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Indian lawyer wins 22-year legal battle over 25 cents

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A lawyer who won a 22-year court battle for compensation from Indian Railways after being overcharged 20 rupees ($0.25) said Friday that his quest for justice was worth the effort.

Tungnath Chaturvedi bought two tickets from his hometown Mathura to Moradabad in 1999 and was charged 90 rupees instead of 70, the price of the fare. He was given a receipt, but officials at the state rail monopoly repeatedly refused him a refund.

The two cities are less than 300 kilometres (185 miles) apart, but his journey to justice needed 120 hearings at the Mathura consumer court before five different judges over more than two decades before he was awarded compensation this month.

The case is a reflection of India’s sluggish judicial system, where litigants are often frustrated by delays and cases can run for years, if not decades, in overburdened courts that have a backlog of around 50 million cases.

The court awarded 66-year-old Chaturvedi a refund of 20 rupees, plus interest at 12 percent a year, and compensation of 15,000 rupees.

But even as a lawyer representing himself, his victory cost him hundreds of hours of effort, plus 20,000 rupees in fees and other payments.

Family and friends tried to convince him to give up the fight over a token sum, but he persisted.

“This wasn’t about money but about my rights,” he insisted. “As a citizen, it’s my right to question the arbitrary and corrupt practises of the state or its machinery,” he told AFP.

“Sometimes the court would adjourn because someone was sick or had to attend a condolence meet,” he said.

At one point he cited a Supreme Court precedent when Indian Railways claimed the court did not have jurisdiction to hear the case.

“At times, I used to get frustrated over the court delays, but being a lawyer, I was determined to fight the case till the end,” Chaturvedi said.

“More importantly truth has to be told.”

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Agence France-Presse (AFP) is a French international news agency headquartered in Paris, France. Founded in 1835 as Havas, it is the world's oldest news agency.

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