Indian man wins 22-year battle for 20-rupee rail fare refund

After a campaign which cost about 20,000 rupees, lawyer Tungnath Chaturvedi celebrates a 'victory against corruption'

Tungnath Chaturvedi said his case against Indian Railways was not about the money. Photo: Tungnath Chaturvedi
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An Indian lawyer has won a 22-year legal battle against the national railway operator to reclaim 20 rupees ($0.25) he was overcharged for a ticket.

Tungnath Chaturvedi, 66, bought a ticket from Mathura Cantonment station to the nearby city of Moradabad in Uttar Pradesh state in 1999.

But a clerk at the counter charged the lawyer 90 rupees ($1.13) instead of 70 rupees ($0.88).

Mr Chaturvedi complained, but the clerk refused to give him a refund.

This is not about money. This is about corruption that is deeply rotting our system
Tungnath Chaturvedi

The lawyer eventually filed a case against Indian Railways in a consumer court in his home town of Mathura.

After 120 court hearings spanning more than two decades, and about 20,000 rupees in expenses, the court ruled last week in Mr Chaturvedi's favour and ordered the railway operator to pay a fine of 15,000 rupees and to refund his 20 rupees plus interest of 12 per cent, rising to 15 per cent if the sum was not paid within 30 days.

“This is not about money. This is about corruption that is deeply rotting our system,” Mr Chaturvedi told The National. “My victory is a victory against corruption.”

His story is a classic example of the sluggishness of the country’s judicial system, where cases can drag on for decades because of a huge backlog of cases and an inadequate number of judges.

Mr Chaturvedi said the railways offered to pay him more than the refund he was seeking to withdraw his case, and then tried to argue that the consumer court was not the right forum for such complaints.

But the lawyer, who represented himself, used a Supreme Court ruling in 2021 to prove that the matter was eligible to be heard by the consumer court.

He said his family tried repeatedly to convince him that his case was pointless and a waste of time and money.

“My kids often asked why I was fighting, but I value my money. We fight for the rights of others; if we have faced injustice, why wouldn’t we fight for our rights?” he said.

“Our country’s judiciary is sluggish and people don’t get justice because they don’t have the time and patience. But I did not struggle because, being a lawyer, I fought my case patiently.”

Updated: August 12, 2022, 1:14 PM