Compensation in road accidents must be just & fair

Written by Indu Bhan | Indu Bhan | Updated: Jun 6 2013, 01:48am hrs
What if main agreement is void

Setting aside the Punjab and Haryana High Courts order in the case, Today Homes & Infrastructure Ltd vs Ludhiana Improvement Trust, the Supreme Court has held that an arbitration clause will survive even if the main agreement between two parties is void. In this case, the Ludhiana Improvement Trust had invited bids in 2005 for construction of a city centre. Today Homes and Infrastructure (THI) was issued a Letter of Intent as it was found to be the highest bidder. After disputes arose over payments, the company filed an application before the Chief Justice of the HC for appointment of an arbitrator. The Trust responded by raising a plea that the main agreement, which contained the arbitration agreement, was void, thus the latter could not survive independent of the main agreement. The HC agreed with it.

The top court, on appeal by the construction firm, quashed the HC order and remanded the matter for reconsideration. The apex court said that the HC exceeded the bounds of his jurisdiction In our view, the learned designated Judge was not required to undertake a detailed scrutiny of the merits and demerits of the case The learned Judge was only required to decide such preliminary issues such as jurisdiction to entertain the application, the existence of a valid arbitration agreement, whether a live claim existed or not, for the purpose of appointment of an arbitrator Senior counsel Uday U Lalit, appearing for the construction firm, argued that Section 11(6) of the Act nowhere contemplates an application filed thereunder to be gone into in intricate detail by framing issues and deciding the same without taking any evidence.

Just and fair damages

Enhancing the compensation to a 36-year-old woman who suffered serious injuries in an accident, the Supreme Court has asked the National Insurance Company to pay R3.5 lakh with interest @ 8% per annum within two months. Compensation in road accidents must be just and fair, it said in the case of V Sudha vs P Ganapathi Bhat & Anr. In this case, Sudha sustained grievous injuries in September 2007 when a motor bike hit her. She filed her claim before the motor accident compensation tribunal, which awarded her only R1.94 lakh with 8% interest though she had asked for R3.5 lakh. While the tribunal held biker responsible for the accident caused by his rash and negligent driving, it didnt take into account future medical expenses she needed for a major surgery, which the doctor recommended.

On appeal, the Karnataka High Court raised the damages to R2.65 lakh, but did not consider the R1 lakh expense for the surgery required to reduce the disability. However, on appeal, the Supreme Court increased the compensation to R3.5 lakh as the HC had not taken into account medical evidence while deciding the amount of compensation.

Probe should be tamper-proof

Ordering action against a police officer who tried to derail a murder probe in Haryana, the Supreme Court said that criminal investigations must be fair to ensure innocents arent implicated and real culprits are not allowed to go scot-free. An investigation cannot be interfered with or influenced even by courts. Therefore, the investigating agency must avoid entirely any kind of extraneous influence investigations must be carried out with equal alacrity and fairness irrespective of the status of the accused or the complainant as a tainted investigation leads to miscarriage of justice, the apex court said, while dismissing the appeal of Haryanas Karan Singh, facing life imprisonment for strangulating a woman in 2005 after she insisted on the repayment of R47,000 lent by her. Both the trial court and the Punjab and Haryana High Court had ordered action against an erring police official, Rajesh Kumar, for trying to protect a politically influential person and attempting to spoil the case.

While the top court upheld the conviction, it took serious note of the inaction by the government of Haryana, saying the investigating agencies are the guardians of the liberty of innocent citizens. Therefore, a duty is cast upon the investigating officer to ensure that an innocent person should not suffer from unnecessarily harassment of false implication. However, at the same

time, an accused person must not be given undue leverage.

indu.bhan@expressindia.com