Report No. 119
2.1. Once the awareness proliferated that the wrong doer must be made to compensate the victim, a debate started about the nature and character of the forum to which victims of tort-feasor must approach for quantification and recovery of compensation. Till 1956, no specific provision was made in the Motor Vehicles Act, 1939, for setting up a forum for recovery of compensation by the victims of motor accidents. Such a claim for compensation was treated as a claim for damages for which one had to resort to ordinary civil courts. One claiming compensation may file a suit in a civil court like any other civil suit and pray for damages.
2.2. Section 10 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, provided for jurisdiction for suits for compensation for wrongs to persons or movables. It reads as under:-
|"Suits for compensation for wrongs to person or movables.||19. Where a suit is for compensation for wrong done to the person wrongs to person or movables, or to movable property, if the wrong was done within the local limits of the jurisdiction of one court and the defendant resides, or carries on business, or personally works for gain, within the local limits of the jurisdiction of another court, the suit may be instituted at the option of the plaintiff in either of the said Courts".|
A person claiming compensation may have to file a suit in the court within whose jurisdiction the accident occurred because by the accident, the wrong was done to the victim. Alternatively, the plaintiff can file a suit in a court within whose jurisdiction the defendant resides or carries on business or personally works for gain. Section 20 of the Code of Civil Procedure provided for jurisdiction for suits other than those specified in section 19. In such suits, the plaintiff was required to file a suit within the jurisdiction of the court in which the defendant resides, or in the court within whose jurisdiction the cause of action has arisen. If the accident furnishes the cause of action, obviously, the suit will have to be filed within the jurisdiction of the court having jurisdiction in the area where the accident occurred or where the defendant resides or carries on business or personally works for gain.
Section 20(b) provides that every suit shall be instituted in a court within the local limits of whose jurisdiction any of the defendants, where there are more than one, at the time of the commencement of the suit, actually and voluntarily resides or carries on business or personally works for gain, provided that in such case either the leave of the court is given, or the defendants who do not reside or carry on business or personally work for gain, as aforesaid, acquiesce in such institution. These provisions govern the institution of suits in the matter of geographical jurisdiction prior to 1956.
2.3. In a petition for recovering compensation by the victim of a motor accident, the respondents to be impleaded would be the driver and owner of the offending vehicle and the Insurance Company with which the vehicle is insured for third party risk (to be referred to as the 'Insurer'). It may be that prior to the nationalisation of the General Insurance, the insurer, as the defendant, may have offices in a few places and in view of the Explanation to section 20 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, the insurer as the defendant could be said to carry on business where it has a subordinate office also.
The driver however could be said to be residing or working for gain at the place where he is employed and the owner of the vehicle could be said to carry on business where he is actually carrying on business. The petition for compensation in such a situation will have to be filed more or less in the court within whose jurisdiction the accident occurred alleging that the accident has furnished the cause of action. This situation underwent a material change in 1956.
2.4. Section 110 was inserted in the Motor Vehicles Act, by Act 100 of 1956, with effect from 16th Feb., 1957. Section 110 conferred power on the State Government to constitute one or more Motor Accidents Tribunals for a specified area(s) for the purpose of adjudicating upon claims for compensation in respect of accidents involving death of, or bodily injury to persons arising out of the use of motor vehicles or damages to any property of a third party so arising, or both. The qualifications for appointment as a Member of a Claims Tribunal were prescribed in section 110(3) to the effect that the person to be appointed (a) is, or has been, a Judge of the High Court; or (b) is, or has been, a District Judge; or (c) is qualified for appointment as a Judge of the High Court.
Section 110A provided for application for compensation. Sub-section (2) thereof provided that every application under sub-section (1) shall be made to the Claims Tribunal having jurisdiction over the area in which the accident occurred, and shall be in such form and shall contain such particulars as may be prescribed. The application has to be made within a period of six months from the date of the occurrence of the accident. Section 110F provides for ouster of jurisdiction of civil court.
It provided that 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. These provisions, at a glance, show that an exclusive forum was created for entertaining and adjudicating upon claims for compensation and damages to property of third party arising out of use of motor vehicle in a public place and that the jurisdiction of the civil court for entertaining suits in respect of claims for which a petition for claim under section 110A could have been filed was simultaneously ousted.
2.5. After setting up an exclusive forum, it was considered advisable to specify the jurisdiction of each Claims Tribunal. Claims Tribunals would be set up throughout the length and breadth of the country. Unless jurisdiction is prescribed, one may resort to multiplicity of proceedings before different tribunals. Section 110A(2) clearly specifies that the Claims Tribunal, within the local limits of whose jurisdiction an accident occurred alone, would have the jurisdiction to entertain an application for compensation arising out of the accident. This is unquestionably the present position in law.
2.6. Is this situation conducive to provide easy access to the Claims Tribunals for recovering compensation? If setting up of an exclusive forum was intended to expedite adjudication of claim for compensation, is the object realised by conferring jurisdiction only on a Claims Tribunal within the local limits of whose jurisdiction the accident occurred? If a passenger bus on contract carriage started from Kanyakumari and met with an accident while passing through Haryana, and in this accident, say roughly about 20 persons died and 10 others suffered injuries, the petition for compensation by the dependants of each deceased and also the petition for compensation by each injured person-all ordinarily residing in Kanyakumari-will have to be filed before the Claims Tribunal within the local limits of whose jurisdiction the accident occurred in Haryana State.
The forum being exclusive, nowhere else the claim can be made and the exclusive forum is at such a prohibitive distance that one may have to think hundred times before filing a petition to claim compensation by undertaking the hazardous task of travelling hundreds of miles and involving huge costs in search of illusory compensation. This is the problem posed for consideration in this report.