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Saturday, July 18, 2015

Consignment of rice - took One year for reaching Kumbakonam from Haryana

Indian Railways is exceptionally vast network – daily there are hundreds of passenger trains – some do run late – in many areas there is marked improvement and professionalism, especially the ‘ train reservation system ’ has scaled great heights in the last two decades – the purpose of this post is not to criticise, as this perhaps was an isolated incident !

In Tamil Nadu, is the temple town of Kumbakonam, also spelt as Coombaconum in the records of British India, located 40 km (25 mi) from Thanjavur and 273 km (170 mi) from Chennai.  This beautiful  town is bounded by two rivers, the Kaveri River to the north and Arasalar River to the south.  Kumbakonam dates back to the Sangam period and was ruled by the Early Cholas, Pallavas, Medieval Cholas, Later Cholas, Pandyas, theVijayanagar Empire, Madurai Nayaks, Thanjavur Nayaks and the Thanjavur Marathas. The town reached the zenith of its prosperity during the British Raj when it was a prominent centre of European education and Hindu culture; and it acquired the cultural name, the "Cambridge of South India".  Kumbakonam is known for its temples and mathas (monasteries).  Pilgrims from all parts of India take a holy dip once every 12 years during the Mahamaham festival in the Mahamaham tank.

Miles away,  Uchana is a city and a municipal committee in Jind district in  Haryana.   Uchana Kalan is  the  assembly constituency  under  Hisar Lok Sabha constituency. The constituency was the traditional stronghold of senior Congress leader and Haryana Finance Minister Birender Singh who won the 2005 assembly elections. But in the 2009 assembly elections Om Parkash Chautala of INLD defeated Singh.  As Chautala was barred from contesting elections following his conviction and 10-year-jail term in a teachers' recruitment scam, his grandson and the country's youngest MP Dushyant Chautala  fought the polls but lost to Prem Lata of BJP.

There are no direct passenger trains between Kumbakonam and Uchana.  Grand Trunk Express would take around 34 hours to traverse 2154 km from Chennai Central to Faridabad in Haryana and approx another 180 km to Uchana from Faridabad.  Freight trains [Goods train] would naturally take a longer time – but certainly less than a week !

Indian Railways (IR) carries nearly 1012 Million Tonnes of Freight in a year as reported from FOIS System in Year 2013-14. Freight trains bring two thirds of the Indian Railway revenues and are referred to as the bread earners for the Railways. The major commodities carried by Indian Railways are Coal, Iron Ore, Foodgrains, Iron & Steel, Cement, Petroleum products, Fertilizer and Containerized Traffic. There are specialized wagons to handle the Transportation Needs of the different types of commodities. Unlike passenger carrying trains, Freight trains do not run to a fixed schedule thus making Freight Operations a highly Information Intensive activity.

The rakes are assigned names in alphabetic sequence starting with a name that begins with an 'A' for the first formation out of a marshalling yard after 0100 hrs, along with a number. This designation can change if the rake is broken up at another yard and regrouped. Thus, freight trains have names such as 'Ahmedabad 10', or 'Bombay 21', or 'India 38'. The letters 'J' and 'U' are not used, so that there are 24 letters available, one for each hour of the day.

So in the modern World, it is easier to track the wagon and the consignment sent by Railways …… now read this report in The Hindu of date which states that ‘ one year after it left the originating point in North India, a freight wagon carrying rice to Kumbakonam reached the destination on Thursday morning’ – yes, the time taken is ‘ One year !’.

The wagon, which carried around 1,200 bags of rice, failed to reach Kumbakonam along with the original formation then, railway sources said. It is suspected that the wagon could have developed mechanical defect leading to its detachment from the formation. It apparently escaped from the railway freight movement system from then on, the sources said.

The rice was being transported by the Food Corporation of India from Uchana in Haryana to Kumbakonam. After nearly a year, the wagon, which was attached to an empty rake to Kumbakonam, finally reached its destination on Thursday morning. The reports adds that around 1,000 bags were shifted to FCI godown after officials conducted checks. The remaining bags were still at the Kumbakonam station. The rice in some of the bags, it is said, had become unfit for consumption.

It is a food product – “rice” and obviously, an year in a railway wagon – it would no longer be edible ! and perhaps should be dumped and destroyed.  This being Government rice [of Food Corporation] – there would be no insurance angle, and perhaps the episode would die a natural death.  Had it been of any individual or a Firm, they would have suffered the loss arising out of non-delivery [for more than a reasonable period and suddenly appearing !] – they would have claimed from their Cargo Insurers, who would have insisted on certification by Railways / surrender of the original Railway receipt.

In terms of section 93 of the Railways Act, 1989, a railway administration is responsible for the  loss, destruction, damage, deterioration or non-delivery of animals or goods delivered to the administration  for carriage by railway arising from any cause  except the following causes  :- a. act of God; b. act of war; c. act of public enemies; d. arrest, restraint or seizure under legal process; e. orders or restrictions imposed by the Central Government or a State Government or  by any officer or authority subordinate to the Central Government or a State Government authorized in this behalf; f. act or omission or negligence of the consignor or the consignee or the endorsee or the  agent of servant of the consignor or consignee or the endorsee; g. natural deterioration  or wastage in bulk or weight due to  inherent defect, quality or vice of the goods; h.  latent defects, and i.       fire, explosion or any unforeseen risk.

However for determining liability of Railways  of loss,  destruction, damage,  deterioration, or non-delivery, Railway Administration can seek protection from liability for compensation if they can prove  that they have  used reasonable foresight and care in the carriage  of the animals or goods.

Again, whether the consignment was declared to Railways and extra freight paid needs to be looked into.  If the consignment was carried at ‘Owner’s risk’ – then Railway is only bailee and would have greater impunity.   Another interesting dimension is that in respect of ‘ delay in transit ‘ under Sec 95 of Railways Act, 1989, the railway administration shall not be responsible for loss, destruction, damage or deterioration of any consignment proved by the owner to have been caused by delay or detention in their carriage, if the railway administration proves that delay or detention arose for reasons beyond its control or without negligence or misconduct on the part of the railway administration or any of its servants.

This case would defy logic – yet !! – what is your take on the given circumstance ?

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

Sat, 18th July 2015.      Photo credit : The Hindu.

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