Accidental falling of a passenger from a train carrying passengers

Principles of statutory construction : In Union of India Versus Prabhakaran Vijaya Kumar and Others reported in 2008(2) TAC 777, it has been observed:

“11. No doubt, it is possible that two interpretations can be given to the expression ‘accidental falling of a passenger from a train carrying passengers’, the first being that it only applies when a person has actually got inside the train and thereafter falls down from the train, while the second being that it includes a situation where a person is trying to board the train and falls down while trying to do so.

Since the provision for compensation in the Railways Act is a beneficial piece of legislation, in our opinion, it should receive a liberal and wider interpretation and not a narrow and technical one.

Hence in our opinion the latter of the abovementioned two interpretations i.e. the one which advances the object of the statute and serves its purpose should be preferred vide Kunal Singh vs. Union of India (2003) 4 SCC 524(para 9), B. D. Shetty vs. CEAT Ltd. (2002) 1 SCC 193 (para 12), Transport Corporation of India vs. ESI Corporation(2000) 1 SCC 332 etc.

See Also : Railway Accidents and Untoward Incidents Compensation

It is well settled that if the words used in a beneficial or welfare statute are capable of two constructions, the one which is more in consonance with the object of the Act and for the benefit of the person for whom the Act was made should be preferred.

In other words, beneficial or welfare statutes should be given a liberal and not literal or strict interpretation vide Alembic Chemical Works Co. Ltd. vs. The Workmen AIR 1961 SC 647( para 7), Jeewanlal Ltd. vs. Appellate Authority AIR 1984 SC 1842 (para 11), Lalappa Lingappa and others vs. Laxmi Vishnu Textile Mills Ltd. AIR 1981 SC 852 (para 13), S. M. Nilajkar vs. Telecom Distt. Manager (2003) 4 SCC 27(para 12) etc.

In Hindustan Lever Ltd. vs. Ashok Vishnu Kate and others 1995(6) SCC 326 (vide para 42) this Court observed:

“In this connection, we may usefully turn to the decision of this Court in Workmen vs. American Express International Banking Corporation wherein Chinnappa Reddy, J. in para 4 of the Report has made the following observations:

The principles of statutory construction are well settled. Words occurring in statutes of liberal import such as social welfare legislation and human rights’ legislation are not to be put in Procrustean beds or shrunk to Lilliputian dimensions.

In construing these legislations the imposture of literal construction must be avoided and the prodigality of its misapplication must be recognized and reduced.

Judges ought to be more concerned with the ‘colour’, the ‘content’ and the ‘context’ of such statutes (we have borrowed the words from Lord Wilberforce’s opinion in Prenn v. Simmonds).

In the same opinion Lord Wilberforce pointed out that law is not to be left behind in some island of literal interpretation but is to enquire beyond the language, unisolated from the matrix of facts in which they are set; the law is not to be interpreted purely on internal linguistic considerations.

In one of the cases cited before us, that is, Surender Kumar Verma v. Central Govt. Industrial Tribunal-cum-Labour Court we had occasion to say:

“Semantic luxuries are misplaced in the interpretation of ‘bread and butter’ statutes. Welfare statutes must, of necessity, receive a broad interpretation.Where legislation is designed to give relief against certain kinds of mischief, the Court is not to make inroads by making etymological excursions.”

Francis Bennion in his Statutory Interpretation Second Edn., has dealt with the Functional Construction Rule in Part XV of his book. The nature of purposive construction is dealt with in Part XX at p. 659 thus:

“A purposive construction of an enactment is one which gives effect to the legislative purpose by-

(a) following the literal meaning of the enactment where that meaning is in accordance with the legislative purpose (in this Code called a purposive- and-literal construction), or

(b) applying a strained meaning where the literal meaning is not in accordance with the legislative purpose (in the Code called a purposive and strained construction).”

At p. 661 of the same book, the author has considered the topic of “Purposive Construction” in contrast with literal construction. The learned author has observed as under:

“Contrast with literal construction – Although the term ‘purposive construction’ is not new, its entry into fashion betokens a swing by the appellate courts away from literal construction. Lord Diplock said in 1975: ‘If one looks back to the actual decisions of the [House of Lords] on questions of statutory construction over the last 30 years one cannot fail to be struck by the evidence of a trend away from the purely literal towards the purposive construction of statutory provisions’. The matter was summed up by Lord Diplock in this way –

…I am not reluctant to adopt a purposive construction where to apply the literal meaning of the legislative language used would lead to results which would clearly defeat the purposes of the Act. But in doing so the task on which a court of justice is engaged remains one of construction, even where this involves reading into the Act words which are not expressly included in it.”

In our opinion, if we adopt a restrictive meaning to the expression ‘accidental falling of a passenger from a train carrying passengers’ in Section 123(c) of the Railways Act, we will be depriving a large number of railway passengers from getting compensation in railway accidents.

It is well known that in our country there are crores of people who travel by railway trains since everybody cannot afford traveling by air or in a private car.

By giving a restrictive and narrow meaning to the expression we will be depriving a large number of victims of train accidents (particularly poor and middle class people) from getting compensation under the Railways Act.

Hence, in our opinion, the expression ‘accidental falling of a passenger from a train carrying passengers’ includes accidents when a bona fide passenger i.e. a passenger traveling with a valid ticket or pass is trying to enter into a railway train and falls down during the process.

In other words, a purposive, and not literal, interpretation should be given to the expression.