Case BriefsHigh Courts

Chhattisgarh High Court: A Division Bench of P.R. Ramchandra Menon and Parth Prateem Sahu JJ., dismissed the appeal being devoid of merits.

The facts of the case are such that one Rajendra Sharma was employed as Driver in the truck owned by non-applicant 1 and insured by non-applicant 2 who while driving from Bilaspur to Raigarh carrying dolomite was attacked and assaulted by some unknown persons with the intention to cause robbery and thereby eventually succumbed to death. FIR was lodged and an application under Section 10 of the Employees Compensation Act 1923 was filed before the Commissioner seeking compensation by the wife and children of the deceased which was thereby granted on grounds that the death happened during the course of employment and fastened the liability to pay on the employer.  Assailing the said order, employer appellant filed an appeal before High Court on grounds that the penalty was imposed without issuing show-cause notice and without affording opportunity of hearing to the employer as envisaged under Section 4A (3) (b) of the Employees’ Compensation Act 1923 wherein appeal was allowed and impugned order was set aside in part relating to the amount of penalty and remitted the matter back to pass award afresh after affording reasonable opportunity of hearing to the employer. The Commissioner had fresh proceedings and issued notice to the parties and awarded 50% of the awarded amount of compensation as penalty and held the employer liable to pay amount of penalty.

Counsel for the appellants-employer submitted that there was again non-compliance of the provisions of Section 4A (3) (b) of Employees Compensation Act 1923. He contended that unless and until there is specific notice in this regard, as directed in MA No.148/2003, the impugned order awarding penalty to the extent of 50% and fastening liability upon appellant is bad in law and liable to be set aside.

Counsel for the respondents submitted that the Commissioner after receipt of the case back on remand, drawn fresh proceeding, granted opportunity of hearing and producing evidence, but appellant employer failed to produce any evidence on the issue. He submitted that the Commissioner is well within four corners of law in awarding penalty of 50% as provided under Section 4A (3) (b) of the Employees’ Compensation Act 1923.

The Court observed that the only ground relevant to the facts is that whether without issuance of notice the entire proceeding drawn by the Commissioner would be considered vitiated or not. The Court further observed that the Appellant was well aware of the fact that the case has been remanded back to the Commissioner with a specific direction for appearance of the parties before the Commissioner and to decide the issue of penalty afresh. It was further observed that the issuance of notice as provided under Section 4A (3) (b) of the Act of 1923 to be mandatory is only to bring it to the knowledge of the employer that the penalty is to be imposed, so that the employer may submit explanation and evidence for the delay occurred in depositing amount of compensation and satisfy the Commissioner on the said issue.

The Court thus held that “In the case at hand, earlier appeal was filed by appellant challenging the order of award of penalty by the Commissioner on the ground of non-issuance of show-cause notice as envisaged under Section 4A(3)(b) of the Act of 1923, which was allowed and the case was remitted back to the Commissioner. Appellant was well aware as to why the case has been remanded back to the Commissioner and also about the proceeding drawn by the Commissioner, but even then appellant has not submitted any explanation nor produced any evidence in this regard. When once the case is remitted back to the Commissioner for limited purpose of considering award of penalty; the appellant appeared before the Commissioner and participated in the proceeding but failed to submit any explanation or bring on record any evidence on issue, then he cannot be permitted to again raise the same ground that specific notice in terms of Section 4A (3) (b) of the Act of 1923 has not been issued.”

 The Court thus dismissed the appeal as the appeal did not involve any question of law which is a prerequisite for entertaining appeal under Section 30 of Employees’ Compensation Act 1923.[Ramjilal Jagannath Partnership Firm v. Kusumdevi, 2020 SCC OnLine Chh 2051, decided on 17-11-2020]


Arunima Bose, Editorial Assistant has put this story together

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Allahabad High Court: Dr Kaushal Jayendra Thaker, J., held the employer and the insurance company liable to pay interest on the amount which was awarded by the Labour Commissioner to the claimants under the Employees’ Compensation Act, 1923, but which was not paid by the employer and the insurance company within one month from the date when it felt due.

The High Court admitted the appeal on the limited question of law framed as follows:

Whether the Commissioner has committed an error of law in not granting any interest despite the fact that the claimants were held entitled to compensation?

The appeal

The present appeal was filed by the claimants challenging the judgment and award dated 16-3-2020 passed by the Commissioner, Employees Compensation Act and the Assistant Labour Commissioner, Muzaffarnagar, in an Employees Compensation Case, awarding a sum of Rs 8,47,160. Since the facts, quantum and liability have attained finality, the appeal was heard and decided only on the question of law mentioned above.

The claimants were represented by Satya Deo Ojha, Advocate; while Pawan Kumar Singh, Advocate, appeared for the respondent-insurer.

Analysis and decision

At the outset, it was noted by the High Court that the employer and the insurance company had not deposited the amount nor it paid the amount within one month from when it feel due. The Court stated:

The Tribunal could have exonerated them for penalty but should the insurance company and the owner be not made liable for payment of interest on the amount accrued after one month of payment is the question posed to decision for not granting interest.

After noting the submission of claimants that no reasons were assigned by the Comissioner for not awarding the interest, the High Court answered that in Section 4-A (“compensation to be paid when due and penalty for default”) of the Employees’ Compensation Act, 1923, the word used is “shall” and therefore amount awarded shall carry 12% interest as per the statute. It was directed that the amount be deposited on or before 20-2-2021.

The Commissioner too was directed to be more vigilant in future and if they feel, interest is not to be granted, they shall record reasons for the same and if they come to the conclusion that amount has been paid on the date of award, the same shall carry interest as per statute. The present order is directed to be circulated to all the Commissioners in State of Uttar Pradesh. [Miskina v. HDFC Ergo General Insurance Co. Ltd., First Appeal from Order No. 1538 of 2020, decided on 26-11-2020]

Op EdsOP. ED.

Employees’ Compensation Act, 1923 (ECA) stipulates that an employer is required to compensate an employee (other than one covered under Employees’ State Insurance Act, 1948) if such employee (i) suffers personal injury due to an accident arising out of and in the course of employment; or (ii) contracts any disease peculiar to the employment.

One of the ingredients for ascertaining amount of compensation payable to such an employee is “monthly wages”. Section 5 of ECA defines term “monthly wages” to mean an amount of wages deemed to be payable for a month’s service. Section 4 provides for manner in which compensation amount is discovered as under:

Injury resulting in Compensation basis monthly wages
Death Higher of —

50% of deceased employee’s “monthly wages” multiplied by relevant factor;

OR

INR 1,20,000 i.e. rate of compensation.

Permanent total disablement Higher of —

60% of such employee’s “monthly wages” multiplied by relevant factor;

OR

INR 1,40,000 i.e. rate of compensation.

Total or partial temporary disablement  Half-monthly payment of the sum equivalent to 25% of “monthly wages”.

Thus, it is apparent that the amount of compensation payable to an employee is directly influenced by the quantum of monthly wages paid to an employee.

The Central Government by 2020 Notification[1] almost doubled the “monthly wages” to INR 15,000 from INR 8000 that was notified under 2010 Notification[2] but did not resolve the conundrum that is troubling employers, which is — 

Whether the notified monthly wage should be treated as “base amount” or “ceiling amount” for determining compensation under ECA?

Unfortunately, even the courts across India are divided on this question. The excerpts of differing judgments are reproduced below:

In New India Assurance Co. Ltd. v. Govindi Devi,[3] injury resulted in death of the employee. The claimants claimed that the employee was earning INR 5000 per month but failed to prove so. High Court of Himachal Pradesh at Shimla held:

19. … It is pertinent to mention here that prior to aforesaid amendment, the said wages were fixed at a sum of Rs 4000 and Explanation II specifically restricted the amount to be Rs 4000 only even if it exceeds. However, by virtue of Act 45 of 2009, the restriction as referred above came to be omitted and in its place, a sum of Rs 8000 has been substituted by way of notification taken note hereinabove. It is not in dispute that while amending the said clause, no restriction has been attached or specified that if the monthly wages of the deceased employee exceeds Rs 8000 whether it should be considered at Rs 8000 only and, as such, there appears to be considerable force in the arguments of learned counsel appearing for the claimants that since no restriction is imposed in case the monthly wages of the deceased employee exceeds to Rs 8000 liberal interpretation has to be made especially when the Act itself is a beneficial legislation.

***

26. It is quiet apparent from the aforesaid exposition of law that where the “language” is clear, the intention of the legislature is to be gathered from the language used. What is to be borne in mind is as to what has been said in the statute as also what has not been said. Having regard to the above, this Court is unable to accept the contention of Shri Praneet Gupta, learned counsel appearing for the Insurance Company, that the Court below ought not to have taken into consideration a sum of Rs 8000, which has otherwise been prescribed as minimum wages for the purpose of determining the compensation, especially when claimants themselves claimed that monthly wages of deceased were Rs 5000 per month including diet money. Accordingly, this Court is of the view that the monthly wages specified by the statute by way of amendment at Rs 8000 is appropriate for consideration for the purpose of computing the compensation and as such, the learned court below has rightly calculated the compensation by considering the wages of the deceased workman at Rs 8000, which in no manner requires any interference.                                                                                                                                                                (emphasis supplied)

High Court of Himachal Pradesh at Shimla once again toed on similar lines while adjudicating upon a compensation claim in Rajender Kumar v. Shyam Lal[4] by holding that the notified monthly wages is the base amount i.e. minimum wage amount for ascertaining compensation. In this case, the claimant claimed that he was earning INR 7500 per month but failed to prove income as claimed by him. High Court placed reliance on 2010 Notification and held:

23. Bare perusal of aforesaid “Statement of Objects and Reasons” suggests that the amendment came into force while empowering the Central Government to enhance the minimum rates of the said compensation from time to time as well as to specify the monthly wages in relation to an employee for the purpose of the aforesaid compensation, meaning thereby fixing the minimum wages by way of amendment at Rs 8000 is only for the purpose of determining the compensation under the Workmen’s Compensation Act and there is scope of further enhancement from time to time … (emphasis supplied)

In United India Insurance Co. Ltd. v. Kakali Sarkar Guha [5], injury resulted in death of the employee and the claimants claimed that the deceased employee was earning INR 13,765 per month. While adjudicating over the matter, High Court of Sikkim at Gangtok relied on the Supreme Court’s judgment and considered entire monthly wages for ascertaining the compensation. The High Court held:

16. … A similar situation arose before the Supreme Court in Jaya Biswal v. Iffco Tokio General Insurance Co. Ltd. [6] In the said case the learned Commissioner had taken Rs 8000 as the limited wage to calculate the compensation. Since neither of the parties produced any document on record to prove the exact amount of wages being earned by the deceased the wage of the deceased was accepted as Rs 4000 per month  + daily bhatta of Rs 6000 per month, which amounts to a total of Rs 10,000 at the time of the accident. In the present case, it has been proved that the monthly wages of the deceased was Rs 13,765. The learned Commissioner was thus required to calculate the employer’s liability for compensation in the following manner: 

Rs 13,765 (monthly wages) x 50% x 194.64 (the relevant factor) = Rs 13,39,609.8.  (emphasis supplied)

Unlike the High Court of Himachal Pradesh and Sikkim, in United India Insurance Co. Ltd. v. Seethammal, [7] the High Court of Madras held:

15. Therefore, according to the learned counsel for the petitioner, since the statute is a beneficial legislation, it has to be construed by interpreting liberally and in view of omission of Explanation II and the notification issued by the Central Government (Ministry of Labour and Employment) dated 31-5-2010, though a sum Rs 8000 has been mentioned as monthly wages, it should be construed as minimum and not as maximum and therefore, when evidence establishes that the workman was earning Rs 12,000 per month, the same has to be considered for arriving at just compensation.

***

21. … Therefore, in this context, the learned counsel appearing for the claimants would vehemently contend that since no restriction is imposed in case the monthly wages of the deceased employee exceeds Rs 8000 since the Act itself is a beneficial legislation, liberal interpretation has to be made which would be beneficial to the claimants.

22. Though the contention of the learned counsel for the claimants is logically sound and acceptable, but I am unable to countenance the same.

***

24. …  In my considered view, when the intent of the legislature is clear while amending the Act to enhance the minimum rates of the compensation from time to time as well as to specify the monthly wages in relation to an employee for the purpose of the said compensation, liberal interpretation beyond the prescription made in the Act, is not at all required. Further, it is pertinent to note that while amending the Act, the legislature has consciously in its wisdom, omitted the Explanation II of Section 4-A of the Act only in order to enhance the minimum rates of compensation….

***

26. … Having regard to the above, I am unable to give accept the contention of the learned counsel for the claimants. Accordingly, I am of the view that the monthly wages specified by the statute by way of amendment at Rs 8000 is appropriate for consideration for the purpose of computing the compensation and hence, the Deputy Commissioner has rightly calculated the compensation by considering the wages of the deceased workman at Rs 8000, which, in my opinion, requires no interference. (emphasis supplied)

Conclusion

It is stated with due respect, both the judgments of High Court of Himachal Pradesh in advancing the principle of “beneficial legislation” have ignored the fact that the quantum of compensation increases manifold as the “monthly wages” is multiplied by relevant factor set out in ECA. This not only overburdens the employer but also has a cascading effect on the earnings of other employees who are working for the employer.

Furthermore, High Court of Himachal Pradesh’s reading of “minimum rates of compensation” in the Statement of Objects and Reasons of Workmen’s Compensation Act, 1923 to mean “monthly wages” of INR 8000 stated in 2010 Notification as “minimum monthly wages” is against the cannons of construction especially the literal rule of interpretation. 

With due respect, High Court of Sikkim mechanically interpreted Supreme Court’s judgment in Jaya Biswal v. Iffco Tokio General Insurance Co. Ltd.[8] to determine compensation on full monthly wages of INR 13,765 in supersession of average monthly wage of INR 8000 as deduced by the Commissioner. In doing so, High Court failed to notice that even Supreme Court stopped short of considering entire monthly wages paid to the employee in the said judgment for deducing the compensation amount.

High Court of Madras, on the other hand, has endeavoured to balance conflicting interests of both the employer and employee. It has effectively deployed the tools of interpretation of statutes to gather intention of legislature by keeping in mind both what has been said in statute as well as what is not said. Thus the order, in our view, is a reasoned order and should be able to withstand the test of time. 

Other takeaways for employers: Aside the conundrum, the impact of 2020 Notification is that going forward, employers will have to pay higher compensation under ECA. Likewise, employers availing Workmen’s Compensation Policy from an Insurance Company may have to budget for premium hikes.


† Principal Associate, Vaish Associates Advocates

†† Associate, Vaish Associates Advocates

[1]Notification No. S.O. 71(E) dated 3-1-2020, source: <http://egazette.nic.in/WriteReadData/2020/215147.pdf>.

[2]Notification No. S.O. 1258(E) dated 31-5-2010, source: <http://egazette.nic.in/> (Notification available using the “search function” of the website).

[3] 2019 SCC OnLine HP 2529

[4] 2019 SCC OnLine HP 1709

[5] 2019 SCC OnLine Sikk 156

[6] (2016) 11 SCC 201

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Karnataka High Court: The Division Bench of Alok Aradhe and P.G.M. Patil, JJ. while allowing the appeal set aside the award of the Commissioner as he committed an error of law in applying the provisions of the Act, which was already repealed.

In the instant case, the appeal under Section 30 of the Workmen’s Compensation Act, 2009 was filed to assail the validity of the award of the Commissioner for Workmen’s Compensation. The commissioner had allowed the claim in part and awarded compensation to the tune of Rs 8,61,120.

Prashant (deceased) was working as an Assistant Manager in a factory when at on 02.08.2011 he fell inside the water pit and sustained injuries and thereafter died of it in the hospital. The deceased was 26 and was drawing a salary of Rs 41,062 per month.

Counsel for the appellant, Sangram S. Kulkarni submitted that the Commissioner erred in assessing the compensation as per the provisions of Workmen’s Compensation Act, which was already repealed.

The substantial question of law before the Court was that whether Commissioner committed an error of law in deciding the claim of the appellant in view of the fact that the provisions of Employee’s Compensation Act, 1923, came into force with effect from 18.01.2010 and the accident took place on 02.08.2011.

The Court after considering the facts and circumstances of the case observed that provisions of Employees Compensation Act, 1923, came into force with effect from 18.01.2010 and the accident took place on 02.08.2011. Therefore, the computation of compensation has to be made under the Employee’s Compensation Act, 1923 not under Workmen’s Compensation Act, which was already repealed.

Taking half of the net salary payable to the deceased which comes to Rs 16, 463 and after applying the factor of 215.28, the amount of compensation comes to Rs 35,44,154. The enhanced amount shall carry interest at the rate of 12% per annum from the date of death, till its realization. [B. Basappa v. J.S.W. Steel Ltd., 2019 SCC OnLine Kar 2185, decided on 06-11-2019]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Himachal Pradesh High Court: Tarlok Singh Chauhan, J. partly allowed the appeal of filed by an employer challenging the compensation granted to a deceased employee’s wife under the Employees Compensation Act, 1923 on the ground that before passing a penalty order against the employer, a reasonable opportunity must have been given to him to justify himself.

Appellant herein was the employer of the respondent’s husband (deceased employee) who was employed as a driver by the appellant and died in an accident. Respondent’s wife filed a petition against the appellant seeking payment of compensation along with interest and penalty against the appellant and other respondents towards their joint and severe liability under the Employees Compensation Act, 1923. The appellant in his reply denied the salary as claimed and requested the recovery of the insurance amount. However, the Employee’s Compensation Commissioner-II awarded the respondent with compensation and interest along with a penalty. Aggrieved by this award, the appellant filed the present appeal.

Navlesh Verma learned counsel for the appellant, contended that there was no employer-employee relationship between the appellant and the deceased employee; and secondly that no show-cause notice was issued on the appellant-employer before passing an adverse award against him.

The Court held that the records proved that there was a relationship of employer and employee between the appellant and the deceased.

With respect to the second contention, it was held that as per the judgment in Ved Prakash Garg v. Premi Devi, (1997) 8 SCC 1 penalty under Section 4-A(3)(b) of the Act can only be imposed when the employer is given a prior notice and an opportunity to defend himself against the same which was certainly not given to the appellant herein.

Hence, the court allowed the appeal and set aside the penalty imposed on the appellant. [Amandeep Singh v. Shaheena Parveen, 2019 SCC OnLine HP 1416, decided on 30-08-2019]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Patna High Court: The Bench of Shivaji Pandey, J. dismissed a writ petition filed by an employer, challenging the amount of compensation directed to be paid to its employee by the Labour Court, on the ground that the petitioner had not exhausted the alternative statutory remedy.

The instant petition was filed is challenging the order passed by the Presiding Officer of Bhagalpur Labour Court whereby and whereunder petitioner’s employee was awarded a compensation of around Rs 4.72 lakhs. Additionally, it was also ordered that if the said amount was not paid to the concerned employee within a period of thirty days, it would carry a simple interest of 12 percent on the principal amount of around Rs 2,03,771.

The Court noted that Section 30 of the Employee’s Compensation Act, 1923 has a provision of appeal. But instead of exhausting the alternative remedy of appeal, the present petition was filed directly before this Court. In view thereof, the petition was held to be not maintainable.

Accordingly, the petition was dismissed with a liberty to the petitioner to file an appeal as provided under Section 30 of the Employee’s Compensation Act.[Frontline (NCR) Business Solutions (P) Ltd. v. Anita Devi, 2019 SCC OnLine Pat 564, Order dated 19-04-2019]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Himachal Pradesh High Court: A Single Judge Bench comprising of Vivek Singh Thakur, J. upheld the decision of the Commissioner directing the petitioner-insurer to pay the balance amount to the respondents-claimants, which was deducted as TDS from the compensation paid to the respondents.

The claimants claimed compensation under Section 3 of Employees’ Compensation Act for the death of the deceased who died in an accident while working as a conductor. The Commissioner allowed the claim of the respondents and awarded Rs 3,79,592.50 as compensation to the claimants along with interest. The insurance company deposited the amount as awarded; however, only after deducting 20% of the amount as Tax Deducted at Source (TDS). Subsequently, in the execution proceedings, the Commissioner ordered the attachment of properties of the insurer for the realization of the balance of amount not paid (amount deducted) by the insurer. Aggrieved by the same, the insurer approached the High Court.

The High Court perused the record and while referring to Section 194-A Income Tax Act 1961, noted that compensation awarded under Motor Vehicles Act or Employees’ Compensation Act in lieu of death of a person or bodily injury suffered in a vehicular accident, is a damage and not an income and cannot be treated as taxable income. Further, the interest paid on the amount of compensation is also a part of the compensation. The Court held that TDS deducted by the insurer on the compensation awarded to the claimants was illegal. Accordingly, Respondent 6, Income Tax Officer, was directed to return the TDS amount to the petitioner-insurer which was further directed to be passed on to the claimants. [National Insurance Company Ltd. v. Dil Kumari, 2018 SCC OnLine HP 665, dated 01-06-2018]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Karnataka High Court: While delivering the judgment in a Miscellaneous First Appeal under Section 173(1) of the MV Act, against the judgment passed by the Ist Additional District Judge, Mangaluru, a Single Judge Bench comprising of B. Manohar, J. held that reading Section 167 of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 makes it very clear that option has been given to the claimants to seek compensation either under the Employees Compensation Act, 1923 or the MV Act. They cannot file a claim petition under the provisions of both the Acts.

Respondents herein were family members of the deceased who died in a road accident while he was proceeding on a motorcycle. They claimed compensation under Section 163-A of the Motor Vehicles Act. However, the records clearly disclosed that immediately after the death of the deceased, the respondents had filed a compensation petition under the Employees Compensation Act, and the compensation was awarded.

Learned counsel appearing for the appellant contended that the wife and children of the deceased had already filed a claim petition before the Commissioner of Employees Compensation. The Tribunal awarded the compensation. However, the claimants again filed one more set of claim petition seeking compensation under the MV Act. According to the learned counsel, there is a clear bar to that in light of Section 167 of the MV Act.

The learned Judge gave careful consideration to the arguments addressed by both the parties, and held that the claimants are not allowed to avail dual benefit under the above said two enactments. The Court also relied on the decision of the Apex Court in National Insurance Company v. Mastan, (2006) 2 SCC 641 which held that Section 167 contains a non-obstante clause providing for such an option notwithstanding anything contained in the 1923 Act. Accordingly the appeal was allowed and the judgment and award passed by the Motor Accident Claims Tribunal, Mangalore was set aside. [United India Insurance Co. Ltd. v. Lalitha Rathan, 2017 SCC OnLine Kar 1554, order dated 15.03.2017]