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Union of India (Uoi), Owning the Southern Railway, Represented by the General Manager, Southern Railway Vs. Balaji Trading Corporation and ors. - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectCivil
CourtChennai High Court
Decided On
Reported in(1977)1MLJ110
AppellantUnion of India (Uoi), Owning the Southern Railway, Represented by the General Manager, Southern Rail
RespondentBalaji Trading Corporation and ors.
Excerpt:
.....on the night of the 27th may, that fire had been simmering inside several of the bales after the fire brigade had left the station yard satisfied that the fire had been completely quenched, that, as a result thereof, smoke emanated on the 28th from charred bales which were damaged by fire on the 27th, that the efforts made by g. 1, also was satisfied that the smouldering of fire in the charred 150 bales had been completely quenched, that the railway's duty, as a bailes came to an end when the stationmaster promptly contacted the fire brigade on the 27th and throughout the fire' fighting he was present and that in view of the satisfaction of the fire brigade officer and himself he gave a certificate that the fire had been quenched. he was also satisfied that the fire had been quenched...........on the night of the 27th may, that fire had been simmering inside several of the bales after the fire brigade had left the station yard satisfied that the fire had been completely quenched, that, as a result thereof, smoke emanated on the 28th from charred bales which were damaged by fire on the 27th, that the efforts made by g.w.1 and some coolies on the 28th to put down the smoke had lulled them into a false sense of security, that the fire which was simmering inside in the bales had not been completely put out by their efforts and that the 300 bales in question were lying within close range of the charred bales. it is extremely probable that they caught fire from the charred bales which again broke into flames because of the fire which had been simmering inside for some hours.on.....
Judgment:

Veeraswami, C.J.

1. (O.S.A. Ms. 63 & 64 op 1970)--These are two appeals arising out of suits filed by two different plain tiffs for damages against the Railway, the second defendant-appellant in both the appeals, for its negligence in respect of the fire that destroyed 200 cotton bales consigned from Tadpatri to Renigunta, addressed to Self and to be cleared through R.R. to be cashed through bank by the consignee. The first defendant is Tirupathi Cotton Mills Ltd., and the second defendant, as we said, is the Railway. Balaji Trading Corporation at Tadpatri is the plaintiff in the suit out of which O.S.A. No. 63 of 1970 arises and Renganayakalu and Co., is the plaintiff in the suit out of which O.S.A. No. 64 of 1970 arises. The plaintiffs contracted with the first defendant mills for supply of 200 cotton bags in each case. Both the contracts were on the same day, 27th April, 1965. On 3rd May, 1965, each of the plaintiffs consigned separately 100 bales of cotton. They arrived, in the one on 3rd May, 1965 and in the other on 12th May, 1965, at Renigunta from Tadpatri. On 15th May, 1965, 150 more bales arrived, with which the suits have nothing to do. This set of bales was stored up in the open a, few feet away from the stock of bales of the plaintiffs, also stored up in the open on the platforms. The goods were not cleared until 27th May, 1965. On that date there was a fire which destroyed the 150 bales. The cause for the fire was not known. One Govindarajulu, working as Section Officer, Andhra Fire Service at Tirupathi, speaks to the fact that on 27th May, 1965, he received a fire cell message at about 2.09 P.M., from Renigunta railway station. The message said that the cotton bales, the reference was to the 150 bales, caught fire near the goods shed and requested assistance. Immediately, at about 2-10 P.M. a trailer pump was sent. But that was found to be insufficient. Another engine was sent, which arrived on the spot at 3-05 P.M. According to this witness, it took about 4 hours and 45 minutes to put out the fire. Actually, the witness left Renigunta station at 9 P.M. According to him, he satisfied himself that the fire was completely put out. To a suggestion that the fire was not completely put out and that the bales were smouldering which were thrown all round, the witness denied that it was so and asserted that both he and the Stationmaster inspected the entire area and only after complete satisfaction that the fire had been extinguished the Stationmaster issued a. certificate to that effect. Another question was put to him:

Kindly tell his Lordship whether it is; your suggestion that the bales on fire were completely put out?

The answer was:

Yes. On 27th May, 1965, we completely put out the fire. The fear will be greater in us in not putting out the fire, because nearby there was 300 bales and it is residential locality and if again there was any other accident we had to come here Therefore, we want to see that the fire is completely put out. I took the railway authorities completely satisfied and obtained a certificate and I also got drums filled up with water.

In spite of this complete satisfaction of these officers, it was found that on the next day morning there was smoke emanating from the charred bales. A Cost Accountant, who was employed in the Railways previously and who was examined as a Court witness, made this statement in his evidence:

On 28th morning there was smoke from the pockets of cotton in charred bales. When we opened these pockets we found red sparks slowly spreading inside, which is put out by means of water. The smoke was coming out in a dozen places from the bales which were already affected by the fire which were near the goods shed. The smoke on 28th was put out by 3 or 4 coolies from Cotton Mills market and Ors. 12 buckets were used. These buckets belonged to the railway. These were already in the goods shed. I cannot specifically mention the names of persons who assisted on 28th May, 1965.

2. It appears there were fire extinguishers in the railway station. But according to this Court-witness they-could not be used because they were exhausted and they could be of no use. The witness further stated that they put out the smoke and he was satisfied himself that there was no cause for 1 further fire.

3. The learned Judge, who tried both the suits, on a careful scrutiny of the evidence, recorded this findings:

On a consideration of the entire evidence I have no doubt in my mind that the fire which had enveloped 150 bales on the 27th May, whatever might have been its cause or origin was not completely extinguished by the fire fighting brigade and the railway officials on the night of the 27th May, that fire had been simmering inside several of the bales after the fire brigade had left the station yard satisfied that the fire had been completely quenched, that, as a result thereof, smoke emanated on the 28th from charred bales which were damaged by fire on the 27th, that the efforts made by G.W.1 and some coolies on the 28th to put down the smoke had lulled them into a false sense of security, that the fire which was simmering inside in the bales had not been completely put out by their efforts and that the 300 bales in question were lying within close range of the charred bales. It is extremely probable that they caught fire from the charred bales which again broke into flames because of the fire which had been simmering inside for some hours.

On that view of the evidence the learned trial Judge was of opinion that the Railway had been negligent, as a result of which 300 bales were destroyed by fire.

4. The question we have to consider is whether that finding is correct Learned Advocate-General, who appears for the Railway, relies on the evidence of D.W.5, and G.W.1 and contends that the fire brigade, after fighting the fire on 27th May, 1965, for about 41/2 hours, left the place at 9 P.M., after satisfying themselves that the fire had been extinguished, that on 28th May, 1965 G.W.1, also was satisfied that the smouldering of fire in the charred 150 bales had been completely quenched, that the Railway's duty, as a bailes came to an end when the Stationmaster promptly contacted the fire brigade on the 27th and throughout the fire' fighting he was present and that in view of the satisfaction of the fire brigade officer and himself he gave a certificate that the fire had been quenched. Learned Advocate-General also strenuously relies on the evidence of G.W.1 as to his satisfaction that as far as possible he had taken steps to quench the fire. He was also satisfied that the fire had been quenched. We are unable to accept these contentions. But for the 28th incident we would have readily agreed with the learned Advocate-General's view of the oral evidence as to the officer's complete satisfaction that the fire had been extinguished. But what happened on the 28th clearly shows unmistakably and uncontrovertibly that the satisfaction of the fire brigade officer and also of the Stationmaster was only surface deep, because it is a fact that they left the fire unquenched with the result that the fire was smouldering from the bowels of the bales, smoke was coming out from a dozen places from the bales and red sparks were fast spreading. If that was what had happened on the 28th, it nullifies the soundness of the satisfaction arrived at by the fire brigade officer and also the Stationmaster as to the quenching of the fire on the 27th completely. The occurrence on the 28th also shows that all care had not been taken to quench the fire. If that had. been taken, there could not have been any cause for the smouldering and the red sparks coming from deep inside the bales on the 28th. The duty of the Railway did not end with merely sending a phone message and getting the fire brigade and the Stationmaster being present, more especially so, as within a few feet another consignment of 300 bales, out of which 200 bales belonged to the plaintiffs,. was lying in the open. On the 28th, when the smoke and fire sparks were observed, no message was sent to the fire brigade and no fire brigade officer or fire quenching engine came. A few buckets were used and G.W.1 satisfied himself that the fire had been extinguished. If, in these circumstances, the learned Judge felt that the asserted satisfaction was no satisfaction and it was probable that the 300 bales caught fire from the sparks still left in the charred stock that burst out of 150 bales, we cannot say that in coming to that conclusion, on an appreciation of the evidence, the learned Judge went wrong. We also feel that, having regard to the sequence of the fires, the probability was that the cause for the fire on the 29th was traceable to the sparks that might have still been smouldering in the 150 burnt bales of cotton.

5. The inference, therefore, is irresistible that all that could possibly have been done had not been done and what was done to quench the fire was cursory and superficial which means that the Railway was negligent and did not act, in the circumstances, in its capacity as a bailee, as a prudent man would have done when the cotton bales caught fire which was quenched. It is but necessary that every bit of the charred cotton is separated, the fire between put out and quenched. That was not done. All that seems to have happened is to pour water and when smoke was no longer seen to leave the scene with the smouldering fire still simmering inside the bowels of the charred stock of cotton bales on the 27th, and the fire continued to erupt on the 28th and thus spread over evidently to the stock of 300 bales on the 29th as well. We agree with the finding of the learned Judge and hold that the Railway was negligent and it was on account of it damages to the suit cotton bales occurred.

6. So far as the quantum of damages is concerned, we think that it is not excessive. The appeals are, therefore dismissed with costs of the first respondent payable by the appellant. O.S.A. Nos. 64 of 1971 and 5 of 1972.

These appeals relate to disallowance of interest on the damages allowed for the period prior to the suit. It is well-settled that no interest can be allowed in such circumstances in the absence of a contract to the contrary and there was no contract in this case. The result is, these appeals are dismissed but with no costs.


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