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It took a long time coming but after 19 years, the Supreme Court corrected an error in a judgment passed by the Commissioner for Workmen’s Compensation (Labour Court) in favour of a victim, a bus driver  who died while on duty  ferrying a transport bus belonging to the state government .

A bench of Justices Abhay Manohar Sapre  and Indu Malhotra said that, “An employer becomes liable to pay compensation as soon as the personal injury is caused to the workman in the accident which arouse out of and in the course of employment. It was accordingly being paid from the date of the accident and not the date of adjudication of the claim, which is material.”

The apex court was hearing an appeal filed by the North East Karnataka Road Transport Corporation which challenged a judgment passed by the High Court of Karnataka which dismissed an appeal against the order passed by the Commissioner for Workmen’s Compensation (Labour Court) to pay compensation to its employee.

Mallikarjuna was an employee of the State Road Transport Corporation for the State of Karnataka working as a driver. He died while he was on duty on April 6, 1999  following a heart attack. Wife of the deceased filed a claim petition before the Commissioner under the Workmen’s Compensation Act, 1923 claiming compensation for the death of her husband. The company contested the claim petition but the Commissioner decided in favour of the wife of the deceased and by order dated April 23, 2002 directed the company to pay Rs 3,79,120, with a direction to deposit the awarded sum within 45 days, failing which, the awarded amount would carry interest at the rate of 12 percent per annum.

The Corporation challenged  the order in the Karnataka High Court  which dismissed it.  After that the ‘Employer’ filed a Special Leave petition in Supreme Court impugning the orders passed by the High Court. Supreme Court upheld the factual findings of the High Court but it also examined a question which was wrongly decided by the Commissioner which was not noticed even by the High Court. The question relates to grant of interest on the awarded amount and further, from which date, it has to be awarded to the claimant.

“In View of the Judgments passed by this court earlier in cases Pratap narain Singh Deo V. Srinivas Sabata & Anr. and in case of Kerala State Electricity Board & Anr. V. Vasala K. & Anr. Rightly, held that interest on the awarded compensation should be calculated from the date of accident not from the date of award. But in the present case, we find that the commissioner awarded the interest to the Victims wife at the rate of 12% per annum on the awarded sum from the expiry of 45 days from the date of order and that too, if the appellant failed to deposit the awarded sum within 45 days. In our opinion this direction of the commissioner in awarding the interest on the awarded sum is contrary to law laid down by this Court in Pratap  Narain’s case and hence not legally sustainable,” said the Supreme Court.

“In the light of the forgoing discussion, even though the deceased person’s wife did not challenge this direction of Commissioner by filing any appeal in the High Court nor challenged it by filing any appeal in this court too, yet the question being a pure question of law, this court with a view to do substantial justice to the deceased person’s wife consider it just and proper to modify the order of the Commissioner in her favour so as to make the same in conformity with the law laid down by this court in the referred two cases. Accordingly, the order of the Commissioner dated 23.04.2002 is modified in favour of the deceased person’s wife to the extent that the awarded sum of Rs 3,79,120/ shall carry interest at the rate of 12% per annum from the date of accident i.e. 06.04.1999,” said the bench.

—India Legal Bureau

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