16 Jun 2023 6:32 AM GMT
The Supreme Court has awarded an enhanced compensation under the Workmen Compensation Act, 1923 to the kin of a deceased employee, while holding that the objective of the Act, 1923 is dispensation of social justice. The Bench took an empathetic view and instead of remanding the matter back to High Court for re-consideration, it has itself awarded enhanced compensation to the...
The Supreme Court has awarded an enhanced compensation under the Workmen Compensation Act, 1923 to the kin of a deceased employee, while holding that the objective of the Act, 1923 is dispensation of social justice. The Bench took an empathetic view and instead of remanding the matter back to High Court for re-consideration, it has itself awarded enhanced compensation to the deceased’s family.
The Bench comprising of Justice J.K. Maheshwari and Justice Aravind Kumar, while adjudicating the appeal Mamta Devi & Ors. v The Reliance General Insurance Company Limited & Anr., has held that when the wife of the deceased employee deposed his income on oath and the Employer admitted the same, then by no stretch of imagination the Deputy Labour Commissioner could have awarded lower compensation on minimum wage rate.
Mr. Vakil Choudhary (Employee) was employed by Respondent No. 2 as a truck driver and had met with an accident on 21.04.2011 wherein he lost his life. The Appellants (Claimants) are wife, son and parents of late Mr. Vakil Choudhary, who filed a claim petition before the ‘Deputy Labour Commissioner-cum-Commissioner for Workmen Compensation’, seeking compensation for his death which occurred during the course of employment. The Appellants contend that Sri Vakil was earning a wage of Rs.6,000/- per month in the said employment and the amount of wage was admitted by the Employer.
The Insurer of the offending vehicle, Reliance General Insurance Company Ltd., filed its written statement but the matter was not pursued further by the Employer or the Insurer.
In absence of any proof of income, the Deputy Labour Commissioner considered the income of the deceased to be Rs. 3,900/- per month, in accordance with the minimum wage rate of Rs. 150 per day. Accordingly, an Award was passed for a lower sum of Rs. 4,31,671/- alongwith 6% p.a. interest, to be payable by the Insurer to the Appellants. The Appellants challenged the Award before the High Court.
The High Court set aside the Award on the ground that the dispute raised was a contested case and it was coram-non-judice. It was held that the Appellants were supposed to pursue their grievance before the jurisdictional Labour Court. In view of Section 20(1) and 20(2) of the Workmen’s Compensation Act, 1923, the appropriate Government had issued a notification, whereby the presiding officers of the Labour Court were entrusted with adjudication of all contested claims of arising under the Act, 1923.
The Appellants challenged the High Court’s order before the Supreme Court.
SUPREME COURT VERDICT
No cross examination conducted by Insurer post filing of its written statement; the claim of Claimants cannot be said to be contested
The Bench observed that the Employer had admitted the averments made in the Appellant’s claim, therefore, the claim was uncontested. Further, after filing of the written statement, the Insurer did not cross examine the claimants and their witnesses. Besides, the Insurer deposited the Award amount without challenging the same.
“The insurer of the offending vehicle having filed the written statement seems to have not cross examined the claimants and their witnesses. Thus, the claim lodged by the claimants seeking for compensation would not partake the character of a “contested claim” as stipulated under the notification issued by the appropriate Government under Section 20 (1) and (2) of the W.C. Act”, the Bench opined.
Unchallenged statement of wife regarding deceased husband’s monthly wage to be accepted as gospel of truth
The Bench observed that the Deputy Labour Commissioner erroneously computed the deceased employee’s wage as per minimum wage, despite there being a statement by his wife on oath with respect to his monthly wage. It was held as under:
“Having regard to the object of the Act which envisages dispensation of social justice, we are of the considered view that the Deputy Labour Commissioner-cum-Commissioner for Workmen Compensation fell in error in arriving at a conclusion that claimants’ income is to be construed at Rs.3,900/- p.m. or the minimum wage to be computed should be at Rs.150/- per day in the absence of any proof of income. The written statement filed by the employer would be a complete answer to this, inasmuch as it is categorically admitted by the employer that deceased was drawing Rs.6,000/- per month as wages. The deceased was a truck driver and had four mouths to feed at the time of his demise in the year 2011. By no stretch of imagination, it can be construed that income which he was earning as claimed by his wife in her statement made on oath can be construed as excessive or not commensurate with the wages earned by a truck driver in the year 2011.”
The Bench held that there being no dispute to the fact that the deceased employee was drawing a wage of Rs. 6,000/- per month, the statement of deceased’s wife deserves to be accepted as gospel truth.
“Thus, the irresistible conclusion which we have to draw is, the unchallenged statement of the wife of the deceased who had deposed that her husband was earning Rs.6,000/- per month deserves to be accepted as gospel truth. We see no reason for disbelieving her statement.”
An empathetic view was taken by the Bench, since the widow, children and parents of the deceased have been awaiting a reasonable compensation. Therefore, instead of remitting the matter back to the High Court, the Bench set aside the High Court’s order and awarded an enhanced compensation of Rs. 6,64,110/- with interest @ 12% p.a. The interest component is to be calculated from one month from the date of accident till date of payment, excluding the amount already deposited by the insurer.
Case Title: Mamta Devi & Ors. v The Reliance General Insurance Company Limited & Anr.
Citation : 2023 LiveLaw (SC) 486
Click here to read the judgment