29 Sep 2023 10:34 AM GMT
The Supreme Court on Monday (26.09.2023), held that an officer of the Railway Protection Force (RPF) can seek compensation under Employees Compensation Act, 1923 even though the RPF has been declared to be an armed force of the Union. “..in our considered view, despite declaring RPF as an armed force of the Union, the legislative intent was not there to exclude its members or their heirs...
The Supreme Court on Monday (26.09.2023), held that an officer of the Railway Protection Force (RPF) can seek compensation under Employees Compensation Act, 1923 even though the RPF has been declared to be an armed force of the Union.
“..in our considered view, despite declaring RPF as an armed force of the Union, the legislative intent was not there to exclude its members or their heirs from the benefits of compensation payable under the 1923 Act or the 1989 Act,” a bench of Justice B.V. Nagarathna and Justice Manoj Misra held.
The facts pertaining to the case at hand are that the husband of the Respondent was a Constable in the RPF when he died in an accident in 2008 in the course of his employment. The heirs of the deceased claimed compensation under the 1923 Act. This was opposed by the Appellant on the ground that the deceased was part of the Armed Forces of the Union and hence not a workman under the 1923 Act.
Before the Apex Court, the Appellant argued that by virtue of Section 3 of the Railway Protection Force Act,1957 the deceased was part of the Armed Forces of the Union. Since Section 2 of the 1923 Act excludes person working in the capacity of a member of the Armed Forces of the Union from the definition of ‘workman’, the heirs of the decease were not entitled to compensation under the Act. The Apex Court however, did not agree with the stand taken by the Appellant.
The Apex Court observed that the phrase “armed forces of the Union” came into effect from 26 January 1950, to replace the words “His Majesty’s naval, military or air forces”, vide the “Adaptation of Laws Order, 1950” issued by the President in exercise of his powers under Article 372(2) of the Constitution. The President is conferred with such powers of adaptations and modifications in any law in force in India to bring the provisions of that law in accord with the provisions of the Constitution. Mere declaration of such a nature would not take away the benefits of the 1923 Act from RPF officers, unless such legislative intent is demonstrated, the Court observed.
“Indisputably, the 1923 Act is a pre-independence statute therefore, on India being declared a Republic by our Constitution, the use of the phrase “His Majesty’s naval, military or air forces” appearing therein became antithetical to our Constitution. Hence, to make it in accord with our Constitution, it was considered necessary to substitute the said phrase with the phrase “armed forces of the Union.” However, neither the Constitution of India (see Article 366) nor The General Clauses Act, 1897 or the 1923 Act defines “armed forces of the Union”. Therefore, in our view, mere declaration in Section 3 of the 1957 Act that the RPF shall be an “armed force of the Union” is not sufficient to take it out of the purview of the 1923 Act. In our view, what assumes importance is the legislative intent. That is, whether by declaring a member of the RPF as a member of the armed force of the Union, the legislature intended to take away the benefits which he would have otherwise got by virtue of being a railway servant within the meaning of Section 2 (34) of the 1989 Act.”
The Court observed that despite declaring RPF as armed force of the Union, the legislative intent was not to take it out of the purview of the 1923 Act.
Since the definition of a ’Railway Servant’ includes a member of the RPF under the Railways Act, 1989, and since a railway servant continued to be a workman as per Section 2 of the 1923 Act, the provisions of the 1923 Act would to apply to a member of the RPF, as he does not belong to any of the categories specified in Schedule II of the 1923 Act. The Apex Court also observed that there was nothing in the Railways Act, to exclude the applicability of the 1923 Act on a railway servant. Additionally, Section 128 of the Railways Act makes it clear that right of any person to claim compensation under Section 124 or Section 124-A of the 1989 Act shall not affect the right of any such person to recover compensation payable under the 1923 Act, the Court observed.
Section 19 of the Railway Protection Force Act, 1957 which was amended in 1985, along with Section 3 of the Act designating RPF as a Union armed force, did not incorporate any provisions to exempt the applicability of the 1923 Act. However amendments made to Section 10 of the 1957 Act explicitly categorized every member of the RPF as a railway employee for all intents and purposes except under than Chapter VIA of the Indian Railways Act, 1890, which pertains to regulations on duty hours and similar matters, the Apex Court observed.
“…though Section 19 of the 1957 Act declared that nothing contained in the Payment of Wages Act, 1936 or the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 or the Factories Act, 1948 or any corresponding law relating to investigation and settlement of industrial dispute in force in a State shall apply to members of the Force (RPF), there is no exclusion of the applicability of the provisions of the 1923 Act,” the Court reasoned.
In view of the above reasoning, the Apex Court was of the view that the legislature did not intend to take away the benefits of RPF officers under the Employees Compensation Act, 1923. The Appeal was thus dismissed.
ASG Vikramjit Banerjee and Adv Rajan Kr. Chourasia appeared for the Appellant and Adv. Prerana Chaturvedi and Adv. Shubhendu Anand appeared for the Respondents.
Case Title: Commanding Officer, Railway Protection Special Force, Mumbai V. Bhavnaben Dinshbhai Bhabhor, Civil Appeal No.3592 of 2019
Citation: 2023 LiveLaw (SC) 835
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