Case BriefsHigh Courts

   

Orissa High Court: In a case where a father (‘petitioner') is seeking compensation on the death of his seven-year-old daughter, a Division Bench of S. Muralidhar CJ. and R K Pattnaik J. directed the State (‘Opposite party') to pay compensation on account of negligence by its authorities.

The Petitioner's daughter was a student of Class-I at Kolhabeda Ashram School under Ghasipura Block in the district of Keonjhar. She was staying in the hostel of the said school when one day due to sudden collapse of a newly constructed area of the hostel, she succumbed to death . Aggrieved by the unfortunate death of a young girl, the father of the deceased filed the instant writ petition seeking compensation for her death.

The District Welfare Officer, Keonjhar submitted that the Petitioner had been provided with ex gratia sum of Rs.50,000/- apart from Rs.10,000/- paid out of the District Red Cross Society Fund. Also, the In-charge Head Sevak of the Ashram School was suspended for negligence committed by constructing a kitchen shed without obtaining permission from the competent authority as well as without any technical support.

Placing reliance on Nilabati Behera v. State of Odisha (1993) 2 SCC 746, Shyam Sundar v. State of Rajasthan (1974) 1 SCC 690 and Darshan v. Union of India, 1999 SCC OnLine Del 326, the Court in Jambeswar Naik v. State of Odisha in WP (C) No. 24882 of 2012 held that a clear case has been made out for grant of compensation for violation of the constitutional right to life of the two children, resulting in their avoidable deaths at a very young age.

The Court further noted that the negligence of the State authorities in using defective materials to construct a kitchen on the school premises has already been established during the enquiry. The death of the young child was totally avoidable. The responsibility for death definitely rests with the State. The death would not have occurred if all the safety measures, that were instructed to be put in place by the State, had been strictly followed.

The Court directed the Opposite Party-State to pay the petitioner a sum of Rs.10,00,000/- (Rupees Ten Lakhs) as compensation deducting the amount already paid to him by the State within a period of eight weeks from today. The aforesaid amount shall be directly deposited into the bank account of the Petitioner.

[Madhav Soren v State of Odisha, 2022 SCC OnLine Ori 2459, decided on 11-08-2022]


Advocates who appeared in this case :

Mr. Prabir Kumar Das, Advocate, for the Petitioner;

Mr. Ishwar Mohanty, Addl. Standing Counsel, Advocate, for the Respondent.


*Arunima Bose, Editorial Assistant has put this report together.

Calcutta High Court
Case BriefsHigh Courts

Calcutta High Court: Sugato Majumdar, J. allowed a criminal appeal which was assailed against the judgment and order of Additional Sessions Judge whereby the Appellants were convicted of offence under Section 304 of the IPC.

The de-facto complainant who was the mother of the deceased. The deceased was a private tutor of the son of Appellant 2 and 3 and appellant 2 was his close friend. A love-affair developed between Appellant 3 and the deceased. It was alleged that all the Appellants black-mailed the deceased and extorted lump-sum amount from him. On 12-01-2004, the deceased left his residence at 10:30 A.M. for the residence of the Appellants and later that afternoon appellant 1 told complainant that the deceased had consumed poison. On hearing this the de-facto complainant rushed to the doctor’s chamber where he was found lying on a bench. After few hours, victim expired and Hospital report showed that cause of death was poisoning. A complaint was registered.

On conclusion of the investigation, charge sheet was filed under Section 304/34 of the IPC. The Trial Court convicted the accused persons under Section 304/34 of the IPC and sentenced them to suffer rigorous imprisonments of seven years and fine of Rs. 2000/- in default rigorous imprisonment for another six months. Thus, the instant appeal.

During pendency of the appeal, the Appellant 1 expired. So, the appeal abated against him. The Counsel appearing for the appellants submitted that the instant case was a glaring example of aberration of justice. It was contended that the charge was framed for culpable homicide not amounting to murder alleging that the Appellants applied force upon the victim to consume unknown poison. In contrast, the impugned Judgment was delivered convicting the Appellants on the ground that the Appellants caused head and other injuries to the person of the deceased resulting in his death. The Appellants were never informed of or given opportunity to set up defense in respect of the different set of facts allegedly constituting the crime, for which the Appellants were convicted. Neither any question was put, nor any hints was given to the Appellants, in course of their examination under section 313 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 about the different set of facts and circumstances to be considered against them. It was also stressed upon the fact that there is no evidence to the effect that the deceased ever visited the residence of the Appellants. He also contended that the post-mortem report was of some other person.

The Court noted that the Trial Judge based his findings on circumstantial evidence. The court further noted that the Postmortem Report concluded that cause of death was head injury caused by hard blunt instrument. This contradicts the medical papers associated with treatment of the deceased. Postmortem examination might have been conducted on a different dead body other than that of deceased in question. The Court was of the opinion that the Postmortem Examination Report cannot be relied upon for coming to any conclusion on cause of death of the deceased.

Once the postmortem examination report is disregarded, the very basis of conviction becomes nugatory. There remains no basis of the finding that the Appellants assaulted and caused injury to the deceased resulting in his death.

The Court also noted the aspect that except with the Appellant 2, the deceased was not seen with the other Appellants by any of the witnesses. There is no evidence to connect the deceased with the Appellant 1 and the Appellant 3 on the fateful day inviting inference that those Appellants were instrumented to cause his death in whatever manner that may be. The Court also agreed with the view of the Counsel of the appellant that the charges were framed referring to one set of facts which were read over and explained to the Appellants. The Appellants were convicted with reference to another set of facts, as noted above. The Judgment, delivered on the basis of a different set of facts of which the Appellants had hitherto been unaware of, undermines the principle of natural justice.

It is not understandable why the Trial Court, in oblivious of ocular testimonies as well as documentary and other oral evidence solely relied upon the Postmortem Report and developed a story as if to sanctify a wrong report. Inspite of absence of any evidence the Trial Court concluded that the Appellants assaulted and injured the deceased causing his death.

The appeal was allowed, and the impugned order was set aside finding that the impugned order by the Trial Court was based on surmise and conjecture, was opposed to any reason, rationality, principles of evidence and natural justice. The impugned judgment is anathema to all rationality and reasoning. Such perverse findings should be seriously looked into.

Appellant 2 and the Appellant 3 were set at liberty, and they were also released from their bail bonds.

[Anil Das v. State of West Bengal, 2022 SCC OnLine Cal 2347, decided on 18-08-2022]


Advocates who appeared in this case :

Subir Ganguly, Sumanta Ganguly, Advocates, for the Appellants;

Faria Hossain, Anand Keshri, Mamta Jana, Advocates, for the State.


*Suchita Shukla, Editorial Assistant has reported this brief.

Madras High Court
Case BriefsHigh Courts

Madras High Court– G Chandrasekharan, J. ordered further investigation into the case where a man died under suspicious circumstances and alleged negligence on the part of the Police and the Medical Authorities. The Court thus directed the State to pay compensation to the aggrieved family.

A writ petition was filed seeking issuance for further investigation by an independent agency regarding the suspicious death of the petitioner’s husband, N. Arumugam. The petition also seeks direction to the respondents to pay an exemplary compensation of Rs.25,000 to the petitioner, her three children and the aged father-in-law and mother-in-law who have alleged to been deprived of their means to livelihood due to the death of their husband.

The petitioner contended that after the death of the husband, a final report was filed closing the investigation as ‘charge abated.’ The petitioners also apprehended that her husband might have been hit by a heavy vehicle with a possible involvement of a VIP and her husband was deliberately shown as an accused in order to suppress the true manner in which he suffered injuries. The petitioners highlighted that no surgical intervention was made within due time.

Counsel for the petitioner relied on the judgement of Nilabati Behera v. State of Orissa, (1993) 2 SCC 746, where it was held by the Supreme Court that the relief of monetary compensation as exemplary damages under Article 32 of the Constitution or Article 226 of the High Court is a remedy available in public law and is based on strict liability. Further reliance was placed on the judgement of Supreme Court in DK Basu v. State of West Bengal (1997) 1 SCC 416 where it was held that monetary or pecuniary compensation is an appropriate and effective remedy for redressal of the established infringement of the fundamental right to life of a citizen by the public servants.

It was contended by the respondents that the petitioner’s husband was under the influence of alcohol. It was noted that though he was conscious, he was not able to speak due to his head injury. It was further contended by the respondent that the deceased was mainly responsible for the accident by drunken driving and therefore he was himself shown to be an accused.

Placing reliance on Harish Kumar Khurana v. Joginder Singh, (2021) 10 SCC 291, it was contended that the finding of medical negligence must be based on proper medical evidence on crucial medical aspects. Subsequent reliance was placed on the judgement of Ganesh Nayak v. V. Shamanna, 2022 SCC Online Kar 131 for the proposition that there must be a nexus between the procedure and death of the patient must be established for medical negligence.

The Court noted that the Police Department, especially the Police personnel serving in the Kudimangalam Police Station as well as the Doctors, Nurses and staff members attending the deceased N. Arumugam had violated the fundamental right of the deceased N. Arumugam for competent medical treatment. Therefore, the Court was of the view that the petitioner was entitled for compensation under public law remedy and a Writ of Mandamus could be issued for issuing directions to the first respondent to pay compensation.

The Court directed that there was a need to further investigate the case and relied on the judgement of Kishan Lal v. Dharmendra Bafna, (2009) 7 SCC 685 where it was observed that the learned Magistrate can order further investigation if the same has been found to be tainted or it is necessary for achieving the ends of justice. Further reliance was placed on the case of Vinay Tyagi v. Irshad Ali, (2013) 5 SCC 762 to observe that “fair and proper investigation” has dual purpose of ensuring that the investigation remains unbiased and is in accordance with the law.

For determining the scope of compensation, the Court relied on the judgement of National Insurance Company v. Pranay Sethi, (2017) SCC OnLine SC 1270, where the Court had adopted the procedure followed in Motor Vehicle Accident Cases for fixing the compensation and the compensation for the victim of motor vehicle accident was determined.

The Court directed further investigation into the case and directed the first respondent to pay compensation amount of Rs15,00,000 to the petitioner at 6% interest per annum.

[Muthulakshmi vs The Secretary to the Government of Tamil Nadu, 2022 SCC OnLine Mad 3751, decided on 20-7-2022]


Advocates who appeared in this case :

Mr. M. Purushothaman (In both W. Ps’), Advocate, for the Petitioner;

Mr. P. Kumaresan (In both W. Ps’) Additional Advocate General, for the RR 1, 3, 5 & 8;

Mr. Pratap (In both W. Ps’) Government Advocate, for the RR 2, 4, 6 & 7.


*Arunima Bose, Editorial Assistant has reported this brief.

National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission
Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, New Delhi (NCDRC): While addressing a medical negligence case, the Coram of Dr S.M. Kantikar (Presiding Member) and Binoy Kumar, Member, observed that, Negligence per se is not a separate cause of action from negligence suits. Negligence per se, however, assumes the duty because of public policy or law. “Negligence per se” is defined by the legal field as “negligence due to the violation of a public duty under a law that defines the failure of care required to constitute negligence. Negligence per se may also be declared when a person does or omits to do something which is so beyond reasonable behaviour standards that it is negligent on its face.”

An appeal was filed against the State Commission’s order wherein it had granted Rs 20 lakhs without interest which was much less than reasonable and just compensation.

The three grounds for the present appeal were:

(A) Enhancement of the compensation from Rs. 20,00,000/- to Rs. 50,00,000/-.

(B) The interest to be awarded on the amount of compensation either from the date of surgery (06.02.2006) or from filing of the complaint before the State Commission, New Delhi (2007)

(C) To Hold the doctor guilty and impose fine/penalty upon him.

Analysis, Law and Decision


In Commission’s opinion, the impugned order in both the appeals was unsustainable and in the present case, the final arguments were heard by two members –Judicial and Administrative but due to the retirement of the Administrative Member, probably to avoid a fresh hearing in the case, the Judicial Member thought it was advisable to pronounce the final order himself.

In the present case, the final arguments in the Complaint were heard by two Members and, therefore, only those two Members were competent to pronounce the order, and not by the Member sitting singly. This is the fundamental rule, which cannot be sacrificed at the altar of administrative convenience. 

Coram set aside the order challenged as the same was illegal.

After the remand, the matter was heard, and the State Commission awarded Rs. 20 lakh compensation with Rs.1 lakh as cost of litigation to the Complainants.

Commission, noted that,

further note that, the DMC has made strong observations on the patient management in G.M. Modi Hospital as it was in very lackadaisical manner. The hospital had inadequate manpower, lack of coordination, no proper record keeping of in-ward and outward (dispatch) of specimen of histo-path. The operative findings and the follow-up advice were not recorded properly. Thus, the hospital ignored all treatment protocols and the surgeon blandly violated the standard norms. Though, in this case the operated specimen was handed over to the patient’s relative for HPE examination but Dr. Panigrahi did not bother to see/know about the report. However, the patient relatives denied about receipt of any specimen. As per the NABH standard operating procedure (SOP), it is the responsibility of operating surgeon to send the surgical specimen for HPE. It is unfortunate that subsequently the patient developed metastasis in liver and other parts of body and she lost the chance of early cancer therapy. In our considered view it was ‘negligence per se’ of the hospital and the treating surgeon Dr.Panigrahi. The DMC further observed that only CBD exploration was done to claim money from CGHS though admittedly laparoscopic small bowel resection was not done but it was mentioned in discharge summery. The DMC removed the name of Dr. A.K. Panigrahi for 12 weeks from the State Medical register.

Coram expressed that, in negligence cases, one must prove that there was a duty, that duty was breached, and the breach of that duty caused damages.

Compensation in Medical Negligence Cases

It was noted by the Commission that, in the present case, the Surgeon failed in his duty of care, and it was not a reasonable standard of practice, thus he was negligent.

The State Commission ignored the medical negligence of the Surgeon; and for the qualitative change awarded Rs 20 lakh as compensation.

Hence, in Commission’s opinion, the medical negligence was attributed to the doctor and hospital, and the Complainant deserved the compensation. Therefore, the compensation was modified, that Rs 20 lakhs have to be paid just and fair, and therefore the view taken by the State Commission for the need of qualitative change in the functioning of the hospital was endorsed and the hospital shall pay Rs 5 lakhs more to the Complainant.

Since it has been 1 ½ decade since the incident occurred, the complainant deserves an interest on the total quantum of the award.

Conclusion

The impugned Order was modified to the extent that the treating Surgeon was liable for medical negligence; as well, the hospital was vicariously liable. The hospital needed qualitative change and systemic improvement also. Therefore, on the basis of the foregoing discussion, OP 1 and 2 shall pay total compensation of Rs 25 lakhs with interest of 6% pa and cost of litigation shall remain at Rs 1 lakh only. [Vishnu Priya Giri v. G.M. Modi Hospital Research Centre for Medical Sciences, 2022 SCC OnLine NCDRC 58, decided on 13-5-2022]


Advocates before the Commission:

For the Appellant: Mr Jalaj Agarwal, Advocate Mr Alok Chaudhary, Advocate with Appellant in person

For the Respondent: Mr Sanjeev Kumar Dubey, Sr. Advocate with Mr Rajmangal Kumar, Advocate for R-1

Ms Mary Mitzy, Advocate for R-2

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The Division Bench comprising of Ajay Rastogi* and Abhay S. Oka, JJ., held that non-supply of demanded documents is not sufficient to challenge a disciplinary inquiry unless it is showed what prejudice has been caused due to non-supply.

Twelve Lakhs Stolen from UCO Bank

The respondent delinquent was an Assistant Manager at UCO Bank when the 10/11-11-1999 when the incident of theft was reported. The respondent being one of the joint custodian of cash was responsible for safety of keys of cash/strong room and failed to take all precautionary steps as being indicated in the guidelines of the Bank and the alleged negligence resulted into theft/loss of cash from the cash safe amounting to 12 lakhs rupees.

Disciplinary Inquiry and Suspension

After affording opportunity of hearing and due compliance of principles of natural justice, the inquiry officer found the respondent guilty.  The disciplinary authority concurred with the findings of the Inquiry Officer and after due compliance of principles of natural justice, inflicted the penalty of dismissal from service with disqualification for future employment. In appeal, the appellate authority modified exonerated the respondent from charges 2 and 5 and modified the decision to the following affect, that the respondent be compulsorily retired, the Basic Pay be reduced by two stages in the time scale of pay for a period of 4 (four) years.

Impugned Judgment

The Single Judge and the Division Bench of the High Court concluded that the conclusion that Mr. Vinod Kumar Khanna was the Branch Manager on the date when the incident had occurred and the joint responsibility was of the Branch Manager and the Assistant Manager (Cash). Since the present respondent delinquent was the Assistant Manager, he could not be held to be responsible for.

Findings and Conclusion

The Bench Opined that factual error was committed by the High Court in passing the impugned judgment as Mr. Vinod Kumar Khanna  was also served with the chargesheet and he too faced departmental inquiry but the allegation against him was that despite being fully aware that the respondent delinquent was the custodian of cash he did not take appropriate steps against the staff who was reportedly keeping overnight safety of the keys of the chest in the Branch itself which was a gross negligence and for his supervisory negligence.

The Bench noted that power of judicial review in the matters of disciplinary actions is well circumscribed by limits of correcting errors of law or procedural errors leading to manifest injustice or violation of principles of natural justice and it is not akin to adjudication of the case on merits as an appellate authority. Therefore, the Bench opined that neither the Single Judge nor the Division Bench of the High Court had taken pains to look into the finding which was recorded by the inquiry officer and appreciated thereafter by the disciplinary/appellate authority.

Therefore, the Bench held that the finding recorded by the High Court was unsustainable and not supported with the report of inquiry available on record. Rejecting the contention of the respondent that the inquiry officer was biased and that caused prejudice to him, the Bench held that merely making allegation of biasness is not sufficient unless supported by the material either during the course of inquiry or before the disciplinary/appellate authority. With regard to the contention that the record demanded by the respondent was not made available to him, the Bench noted that the all the records except the one confidential in nature (which the respondent was permitted to inspect) were made available to the respondent. Further, respondent failed to show what prejudice was caused to him due to non-supply of the document demanded.

In the light of the above, the Bench held that the High Court had exceeded in its jurisdiction while interfering with the disciplinary proceedings and being unsustainable the impugned judgment was set aside.

[UCO Bank v. Krishna Kumar Bhardwaj, 2022 SCC OnLine SC 201, decided on 18-02-2022]


*Judgment by: Justice Ajay Rastogi


Kamini Sharma, Editorial Assistant has put this report together 

District CourtHigh Court Round UpLegal RoundUp

Here are our interesting Picks from the stories reported this week:

People using cyberspace to vent out anger and frustration by travestying key-figures holding highest office in country, is abhorrent and violates right to reputation: All HC

Sanjay Kumar Singh, J., expressed that, 

“The internet and social media has become an important tool through which individuals can exercise their right to freedom of expression but the right to freedom of expression comes with its own set of special responsibilities and duties.”

Read more, here…


When a person suffers injury without any negligence on his part, but result of combined effect of negligence of two other persons: Is it a case of composite or contributory negligence? Bom HC answers

Expressing that, Negligence does not always mean absolute carelessness, but want of such a degree of care as required in particular circumstances, Vinay Joshi, J., held that no absolute standard can be fixed as to what constitutes negligence differs from case to case.

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[Yes Bank Loan Fraud] Public money under garb of Term loan siphoned off, resulting in generation of ‘proceeds of crime’ as well as its layering and ultimate projection as untainted money: Del HC while denying bail to Gautam Thapar

While addressing a matter wherein bail of Gautam Thapar accused in Yes Bank Loan Fraud case, was sought, Manoj Kumar Ohri, J., expressed that it is well settled that, economic offences constitute a class apart and need to be visited with a different approach, given their severity and magnitude. Albeit these offences are likely to adversely impact the economic fabric of the country, bail shall not be denied to a person accused of an economic offence in a routine manner.

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Where the residence is a shared household, would it create any embargo upon owner to claim eviction against his daughter-in-law? Read what Del HC says

Yogesh Khanna, J., held that right of residence under Section 19 of the Domestic Violence Act is not an indefeasible right of residence in a shared household, especially when the daughter-in-law is pitted against aged father-in-law and mother-in-law.

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Every common woman travelling in public transport have experienced incidents of inappropriate touch by male gender, but ignored: Is this the reason why such assaults go unreported? Read detailed decision on one such incident

Expressing that essence of a woman’s modesty is her womanhood, H.H. The Special Judge A.D.DEO, remarked that incidents of unwelcome, inappropriate touch by the male accused in the journey are very common sexual assault experience by every common woman travelling in public transport, but ignored by each one of them, thinking that there is no likelihood of coming across, the same assailant after the journey.

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Children less than 12 years of age are “asexual” and normally take time to recognize that disguised love, affection or warmth by perpetrator is sinful: Tis Hazari Courts, Delhi

Dharmesh Sharma, Principal District & Sessions Judge, found a 28-year-old man guilty of committing aggravated penetrative sexual assault on a minor aged 11 years old.

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Touching ‘bum’ of a minor girl will be sexual assault punished under S. 10 of POCSO Act? POCSO Court explains

Expressing that, the sexual intention is the state of mind, may not necessarily to be proved by direct evidence, such intention is to be inferred from attending circumstances of the case, M.A. Baraliya, Designated Judge under POCSO Act, 2012, held that touching bum of a girl cannot be said to be without sexual intention.

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Bombay High Court
Case BriefsHigh Courts

Bombay High Court: Expressing that, Negligence does not always mean absolute carelessness, but want of such a degree of care as required in particular circumstances, Vinay Joshi, J., held that no absolute standard can be fixed as to what constitutes negligence differs from case to case.

High Court stated that,

When a person suffers injury without any negligence on his part, but result of combined effect of negligence of two other persons, it is not case of “contributory” but it is a case of “composite negligence”.

Background

Appellant’s case was that the appellant injured (applicant) was proceeding as a pillion rider along with his brother on motorcycle. The motorcycle was hit by an offending truck which came in high speed and gave dash from behind. Due to the said incident, both the applicant and his brother sustained severe bodily injuries.

An FIR was registered under Sections 279, 337 and 338 of the Penal Code, 1860 against the driver of the offending truck. Due to the accidental injuries, the applicant lost his job as well as his earning capacity, hence he approached the Tribunal for grant of compensation in terms of Section 166 of the Motor Vehicles Act.

What was Tribunal’s decision?

Tribunal quantified compensation of Rs 8,84,520, however, recorded the finding that the accident occurred due to sole negligence of the motorcycle rider, i.e. applicant’s brother. Since there was no negligence on the part of the truck driver, the claim petition was dismissed.

Negligence

It was not in dispute that the appellant was pillion rider and therefore it was a case of composite negligence, in view of that even if there was slightest negligence on the part of truck driver, then the injured can recover compensation from the owner and insurer of the truck. Hence, it was necessary to dwell upon the question of negligence.

“… claim petition is not an adversarial adjudication between litigating parties but a statutory determination of compensation, after due enquiry, in accordance with the statute.” 

Tribunal’s conclusion was drawn solely on the ground that at the time of dash motorcycle was on the wrong side of the road i.e. to its right side.

Analysis and Discussion

In Court’s opinion, the Tribunals discarded spot panchanama which disclosed that the accident took place to the eastern side. Thus, it gave a complete different picture and location of the place of occurrence. The reason for discarding the same was that the rider could not have shown the place since he was admitted to the hospital.

Further, it was stated that there may have been the possibility of Vinod showing the place since there were no documents of him being an indoor patient. Besides that, the panchnama had a reference that there were bloodstains and the existence of the same supported the location of the occurrence.

High Court added that it was not clear as to in which direction the motorcycle was heading, hence the tribunal erred in solely relying said admission by overlooking spot panchanama.

Bench cited the Supreme Court decision in Bimla Devi v. Himachal Road Trans. Corpn., 2009 ACJ 1725 (SC), wherein it was ruled that the strict proof of an accident caused by a particular vehicle in a particular manner was not possible to be done by the claimants. They were merely to establish their case on the touchstone of preponderance of probabilities. The standard of proof beyond reasonable doubt cannot be invoked in claim petitions.

Further, the Court remarked that,

“Negligence is omission of duty caused either by an omission to do something which a reasonable man guided upon those considerations which ordinarily by reason of conduct of human affairs would do or obliged to do.” 

Significantly, the Court added that, even if it was assumed that the motorcycle was to the wrong side of the road, still dash was given from behind which clearly demonstrated that the truck driver was very much negligent.

The present matter was a case of composite negligence. The negligence of truck driver may be to any extent, but it would certainly attract liability.

Bench further added that, since the dash was from behind, the doctrine of Res ipsa loquitur would apply against the truck driver.

Merely on stray admission applicant’s entire case dehors to police papers cannot be jettisoned.

The driver and owner have appeared and contested the claim but driver did not step into witness box, which is sufficient to draw adverse inference against them.

Hence, it was quite clear that the truck driver had also contributed in negligence and therefore the finding recorded by the Tribunal on the point of negligence was totally erroneous.

Composite Negligence

“…the accident was result of negligence on the part of both i.e. motorcycle rider and truck driver. Meaning thereby a case of composite negligence.”

In the case of composite negligence, the claimant has no choice to seek compensation from either of the wrongdoer.

Elaborating further, the Bench stated that, since the truck driver contributed in negligence i.e. he was also wrong doer, the applicant can very well claim entire compensation from the driver, owner and insurer of the offending truck.

The compensation assessed by the Tribunal was just and proper. Besides that claimant was entitled to interest @7% per annum, which would be in the tune of the prevailing rate of interest in the banking sector.

Therefore, the appeal was allowed. [Satling Gangadhar Bagal v. Abarao Dnyanoba Sanap, 2022 SCC OnLine Bom 426, decided on 24-2-2022]


Advocates before the Court:

Mr S.S. Dargad, Advocate for the appellant.

Mr A.V. Thombre h/f. Mr S.S. Thombre, Advocate for respondents 1 & 2.

Mr S.V. Kulkarni, Advocate for respondent 3.

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The Division Bench comprising of Hemant Gupta* and V. Ramasubramanian, JJ., set aside NCDRC’s order granting 14 lakhs compensation to the claimants in negligence claim against doctors. The Bench stated,

“The doctors are expected to take reasonable care but none of the professionals can assure that the patient would overcome the surgical procedures.”

In the instant case, the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) had directed the appellants i.e., Bombay Hospital & Medical Research Centre and Dr. C. Anand Somaya to pay a sum of Rs. 14,18,491/- along with interest at 9% p.a. to the claimants. The claimants, namely legal heirs of the deceased – patient Dinesh Jaiswal had alleged medical negligence and deficiency of service on the part of the Hospital and the Doctor in treating the patient.

Factual Analysis

Noticeably, the allegation against the hospital was of failure of the Doctor to take the follow-up action after surgery, a delayed decision to amputate the leg subsequent to re-exploration, and the alleged undue foreign visit of the Doctor.

Admittedly, the patient was in critical condition when the Doctor was consulted and surgery was thereafter performed within two days. Rejecting the claim of negligence, the Bench opined that non-working of the DSA machine and consequent delay in performing the test could not be said to be negligence on the part of the Doctor or the Hospital. The Bench remarked,

“DSA machine is a large, expensive and complicated machine which unfortunately developed certain technical problem at the time when patient had to be tested. Any machine can become non-functional because of innumerable factors beyond the human control as the machines involve various mechanical, electrical and electronic components.”

Since the DSA test of the patient was conducted in the Hospital prior to surgery was a proof that DSA machine was not dysfunctional for a long time. Moreover, the alternative process to determine the blood flow was carried out by angiography and the decision for re-exploration was taken. On the issue of non availability of operation theatres, the Bench held,

“No fault can be attached to the Hospital if the operation theatres were occupied when the patient was taken for surgery. Operation theatres cannot be presumed to be available at all times.”

Therefore, the Bench opined that non-availability of an emergency operation theatre during the period when surgeries were being performed on other patients was not a valid ground to hold the Hospital negligent in any manner. In respect of the allegation that doctors failed to amputate legs on time, the Bench observed that efforts were being made to save the limbs as amputation was considered as the last resort. The amputation was done as per the advice of Dr. Pachore, who was the expert in that subject. Similarly, with regard to the contention of the Doctor being on a foreign visit, the Bench held that mere fact that the Doctor had gone abroad could not lead to an inference of medical negligence as the patient was admitted in a hospital having specialists in multi-faculties.

Findings of the Court

Noticeably, it was not the case of the complainant that Doctor was not possessed of requisite skill in carrying out the operation. Also, there was no proof of negligence in performing the surgery or in the process of re-exploration. Therefore, the Bench expressed,

“In spite of the treatment, if the patient had not survived, the doctors cannot be blamed as even the doctors with the best of their abilities cannot prevent the inevitable.”

Opining that there is a tendency to blame the doctor when a patient dies or suffers some mishap, the Bench stated that the doctors are expected to take reasonable care but none of the professionals can assure that the patient would overcome the surgical procedures.

“It is too much to expect from a doctor to remain on the bed side of the patient throughout his stay in the hospital which was being expected by the complainant here. A doctor is expected to provide reasonable care which is not proved to be lacking in any manner in the present case.”

Decision

Spotting both legal and factual errors in the findings recorded by NCDRC, the Bench opined that the order holding the Hospital and the Doctor guilty of medical negligence were not sustainable in law. Consequently, the appeals were allowed. The order of the NCDRC was set aside and the complaint was dismissed.

However, the Bench directed that the sum of Rs. 5 lakhs disbursed to the complainant by virtue of interim order passed by the Court should be treated as ex gratia payment to the complainant and not to be recovered by either the Hospital or the Doctor.

[Bombay Hospital & Medical Research Centre v. Asha Jaiswal, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 1149, decided on 30-11-2021]


Kamini Sharma, Editorial Assistant has put this report together


*Judgment by: Justice Hemant Gupta

Canada SC
Case BriefsForeign Courts

City of Nelson held responsible for injuries caused by its snow clearing decisions: Is it true?


Supreme Court of Canada: While focusing on Canadian tort law and duty of care Coram of Wagner C.J. and Moldaver, Karakatsanis, Côté, Rowe, Martin and Kasirer JJ., decided that the City of Nelson owed a duty of care to a citizen who got injured due to the snow clearing decision of the City.

Background

Due to heavy snowfall, the city started plowing and sanding streets pursuant to its written snow clearing and removal policies and unwritten practices.

Among the tasks completed by city employees was the clearing of snow in angled parking stalls on streets located in the downtown core. Employees plowed the snow to the top of the parking spaces, creating a continuous snowbank along the curb that separated the parking stalls from the sidewalk. They did not clear an access route to the sidewalk for drivers parking in the stalls.

Negligence of the City

Taryn Joy Marchi parked in one of the angled parking stalls. She was attempting to access a business, but the snowbank created by the city blocked her route to the sidewalk. She decided to cross the snowbank and seriously injured her leg. Taryn Joy Marchi sued the city for negligence.

Trial Court’s decision

Trial Judge held that city did not owe a duty of care to Taryn Joy Marchi as the snow removal decisions were core policy decisions.

Court of appeal found an error in the trial judge decision and hence ordered for a new trial.

Analysis, Law and Decision

In the instant matter, respondent Taryn Joy Marchi suffered a significant physical injury on a municipal street, and by plowing the parking spaces on the street where the respondent parked, the city invited members of the public to use them to access businesses along the street.

Just category clearly extends to the prevention of injuries from snowbanks created by a government defendant on the roads and sidewalk.

City of Nelson could not prove that its decision to clear the snow from parking stalls in which respondent parked by creating snowbanks along the sidewalks without ensuring direct access to sidewalks was a core policy decision immune from liability in negligence.

Canadian Tort Law

Under the said law, there is no doubt that governments may sometimes be held liable for damage caused by their negligence in the same way as private defendants.

Supreme Court stated that the City could not show that the way it plowed the parking stalls was the result of a proactive, deliberative decision, based on value judgments to do with economic, social or political considerations.

The public interest is not served when ad hoc decisions that fail to balance competing interests or that fail to consider how best to mitigate harms are insulated from liability in negligence. Oversight of such decisions respects the respective roles of each branch of government under the separation of powers doctrine.

In view of the above appeal was dismissed and trial judgment was set aside.

Parting Words:

On duty of care, Court concluded that the impugned City decision was not a core policy decision and the City, therefore, owed Ms Marchi a duty of care.[Nelson (City) v. Marchi, 2021 SCC 41, decided on 21-10-2021]

Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh High Court
Case BriefsHigh Courts

Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh High Court: Sanjeev Kumar, J., applied the principle of strict liability to grant compensation to the petitioners who had lost their son due to negligence of the Power Development Department.

The petitioners were the parents of one Parvez Ahmad Gujjar, aged 12 years, who got electrocuted on 09-06-2008 when he incidentally touched the standing green tree touching electricity transmission line. An FIR was registered against the Department of Power Development on the allegation that 33 KV transmission line maintained by the Department of Power Development (PDD) was touching a green tree which created a short circuit in which the son of the petitioners died.

The police, after investigation, proved the case under Section 304-A RPC against the PDD and the medical opinion on record clearly demonstrated that the cause of death of son of the petitioners was due to electrocution.

Opining that the danger of these green trees touching the live wires and creating short circuit cannot be ruled out, the Bench stated,

“The maintenance of electric lines would include cutting and pruning of trees, for, there is likelihood of such trees and their branches coming into contact with live wires during rainy season or otherwise.”

Hence, the Bench held that apart from being vicariously liable for the negligent acts of its employees, who were maintaining and distributing the electricity through transmission lines essentially dealing with a dangerous activity which, having regard to its nature, was hazardous, the department was liable to compensate the petitioners on the principle of strict liability as it was the duty of the respondents to take all care and caution to prevent any mishap.

Reliance was placed by the Court on its recent decision in Abdul Aziz Bhat v. State of J&K, 2013 SCC OnLine J&K 182, wherein it had been held that “…a hazardous or an inherently dangerous activity can be tolerated only on the condition that such an enterprise would indemnify all those who suffer on account of carrying on of such dangerous activity, regardless of whether it is carried on with reasonable and due care. Therefore, even in a case where due care and caution had been taken…”

Accordingly, considering the policy of payment of ex-gratia relief to the Departmental or non-Departmental persons killed or grievously incapacitated due to electric related incidents promulgated vide Order No. 328-PDD/2011 dated 24-11-2011, the Bench held that the petitioners would be entitled to payment of lump-sum compensation of Rs 3.00 lac along with interest at the rate of 6% interest per annum to be calculated from the date of the death. Taking an stricter view, the Bench added, if the compensation awarded is not paid within eight the amount shall become payable along with interest at 9% per annum. [Jamal-ud-Din Gujjar v. State of J&K, 2021 SCC OnLine J&K 771, decided on 07-10-2021]


Kamini Sharma, Editorial Assistant has reported this brief.


Appearance by:

For the Petitioners: B.S.Bali, Advocate

For the State of J&K: F.A.Natnoo AAG

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Bombay High Court: While emphasizing the aspect of encroachment of public land, the Division Bench of Dipankar Datta, CJ and G.S. Kulkarni, J., observed that,

“It is not new that valuable Government land on account of the negligent approach of the officers in charge by not protecting such lands from encroachment have stood extinguished from the Government’s holding, causing a serious cascading effect.”

Aggrieved by the public notice issued by respondent 1 – the Slum Rehabilitation Authority, petitioners were to be rehabilitated being affected by Pune Metro Rail Project.

Petitioners contended that under the State’s policy, being slum dwellers, they have a status of being protected occupiers, who would be required to be rehabilitated by allotment of a free of cost permanent alternate accommodation in case land below the slum is sought to be utilized for public purpose.

Further, the petitioners contend that the slum dwellers society had opposed the passing of the Pune Metro through the slum land, so did the developers. They also suggested realignment of the metro track, however, sans success.

High Court noted that the petitioners who had initially encroached on the Government land and remained on the same for some time to fall within the beneficial policy of the State Government of being protected slum dwellers, cannot elevate their protection to such an extent that such slum dwellers have to be rehabilitated either on the same land, if any remaining after the project work is completed within the vicinity.

Bench opined that any encroachment on public land at the threshold ought not to be tolerated and prompt action is required to be taken to remove such encroachment, more particularly when those who are custodians of the public land are well aware that encroachments for long periods will clothe the encroachers with rights to seek rehabilitation at public costs under the prevalent Government policies.

Violation of Public Trust Doctrine

Government on account of negligent approach by not protecting public lands from encroachment is later required to acquire the same from private holdings, causing an unwarranted burden on the public exchequer and a sheer waste of taxpayers money.

Despite the might machinery, Government doesn’t protect its valuable land resulting into the grossest violation of public trust doctrine as a result of patent abuse of powers vested in such Government machinery is not protecting public property.

Accountability

Court added that it wonders as to whether at any point of time an audit in regard to encroached government land in State of Maharashtra was undertaken. As to how many such lands have vanished due to encroachment and whether any steps to preserve the same have been taken – these are certain questions to be answered to “we the people” and accountability fixed for negligence.

Bench hoped that the Government awakens on such issues before it is too late and restores all the encroached Government lands for public benefit.

The above would certainly require a genuine political will and consciousness towards larger public benefit.

Coming to the present matter, High Court expressed that,

Mere right of rehabilitation cannot be recognized to be equivalent to a right of ownership or as if it is some compensation being offered to the slum dwellers for their encroachment and occupation of Government land.

 In the present matter, the petitioners were not denied the benefit of rehabilitation, infact they were called upon by several notices for allotment of premises, but they took an unreasonable adamant stand and refused the benefit.

Opining that the present petition was not filed bonafide, Court stated that the petition appeared to be a patent abuse of process of law.

While imposing costs of Rs 5,000 the petition was dismissed. [Abdul Majid Vakil Ahmad Patvekari v. Slum Rehabilitation Authority, WP No. 3983 of 2021, decided on 31-08-2021]


Advocates before the Court:

Mr. Nikhil Wadikar i/b. Mr. Rajesh Katore for the petitioners.
Mr. Deepak R. More for respondent no. 1.
Mr. B.V. Samant, AGP for the State.
Mr. S.K. Mishra, Senior Advocate a/w. Mr. Pralhad D. Paranjape and Mr. Kaustubh Deogade for respondent nos. 4 and 5.

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Delhi High Court: Anup Jairam Bhambhani, J., emphasizing the principle of res ipsa loquitur and placing a detailed explanation on the same granted just and fair compensation to a person who was 100% disabled due to an accident at his place of work.

Factual Backdrop

Petitioner’s son (Bharat) who was 28 years of age was the victim of an accident at the age of about 21 years which had left him 100% disabled. Instant petition was filed by petitioner’s father since petitioner was stated to be virtually bed ridden and not in a position to file to pursue his claim against the respondents.

Petitioner had made claims against the respondents BSES Rajdhani Power Limited and Bryn Construction Company.

Further, it was submitted that petitioner had suffered an accident due to certain work performed by Bryn for BRPL, which led to the filing of the present petition.

Cause of Permanent Disability

 Bharat, who was then about 21 years of age, while working as an electrician with Bryn, was tasked with rectifying a fault in an electricity pole that was causing fluctuation in the electricity supply at a farmhouse and suffered a fall while performing the task since the electricity pole that he had climbed on, snapped and fell.

Bharat’s dismal physical state apart, it was also evident to this court that Bharat was a psychological wreck, not least because in the course of interaction with this court, he broke- down on several occasions.

Depression and Anxiety

 As per medical opinion in regard to Bharat’s psychological state, his level of mental depression and anxiety fall in the “abnormal range”.

Questions for Consideration

  • Given his medical condition, what course of action should be adopted for Bharat’s further rehabilitation, continuing care and welfare?
  • Is Bharat entitled to receive any monetary compensation for the injury suffered by him as a result of the accident; if so, from which of the respondent or respondents?
  • If the answer to (ii) above is in the affirmative, in what manner should the compensation be calculated?

Analysis, Law and Decision

While analyzing and penning down this interesting decision, Court addressed a very fundamental issue, whether Bharat was an ‘employee’ of Bryn or was engaged by Bryn to perform the task that led to the accident.

It was noted that Bryn did not expressly admit that Bharat was their employee; nor that he had been engaged by them to perform the task in question.

However, there was also no denial of any kind, whether express or implied, that Bharat was working for Bryn. The thrust of Bryn’s counter-affidavit is that BRPL is responsible to compensate Bharat for the injury, since at the relevant time Bharat was working under BRPL’s supervision and performing BRPL’s tasks.

Court took note of the fact that while BRPL and Bryn both contended that all requisite safety equipment and precaution were made available by them, neither BRPL nor Bryn explained why such equipment, if available, failed to protect Bharat from the serious injury he suffered. 

Opinion of the Court

Bench opined that Bharat was working for Bryn and was tasked with certain maintenance work to be performed on an electricity pole owned by BRPL; which pole, it turned-out, was not strong enough to take Bharat’s weight or was not rooted securely in the ground, and thereby fell, as a result of which Bharat sustained serious injuries. It is also evident that Bharat was not provided any safety gear before he was directed to climb the pole to undertake the task.

 Principle of res ipsa loquitur

High Court added to its analysis that the instant matter would be squarely covered by the principle of res ipsa loquitur, whereby no detailed evidence, much less a trial, is required to establish ex-facie negligence on the part of BRPL and Bryn.

The said maxim was lucidly explained in the leading Supreme Court decision of Shyam Sundar v. State of Rajasthan, (1974) 1 SCC 690,

 The maxim res ipsa loquitur is resorted to when an accident is shown to have occurred and the cause of the accident is primarily within the knowledge of the defendant. The mere fact that the cause of the accident is unknown does not prevent the plaintiff from recovering the damages, if the proper inference to be drawn from the circumstances which are known is that it was caused by the negligence of the defendant. 

Elaborating further, the Court stated that the accident could not have occurred had Bryn and/or BRPL not been negligent in taking reasonable precautions to avoid it; which gave rise to their strict liability for the injuries sustained by Bharat.

The undated declaration with no proof of payment made to Bharat, though the declaration signed by Bryn accepting payment of a small sum of compensation in full and final settlement from Bryn and absolving them of any further liability.

In Court’s view, the above-mentioned declaration, deserved no credence or value since it smacked of being a document procured by Bryn precisely for the purpose of absolving itself of any further claim or liability vis-à-vis Bharat, by suborning a hapless and resourceless victim with a small amount of monetary bait, knowing full well that their actual liability would be much more.

Bench further expressed that merely because there were more than one respondent attempting to foist blame or liability on each other, that would not defeat the just claim of the petitioner’s son.

Hence, both respondents would be held jointly and severally liable, giving them liberty to recover the whole or any part of compensation paid, from one another.

High Court’s Inference

  • Without delving into the technical semantics of whether Bharat was an ‘employee’ of Bryn within the meaning of the Employee’s Compensation Act, suffice it to say that Bharat was performing the task in question for Bryn and at their instance
  • Bharat is unable to perform even the most basic, personal, daily chores himself and is all but 100% dependent on others; and as a result, though Bharat is living, he is barely alive;
  • On the principle of ‘strict liability’, both Bryn and BRPL are, jointly and severally, liable to compensate Bharat for putting him in his current state;
  • Section 4(2)(a) of the Employee’s Compensation Act mandates that apart from the liability to pay compensation, the employer is also under obligation to reimburse all actual medical expenses incurred by an employee for treatment of injuries. Furthermore, section 4-A provides that failure of an employer to pay compensation in a timely manner would attract payment of both interest and penalty for the delayed payment of compensation;
  • Reading the Bryn-BRPL Agreement and section 12 of the Employee’s Compensation Act together, it is seen that section 12 also fixes liability upon the “principal” for payment of compensation to an injured employee, with a right in the principal to recover the same from the contractor, if work was being carried-out by a contractor. In the present case the principal would therefore be BRPL and the contractor would be Bryn
  • Allowing the petition, Court awarded Bharat relief in two broad categories:
  1. Monetary Relief
  2. Non-Monetary Relief by way of directions.

Details of the relief can be referred to in the Judgment.

In view of the above discussion, petition was disposed of. [Kehar Sigh v. GNCTD, 2021 SCC OnLine Del 4198, decided on 25-08-2021]


Advocates before the Court:

For the Petitioner: Prabhsahay Kaur, Amicus Curiae.

Saraswati Thakur, Advocate.

For the Respondents: Satyakam, Additional Standing Counsel for GNCTD/R1

Ravi Gupta, Senior Counsel with Sunil Fernandes, Standing Counsel for BRPL-RPL with Anju Thomas, Shubham Sharma and Sachin Jain, Advocates for R2.

A.K. Sharma, Advocate for R3. Saurabh Sharma, Advocate for Indian Spinal Injuries Centre.

Sayli Petiwale, Advocate for Anil Mittal, Advocate for State of U.P.

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Orissa High Court: D Dash J. dismissed the appeal and held the appellants liable for compensation.

The facts of the case are such that the husband of the Plaintiff’ in the original suit, aged 44 years, earning Rs 8000 a month was going to his agricultural field suddenly came in contact with 11 K.V. electric wire, electrocuted and met an instantaneous death by said electrocution. Plaintiff 1 being wife and Plaintiff 2 being mother of the deceased filed the suit claiming compensation from the Defendants i.e. Central Electricity Supply Utility of Orissa and its officials. The trial court held that the Plaintiffs are entitled to be compensated by the defendants on account of negligence. The Defendants then preferred an appeal challenging the said judgment and decree passed by the trial court and Plaintiff filed a cross-appeal for increasing the quantum of compensation. Accordingly, while dismissing the appeal, the lower appellate court has allowed the cross-appeal enhancing the quantum of compensation. Assailing the said dismissal order instant second appeal under Section 100 Civil Procedure Code i.e. CPC was filed.

Counsel for the appellants Mr B. Dash submitted that the basis of the evidence that the overhead live electric wire being snapped when touches the ground, the supply of electricity through that wire is totally disrupted from end to end which has gone unchallenged; the courts below ought not to have said that the death of the husband of Plaintiff was due to the electrocution for the reason that the deceased came in contact with snapped overhead electric wire when he was on his way to the agricultural field. It was further submitted that the factual aspect is beyond pleadings and based on evidence.

Counsel for the respondents Mr B. Mohanty submitted that the court did commit no mistake in recording the said findings under attack and those are based on just and proper appreciation of evidence on record. It was submitted that the assessment of compensation as made by the lower appellate court is also in consonance with the settled principles as have been holding the field.

The Court observed that the principle of law is settled that a person undertaking an activity involving hazardous or risky exposure to human life is liable under law of torts to compensate for the injury suffered by any other person, irrespective of any negligence or carelessness on the part of the managers of such undertakings. The basis of such liability is the foreseeable risk inherent in the very nature of such activity. The liability cast on such person is known, in law, as “strict liability”.

The Court further observed that it is an admitted fact that the responsibility to supply electric energy in the particular locality was statutorily conferred on the Board. If the energy so transmitted causes injury or death of a human, being, who gets unknowingly trapped into if the primary liability to compensate the sufferer is that of the supplier of the electric energy.

The Court thus held “that the mistake committed by the trial court on those factual aspects by ignoring certain evidence on record and in not taking judicial notice of certain facts has been well rectified in appeal and in that way, it is found that the lower appellate court has so exercised its jurisdiction and power within the four corners of law.”

 In view of the above, appeal was dismissed.[Central Electricity Supply Utility of Odisha v. Damayanti Samal, 2021 SCC OnLine Ori 166, decided on 15-03-2021]


Arunima Bose, Editorial Assistant has reported this brief.

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Karnataka High Court: A Division Bench of Alok Aradhe and Nataraj Rangaswamy, JJ., disposed of the appeal after modifying the compensation.

The facts of the case are such that the deceased Sanjeev M Patil was crossing the road as a pedestrian at 6:00 am in morning when a bus being driven in a rash and negligent manner by its driver dashed against the deceased as a result the deceased received grievous injuries and succumbed to the same. The claimants filed a petition seeking compensation which was thereby granted keeping in mind his young age and monthly income. Aggrieved by the same, the present appeal was filed.

Counsel for appellants submitted that the Tribunal has erred in its judgment and the accident took place 75 meters from the toll booth and that the deceased suddenly tried to cross the road without observing the vehicles approaching the toll counter. It was also submitted that there is a gross error in assessing the monthly income and compensation is excessive.

Counsel for the respondents submitted that as per an independent eye witness it is clear that the accident happened due to the rash and negligent driving of the bus by the driver and the monthly income calculated is correct as the deceased was a permanent employee and infact sums awarded under the heads “loss of consortium” and “loss of love and affection” are on the lower side and deserves to be enhanced suitably.

The Court relied on judgment Mangala Ram v. Oriental Insurance Co., (2018) 5 SCC 656 and observed that the proceeding under the Act has to be decided on the basis of preponderance of probabilities and the claimant is not required to prove the accident beyond reasonable doubt.

The Court thus held that “he Tribunal on meticulous appreciation of the evidence on record as well as on the basis of preponderance of probabilities has rightly held that the accident occurred on account of the negligence of the driver of the KSRTC bus.”

On the question of amount of compensation the Court held that after perusing the salary slip and income tax return statements and keeping in mind the future aspects the compensation was modified.

In view of the above, appeal was disposed off.[Gowri S. Patil v. Divisional Controller, 2021 SCC OnLine Kar 447, decided on 04-02-2021]


Arunima Bose, Editorial Assistant has put this story together.

Supreme Court of The United States
Case BriefsForeign Courts

Supreme Court of The United States (SCOTUS): While deciding the instant petition for granting the writ of certiorari, wherein a question of constitutional importance vis-à-vis the theory of personal liability for violence during an activity protected by the First Amendment as adopted by the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, came before the Bench; it was held that since the claim and the issues at the heart of the dispute are not only exceptional but also novel, therefore the Fifth Circuit should not have ventured into an ‘uncertain area of Tort law, especially when it has implications for First Amendment Rights without seeking guidance from the Louisiana Supreme Court.

As per the facts, the petitioner DeRay Mckesson organized a demonstration in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to protest against shooting by a local police officer. The protesters occupied the highway in front of the police headquar­ters. As officers began making arrests to clear the highway, an unidentified individual threw a ‘piece of concrete or a sim­ilar rock-like object’ thereby striking respondent Officer Doe in the face. As a result of the hit, the Officer suffered from severe injuries and brain trauma.  Even though the attacker remained unidentified, Officer Doe sought to recover damages from the petitioner on the theory that he negligently staged the protest in a manner that caused the assault. The District Court dismissed the theory as being barred by the First Amendment. However, the Fifth Circuit Court found that Mckesson breached his “duty not to negligently precipitate the crime of a third party” because “a violent confrontation with a po­lice officer was a foreseeable effect of negligently directing a protest” onto the highway. According to the Fifth Circuit, the First Amendment imposes no bar­rier to tort liability so long as the rock-throwing incident was “one of the ‘consequences’ of ‘tortious activity,’ which itself was ‘authorized, directed, or ratified’ by Mckesson in violation of his duty of care”.

Perusing the facts and the rationale applied by the Fifth Circuit, the SCOTUS Bench observed that when violence occurs during activ­ity protected by the First Amendment, that provision man­dates “precision of regulation” with respect to “the grounds that may give rise to damages liability” as well as “the per­sons who may be held accountable for those damages.”

Noting the petitioner’s contention that his role in leading the protest onto the highway, even if negligent and punishable as a misdemeanor, cannot make him personally liable for the violent act of an individual whose only associ­ation with him was attendance at the protest; the Bench observed that Fifth Circuit’s interpretation of state law is too uncertain a premise to address the ques­tion raised in the instant petition. The Court also noted that Louisiana Supreme Court Rules, La. Sup. Ct. Rule 12, §§1–2 (2019), provides an opportunity for the Federal Courts Appeals (on their own accord or on motion of a party) to seek guidance in the absence of clear controlling precedents in the decisions of the Louisiana Supreme Court. Though it is not obligatory for the Federal Courts of Appeals to do so, but in exceptional instances, certification is advisa­ble before addressing a constitutional issue.

Noting that the core dispute forming the basis of the instant petition is certainly an exceptional instance, therefore the Court of Appeals should have certified to the Louisiana Supreme Court the questions – (1) whether Mckesson could have breached a duty of care in organizing and leading the protest; and (2) whether Officer Doe has al­leged a particular risk within the scope of protection afforded by the duty, provided one exists. Furthermore, the Bench observed that the, “Conflict in this case between state law and the First Amendment is not purely hypothetical. The novelty of the claim at issue here only underscores that warnings against premature adjudication of constitutional questions bear heightened atten­tion when a federal court is asked to invalidate a State’s law”. The Court thus granted the writ of certiorari and remanded the case back to the Fifth Circuit for further proceedings which are to be conducted in consonance with the SCOTUS’ opinions.[DeRay Mckesson v. John Doe, No.19–1108, decided on 02-11-2020] ­


Sucheta Sarkar, Editorial Assistant has put this story together

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

The Commission takes suo-motu cognizance of the matter and directs the issuance of notice to the Director-General of Police, Uttar Pradesh calling for a detailed report in the matter within 4 weeks including the status of the investigation of the cases registered in connection with both the cases of murder.

The Commission also directs to issue a notice to the Chief Secretary to the Government of Uttar Pradesh calling for a report on whether any relief has been granted to the NOK of the deceased as the state has failed to secure the right to a fair trial of the victim. He is also expected to inform the status of any disciplinary action initiated against the delinquent officers/officials.

According to the police, the deceased man was from Gorakhpur and had come to the village, looking for a teacher named, Sudhir Kumar Singh. As soon as he saw Singh, he took out his father’s gun and killed the teacher, according to the police. After shooting the teacher, the man tried to escape but on spotting a crowd outside the house, he climbed the terrace, waved the gun and fired to keep the villagers at bay. A police team followed him to the terrace but the man escaped and was caught by a crowd, which set upon him. The videos relating to the incident emerged later, showed the man in police custody before the mob grabbed and attacked him.

According to the media reports, several policemen were present on the spot when the incident occurred. Some of the policemen were seen trying to control the crowd but the blows did not stop even when the man lay motionless. The police station in-charge of the area has been suspended for negligence. The victim’s head appeared to have been bashed in as the ground was splattered with blood.

The Commission has perused the contents that cruel high handedness by the villagers, taking law in their hands that too in the presence of police force, cannot be denied. A well-equipped police team was present on the spot when the victim was brutally attacked with sticks and stones.

The police personnel present at the time of the fateful incident and their in-charge definitely failed to do their lawful duty. Human life has been lost due to the apparent negligence of the public authority. This is a serious violation of human rights.


NHRC

Press Release dt. 08-09-2020

Case BriefsForeign Courts

Supreme Court of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka: A Full Bench of Jayantha Jayasuriya, PC, CJ., L.T.B.Dehideniya and P. Padman Surasena, JJ., dismissed an application which was filed aggrieved by the denial of admission in the school stating it to be a Fundamental Right violation guaranteed under Article 12(1) of the Constitution.

Petitioners being the parents of the minor child had made an application to admit the child to Visaka Vidyalaya, Colombo. The application was based on the category of ‘children of persons belonging to the staff in an institution directly involved in school education’. Under the circular 24/ 2018 (1R1), paragraph 7.5.2.2, if a parent had worked in a difficult school, that parent was entitled to obtain 03 marks for a full year, up to the maximum of 15 marks, in relation to which he had submitted all the relevant documents with the school. The petitioner contended that the interview board headed by the Respondent had not accepted this document as proof of the fact that, A/ Habarana Maha Vidyalaya was a difficult school. Thus, the instant application. The Petitioners, on the basis of this document, argued that, they were entitled for additional 12 marks after which they go above the cut-off mark and their minor child would have been admitted to Visaka Vidyalaya. According to the respondents the appeal board had not considered this document because they were not permitted to consider any document other than the documents that were tendered at the 1st interview.

The Court while dismissing the application stated that the said act does not amount to a violation of Fundamental Rights under Article 12(1) of the Constitution and explained that Respondent being the Principal of Visaka Vidyalaya cannot be held liable for her conduct as the Petitioners were unable to produce a document certifying A/ Habarana Maha Vidyalaya is a difficult school at the interview and there was clear negligence on the part of the Petitioners in not producing the correct documents at the time of the interview and also the document that they relied on does not provide any basis for a relief provided by law. [Iresha Dulashini Dangolla v. Sandamali Aviruppola, 2020 SCC OnLine SL SC 5, decided on 04-08-2020]


*Suchita Shukla, Editorial Assistant has put this story together

Canada SC
Case BriefsForeign Courts

Supreme Court of Canada: Full Bench comprising Wagner, C.J., Abella, Moldaver, Karakatsanis, Côté, Brown, Rowe, Martin and Kasirer, JJ. allowed an appeal against a class action lawsuit claiming disgorgement from the Atlantic Lottery Corporation (ALC), a corporation which approves licenses for Video lottery terminals (VLTs).

The class action was instituted on behalf of any natural person who paid to play VLTs in the area in the six years preceding the lawsuit, which claimed that VLTs are deceptive and dangerous and contravene the Criminal Code’s (1985) prohibition of games similar to “three-card monte”. The plaintiffs claim that ALC breached its duty by not warning players of “the inherent dangers associated with VLTs, including the risk of addiction and suicide ideation.” The claim relies on three causes of action i.e., waiver of tort, breach of contract and unjust enrichment, to seek a gain-based award quantified by the profit ALC earned by licencing VLTs. ALC’s application against the claim before a certification judge failed, as did its appeal in the Court of Appeal, which allowed the plaintiff’s lawsuit to proceed to trial.

The Court, however, held that the plaintiffs’ plea is bound to fail since it does not disclose a reasonable cause of action. The bench opined that while disgorgement is a remedy against actionable misconduct, the plaintiffs seek to use it as an independent cause of action under an entirely new category of wrongful conduct, which is akin to negligence but does not require proof of damage. Denying relief on this ground, the Court asserted that “granting disgorgement for negligence without proof of damage would result in a remedy arising out of legal nothingness.” As for the argument concerning the similarity of VLTs to three-card monte, the Court rejected it since the prohibition was directed at the game’s attribute and not its feature of deception.

The Court opined that gain-based recoveries in cases of breach of contract require the consideration of the legitimate interest which such an award seeks to vindicate. Since the award sought by the plaintiffs is measured by the defendant’s gain, it seeks to serve a compensatory purpose which distinguishes it from disgorgement and that makes a gain-based remedy inappropriate. Moreover, the contract between ALC and the plaintiffs under which the plaintiffs paid to play on the VLTs cannot be said to have been vitiated since a benefit derived by a defendant from a valid contract is not unjustified. The plaintiffs failed in establishing a causal connection between the alleged breach of contract and the gain to be disgorged. However, four judges on the Bench dissented by allowing the appeal in part, striking down disgorgement and unjust enrichment as causes of action, instead suggesting that the lawsuit be focused on a breach of duty of care, the adequacy of ordinary remedies resulting from it and whether exemplary damages ought to be awarded. [Atlantic Lottery Corporation Inc. v. Babstock, 2020 SCC 19, decided on 24-07-2020]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Bombay High Court: A Division Bench of Dipankar Datta, CJ and N. J. Jamdar, J. dismissed a Public Interest Litigation seeking enforcement of safety guidelines while disposing of dead bodies of COVID-19 patients. The Court said that the petitioner could not provide any material to support his application.

Petitioner through the Public Interest Litigation sought to bring to judicial notice alleged negligence in management and disposal of dead bodies of COVID-19 victims by the staff of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, more particularly in crematoriums at Shivaji Park and Chandanwadi.

Corporation by filing an affidavit-reply denied the allegations in the PIL petition.

Petitioner placed following prayers:

  • Court may be pleased to direct the respondent to direct the respondent State to enforce the safety guidelines for applying 1% hypoclorite over the bodies.
  • direct the Respondent to ensure that the bodies of the COVID- 19 patients are wrapped in the ‘leak-proof’ bags before sending them to the crematoriums, Muslim & Christian burial places.
  • direct the Respondent to provide adequate medication, protective overalls and sufficient material to maintain hygiene for the workers engaged at the funeral places.

Corporation referring to the guidelines laid down on 15th March, 2020 issued by MoHFW on management of dead bodies and a circular dated 4th June, 2020 with regard to SOP for handling of dead bodies, it was contended that the provisions of the guidelines were being strictly enforced so as to keep the spread of virus within manageable limits.

In a rejoinder affidavit filed by the petitioner it was vaguely alleged that the guidelines issued were not being strictly followed by the Corporation.

Court on perusal of Vhatkar and Sakhare, Senior Advocate for the Corporation’s pleadings stated that,

allegations made by the petitioner do not appear to be based on his personal knowledge infact the same has been made on reading certain newspaper reports.

Further the Court noted that no material was placed before the Court that could even remotely support or validate the stand of the petitioner.

Thus, Court held the fears and concerns of the petitioner to be misconceived.

“…petitioner has been residing in Pune during the lockdown period and alleging mismanagement in Mumbai has also left us to wonder how he could have verified the pleadings in the PIL Petition as true to the best of his knowledge.

Bench stated that if they keep aside the technicalities and proceed on the merits of the matter, on one hand the emphatic stand of the Corporation that the guidelines are being scrupulously followed and enforced in the matter of management and disposal of dead bodies of COVID victims. Not only has the Corporation pleaded that the polythene bags in which the cadavers are wrapped are of the requisite quality, it is also pleaded that ‘hypoclorite’, to the extent necessary, is being administered on the cadaver so as to prevent the spread of the virus.

Hence, Court in view of the above dismissed the petition and stated that the Court hopes and trust that the Corporation shall continue to earnestly adhere to and enforce the extant guidelines so that life of each and every citizen is preserved. [Ketan Tirodkar v. State of Maharashtra, PIL-CJ-LD-VC–29 of 2020, decided on 03-07-2020]

Op EdsOP. ED.

I. Introduction

“Tort” is a wrongful act or an infringement of a right leading to legal liability for which civil courts award compensation. The law of Torts is an uncodified law which is based on equity, justice and good conscience.

In its incipient stage, the English legal system was haphazard and was conducted on a case-to-case basis. Judges were asked to travel in each relevant region to comprehend the local laws which had developed over two centuries. Subsequently, based on their findings, the English judiciary introduced and implemented the said laws, by way of judgments, into the English legal system, which are now called legal precedents. These precedents form a part of the Common Law system.

The law of torts in India is based on the principles of the English Common Law. However, it has been modified to meet the local requirements. Some of the important principles of torts include negligence, nuisance, trespass, vicarious liability, strict and absolute liability. In context of the present article, we shall focus upon the concepts of strict and absolute liability vis-à-vis the two notable industrial disasters in India.

a)  Doctrine of Strict Liability

The doctrine of “strict liability” evolved in  Fletcher v. Rylands[1]. In this case, Rylands hired contractors to build a reservoir on his land. While building it, the contractors discovered some flaws and left them unfixed. After some time, Rylands’s reservoir burst and flooded Fletcher’s adjoining mine causing £937 worth of damage.  Blackburn, J. opined that any person who for his own purposes brings on his land and collects and keeps there anything likely to do mischief, if it escapes must keep it at his peril and if he does not do so, is prima facie answerable for all the damage which is the natural consequence of its escape[2].

b) Doctrine of Absolute Liability

The principle of “absolute liability” was first ever applied by the Supreme Court of India in M.C. Mehta v. Union of India [3](popularly known as Oleum gas leak case). In this case, oleum gas leaked from a fertilizer plant of Shriram Foods and Fertilizers, Delhi and caused damage to several people. A pending public interest litigation (PIL) by M.C. Mehta provided the opportunity to the Court to pass a series of orders dealing with the after-effects of gas leak. In this case, the Court disapproved the application of the principle of strict liability. The Supreme Court opined that:

an enterprise which is engaged in a hazardous or inherently dangerous industry which poses a potential threat to the health and safety of the persons working in the factory and residing in the surrounding areas owes an absolute and non-delegable duty to the community to ensure that no harm results to anyone on account of hazardous or inherently dangerous nature of the activity which it has undertaken. The enterprise must be held to be under an obligation to provide that the hazardous or inherently dangerous activity in which it is engaged must be conducted with the highest standards of safety and if any harm results on account of such activity, the enterprise must be absolutely liable to compensate for such harm and it should be no answer to the enterprise to say that it had taken all reasonable care and that the harm occurred without any negligence on its part.”[4]

II. Bhopal Gas Tragedy

Union Carbide India Limited’s (UCIL) plant at Bhopal was designed by its holding company Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), USA and was built in 1969 for making pesticides, produced by reacting Methyl Isocyanate and Alpha Naphthol. An incident of gas leak took place in the Bhopal pesticide plant of UCIL on the night of 2-3 December, 1984 causing severe loss to the lives of people in the vicinity. People were exposed to this gas all around the city and the immediate effects were coughing, vomiting, severe eye irritation and a feeling of suffocation. Thousands of people died immediately, and lakhs of people sustained permanent injuries.

The doctrine of “absolute liability” was invoked in this case. In cases, where absolute liability is considered, liability of the company can be fixed even if there is no negligence on the part of the accused company.

In addition to the aforesaid, the Indian Government filed a case in the US Court for a claim of $3.3 billon against Union Carbide Corporation. By 1986 all these litigations in the US District were transferred to India on the grounds of forum non conveniens.[5]

Meanwhile, the Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster (Processing of Claims) Act, 1985[6] was passed by Parliament  to confer certain powers on the Central Government to secure that claims arising out of, or connected with, the Bhopal gas leak disaster, are dealt with speedily, effectively, equitably and to the best advantage of the claimants and for matters incidental thereto. This Act made the Union Government representative of the victims of the tragedy and allowed them to file suits on their behalf. Along with this, an out of court settlement between the Government of India and Union Carbide was arrived at, which fixed the liability of the company to pay $470 million as per the full and final settlement of all claims, rights and liabilities arising out of that disaster. All in all, it was a bad move, as the settlement limited the liabilities for the claims which were filed later. It is a hard fact, but it is as clear as broad daylight that $470 million dollars were not sufficient to compensate all the injured. In fact, it is hardly 15% of the original claim of $3.3 billion.

The compensation awarded was around Rs. 1 lakh for the families of the people who lost their lives, Rs. 50,000 for permanently injured and Rs. 25,000 for temporarily injured.

III. Vizag Gas Tragedy

A similar incident of gas leak happened recently in Vishakhapatnam (Vizag), Andhra Pradesh on 7th May, 2020. Styrene gas leaked from the chemical plant owned by a South Korean company LG Polymers India Private Ltd. with similar repercussions on lives of the people living in the vicinity. The immediate worry was that this may be a repetition of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy of 1984. People in the neighbouring areas were evacuated immediately for preventing the damage. Even though this gas leakage was less dangerous than the leak at the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal, 13 people still lost their lives and many people were affected by it.

The Andhra Pradesh Government announced compensation of Rs. 1 Crore to the families of the people who had lost their lives, Rs. 10 Lakhs to the victims undergoing treatment on ventilators and Rs. 1 Lakh to the other victims who were hospitalised. It was made clear by the Government that the aforesaid compensation would be in addition to the compensation by LG Polymers.

Furthermore, the High Court of Andhra Pradesh took suo motu cognizance of the incident and  vide order dated 07-05-2020[7],  directed the State to take all necessary steps to mitigate the loss that may be caused due to this incident. Consequently, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) also took suo motu cognizance of the incident and directed[8] the company to deposit an initial amount of Rs 50 crores with the District Magistrate, Visakhapatnam. The Civil Appeal[9] preferred against this Order before the Supreme Court has been kept pending. However the Supreme Court neither issued notice nor, did it interfere with impugned order of the NGT.

The National Green Tribunal invoked the principle of ‘strict liability’ against LG Polymers for adversely affecting the public health and environment through its failures. However, in our opinion, considering the facts and circumstances of the case of LG Polymers, it is evident that the nature of the substance used and the activities of both the companies (UCIL and LGPI) are similar in nature, and thereby, the principle of absolute liability should have been applied in this case too.

The company had submitted an affidavit to the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority on 10th May, 2019 admitting that the unit did not have ‘environment clearance substantiating the produced quantity issued by the competent authority for continuing operations’ from the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF). That affidavit was transferred to the Centre by the State for consideration. The affidavit submitted by the company proves the fact that there was clear hobnobbing and negligence of the government officials who were involved and designated by the respective government departments to ensure compliance of the environmental laws, and thereafter issue commencement certificate. The affidavit also brings out the fact that LG Polymers did not have the requisite permissions and clearances right from the inception[10]. However, the chemical plant carried on the industrial activities without any mandatory clearance and the facts prove that the industry was even de-listed as it refused expansion as per the directions of the ministry, yet it carried on the production and the negligence of the authorities, both at the Centre and at the State, proved costly and thirteen precious lives were lost and it is historically proven since the Bhopal gas tragedy, such poisonous gases gets into the genes and affects future generations also.

In the instant case, the erring government officials should be taken to task immediately by the High Court and departmental inquiries should be initiated against such erring officials and it should be seen that the people responsible in our system along with the Directors of the Company, are awarded the maximum punishment for such deliberate negligent act, which claimed innocent lives. Only then, it can act as a deterrent for other erring officials and erring companies who act in such brazen defiance of the statutory norms. This incident proves the very fact that no matter how much we try, until and unless we raise our voice against corruption, innocent lives will continue to get sacrificed.

The Andhra Pradesh High Court in Poisonous gas leakage in Visakhapatnam v. State of Andhra Pradesh[11]  vide order dated 22-05-2020 issued the following directions: The Government was ordered to seize the company premises of the LG Polymers chemical plant, Vizag and the directors were not allowed to enter the premises. In addition to this, assets, fixture, machinery and contents were not allowed to be shifted without Court’s permission. The Directors of the Company were ordered to surrender their passports and hence, they were not allowed to leave the country without the Court’s permission.

IV. Conclusion

On an analysis of the given circumstances, it is proved that the management of the company (LG Polymers) did not comply with the necessary environmental laws which were necessary for a Grade-A chemical plant and the affidavit submitted on 10.5.2019 to the State Department is a blatant admission of the same. The chemical plant was functioning even after de-listing from the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MOEF). It restarted its functions without the clearance from MoEF and the requisite permissions and licenses. Moreover, the government department and officials concerned who were entrusted and empowered to give such clearances did not scrutinise the very fact that the Company was de-listed for non-compliance and the affidavit dated 10.05.2019 admits such default on the part of the company and yet the plant started its operations. This act is nothing but a glaring example of corruption and scant regard for the rules, regulations or the safety of people.

Furthermore, the Constitution of India ensures checks and balances on the part of executives and citizens of the country. The Directive Principles of State Policy in Part-IV of the Constitution ensure that the necessary safeguards should be taken for environmental protection[12] and even the Supreme Court in a catena of decisions, has interpreted the  right to clean environment as a facet of Article 21 of the Constitution of India. The legislations pertaining to environmental law ensure that necessary prerequisites are in place.

The situation as it existed in 1986 has not changed much even after thirty-four years. The attitude of big companies seems to be of non-compliance and the government officials appear to be turning a blind eye to such companies at the cost of human lives. The law must ensure that such cases are treated with the utmost seriousness and urgency and that all the erring officials and directors of the company, should be punished appropriately so that justice prevails and a zero tolerance attitude is cemented for such cases.


*Partner, L&L Partners, New Delhi

**Senior Associate, L&L Partners

***Intern, L&L Partners

[1] (1866) LR 1 Ex 265.

[2] Fletcher v. Rylands , (1866) LR 1 Ex 265

[3] (1987) 1 SCC 395 

[4] M.C. Mehta v. Union of India, (1987) 1 SCC 395

[5] Forum Non Conveniens is a doctrine which allows a Court with jurisdiction over a case to dismiss it because the convenience of the parties and the interest of justice would be better served if the case were brought in a court having proper jurisdiction in another venue.

[6] Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster (Processing of Claims) Act, 1985 

[7] Poisonous gas leakage in Visakhapatnam, In re v. State of Andhra Pradesh, Suo Motu WP (PIL) No. 112 of 2020

[8] Gas Leak at LG Polymers Chemical Plant in RR Venkatapuram Village Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh, In re., 2020 SCC OnLine NGT 128

NGT vide order dt. 1-6-2020 [Gas Leak at LG Polymers Chemical Plant in Vishakhapatnam, In re, 2020 SCC OnLine NGT 129] has since directed the appropriation of Rs 50 crores deposited by LG Polymers, towards part liability and interim compensation to be spent for restoration of environment and compensation for victims. 

[9] LG Polymers India Pvt. Ltd. v. Andhra Pradesh Pollution Control Board, Civil Appeal Diary No. 11327/2020, order dated 19-5-2020

[10]. https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Visakhapatnam/lg-polymers-did-not-have-environmental-clearance-alleges-hrf/article31561365.ece

[11]. Suo Motu WPs (PIL) Nos. 112, 117 & 119 of 2020

[12]. Article 48-A of the Constitution of India, 1950 (inserted vide 42nd Amendment Act, 1976)