Thousands of people die or get permanently incapacitated every year in road accidents across the country. Motor Accidents Claims Tribunals remain so cluttered with cases that it takes years to get them decided.
This is the reason that these days more cases are preferred to be settled in Lok Adalats than by the tribunals. The reasons are almost the same in all courts, and non-availability of witnesses, advocates, and delaying tactics are adopted by third parties, like Insurance companies.
There is no gainsaying that there have been constant complaints coming either from one party or the other with regard to the decisions given by the courts or tribunals. It is often said that the claimants always make more demands than what is due to them and cringe that the awarded amount is very little and unrealistic.
Normally there are certain factors which are taken into consideration for awarding compensations by the courts and tribunals. These are: the age of the person, his or her earning capacity, number of dependents, loss of ability after accident and education (which may be skilled or unskilled type) etc.
The latest judgment of the Supreme Court by the Bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and JK Maheswari has set a new benchmark for the Motor Accidents Claims Tribunals by ruling that the main criterion for the award should be “just and reasonable” as per law irrespective of the claimed amount. The apex court said that “there is no restriction that the tribunal/court cannot award compensation -exceeding the claimed amount. The courts/ tribunals ought to bear in mind that the awarded amount is reasonable in view of the evidence put on record”.
The court further ruled that less valuation made in the claim petition would not come in the way of awarding the just compensation exceeding the claimed amount. In the instant case, the judgment has been authored by Justice JK Maheshwari, in which a 12- year boy, Banke Bihari of Ranchi, was playing in front of his house on July 29, 2003, when he was dashed by a jeep and died on way to the hospital. His mother filed the case for compensation of Rs. 2 lakh, but the MACT awarded only Rs 1,50,000. The Jharkhand High Court increased it to Rs 2 lakh in the claim petition. An appeal was filed by the insurance company against this order questioning the pecuniary and nonpecuniary loss of the boy ignoring the prospective happiness of the family.
Reproducing Lord Atkinson’s judgment in ‘Taff Vale versus Jankins’, the Supreme Court said that “all that is necessary that a reasonable expectation of pecuniary benefits should be entertained by the person who sues but it should, no doubt, be pregnant with pieces of evidence”. Thus, the amount was enhanced by Rs. 3 lakh with interest @ 7 pc from the date of claim, which came to Rs 5 lakh. The court noted that the boy was a brilliant student, and his notional income was considered Rs. 30,000 per month.
Earlier in a similar case, the Supreme Court had said that even if the earning certificate is not produced by the claimant, the amount of compensation would be fixed on the basis of the prevailing minimum wages of the state. This problem of income arises, particularly, in the cases of housewives because it is difficult for them to produce income certificates. Therefore, to recognise the work, labour and sacrifices of homemakers and a reflection of changing attitudes, the amount must be reasonable.
In fact, various methods can be employed by the court to fix the notional income of homemakers, depending on the facts and circumstances of the case. The court should ensure while choosing the method and fixing the notional income, that the same is just in the facts and circumstances of the particular case, neither assessing compensation too conservatively nor too liberally. The granting of future prospects, on the notional income calculated in such cases, is a component of just compensation.