claim under employees compensation act 1923

Supreme Court: In an appeal against judgment and order passed by Gujarat High Court dismissing appeal under Section 30 of Employees Compensation Act, 1923 (‘1923 Act’) against order passed by Workmen Compensation Commissioner, the Division Bench of B.V. Nagarathna and Manoj Misra, JJ. upheld the maintainability of claim of compensation of Railway Protection Special Force (‘RPF’) Constable disputed to be part of the Armed Forces of the Union.

Factual Matrix

Respondent’s husband was appointed as a Constable in the RPF on 27-12-2006, passed away on 23-04-2008 in an accident during course of employment. On his death, the respondent along with other heirs of the deceased filed a claim for compensation under the 1923 Act. The said claim was resisted by RPF on the ground that the deceased was part of the Armed Forces of the Union and not a workman, and hence, the claim under 1923 Act was not maintainable.

The Workmen Compensation Commissioner found the claim petition maintainable since the workman-employer relationship between the deceased and the non-claimant was admitted to the non-claimant, deceased died in an accident during employment. The deceased being a ‘Railway servant’ as per the provisions of Section 2(34) of the Railways Act, 1989 (‘1989 Act’) was deemed to be a workman under Section 2(1)(n)(i) of 1923 Act. The amount payable was determined at Rs 4,33,820, directed to be paid within 30 days with an interest @9%.

In the first appeal against the Commissioner, the High Court refused to entertain the submissions that ‘workman’ under 1923 Act excluded a member of the Armed Forces of the Union, hence, the instant appeal.

Issues framed by the Court

  • Whether an RPF Constable can be treated as a ‘workman’ under Section 2(1)(n) of the 1923 Act even though, by virtue of amended Section 3 of the 1957 Act, he is a member of the Armed Forces of the Union?

The Court hinted towards Section 3 and Chapter II of 1923 Act to express that “to sustain a claim against an employer under the 1923 Act, there must be a workman-employer relationship; there must be a personal injury to the workman by an accident; and that accident must arise out of and in the course of his employment.”

The Court suggested that by use of words ‘any body of persons whether incorporated or not’, the legislative intent was to include a juristic person regardless of incorporation. However, to maintain a claim against ‘employer’ under the 1923 Act, the following conditions must be fulfilled:

  1. Workman-employer relationship;

  2. Workman having suffered personal injury in an accident; and

  3. Accident having arisen out of and in course of employment.

The Court highlighted that as per the then applicable definition under Section 2(1)(n), workman meant any one of the persons specified, but did not include any person working in the capacity of a member of the Armed Forces of the Union, but neither the 1923 Act nor the General Clauses Act, 1897 (‘1897 Act’) defines ‘The Armed Forces of the Union’. It further pointed at the fact that the phrase ‘Armed Forces of the Union’ came into effect on 26-01-1950 replacing the words ‘His Majesty’s naval, military or air forces’ vide the “Adaptation of Laws Order, 1950” issued by the President of India in exercise of powers under Article 372(2) of the Constitution of India.

Following the decision in Ramesh Birch v. Union of India, 1989 Supp (1) SCC 430 regarding scope of Executive’s power to extend an existing law of one territory to another, the Court went on to explore the purpose of the amendment to Adaptation Order of 1950 with reference to Article 372(2) of Constitution. It expressed that 1923 Act is a pre-independence statute and the words like ‘His Majesty’s naval, military or air forces’ became antithetical to the Constitution and thus, substituted with ‘armed forces of the Union’, a phrase which has not been defined.

The Court viewed that “mere declaration in Section 3 of the 1957 Act that the RPF shall be an ‘armed force of the Union’ is not sufficient to take it out of the purview of the 1923 Act.” According to the Court, the legislative intent of whether declaration of RPF member as a member of Armed Force of the Union intended to take away the benefits of being a railway servant as per Section 2 (34) of 1989 Act.

The Court thereby clarified that “since a railway servant continued to be a workman as per Section 2(1)(n)(i) of the 1923 Act, the provisions of the 1923 Act would continue to apply to a member of the RPF as he does not belong to any of those categories specified in Schedule II of the 1923 Act. More so, when there is nothing in the Railways Act, either new or old, which may exclude the applicability of the 1923 Act on a railway servant. Rather, Section 128 of the 1989 Act makes it clear that right of any person to claim compensation under Section 124 or Section 124-A of the 1989 Act shall not affect the right of any such person to recover compensation payable under the 1923 Act.”

It settled that the legislative intent was not there to exclude its members or their heirs from the benefits of compensation payable under the 1923 Act or the 1989 Act.

  • Whether on account of availability of alternative remedy to apply for compensation under Sections 124 and 124-A of the 1989 Act, a claim under the 1923 Act is maintainable?

The Court said that answer to the said issue was given under Section 128 of 1989 Act which specifically saved the right to claim compensation under the 1923 Act or any other law regardless of Section 124 or 124A of 1989 Act, subject to the condition that such compensation will not be available more than once for the same accident. Hence, the said claim was held maintainable.

The Court upheld the impugned judgment and order passed by the High Court and held the claim for compensation under 1923 Act as maintainable.

[RPSF v. Bhavnaben Dinshbhai Bhabhor, 2023 SCC OnLine SC 1218, decided on 26-09-2023]

Judgment by: Justice Manoj Misra

Know Thy Judge | Supreme Court of India: Justice Manoj Misra

Advocates who appeared in this case :

For Appellant: Advocate Jitender Kumar Tripathi, Advocate on Record Amrish Kumar

For Respondents: Advocate on Record Prerana Chaturvedi, Advocate Jaitunkumar N. Patel

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