Delhi High Court: In a case wherein the petitioner prayed for directing the respondent to provide functional prosthesis for regular working of the amputated fingers of right hand at state expense and for granting him compensation for the loss suffered by him, a Single Judge Bench of Swarana Kanta Sharma, J. laid down certain guidelines in relation to a convict suffering work related amputation or life-threatening injury, that would remain in place until necessary guidelines in this regard were formulated, or rules were made or amended.
In the present case, the issue that was examined was regarding the payment of compensation and its quantum, to a convict inmate of Tihar Jail who had suffered injuries, that is, amputation of three fingers of the right hand while working in the factory of Tihar Jail. This Court examined this issue since neither the Delhi Prisons Act, 2000 nor Delhi Prison Rules, 2018 (“2018 Rules”) dealt with this issue except for Rule 1084 of 2018 Rules.
The petitioner suffered partial amputation of three fingers of right hand while working on a Rag Chopper Machine in the paper unit of the jail factory. During medical treatment, it was found that there was total amputation of the index finger, middle finger, and ring finger of the right hand of petitioner. Thereafter, the petitioner was sent for surgery and was later issued a disability certificate which reflected that he had suffered permanent disability to the extent of 31% in relation to his right hand.
The petitioner was taken to AIIMS to provide him with functional prosthesis. However, only cosmetic gloves for the right hand were available in AIIMS and the petitioner could not be provided with functional prosthesis. The petitioner stated that he required functional prosthesis for regular working of the amputated fingers of his right hand and did not require cosmetic gloves. In 2022, the petitioner approached the Jail Superintendent seeking update regarding his application for grant of compensation and for providing functional prosthesis at the State’s expense but found that the application had been returned to him without stating any reasons. Therefore, the petitioner approached this Court by way of writ petition seeking to direct the respondent to provide functional prosthesis for regular working of the amputated fingers of his right hand.
Analysis, Law, and Decision
The issue for consideration before this Court was “Is a prisoner entitled to same compensation and facility from the State in case he is a convict in a criminal case which he would have been entitled to in case he was not a convict?”.
The Court stated that it had been informed by the State that since there was no facility providing artificial prosthesis in AIIMS either a cosmetic glove could be provided to the convict, or surgery was available at AIIMS, Delhi for constructing the lost fingers. The Court noted that the petitioner did not wish to undergo surgery of reconstruction of his fingers but pleaded that he be provided with an automated artificial limb at State expense, the facility for which was available at a private hospital. The Court further noted that a case like the present one had not been, in the past, decided by any Court of law and there was no rule as such which dealt with this issue.
The Court opined that since there were no rules dealing with the State compensating prisoners against industrial injury or occupational diseases, reliance could be placed on “United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners” also known as “Nelson Mandela Rules”, whereby Rule 101(2) read as: “Rule 101(2). Provision shall be made to indemnify prisoners against industrial injury, including occupational disease, on terms not less favourable than those extended by law to free workers.”
The Court found it imperative to take note of the form of punishment which could be awarded to a convict within the existing legal framework. For this, the Court referred to Section 53 of the Code and relied on Phool Kumari v. Office of the Superintendent, Tihar Central Jail, New Delhi, (2012) 8 SCC 183, wherein the Supreme Court held that “rigorous imprisonment was one which was required by law to be completed with hard labour. While a person sentenced to simple imprisonment had the option of choosing to work, a person sentenced to rigorous imprisonment was required by law to undergo hard labour”. The Court noted that in the present case, the convict/petitioner was serving rigorous imprisonment and therefore, the work-related injury suffered by him was in relation to the sentence he was serving and the work that he was doing was a part of his sentence. Therefore, the Workmen’s Compensation Act, 1923 could not be held applicable to prisoners or inmates as there was no employer-employee relationship between the inmate and prison authorities.
The Court opined that “when there existed no employee-employer relationship between prisoners and the jail authorities; for work related injuries they should be provided protection and remedies as the Constitution vision did not permit that any citizen should be rendered remediless in case of commission of an offence or infringement of a fundamental right or availing compensation for injuries even as a prisoner”.
The Court was also faced with the question as to “whether the duty of the Jail authorities to provide medical care to the inmate extended to providing treatment from a private hospital or being provided with artificial prosthesis to the inmate and compensation for the disability suffered by him due to injuries suffered while working in prison?”.
The Court relied on Sunil Batra (II) v. Delhi Administration, (1980) 3 SCC 488, and opined that there were human rights obligations on the State and jail authorities towards the prisoners and the convicts and one of them was that while the prisoner undergoes the sentence imposed by the Court, it had to be through safe and humane custody as well as assisting the convicts who were offenders for rehabilitation and help them reintegrate into the society as useful and law-abiding citizens once they come out of the prison.
The Court opined that the present case illustrated the need to clarify and lay down framework for determining the standard of reviewing policy for quantifying and assessing the compensation paid to a prisoner for work related injuries sustained in the jail. Further, the Court opined that “the remedies for a convict and a free civilian could not differ though they may be assessed on different criteria owing to absence of employee-employer relationship in the case of a convict or under trial”. The Court further opined that “since the question of fundamental right of the prisoners was in issue and the legal position of, they being on different footing than a workman and not under the fault of employee/employer relationship, a specific mechanism in relation to the issue in question was the requirement of the day”.
The Court laid down the following guidelines:
In case of a convict suffering work related amputation or life-threatening injury, the Jail Superintendent would be duty bound to immediately inform the concerned Jail Inspecting Judge within 24 hours of the incident.
A Three-Member Committee consisting of (i) Director General (Prisons), Delhi, (ii) Medical Superintendent of a government hospital and (iii) Secretary, DSLSA of the concerned district wherefrom the convict had been sentenced, would be constituted, who would assess and quantify the compensation to be paid to the victim of such work-related injury, after perusing the opinion of a board of doctors which would be constituted at their request by the treating hospital.
The government hospital from where the victim would be medically examined/treated for the injury or the disability, if any, the same would be put up before the above-mentioned committee for assessment of compensation.
For assessing the injury/disability, the contributory negligence, if any, of the victim would be kept in mind.
These guidelines would be applicable only in the case of amputation, or any other life-threatening injury, arising out of work-related injury, sustained by the convict.
The essential interim compensation would be provided to such victim in case of amputation or life-threatening injury.
The Court held that the above arrangement would remain in place until necessary guidelines in this regard were formulated, or rules were made or amended in this regard or any amendment was brought in the Prison Act, 1894 or in Delhi Prisons Act, 2000 to deal with such a situation. The Court further held that since the petitioner had already been provided interim compensation of Rs. 50,000, the case of the petitioner qua enhanced compensation and for providing functional prothesis would be decided considering the above guidelines within three months from 17-2-2023.
The Court disposed of the petition and observed that it was time that the authorities of the prisons which were correctional homes acted as guardians of the prisoners for their health and safety and not merely considered themselves as guards of the inmate.
[Ved Yadav v. State (NCT of Delhi), 2023 SCC OnLine Del 943, decided on 17-2-2023]
Advocates who appeared in this case:
For the Petitioner: Advocate Vishesh Wadhwa;
For the Respondent: ASC Yasir Rauf Ansari;
*Judgment authored by: Justice Swarana Kants Sharma.
*Simranjeet Kaur, Editorial Assistant has reported this brief.