Bombay High Court: Bharati Dangre, J., Whether the Insurance Company can be absolved of its liability to pay compensation under the Employees Compensation Act, 1923, if the employee who has succumbed to an accident which took place during the course of employment, is a minor?
Appellants filed a claim based on the premise that the deceased was aged 18 at the time of the accident and was receiving wages of Rs 5,500 per month and compensation of Rs 6,22,545 was assessed.
The insurer opposed the above-said claim before the Commissioner/Labour Court, and it was disputed that the accident suffered by the deceased arose out of or in the course of employment with the OP.
Further, it was denied that there was any nexus between the alleged injury and the alleged accident and since the police papers revealed the deceased’s age was 15 years, it was stated that the claim was not maintainable under the Workmen’s Compensation Act, 1923, hence the same shall be dismissed.
Analysis, Law and Decision
Workmen’s Compensation Act, 1923 does not prohibit payment of compensation to a minor.
There is no age limit for a person to be employed as an employee under the Workmen’s Compensation Act, though Article of the Constitution of India, employment of child labour before 14 years in any factory or mine or any hazardous employment, there are enactments in the form of Child & Adolescent Labour (Prohibition & Regulation Act), 1986 where engaging services of children below 14, in any hazardous avocation, is an offence.
Elaborating further, it was stated that Workmen’s Compensation Act is a beneficial piece of legislation and if a person engaged by an employer, as an employee is a minor and his appointment, though is prohibited by any law in existence, meet with an accident and sustain a disability which can be a total or partial disability, the moot question is:
Whether an employee should be denied the compensation merely on the ground that the employer had engaged him by contravening the law and he shall be kept out of the benefits which would have been otherwise available to him on account of an accident which he has suffered, which occurred in his workplace and out of the course of his employment or whether his family can be denied compensation on his death?
Bench expressed that the impugned decision took a harsh stand and refused to fasten liability of compensation on the Insurance Company by recording that the deceased was a minor and insurance company was not liable to pay compensation on the said ground.
The insurance policy in the present matter clearly covered two persons and the liability covered a person employed by the insured for operation and maintenance or loading/unloading which covered a cleaner.
Labour Court’s approach defeated the very spirit and rationale behind the Employees Compensation Act and the claimants who were the parents of the deceased were held entitled to recover compensation only from the employer with very negligible chance of recovering the compensation.
High Court disapproved the above approach of the labour court and opined that the Insurance Company cannot be absolved of its liability to pay compensation to the claimants, the dependents of the deceased. Therefore, the impugned judgment of the Commissioner was modified to the limited extent of fixing the liability jointly and severally upon the employer and the Insurance Company.
First Appeal No. 246 of 2015
In this matter, Insurance Company was aggrieved by the award of compensation to the parents of the deceased, who succumbed to the injuries in the accident.
Labour Court had directed the employer and the Insurance company jointly and severally liable to pay compensation.
Claimant 1 had set up a claim under the Workmen’s Compensation Act by filing the application claiming that his son was employed by the OP on his Motor Tempo as loader and the said tempo met with an accident due to which the son died.
High Court stated that when the written statement on oath before the Commissioner and the certificate issued by the employer is juxtaposed against his statement recorded by the police during the course of investigation, the statement recorded under oath, admitting that deceased Deepak was his employee, assumed importance.
Bench expressed that in view of the inconsistency in the statement given to the police by the employer, denying any employer-employee relationship on one hand and the statement on oath filed in the form of written statement before the Commissioner, the Commissioner has rightly given weightage to the statement on oath and accepted the employer-employee relationship.
In view of the above, Court found no reason to interfere with finding of the Commissioner. [Mohammed Ali Abdul Samad Khan v. Dawood Mohd. Khati, 2021 SCC OnLine Bom 6670, decided on 10-12-2021]
Advocates before the Court:
Mr. Amol Gatne i/b Ms. Swati Mehta for the appellants in First Appeal No.169 of 2014 and for the respondents in First Appeal No.246 of 2015.
Mr. D.R. Mahadik for the appellant in FA No.246/2015 and for respondent in FA No.169/2014.