Report No. 136
2.15. Another illustration of a controversy which ultimately was resolved by the Supreme Court (after a time lag of nearly 20 years) may be referred to in this context.1.
1. Skandia Insurance Co. v. Kokilaben Chandravadain, (1987) 2 SCC 654 (657).
Insurer's Liability under Motor Vehicles Act.-Section 96(2)(b)(ii), Motor Vehicles Act, 1939 was the provision to be considered. While section 96 of the Motor Vehicles Act imposes on insurers of motor vehicles the duty to satisfy a judgment obtained against persons insured in respect of third party risks, it was permissible under section 96(2) for the insurer to raise certain defences to the action on specified grounds. Thus, a defence could be based on section 96(2)(b)(ii) which related to-
"a condition excluding driving by a named person or persons or by any person who is not duly licensed, or by any person who has been disqualified for holding or obtaining a driving licence during the period of disqualification."
The question that troubled the High Courts, until it was resolved by the Supreme Court, can be best stated by quoting from the judgment of the Supreme Court:-
"While in some States a widow of a victim of a motor vehicle accident can recover the amount of compensation awarded to her from the insurance company, in a precisely similar fact-situation the would be unable to do so, in other States, conflicting views having been taken by the respective High Courts. The unaesthetic wrinkles from the face of law require to be removed by settling the law, so that the same law does not operate on citizens differently, depending on the situs of the accident.
The question is, whether the insurer is entitled to claim immunity from a decree obtained by the dependants of the victim of a fatal accident on the ground that the insurance policy provided 'a condition excluding driving by a named person or persons or by any person who is not duly licensed or by any person who has been disqualified for holding or obtaining a driving licence during the period of disqualification', and that such exclusion was permissible in the context of section 96(2)(b)(ii) for claiming immunity "against the obligation to satisfy the judgments against the insured in respect of third party risks".
On the question of the insurer's liability, the Supreme Court held that the absolute exclusionary clause had to be read down so as to bring it in conformity with the substantive provisions of the Act. What emerges from the aforesaid illustration is that it took about 25 years before uniformity in the law as contained in section 14 of the Hindu Succession Act could be brought about by the Supreme Court. Till then the law was being administered differently in different parts of the country in terms of the interpretation made by the respective High Courts of concerned States. Similarly, in the second illustration under the Motor Vehicles Act it took nearly 20 years before the law could be uniformly laid down by the Supreme Court.
In the result, a Hindu widow acquired a right to property in one State but not under another under the identical All-India-Law. The widow of a victim became entitled to compensation in one State but not in another under the same law in an identical situation. Experience, thus, establishes that inordinate delay of nearly 20 years is likely to be caused if the task of bringing in uniformity is left only to be settled end laid down by the Supreme Court in appeals as and when the matter is taken up to the Supreme Court as also established the need for uniformity in law for application throughout the country.