The Calcutta High Court recently held that proceedings before the Motor Accident Cases Tribunal are inquisitorial in nature.
The Bench comprising Justice Protik Prakash Banerjee and Justice Dipankar Datta explained, "... strict rules of adversarial action, with which the Learned Members of such a Tribunal are very familiar, due to the qualifications prescribed in Section 165(3) of the Act of 1988, would not apply to such a Tribunal and it has been empowered to act inquisitorially unless expressly forbidden. Once it is accepted that the scheme of the statute and the rules, for the purposes of determining compensation, fixation of liability, and determining who is to pay what to whom, envisages an inquisitorial procedure, the requirements of adversarial proceedings take a back-seat, in the interests of the quest for truth."
The Court was hearing an Appeal filed by one Mr. Srikrishna Kanta Singh, a Block Development Officer for Hura Block in the District of Purulia. He had been rendered permanently disabled due to an accident between a scooter that he had taken lift on and a trailer.
MACT had then apportioned the liability for compensation between the company which insured the trailer and the owner-cum-driver of the scooter at Rs. 4,50,000/- and Rs.3,00,000/- respectively. Mr. Singh had now appealed against this award, asserting that he deserved more compensation and that the driver of the scooter should not have been directed to pay a part of the compensation.
With regard to the liability fastened on the scooter driver, the Court opined that the Appellant was estopped from challenging it as he had allowed adding him as a party to the proceedings before the Tribunal, and observed, "The Appellant did not challenge the order for such addition of party contemporaneously nor as a ground in the present memorandum of appeal. He allowed it to become final as between those parties...
...Therefore, the Appellant cannot now be heard to contend that the respondent No. 2 herein could not have been added as the opposite party No. 1A in the claim application. Consequently, he cannot now be heard to say that the Learned Tribunal cannot give logical effect to the addition of the owner-cum-driver of the scooter a party. The Appellant is estopped by judgment, records and his own conduct from contending otherwise."
The Court further opined that the order cannot be modified at the instance of Mr. Singh, who was the victim of the accident, especially when the scooter driver had accepted his liability. It explained, "If on the other hand, as prayed for by the Appellant, the award is modified, by making the respondent No. 3 solely liable for the accident then it would amount to modifying the award at the instance of a person who is not aggrieved by it – for after all, how could the victim be aggrieved with the finding the scooter and the trailer and their drivers were both at fault for the accident? Especially when, the owner-cum-driver of the scooter has accepted that he was partially at fault?
After all, it is nobody’s case that because of the fault of both these vehicles and their drivers, only part of the compensation awarded will be paid to the victim – all that has been done is an apportionment of the liability inter se these two tort-feasors."
The Court then adverted to the question on the nature of proceedings under Section 166 of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988. On an inquiry into the statutory scheme, the Court ruled that the proceedings are in fact inquisitorial and that the Tribunal cannot be prohibited from looking into documents which become part of the records under statutory rules.
It went on to thwart claims for increased compensation as well, noting that Mr. Singh had "abused his authority" to force the scooter driver to give him a lift, despite knowing that he only had a learner's license. It noted, "Now here is a man who abused his authority and forced the commission of an illegal act. There was, unfortunately, an accident. He lost both his legs and was permanently partially disabled. Justice works in strange ways."
The Court, in fact, went on to sympathize with the insurance company as well, calling it "the favorite sacrificial animal in such cases".
It then ruled that the insurance company would be liable to pay the entire compensation awarded by the Tribunal and that the company would be entitled to recover the scooter driver's share from him by way of execution of the award.
Justice Datta, in a separate concurring judgment, directed the insurance company to transfer to compensation to the Appellant within a month.
Read the Judgment Here