NATVERLAL BHIKHALAL SHAH Vs. THAKARDA KHODAJI KALAJI
HIGH COURT OF GUJARAT
NATVERLAL BHIKHALAL SHAH
THAKARDA KHODAJI KALAJI
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(1.)On 26th July 1962 one Somaji Khodaji met with his death as a result of an accident caused by a motor truck within the area of the Mehsana District. At the date of the accident there was no Motor Accidents Claims Tribunal (hereinafter referred to as the Claims Tribunal) in existence for the area of the Mehsana District but on 20th June 1963 such Claims Tribunal was constituted by the State Government by a notification issued under sec. 110(1) of the Motor Vehicles Act 1939 The legal representatives of Somaji Khodaji thereupon preferred an application before the Claims Tribunal on 24th July 1963 claiming compensation for the death of Somaji Khodaji. The application was directed against the owner of the motor truck the driver of the motor truck and the insurer with whom the motor truck was insured. The owner of the motor truck and the insurer resisted the application and amongst the various defences taken by them was one relating to the jurisdiction of the Claims Tribunal. They contended that since the accident had occurred prior to the constitution of the Claims Tribunal or at any rate beyond a period of sixty days before the constitution of the Claims Tribunal the Claims Tribunal had no jurisdiction to entertain the claim under sec. 110-A and the application was therefore liable to be dismissed. The Claims Tribunal tried this issue as a preliminary issue and following the decision of the Bombay High Court in Abdul Mahomed v. Peter Leo DMellow 66 Bom. L.R. 551 held that the Claims Tribunal had jurisdiction to entertain claims arising out of accidents which occurred more than sixty days prior to the constitution of the Claims Tribunal provided they were not timebarred at the date when the Claims Tribunal was constituted. The Clai-ms Tribunal accordingly rejected the preliminary objection of the owner of the motor truck and the insurer and directed the application to proceed further. The owner of the motor truck thereupon preferred Special Civil Application No. 110 of 1966 and the insurer preferred Civil Revision Application No. 80 of 1966 challenging the decision of the Claims Tribunal.
(2.)The main question that arises for consideration in these two cases is whether the Claims Tribunal constituted under sec. 110(1) of the Motor Vehicles Act 1939 has jurisdiction to entertain claims in respect of accidents which occurred prior to the constitution of the Claims Tribunal. The determination of this question depends on the true interpretation of certain provisions of the Motor Vehicles Act 1939 as amended by Central Act 100 of 1956 but before I refer to these provisions it is necessary to notice how the law stood at the date when these provisions were brought on the statute book. Prior to the enactment of these provisions the legal representatives of a deceased person who died as a result of an accident arising out of the use of a motor vehicle could sue the wrongdoer for damages in the ordinary civil Courts by virtue of the provisions of the Indian Fatal Accidents Act 1855 and the period of limitation provided for such suit by Article 21 of the Indian Limitation Act 1908 was one year computed from the date of death of the deceased person. It was felt by the Legislature that this remedy by way of suit in the ordinary Civil Courts was an expensive remedy and used to take long before effective relief could be obtained by the unfortunate dependents of the deceased person who might in many cases be rendered destitute and helpless as a result of the death of the deceased person. The Legislature therefore with the object of providing a cheaper and more expeditious remedy introduced by way of amendment in the Motor Vehicles Act 1939 a group of sections consisting of sec. 110 in its present form and secs. 110-A to 110-F by Central Act 100 of 1956 which came into force on 16th February 1957. These sections provided a complete self-contained machinery for adjudication of claims for compensation in respect of accidents involving the death of or bodily injury to persons arising out of the use of motor vehicles.
(3.)Sec. 110 which is the first section in this group of sections provides for the constitution and jurisdiction of the Claims Tribunal. Sub-sec. (1) of sec. 110 provides that the State Government may by notification in the Official Gazette constitute one or more Motor Accidents Claims Tribunals for such area as may be specified in the notification for the purpose of adjudicating upon claims for compensation in respect of accidents involving the death of or bodily injury to persons arising out of the use of motor vehicles. It was in exercise of the power conferred under this provision that the Government of Gujarat by a notification dated 20th June 1963 published in the Official Gazette dated 4th July 1963 constituted the Claims Tribunal for the area of the Mehsana District. Sec. 110 sub-sec. (2) prescribes the composition of the Claims Tribunal and sub-sec. (3) of sec. 110 lays down the qualifications for appointment as a member of the Claims Tribunal by providing that a person shall not be qualified for appointment as such member unless he is or has been a Judge of a High Court or is or has been a District Judge or is qualified for appointment as a Judge of the High Court. Sec. 110-A sub-sec. (1) enacts that an application for compensation arising out of an accident of the nature specified in sub-sec. (1) of sec. 110 may be made by the person sustaining the injury or by the legal representatives of the deceased where death has resulted from the accident and sub-sec. (2) of sec. 110-A declares that every application shall be made to the Claims Tribunal having jurisdiction over the area in which the accident occurred. Subsec. (3) of sec. 110-A prescribes the period of limitation for such application and it runs as follows :
(3). No application for compensation under this section shall be entertained unless it is made within sixty days of the occurrence of the accident : Provided that the Claims Tribunal may entertain the application after the expiry of the said period of sixty days if it is satisfied that the applicant was prevented by sufficient cause from making the application in time.
Sec. 110-B provides for the making of the award of compensation by the Claims Tribunal and sec. 110-C prescribes the procedure and powers of the Claims Tribunal. The award of the Claims Tribunal is appealable under sec. 110-D and under that section an appeal lies to the High Court against any award of the Claims Tribunal provided the amount in dispute in the appeal is not less than Rs. two thousand. Sec. 110-E deals with execution of the award of the Claims Tribunal by providing that the amount due from an insurer under an award may be recovered as an arrear of land revenue and sec. 110-F which is the last section in this fasiculus of sections bars the jurisdiction of the Civil Court in respect of claims triable by the Claims Tribunal in the following words : 110 F. Where any Claims Tribunal has been constituted for any area no Civil Court shall have jurisdiction to entertain any question relating to any claim for compensation which may be adjudicated upon by the Claims Tribunal for that area and no injunction in respect of any action taken or to be taken by or before the Claims Tribunal in respect of the claim for compensation shall be granted by the Civil Court. The question which arises for determination on these sections is as to what is the precise extent of the jurisdiction of the Claims Tribunal in respect of claims for compensation : does the jurisdiction extend to claims in respect of all accidents irrespective as to when they occurred whether prior or subsequent to the constitution of the Claims Tribunal or is it limited only to claims in respect of accidents occurring subsequent to the constitution of the Claims Tribunal ? The question is primarily one of construction and is not entirely free from difficulty and as a matter of fact there is a sharp conflict of opinion amongst the different High Courts on the determination of the question. It would therefore be preferable first to examine the language of the sections for the purpose of arriving at their true meaning without reference to the authorities and then to turn to the authorities to see how far they support or militate against the view which I am inclined to take on principle on a construction of the sections.
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