|SLP(C)No.17963 of 2019
|DATE OF JUDGMENT
|4th SEPTEMBER, 2023
|SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
|FULMATI DHRAMDEV YADAV
|NEW INDIA ASSURANCE COMPANY
|HRISHIKESH ROY, SANJAY KAROL
In the realm of employment and insurance, disputes often arise when the unfortunate demise of an employee takes place, triggering the need for compensation to be extended to the legal heirs. The case under examination delves into the contentious matter of the denial of compensation by the defendant, New India Assurance Company, following the death of an employee. The heart of the matter lies in the insurance company’s assertion that the deceased individual was not in their employ, thus challenging the very foundation of the claims put forth by the appellants.
This case revolves around the pivotal question of the deceased individual’s association with New India Assurance Company, the defendant in this legal battle. The appellant, comprising the widow and mother of the deceased employee, vehemently asserted their right to compensation in the face of the insurance company’s denial. The ensuing legal proceedings unfolded against the backdrop of conflicting narratives and evidentiary challenges, leading to a compelling judicial examination that ultimately favored the appellants.
FACTS OF THE CASE
Fulmati Dharmendra Yadav filed an appeal in the Supreme Court of India in response to the judgment of Gujrat High Court at Ahmedabad in the first appeal no. 3487 of 2013 whereby the court has set aside the order of the commissioner for the Workmen Compensation Act, Bhuj in awarding compensation to the legal heirs of deceased. The appellants are the mother and wife of Ramakant Yadav who died on 31st October 2009 as he was tying up logs on the trailer while in employment as its driver when a log that he was loading fell on his leg.. He died before any medical treatment could be provided to him. The deceased as stated by the appellants was an employee of Kutch Carrier [Sohansing & Sons], drawing a salary of Rs 4000 per month. The insurer denied the employment of the deceased for the reason given that there were no documents produced as evidence of the. As well as there were also no documents produced for the income of the deceased. The insurer- respondents herein denied the insurance claim of Rs 3,94,120.
The proceedings were then initiated before the commissioner, Workmen Compensation Act, Bhuj, Gujrat by the appellants. There were 8 issues framed by the commissioner referring to the appellant, the employer of the deceased, and the deceased.
- Whether the present applicants are the legal heirs and dependents of the deceased?
- Whether the deceased was an employee of the employer?
- Whether the accident occurred during the course of employment? If yes, then the deceased died due to injuries in the accident?
- Whether age is proved at 35 years and age affirmed by the driving time of accident and salary license indicating the date of the monthly income of Rs 4000 birth as 01-04-74. Also, no is proved?
- Whether opponents are affirmative liable to compensation amount? If yes, then what amount?
- What is the responsibility of insurance co.?
- Whether opponents are negligent in paying compensation? If yes, then will they be liable to pay a penalty and interest?
- What is the final order? Affirmative Rs 3000 for the expenses and Rs 5000 for the funeral expenses to be paid to the claimant.
CONTENTIONS OF APPELLANT
- The appellants are the mother and wife of Ramakant Yadav who died on 31st October 2009 as he was tying up logs on the trailer while in employment as its driver when one of the logs that he was lifting fell on his left leg.
- He died before any medical treatment could be provided to him. The deceased as stated by the appellants was an employee of Kutch Carrier [Sohansing & Sons], drawing a salary of Rs 4000 per month.
CONTENTIONS OF RESPONDENT
- The insurer denied the employment of the deceased for the reason given that there were no documents produced as evidence of the. As well as there were also no documents produced for the income of the deceased. The insurer- respondents herein denied the insurance claim of Rs 3,94,120.
JUDGMENT OF THE COMMISSIONER, WORKMEN COMPENSATION ACT, BHUJ, GUJRAT
After deciding the above-stated issues, the commissioner directed Insurer-New India Assurance Co. Ltd to pay as compensation of Rs 3,94,120 with interest accruing thereupon from the date of death of the deceased @9%. The same is payable within 30 days. The employer was ordered to pay Rs 1,97,068 which is 50% of the compensation amount as a penalty. also, it was directed to pay Rs 8000 to the Appellant for expenses and funeral expenses.
THE INSURER APPEALED AGAINST THIS ORDER.
During the pendency of the First Appeal, an order dated 25th June 2014 passed in Civil Application referred to the insurer, the commissioner was directed to invest 80% of the amount that was deposited with such authority in fixed deposit in an initial period of three years, to be renewed from time to time and the remaining 20% to be disbursed to the claimants.
After considering the evidence on records such as the abstract death register of the Gandhiram “A” division police station, and the cross-examination of the claimant, the wife of the deceased as well as the other documents produced, the learned court concluded that the deceased was neither working with the employer nor he died on the date of the accident stated and received injuries and died as a result thereof. And the order by the commissioner was set aside.
THE PRESENT APPEAL
The appellant By the way of a special leave petition urged before the supreme court that the court In the first appeal has infringed section 30 of the workmen compensation act, the vehicle in which the logs were 5 Hereafter, the Act stored and thus were being untied, was insured and therefore, the accident has taken place is within the responsibilities of the insurance company; that the judgment has left the Claimants remediless and without any financial support since the sole breadwinner of the family had passed away.
ANALYSIS AND CONSIDERATION
- The act governing the present dispute, i.e. Workmen Compensation Act 1923 when amended i.e. the Workmen Compensation Amendment Act 2009, the word workmen is now been replaced with the employee rechristened as the Employee Compensation Act 1923.
- The question before the supreme court is to determine whether the order of the commissioner, in the light of the materials on record, can stand or not?
- Appeal within the act are governed by section 30 of Workmen Compensation 1923. Which states,
- An appeal shall lie to the High Court from the following orders of a Commissioner, namely :— an order awarding as compensation a lump sum whether by way of redemption of a half monthly payment or otherwise or disallowing a claim in full or in part for a lump sum; 1 [(aa) an order awarding interest or penalty under section 4A;]
- (b) an order refusing to allow redemption of a half-monthly payment;
- (c) an order providing for the distribution of compensation among the dependants of a deceased 6 [employee], or disallowing any claim of a person alleging himself to be such dependant;
- (d) an order allowing or disallowing any claim for the amount of an indemnity under the provisions of sub-section (2) of section 12; or
- (e) an order refusing to register a memorandum of agreement or registering the same or providing for the registration of the same subject to conditions: Provided that no appeal shall lie against any order unless a substantial question of law is involved in the appeal and, in the case of an order other than an order such as is referred to in clause (b), unless the amount in dispute in the appeal is not less than 2 [ten thousand rupees or such higher amount as the Central Government may, by notification in the Official Gazette, specify]:
- Provided, further, that no appeal shall lie in any case in which the parties have agreed to abide by the decision of the Commissioner, or in which the order of the Commissioner gives effect to an agreement come to by the parties:
- [Provided further that no appeal by an employer under clause (a) shall lie unless the memorandum of appeal is accompanied by a certificate by the Commissioner to the effect that the appellant has deposited with him the amount payable under the order appealed against.] (2) The period of limitation for an appeal under this section shall be sixty days.
- The provisions of section 5 of 4 [the Indian Limitation Act, 1963 (36 of 1963)] shall be applicable to appeals under this section.” (Emphasis Supplied)
- The act clearly states that an appeal from an order of the commissioner can be entertained only if there exists a substantial question of law to be considered.
- The court observed, northeast Karnataka Road Transport Corporation v. Sujatha amongst other numerous cases and mentioned,
- In other words, the appeal provided under Section 30 of the Act to the High Court against the order of the Commissioner is not like a regular first appeal akin to Section 96 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 which can be heard both on facts and law. The appellate jurisdiction of the High Court to decide the appeal is confined only to examine the substantial questions of law arising in the case.”
- The other basis for challenging the decision is perversity in the findings, which limits the jurisdiction’s application to “substantial questions of law,” thereby opening the door to interference. The contested decision in this case does not, by any means, represent the criticism that the Commissioner’s conclusions are erroneous. The distinction between the two rulings—the Commissioner’s order and the First Appeal judgment—was whether or not an employer-employee relationship had been created. Although the appellate court noted that “claimants have clearly failed to prove this aspect,” the Commissioner believed that such a relationship had been established.
- Just to be clear, this is not one of the Commissioner’s questions for consideration, nor has the Commissioner provided any conclusions regarding the legitimacy of the deceased’s license’s non-availability. In this case, the learned Court below erred in making observations and issuing a holding while exercising powers within the narrow scope permitted by section 30 of the Act.
- This Court has also noted that the Commissioner is the last arbiter of the facts in a case. It was noted in Golla Rajamma & Ors. v. Divisional Manager & Anr.8 (2-Judge Bench) that “the Workmen’s Compensation Commissioner is the last authority on facts under the scheme of the Act.” Parliament has determined that the appeal’s scope should be limited to significant legal issues, given this is welfare legislation. Sadly, the High Court failed to address this important issue of restricted jurisdiction, dared to reexamine the evidence, and documented its conclusions on 8 (2017) 1 SCC 45 percentage of disability, for which there is likewise no foundation.
- The court also observed that the conclusions arrived at by the commissioner, were a possible view, therefore extinguishing the possibility of perversity in findings.
- In C. Manjamma v. New India Assurance Co. Ltd.9, a bench of two learned judges made the following observation: 15. That being the case, the Commissioner’s perspective could have been adopted in the given facts and circumstances, and the High Court had no right to get involved, especially since the case involved no substantial legal issues as defined by Section 30 of the Employees Compensation Act of 1933.
- It is not at all unlikely, much less impossible, to conclude that the deceased was employed by the employer based on the information that is on file with the Commissioner and is detailed in the order. At first glance, the question that keeps coming up and is never answered is what the deceased person was doing with the 9 (2022) 6 SCC 206 trolley and the items that were loaded onto it at the time of his death. Second, it was unambiguously stated in the affidavit presented to the Commissioner that the deceased was an employee of the employer. While the Respondents in this case had denied the facts as stated in the petition and cross-examined the Applicants, “but no adverse facts proved” by them and “no adverse document produced” by the Insurer to refuse the contents of the claim by appellants, the Commissioner noted in his observation of the second issue that neither a written statement nor an employer challenge had been made.
- Furthermore, after reviewing the record, we discovered that the Panchnama of the location of occurrence10 states that there was only one person present at the time of the incident. His name was Sunilbhai Ramjibhai Ahir, and he worked for the employer’s company as a supervisor. The employer company is also named on the inquest panchnama form 11. The address listed, which the deceased was connected to, and the individual who identified the corpse of the 10 Annexure P-1 on page 23 and the 11 Annexure P-6 on page 9 of the application to place additional documents on file for the deceased, both match the employer company’s address.
- When taken together, the circumstances—the deceased’s presence at the scene, the employer company’s supervisor present, the ownership of the trolley and the items it was loaded with, and the information included in the inquest panchnama form—indicate that the deceased was likely listed on the employer’s payroll.
- The Act must be construed advantageously since it is a social welfare statute, as has long been established. Cases under this act must be decided with respect to due process of law and with careful consideration of the purpose and extent of the act. This Court has emphasized this idea numerous times. Referencing K. Sivaraman v. P. Sathishkumar12, Dr. D.Y. Chandrachud J. made this observation. The 1923 Act is a socially beneficial legislation and its provisions and amendments thereto must be interpreted so as not to deprive the employees of the benefit of the legislation.”
- The Act was passed with the intention of easing the financial burden on low-income workers who were subjected to workplace risks or hazards by giving them access to more expedient and affordable means of receiving financial benefits. In order to accomplish this important goal, the 1923 Act has been amended 12 (2020) 4 SCC 594, either by increasing the amount of compensation that is payable to the employee or by simplifying the compensation process.
- It should be emphasized that neither the Commissioner’s findings nor the questions he posed for consideration addressed the validity or invalidity of the deceased person’s license. In this case, the learned Court below erred in making observations and issuing a holding while exercising powers within the narrow scope permitted by Section 30 of the Act.
- We set aside the decision made in First Appeal No. 3487 of 2013 due to the following facts: the deceased’s employment with the employer company was indicated by a cumulative sum of circumstances; the legislation’s intended social welfare and employee protection principles are upheld; the Commissioner is the final arbiter of facts; an appeal under the aforementioned Act can only address substantial legal issues; and there is no evidence of perversity in the Commissioner’s order. The appeal is accepted.
- Consequently, W.C.F.C.No.08/10, the order issued by the Commissioner under the Workmen Compensation Act of Bhuj (Kutch), Gujarat, is reinstated. Following the release of 20% of the amount awarded by the Court below in Civil Application No. 12822 of 2013 via order dated June 25, 2014, the remaining 80% of the amount deposited in accordance with this order—placed in cumulative fixed deposits—will be made immediately payable to the claimants, subject to the terms and conditions outlined therein.
- The court ordered all the interlocutory applications to be disposed of.
The ruling in favor of the appellants marks a critical juncture in this case, bringing to light the nuanced intricacies of establishing employment relationships, insurance coverage, and the moral obligation to provide financial support to the bereaved families of deceased employees. As we delve deeper into the facets of this case analysis, it becomes evident that the outcome not only has significant implications for the parties involved but also serves as a precedent for future disputes of a similar nature, shaping the contours of the legal landscape governing compensation in the aftermath of an employee’s demise.
DIYA BHASKAR NEW LAW COLLEGE, BHARTIYA VIDYAPEETH UNIVERSITY, PUNE.
Disclaimer: The materials provided herein are intended solely for informational purposes. Accessing or using the site or the materials does not establish an attorney-client relationship. The information presented on this site is not to be construed as legal or professional advice, and it should not be relied upon for such purposes or used as a substitute for advice from a licensed attorney in your state. Additionally, the viewpoint presented by the author is of a personal nature.