The Kerala High Court is examining how every case of accidental death, injury or murder in the course of employment can be brought to the notice of the Commissioners and Industrial Tribunals under the Employees Compensation Act so that they can exercise their powers to provide monetary relief to the victims' families.
A Division Bench of Justices K Vinod Chandran and Ziyad Rahman A A had moved the petition on its own in the matter after noting the plight of night watchmen who are generally "ill-equipped and ill-paid" for the job they do.
"We observed that often they stake their lives to offer nothing more than a sense of security to those whose property they watch over".
The petition was initiated considering that according to the present regime in place, if such employees are killed during the course of employment, their families receive some compensation only if the accused are convicted.
"Such frail men, often armed only with a mosquito coil, are seen ineffectively guarding shops and ATMs at night, while the owners slumber in their opulent homes."
When such a night watchman is killed on the job and the criminal case ends in acquittal, their family, often already thrown into the streets, have no perceivable means of getting a compensation", the court emphasised.
The bench was of the opinion that such circumstances would give rise to valid proceedings for compensation under the Employees Compensation Act 1923 for "accidental death" of the employee.
It also noted that the Commissioners appointed under the Act in the various Industrial Tribunals in the state do not have the administrative machinery to initiate proceedings or even get information of "such accidental death" having occurred.
The Bench took the view that not only in the case of security guards falling prey to dacoits and robbers, in every case where there is an accidental death or injury in the course of employment there is no machinery in place for the matter to be brought to the notice of the notified Commissioners for the purpose of invoking the powers under the Act.
The Court also observed as such:
"Considering the fact that there is no effective machinery or infrastructure provided to the Industrial Tribunals or the notified Commissioners under the Act, we are of the opinion that the Kerala State Legal Services Authority(KSLSA) could take an effective, proactive role insofar as the initiation of proceedings through the District Legal Services Authorities and Taluk Legal Services Authorities."
However, it was pointed out that they would require information as to any incidents of death in the course of employment including incidents similar to that of the security guard. Such information could only be supplied by the police, who first take cognizance of such offences whether it be a murder or an accidental death.
For issuing suitable directions in the matter under consideration, the court impleaded the state government, KSLSA and the industrial tribunals at Kollam, Alappuzha, Idukki, Palakkad and Kozhikode as parties.
The plight of the night watchmen first came to the attention of the court while allowing a batch of criminal appeals in which the appellants had challenged their conviction by a sessions court for the offences of robbery and house trespass at a jewellery store and the murder of a night watchman deployed there whose body was dumped in a nearby well.
In this matter, the Court had observed that there was a lack of administrative machinery for the Commissioners notified and thereby raised a suo motu writ petition on that aspect.
Their appeals were allowed by the high court as there was no evidence against the accused.
However, the Court noted that the murder caused in furtherance of the other felonious act of robbery is an 'accident', which is also in the course of the employment as a night-watchman.
Since the deceased met his death in the course of employment, the Court perused the Kerala Victim Compensation Scheme, 2017.
According to the Scheme, a maximum of Rupees Two lakhs could be granted as compensation for the death of an individual, which computation has to be made by the District Legal Services Authority.
The Benh also looked into the provisions of the Employees Compensation Act, 1923 wherein the Commissioner designated can suo motu, under Section 10-A, proceed against the employer on a death reported under the Act.
As per its provision, Industrial Tribunals are notified as the Commissioners under the Act.
Therefore, the Commissioner notified under Sec.20 of the Employees Compensation Act, was directed to initiate proceedings under Section 10-A against the employer of the deceased.
Similarly, the Industrial Tribunal was also directed to initiate proceedings and issue notice to the employer as also the family of the deceased.
The competent Station House Officer was further asked to produce the full address of the employer and the family of the employee before the Industrial Tribunal within a period of one month.
The Tribunal shall thereafter initiate proceedings and also consider the question of limitation under the proviso to Sec.10 of the Act, after hearing the employer and keeping in mind the special circumstances under which the dependent family was not aware of the remedy and no attempt was made to take a proactive initiation of proceedings, permitted under Sec.10-A of the Employees Compensation Act.
Once the appeals were allowed, one of the appellants had sought a return of the amounts deposited in court towards compensation to be awarded to the victim's family.
The court opened that it was at such juncture that set it thinking about the plight of the sad lot of night watchmen who are generally ill-equipped and ill-paid.