Bombay High Court
Bombay High Court

Mumbai: Observing that most of the labour population is cursed with illiteracy, the Bombay High Court recently ruled that an employer can be summoned to explain the circumstances in which one of its workmen died. The HC said the employer can be summoned by the Commissioner, who is the competent authority under the Employee's Compensation Act of 1923.

A bench of Justice Vinay Joshi also held that if a workman is already suffering from some ailment and the nature of his work has contributed to his health's deterioration then his employer can be asked to compensate.

The bench pronounced the ruling while upholding a compensation of Rs six lakh to the widow and children of a mine worker, who died after falling from a building. They claimed compensation arguing that he died during working hours.

The employer of the deceased argued that he did not die while working and thus it cannot be held liable for any compensation. It also questioned the jurisdiction of the commissioner for passing the orders.

Having heard the contentions, Justice Joshi said, “The commissioner can act on information received by him from any source regarding the fatal accident and call upon the employer to explain as to under what circumstances death had occurred. He can also ask for the explanation of the employer whether he is liable to deposit the compensation on account of the death.”

“Most of the labour population suffers from the curse of illiteracy and poverty and is incapable of entering into a legal fight with the employer. However, it is the responsibility of the commissioner to assist the weaker,” the judge observed.

Referring to the provisions of the Employee's Compensation Act, 1923, Justice Joshi said that the object of the law is to protect the workers from the hardship arising from the accident.

“The accident undoubtedly applies to employment such as to its nature, its obligation, its condition and its incident. The object behind the legislation being protection to the workers with a view to doing social justice, the provisions of the Act have to be interpreted liberally, so that the court leans towards the person for whose benefit the legislation is made,” the judge said. The court further said that in order to hold the employer liable for the compensation, it is not necessary to show that the injury occurred during the actual working having a direct link with the duty.

“Therefore, if a workman suffers from a personal injury unexpectedly or suddenly and the same can be attributed to his work or has some connection to the nature of his duties, such an injury suffered can be treated as a result of his employment,” the bench said while upholding the compensation.

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