MACT should be approached within a reasonable period of time. [M/S. Purohit and Company v. Khatoonbee and Anr.]

M/S. PUROHIT AND COMPANY v. KHATOONBEE AND ANR.

Before the supreme court of India

Author of the judgement: Jagdish Singh Khehar, CJI

Bench: Jagdish Singh Khehar, CJI; N.V.Ramana, J; Dr.D.Y.Chandrachud, J.

Date Decided: 9th February 2017.

Brief Facts:

  • The daughter of the respondents died in a motor accident on 02.02.1977. A claim petition was filed, under Section 166 of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, seeking compensation on account of the motor accident, after a period of more than 28 years.
  • The Motor Accident Claims Tribunal entertained the above claim. A prayer was made by the petitioner to reject the claim petition, for the reason, that the said aim had been raised 28 years after the accident in question. The Motor Accident Claims Tribunal rejected this prayer of the petitioner.
  • It is in these circumstances, that M/s Purohit and Company (the petitioner herein) approached the High Court, wherein, the matter was re-adjudicated. Again, a prayer was made at the hands of the petitioner, that the claim had been made belatedly, and was not a surviving claim. The High Court, upheld the justifiability of the claim petition, on the short ground, that no period of limitation had been provided for raising a claim for compensation, under the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988.
  • It would, however, be pertinent to mention, that the period of limitation provided under Section 166(3) aforementioned was completely done away with, with effect from 4.11.1994, as Section 166(3) came to be deleted, from the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988.
  • A perusal of the provision of Section 110A of the 1939 Act, extracted above, reveals that a period of limitation of six months (from the date of occurrence of the accident) was provided for, to raise a claim for compensation.
  • In the successor legislation, namely, the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, Section 166(3), as originally enacted, also provided for the limitation of a period of six months for filing a claim petition. However, on this occasion, a bar was introduced for entertaining a claim petition, arising out of a motor accident after twelve months (from the date of occurrence of the accident).
  • Obviously, the period of limitation provided for through Section 166(3) of the 1988 Act, could be relaxed up to twelve months, by demonstrating that there was sufficient cause for such delay.

Issue:

  • Whether the omission of subsection (3) of section 166 of the 1986 Act have the effect of allowing a claimant, to file a claim application, at any time, and whenever he chooses?

Arguments of respondent-claimant:

The respondents referred to two cases-

  • Dhannalal vs. D.P.Vijayvargiya, (1996) 4 SCC 652
    • When sub-section (3) of Section 166 has been omitted, then the Tribunal has to entertain a claim petition without taking note of the date on which such accident had taken place. The claim petitions cannot be thrown out on the ground that such claim petitions were barred by the time when sub-section (3) of Section 166 was in force.
  • The New India Assurance Co.Ltd. vs. C.Padma, (2003) 7 SCC 713
    • In this case, the claim petition was filed sub-section (3) of Section 166. It was held that the Tribunal was bound to entertain the claim petition without taking note of the date on which the accident took place.
    • In Dhannalal’s case, the reason for the deletion of subsection (3) of Section 166 has been set out. It is noted that Parliament realized the grave injustice and injury caused to heirs and legal representatives of the victims of accidents if the claim petition was rejected only on the ground of limitation.

Arguments of the Appellants:

  • Even though there may no longer be a defined period of limitation, for approaching the motor Accident Claims Tribunal, to raise a claim for compensation (under the provisions of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988), yet a claimant must approach a Court, for raising such a claim within a reasonable time.
  • After a period of time, the claim would be stale and will have to be treated as a dead claim. Such a claim, could not be treated as a surviving claim.
  • Corporation Bank vs. Navin J.Shah, (2000) 2 SCC 628
    • A claim could not have been filed by the respondent at this distance of time. Indeed at the relevant time, there was no period of limitation under the Consumer protection Act to prefer a claim before the Commission but that does not mean that the claim could be made even after an unreasonably long delay.
    • The claim raised under the Consumer Protection Act, in the above judgment, was delayed by a period of 10 years, and even though, no period of limitation was prescribed, the Supreme Court held, that the same was not maintainable.
  • Haryana State Coop. Land Development Bank Vs. Neelam (2005) 5 SCC 91
    • Law does not prescribe any time limit for the appropriate Government to exercise its powers under Section 10 of the Act. It is not that this power can be exercised at any point of time and to revive matters which had since been settled.
    • In the above judgement the challenge was raised under the provisions of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, wherein also no period of limitation is prescribed to approach the Industrial Tribunal. Despite the above, the Supreme Court arrived at the conclusion, that a claim raised after a period of 7 years, was not a surviving claim. And therefore, the claim petition was held to be not maintainable.

Ratio of the Judgement:

  • A claim raised before the Motor Accident Claims Tribunal can be considered to be genuine, so long as it is a living and surviving claim. The individual concerned must approach the Tribunal within a reasonable time.
  • In the present facts and circumstances of the dispute a delay of 28 years, even without reference to any other fact, cannot be considered as a prima facie reasonable period, for approaching the Motor Accident Claims Tribunal.

Held:

  • The supreme court set aside the impugned order dated 07.07.2015, and allow the instant appeal, by holding, that the claim raised by the respondents before the Motor Accident Claims Tribunal, was not a surviving claim when the respondents approached the said Tribunal.

 

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