Ex-Gratia Disparity: Why Kanchenjunga Express Victims Deserve Equal Compensation as Delhi Airport Roof Collapse Victims

Disparity in Ex-Gratia Relief: A Letter from E A S Sarma

In recent weeks, India has witnessed two tragic incidents that have grabbed national headlines and provoked widespread outcry. On June 28, 2024, a major accident at Delhi Airport led to the collapse of a section of the roof, resulting in multiple fatalities. Not long after, another disaster struck in West Bengal when the Kanchenjunga Express derailed, claiming the lives of several passengers. In the wake of these calamities, the government announced compensatory measures for the victims, but a glaring disparity in the ex-gratia relief provided has provoked stern criticism from E A S Sarma, a former Secretary to the Government of India.

The Letter to the Railway Minister

Addressed to Shri Ashwini Vaishnaw, the current Railway Minister, Sarma's letter underscores a notable inconsistency in the relief amounts provided to the victims of these two accidents. The Ministry of Civil Aviation declared an ex-gratia relief of Rs 20 lakhs for each deceased victim of the Delhi Airport incident. In contrast, the Railway Ministry announced an ex-gratia relief of only Rs 10 lakhs for each person who lost their life in the Kanchenjunga Express accident. Sarma found this discrepancy not only stark but also deeply unjust.

Gross Negligence and Its Consequences

Both calamities were rooted in gross negligence on the part of the responsible government agencies, as Sarma points out. The question then arises: why should the victims of one incident receive double the compensation as those of the other? Sarma argues that this policy is not only inconsistent but also discriminatory. Railway passengers, who are typically less affluent than air travelers, deserve an equal if not greater degree of support in such tragic circumstances.

Implications for Social Justice

The ex-gratia policy's inherent bias becomes even more pronounced when considering the socio-economic backgrounds of those affected by the Kanchenjunga Express accident. Railway passengers often represent a cross-section of Indian society that is economically vulnerable. Sarma emphasizes that it is fundamentally unjust for this group to receive lesser compensation solely based on the mode of transportation they were using. This disparity, according to Sarma, undermines the principles of equity and social justice that the government should uphold.

Call for Policy Consistency

Sarma’s letter doesn't stop at highlighting the disparity; it goes further to advocate for a consistent and unified policy for ex-gratia relief across all modes of transportation. He requests the Railway Ministry to enhance the relief amount from Rs 10 lakhs to Rs 20 lakhs, aligning with the Civil Aviation Ministry’s compensation for the Delhi Airport roof collapse victims. A consistent ex-gratia policy would not only eliminate biases but also ensure that all citizens receive fair treatment in times of such unprecedented loss and grief.

Legal and Ethical Responsibilities

The government's ethical responsibility towards its citizens is not limited to mere token gestures of financial aid. Policies on compensation should reflect a sincere commitment to justice and equity, especially when the state holds liability for the incidents in question. By rectifying the ex-gratia discrepancy, the government can send a strong message that it values the lives of all its citizens equally, irrespective of their economic status or the mode of transportation they use.

An Appeal for Change

Sarma's letter is a poignant appeal for change, a call to acknowledge and correct the injustices in the system. Enhancing the compensation for the Kanchenjunga Express victims is not just about money; it is a step towards rectifying a broader systemic issue. It is about ensuring that the government's relief measures are reflective of its commitment to social justice and equity.

Public Reactions and the Way Forward

The public has also vocalized its discontent with the current policies. Many citizen forums and social media platforms have seen an outpouring of criticism, with numerous calls for equitable treatment of all victims. This issue has sparked debates on the need for a comprehensive review of the government's relief policies across varied sectors.

A re-evaluation and subsequent adjustment of the ex-gratia relief amounts would not only pacify public outrage but also align the government's actions with its ethical duties. It would set a precedent, ensuring that future policies are crafted with fairness and equality at the forefront.

In summary, Sarma's letter to the Railway Minister brings to light an important issue that goes beyond mere numbers. It questions the very principles upon which compensatory policies are based and calls for a shift towards a more fair and just approach in dealing with the victims of such tragic incidents. His appeal is a reminder that policies should be shaped with a keen sense of justice, compassion, and equality, ensuring that every citizen, regardless of their socio-economic status, is treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.