Hyderabad airport told to pay Rs 5 lakh to passenger injured following escalator malfunction

The 48-year-old complainant had sustained spinal injuries and was bedridden for weeks after the 2014 incident

In an important judgment, the Telangana State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission in Hyderabad has ordered the GMR Hyderabad International Airport Ltd (GHIAL) to pay Rs 5 lakh as compensation to a private citizen who met with an accident at the airport in 2014.

On September 10, 2014, the complainant Subroto Banerjee (48) had reached the Hyderabad airport to travel to Bengaluru. As he proceeded to the departures section on an escalator, it slowed down and almost stopped mid-way with a jerk, resulting in passengers falling over each other.

Banerjee, who is a top executive at a private company, claimed that the escalator then moved in the opposite direction and as he fell down, others fell over him. He sustained multiple fractures, was bedridden for 75 days and was deprived of work. Besides the physical injuries, the incident also caused him mental pain and trauma, he informed the commission.

Delivering its verdict seven years after the incident, the commission noted the absence of satisfactory evidence in GHIAL’s argument that overcrowding on the escalator had led to the incident. It concluded that the incident took place due to malfunctioning of the escalator provided by the authorities for the use of passengers, who are consumers availing the airport’s services.

Though the GHIAL questioned the complainant’s version of the incident, claiming that the airport had deployed state-of-the-art technology and the escalators were subjected to regular maintenance, it admitted that the escalator had slowed down due to surfeit of passengers and came to a slow halt, which it claimed was an automatic safety feature meant to handle the rush.

It argued that the escalator cannot move in reverse and after coming to a gradual halt, it restarted slowly and moved forward at its regular pace. The airport management blamed the complainant for standing on the edge of the escalator step without holding on to the railings. The complainant was provided first-aid and moved to Apollo Multi-Specialty Hospital in Jubilee Hills and the airport bore Rs 1.51 lakh towards his treatment as a goodwill gesture.

Banerjee, who claimed to be a frequent flyer, suffered a spinal fracture and underwent surgery at the hospital. After recovering, he lodged a complaint at RGI Airport police station and sent a legal notice to GHIAL blaming it for poor maintenance of the escalator and negligence on the part of its staff. Meanwhile, GHIAL has maintained that there was no deficiency of service and the incident could, at best, be called an accident.

The commission also pointed out the airport management’s failure to preserve or submit CCTV footage as evidence. “If an Airport of an international repute has put to use the best available escalators but still if it gets stuck-up or stopped for a while, it can certainly be said to be the deficiency on the part of the functioning of the escalator which was provided by (GHIAL),” the order noted.

Against Banerjee’s claims for a compensation of Rs 50 lakh, the commission found it “just and reasonable” to allow Rs 5 lakh and Rs 10,000 towards costs incurred. GHIAL was asked to pay the amount within 30 days of receipt of the copy, failing which interest at 9 per cent per annum shall be imposed till payment.

A GHIAL official told indianexpress.com that they were yet to receive a copy of the order and, hence, would not be able to comment on the matter.

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