inherent danger

“It must be expected of the persons concerned to be aware of the inherent danger in allowing the train to run with such speed with large number of persons travelling on rooftop. Though the people who travelled on rooftop contributed to the mishap, the railway administration was not free from blame,” the apex court held.

The incident concerns the journey of the Jammu Tawi-Howrah Himgiri Express from Bareilly on February 1, 2011 when lakhs of young men converged for selection into the Indo-Tibetan Border Police. Due to the unwieldy crowd, the ITBP officials had to resort to lathi charge and the selections were called off. Consequently, the young aspirants boarded the train in question, many on the roof, to make their way back.

The train travelled for over 60 km with the youths on its roof before tragedy struck at Shahjahanpur district where the clearance between the foot-over bridge and the roof was less than three metres. The train continued to run for another three km even after the accident before it stopped and the bodies of young men were brought down from the “bloodied” roof.

Disagreeing with the official version putting the blame entirely on the youths, the judgment, authored by Justice Lalit, expressed shock at how the train continued to run after the accident that too at a high speed.