The Bombay high court on Tuesday rapped the railways for taking an adamant stand on levying golden hour cess on suburban tickets and said that the railway administrations cannot force suburban commuters to finance emergency medical care at stations.
The HC stated that it was the statutory obligation of the authorities under the Constitution to provide such service
"It is the legal obligation of the railway administration to provide emergency medical facilities at certain suburban railway stations, and therefore the administration is not entitled to levy any cess to recover the expenditure to be incurred for providing emergency medical facilities," said the division bench headed by justice Abhay Oka and justice Ajay Gadkari.
The HC further stated, " It is a fact that lakhs of commuters travel by suburban trains and even after paying the fares most of them find it difficult to even enter the trains." The bench observed that in view of the constitutional mandate and right to life of passengers, the railway administration was legally bound to provide emergency medical services at suburban stations and 'it will not be open to the administration to levy golden hour cess on tickets.'
The court was hearing a PIL filed by a Mumbai-based activist Samir Zaveri raising concern about the large number of people dying on railway tracks every year and the apathetic approach of the railway authorities in providing them medical care.
Acting on the PIL, the court had earlier directed the railway authorities to make Dadar railway station as the example. Accordingly, an emergency medical center has been set up at the junction. Taking into note that most of the railway accidents' victims die because of delay in taking them to hospitals and loss of the crucial first hour (golden hour) without treatment, the HC had later directed the authorities to provide emergency medical facilities at selected suburban stations.
The railway authorities had reluctantly agreed to provide medical services at the suburban railway stations, but with a rider that golden hour cess will be levied and the cost would be recovered from the passengers.
According to the railway counsel advocate Suresh Kumar, the railways will have to spend Rs 96 lakh for providing emergency medical facilities and ambulance services at the stations.
The court also directed the state government to reconsider its stand that advanced life support ambulances fully dedicated for railway accident victims cannot be provided outside every railway station.
"The approach of the state government is shocking," the judges said while commenting on the state's stand.
Presently, basic life support ambulances are being provided at suburban railway stations. The court has now posted the PIL for further hearing on January 29.