Motor Vehicles; Malati Sardar Vs. National Insurance Company [Supreme Court of India, 05-01-2016]

Civil Procedure Code, 1908 – Section 21 – Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 – Section 166 (2) – Territorial Jurisdiction of the Tribunal – Whether the Tribunal at Kolkata had the jurisdiction to decide the claim application under Section 166 of the Act when the accident took place outside Kolkata jurisdiction and the claimant also resided outside Kolkata jurisdiction, but the respondent being a juristic person carried on business at Kolkata – Whether in absence of failure of justice, the High Court could set aside the award of the Tribunal on the ground of lack of territorial jurisdiction – Held,  the High Court was not justified in setting aside the award of the Tribunal in absence of any failure of justice even if there was merit in the plea of lack of territorial jurisdiction. Moreover, the fact remained that the insurance company which was the main contesting respondent had its business at Kolkata. The provision in question, in the present case, is a benevolent provision for the victims of accidents of negligent driving. The provision for territorial jurisdiction has to be interpreted consistent with the object of facilitating remedies for the victims of accidents. Hyper technical approach in such matters can hardly be appreciated. There is no bar to a claim petition being filed at a place where the insurance company, which is the main contesting parties in such cases, has its business. In such cases, there is no prejudice to any party. There is no failure of justice.

Territorial Jurisdiction


IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION

[ ANIL R. DAVE ] AND [ ADARSH KUMAR GOEL ] JJ.

JANUARY 5, 2016

CIVIL APPEAL NO. 10 OF 2016

(ARISING OUT OF SLP (CIVIL) NO.27243 OF 2015)

MALATI SARDAR …PETITIONER

VERSUS

NATIONAL INSURANCE COMPANY LIMITED & ORS. …RESPONDENTS

J U D G M E N T

ADARSH KUMAR GOEL, J.

1. Leave granted. The question raised in this appeal is whether the High Court was justified in setting aside the award of the Motor Accidents Claims Tribunal, Kolkata only on the ground that the Tribunal did not have the territorial jurisdiction.

2. On 7th May, 2008, the deceased Diganta Sardar, aged 26 years, a school teacher, unmarried son of the appellant was hit by Bus No.WB/15-A-4959 insured with the respondent company at Hoogly, in the State of West Bengal and died. He was travelling on motor cycle of his colleague, Uttam Samui as a pillion rider. The appellant filed an application under

Section 166 of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988

(“the Act”) for compensation before the Tribunal at Kolkata.

3. Rash and negligent driving by the driver of the bus having been established, the Tribunal, applying the multiplier of 13 on account of age of the appellant being 47 years, and taking into account the income of the deceased and other relevant factors, fixed compensation of Rs.16,12,200/- with interest at the rate of 6% p.a. from the date of filing of claim petition vide its Award dated 7th February, 2012.

4. The respondent company preferred an appeal before the High Court on the only ground of lack of territorial jurisdiction of the Tribunal. The objection of the respondent was that the accident took place at Hoogly and the claimant resided at Hoogly. Office of the respondent being at Kolkata did not attract jurisdiction of the Kolkata Tribunal. Reliance was placed on the decisions of this Court in

Union of India vs. G.S. Grewal, (2014) 7 SCC 303

and

Jagmittar Sain Bhagat vs. Director, Health Services, Haryana, (2013) 10 SCC 136

apart from the High Court judgments. The appellant supported the award by placing reliance on judgment of this Court in

Mantoo Sarkar vs. Oriental Insurance Company Limited, (2009) 2 SCC 244

apart from other judgments.

5. The High Court upheld the objection of the respondent and allowed the appeal of the respondent company and directed refund of the amount deposited/paid, if any, to the respondent company. It was observed :

“In the instant case admittedly the accident took place in Hooghly. The claimant, as evident from the cause title, resides at Hoogly. The owner, the respondent, too resides at Hooghly. Hooghly, no doubt, is beyond the territorial jurisdiction of the Tribunal at Kolkata. The argument of the respondent-claimant that the Kolkata Tribunal exercises jurisdiction since the regional office of the insurance company is situated within its territorial limits cannot be accepted as the last option under section 166(2) cannot be construed to mean the residential address of the company as a company can have a business or an office address and not a residential address. Therefore, the Tribunal at Kolkata had no jurisdiction to entertain the claim petition. In this regard we follow the principles of law laid down in New India Assurance Company Limited vs. Kustiswar Pramanik (supra) [2010(1) T.A.C. 405 (Cal), in Nirmala Devi Agarwal (supra) [2013 (3) CLJ (Cal)] and in the unreported judgment delivered on 18th July, 2012 in FMA 724 of 2008 with C.O.T. 22 of 2008 (The New Indian Assurance Col. Ltd. vs. Silpi Dutta & Ors.) and we respectfully disagree with the judgment in FMA 1454 of 2013 (National Insurance Company Ltd. vs. Alpana Jana & Ors.)”.

6. We have heard learned counsel for the parties.

7. Learned counsel for the appellant submitted that the High Court was in grave error in holding that the Kolkata Tribunal could not exercise jurisdiction on the ground that registered office of the insurance company was within its territorial limits. Jurisdiction was available under Section 166(2) if the defendant/respondent in a claim petition was residing within the jurisdiction of the Tribunal. The residence in the case of juristic person included its Principal office. In any case, the view taken by the High Court is directly in conflict with the law laid down by this Court in Mantoo Sarkar (supra) under which the High Court could interfere in such cases only if there was failure of justice. The decisions of this Court in G.S. Grewal and Jagmittar Sain Bhagat have no application to the fact situation at hand.

8. Learned counsel for the respondent company on the other hand, supported the view taken by the High Court and submitted that the place of residence within the jurisdiction of the Tribunal under Section 166(2) of the Act could not mean the place of business. He sought to distinguish the view taken by this Court in Mantoo Sarkar (supra).

9. The question for consideration thus is whether the Tribunal at Kolkata had the jurisdiction to decide the claim application under Section 166 of the Act when the accident took place outside Kolkata jurisdiction and the claimant also resided outside Kolkata jurisdiction, but the respondent being a juristic person carried on business at Kolkata. Further question is whether in absence of failure of justice, the High Court could set aside the award of the Tribunal on the ground of lack of territorial jurisdiction.

10. In our view, the matter is fully covered by decisions of this Court in Mantoo Sarkar (supra). It will be worthwhile to quote the statutory provision of Section 166(2) of the Act :