Friday, September 11, 2009

To Blog; or not to blog!

The captioned question is in some way in the same league as Hamlet's existential dilemma of 'To be, or not to be; that is the question';…To suffer in the mind, 'the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune', answers the 'to be' query; or 'take arms against a sea of troubles by opposing them, to die; to sleep' would resolve the 'not to be' choice.

A sitting judge does not speak otherwise through his judgments. He shall not take positions in the public domain on any issue that is likely to come before him in court that may ultimately compromise on his impartiality.

Do not judges make public speeches or attend seminars, express their views and enter into debates? Do they not write articles in print media on legal issues? Public speeches pale into thin air. If they are captured in human ears, they shall be but stored in forgetful memory. If they get into print, they shall be trashed by passage of time. If they are recorded in magnetic tapes or digitized, they shall likewise be consumed to oblivion in due course. In any event, they shall not cause ripples beyond the immediate vicinity of persons who happen to hear the judges speak or read and forget what they read.

Posting a material in the web carries a certain aura of invincibility, a powerful permanence and an inevitable global presence. So long as this blog was read only in a few homes by the compulsive surfers who may have chanced to land on this web page, all seemed well. Suddenly things have changed for the better or the worse.

There is a person who asks me whether any mother would feel comfortable about bringing a case seeking for custody, if anyone knew my alleged 'gender bias'? There is another person who wants a legal advice. There is another person who wants to post his comment that contains a personal innuendo against a celebrity. I may keep the debate open ended and not take positions; not get judgmental, but even if one person doubts my impartiality, I would have done the institution of judiciary incalculable harm. I have sworn to upholding the constitutional values and I shall not be seen to swerve an inch from my oath of office.

Not on one occasion have I used first person singular in all my posts. I meant to be impersonal about the contents expressed, but I realize, some may even suspect that there is a deceit in the tenor. Sentences could be constructed in passive voice, but still I may have unwittingly employed my personal predilections. Time has come to wind up. What I had written as a last piece bidding good bye to my weekly edits in the law journal that I was editing when I was still a lawyer, seems relevant here, with some minor modifications.

Gilda Radner, an Emmy Award winner and an American Comedienne, who died at 42 with ovarian cancer said, "I wanted a perfect ending. Now I've learned, the hard way, that some poems don't rhyme, and some stories don't have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next." I do not know where I have arrived; where I have led you or if I have led you anywhere at all. My tryst with my blogs is over. Some readers have asked me, if there is any other judge in the whole world who blogs. There is also incidentally a reminder that somewhere, the propriety is breached. I began all this when I was an editor of a law journal, continued with it, as a shy bride would walk to the marriage pandal. Now I hang up my boots. I went through with it, with good intentions to constantly kindle your interest to stay put with what is happening in the legal world.

Am I glad, it is all over?


Am I sad that it is over now?


What is good in a goodbye, if it is not a first-rate experience? As Carol Sobieski and Thomas Meehan say in Annie, a Hollywood Musical, 'How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard!'

'A goodbye isn't painful unless you're never going to say hello again'. I will move over to other tasks and come back again someday to say, Hello!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Abortion for the mentally retarded – the outer limit of patient autonomy

On 17.7.2009, a Division Bench of the Punjab & Haryana High Court, comprising of Justice Surya Kant and Augustine George Masih decided a case ordering the termination of the pregnancy of a rape victim, who was mentally retarded person and an orphan at that, staying in a Government Care Home. The judgment is like it has never come in any part of the world. A poignant tale of a girl discarded on road, picked up to be brought up in government run homes. Her mental retardation and inability to protect herself adequately, heightened her vulnerability to be repeatedly raped allegedly by male guards employed at the Home, aided as they were, by an Ayah for money to be ravished in the bathrooms.

The law distinguishes between mentally ill people from a mentally retarded person. The guardian procedures are consequently different: in the former, it would be the Mental Health Act and in the latter, it is the National Trust for Welfare of Persons with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Mental Retardation and Multiple Disabilities Act, 1999. The National Trust Act establishes a Central Committee at Delhi and Local Committees in every district. The Committees shall have the power to appoint guardians for a mentally retarded person.

The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act empowers a medical practitioner to terminate pregnancy of a woman whose length of pregnancy is not more than 12 weeks. If the pregnancy is more than 12 weeks and less than 20 weeks, the decision shall be at least by two medical practitioners. In both situations, the MTP could be undertaken, only (i) if the continuance of pregnancy would involve to the life of the pregnant woman or of grave injury to her physical or mental health. Where the pregnancy occurs by rape or a failure of any device or method used by a married woman or her husband for the purpose of limiting the number of children, it may be presumed that there is a grave injury to the mental health, or (ii) there is substantial risk that the child, if allowed to be born, may suffer from physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped. No MTP carried out without the consent of the woman and if she is less than 18 years of age or a mentally ill person, without the consent of the guardian. In this case, since the woman was a mentally retarded person (and not mentally ill) and there was no local committee constituted under the National Trust Act, the Chandigarh Administration that was running the Institution where the woman was residing applied to the Court for the termination of pregnancy.

The Court assumed jurisdiction as a patria perens for deciding the question of desirability of MTP. It passed an interim order on 9.6.2009, containing inter alia, direction for constitution of an expert body of doctors for examining the pregnant woman (the Court used only the term 'victim' for the pregnant woman) and report on 13 points that included, the issue of consent of the mentally retarded person, any risk or complications relating to pregnancy and child birth and the most prudent course to be followed in the best interest of the victim. The report was a heart-wrenching record of what the mental condition of the victim, her desire to retain the fetus and deliver the child, the changes occurring to her over a period of time of constant crying, denial of entertainment such as TV viewing, which she was previously accustomed to and her inability to comprehend issues of parenting. Read what the doctor/ psychologist had to say about her:

She could identify the place but could not convey what is meant by a hostel, hotel or a hospital. She could name doctor but had no conceptual understanding of the roles and functions of a doctor. She acknowledged that she had a child inside her but had no idea of how conception takes place, the development of pregnancy or even the duration of pregnancy, age of child inside her, how will it come into the real world, chances of any harm to or abnormality to her unborn child, what is expected of her in child rearing, how to provide succor and sustenance to child. To the extent that in her unborn child she saw the possibility of having a brother to her. She even had no clear idea of female and male, sexual act and its attendant emotions, concept of marriage, her role as a wife except that she would cook for the "bhaiya") (refers to matrimonial partner as a bhaiya or possible to every man as a bhaiya). She had poor idea of her sexual role and expectations in marriage. Her simple mental operations are reflected by her anguish at a preferred suit (salwar and kameez) being torn during what she narrates attempt to undress her rather than an unwilling sexual encounter and its consequences thereof.

The judgment records the victim's point of view, as proffered by the counsel appointed to assist court in the following words: The learned amicus took us through a fine literary odyssey to impress upon us that in her lost world, the victim has now got a ray of hope of having someone as her own and it would be exhibiting gruesome cruelty to deprive her of what she now cherishes to come out of her and make her life meaningful. Besides asserting the right of self-determination for persons with intellectual disabilities, the learned amicus-curiae also relied upon two Division Bench decisions of Madras and Kerala High Courts in the cases of [i] V. Krishanan vs.G. Rajan @ Madipu Rajan and others, (a case where a minor girl alleged to be 16 had been married without the consent of her parents and when the parents of the girl wanted to terminate the pregnancy, the girl and her 'husband' wanted the continuation of the pregnancy and the Court denied permission to abort and upheld the desire of the girl to carry her pregnancy to full term and deliver the child) and (ii) Mrs. Usha Abraham v. Abraham Jacob (a case where a husband sought for divorce on the ground that the wife was mentally ill, but the court refused reasoning that the woman was only slightly mentally retarded and hence she could perform her marital ob ligations).

The Division Bench posed to themselves the question 'Should we not permit the petitioner - Administration to medically terminate the victim's pregnancy solely on the ground that the victim wants to keep the child as she likes children or should we adopt a holistic approach after taking into consideration several other factors which have a direct bearing on the future of the victim as well as of the foetus in her womb ?' The court examined the physical conditions of the mother ( she had abnormalities of gait and spinal deformity), the mental capacity of the mother ( she had a mental growth of 7 - 8 year old child, with little communication skills of social behaviour) , the report of the social worker who opined that the victim believed a child to a toy that one can play with, the social conditions and surrounding environment, where the girl had been abandoned by her own parents and brought up in shelter homes her 100% financial dependence with no employable skills than carrying out simple orders like clearing a table, dusting under supervision, pealing vegetables and above all, nil family support.

The Bench concluded, 'we find that except her physical ability, the victim is neither intellectually nor on social, personal, financial or family fronts, is able to bear and raise a child. We are satisfied with the reports of the Experts that the victim is incapable of understanding the concept of motherhood or of pregnancy or pre and post delivery implications. The victim, notwithstanding her innocent emotional expressions, is not mentally in a position to bear and raise the child. Asking her to continue with the pregnancy and thereafter raise the child would be a travesty of justice and a permanent addition to her miseries. The "toy" with which she wants to play, would want her to invest hugely which she is incapable of…

We also cannot over-look the fact that if allowed to be born, the child's own life, grooming and future prospects may itself be highly disappointing. There would be no choice but to keep the child in Ashreya (the government home) where the victim is living, in the company of other mentally ill inmates. There shall, thus, be a consistent risk to the innocent life. His mother's own mental age being 7-8 years, the learning process of the child would be highly inadequate. The grooming and education of the child would again be at the mercy of the Government run/aided institutions whose dismal performance or the severely negligent behavioural attitude towards the inmates has already prompted us to issue various reformatory directions and to monitor their implementation in future. If born, the child would not only be deprived of the care and protection of a father, but, on account of the mental handicap of the victim, the mother also…"

Was there a doubt that with such persuasive reasoning, the conclusion could not have been to retain the fetus, but a direction to medically terminate the pregnancy? Like we said at the beginning, there has been no reported case of such complex situation, a woman made pregnant by rape, by an act, she did not understand as a sexual compulsion except that in the process, her best clothes were torn, a woman that is mentally retarded with a mental maturity of a 7 year old girl, a woman that does not have her own family, having been discarded on road and picked up to be brought in a government run welfare home that paradoxically subverted her welfare. Now, the interesting twist is that the Supreme Court reversed this decision and the victim continues to have the child growing in her womb. It is a significant victory for pro-life campaigners. The case for pro-life has powerful arguments, which we will discuss, after the Supreme Court gives its reasoned decision. Even by a reversal of the decision of this case by the Supreme Court, the strength of the logic expounded in the judgment of P & H High Court is not a wee-bit dimmed. It shows a beautiful course of judicial opinions: there is always the other side of the coin and a better wisdom of a higher court!

Now the woman will hopefully (& prayerfully from our part) deliver the child and get her own 'toy' that she bears in rueful pain and expectant ecstasy.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Litigations after death

Bury the body or cremate it, whatever way you may want, it may be yet a matter of personal preference, but normally, the religion that the person was born to, dictates the choice. The integrity of the body is always desired, as it goes up in flames or allowed to putrefy. Any internal organs that are harvested after death and before delivery to relatives may leave no trace in the external appearance of the human frame. For the same reason, when the eyeballs are removed from the dead person, it is considered ethical that the sockets are stuffed and the eyelids are made to look normal. Even a mutilated body by accident or bomb blast are pieced together and stitched up before it is buried or cremated. When Michael Jackson’s brain was redelivered to the relatives after clinical examination for the criminal case that has been registered and for finding the cause of death, the brain was surgically re-fixed within the skull. Now that the body is fully integrated, the burial, it is expected, may take place soon.

Statutory laws and cases associated with dead bodies and removal of organs, after death, are rather weird. The Anatomy Act, 1949 sets out procedure in India for authority for removal of organs from dead bodies or dead bodies themselves for therapeutic, research or criminal investigations. In the case of a dead body lying in a hospital or prison and not claimed by any of the near relatives of the deceased person within forty-eight hours from the time of the death of the concerned person, the authority for the removal of any human organ from the dead body which so remains unclaimed may be given by the person in charge, for the time being, of the management or control of the hospital or prison, or by an employee of such hospital or prison authorised in this behalf by the person in charge of the management or control thereof. No authority shall be given if the person empowered to give such authority has reason to believe that any near relative of the deceased person is likely to claim the dead body even though such near relative has not come forward to claim the body. Can a person insist that the Hospital shall take his body after his death? In K. Uma Mahesh v The State of Tamil Nadu, rep. by its Secretary to Government, Health and Family Welfare Dept. Fort St. George, Ms. 9 and 2 others (1998), there was a challenge to the provisions of the Anatomy Act itself on the ground that there was no provision for acceptance of the body, except those that were unclaimed. Without testing the validity of the Act itself, the Madras Court said that the desire of the petitioner was commendable and directed the Director, Institute of Anatomy to accept the body if the same was intimated and the body had been brought without losing much time after death.

Does a person have a right to protect any part of the body of his or her spouse before death? In Smt. Sumakiran Mallena v The Secretary, Medical and Health and others (2008), the wife of the donor filed a writ petition challenging the decision of her husband to donate a portion of the liver to his father who was reportedly suffering from decomposed cirrhosis of liver, - a HCV related incurable liver function. The court rejected the petition as not maintainable, holding that no legal right existed for the wife to prevent her husband’s decision. The court pointed out that the case had been filed on two wrong presumptions that (i) her husband’s affection towards his parents should be subservient to the marital relationship between him and the petitioner, and (ii) that he cannot donate his organs with her consent. On both counts, the court found against the petitioner.

In Madhu Vijayan and another v S.G.Ravishankar (2006) the dispute was for custody of the ashes between the wife and son of the deceased O.V.Vijayan ( a renowned author and story teller) on the one hand and the nephew of the deceased on the other who had performed the obsequies. The Court said there was no property in the ashes but resolved the controversy between parties by allowing the legal heirs to offer prayers with the ashes kept in the custody of the nephew and that the ashes could be jointly immersed at Hardwar by both the litigating parties, a ceremony that was completed nearly a year after the death.

The foreign jurisdiction in U.K. and U.S.A.have had their share of interesting cases as well. In so far as there can be property in corpses or parts thereof, presumably it will vest initially in person carrying out the stuffing or embalming process, or taking steps for their preservation, on the basis that he is the first possessor. Re Organ Retention Group Litigation(2004) is authority for the proposition that if autopsy is conducted with consent, the removal of organs for the purpose of lab tests and report is implicit and no action will lie for damages for removal of organs. The U.S courts have always recognized the rights of next of kin of a deceased person a right to possession of the dead body for decent burial or cremation but not a right to the body as if it were property. To provide California non-profit eye banks with an adequate supply of corneal tissue, Cal. Gov't Code § 27491.47(a) authorized the coroner to remove and release or authorize the removal and release of corneal eye tissue from a body within the coroner's custody without any effort to notify and obtain the consent of next of kin if the coroner has no knowledge of objection to the removal. The law also provided that the coroner or any person acting upon his or her request shall not incur civil liability for such removal in an action brought by any person who did not object prior to the removal nor be subject to criminal prosecution, Cal. Gov't Code § 27491.47(b). In Robert Newman, as father and next of kin of Richard A. Newman and Others v L. Sathyavaglswaran, M.D., in his official capacity as Chief Medical Examiner-Coroner Of The County Of Los Angeles(2002) , the parents, whose deceased children's corneas were removed by the Los Angeles County Coroner's office without notice or consent brought a suit challenging the removal. The court of appeals concluded that the longstanding recognition in the law of California, paralleled by national common law, that next of kin have the exclusive right to possess the bodies of their deceased family members created a property interest, the deprivation of which must be accorded due process of law under U.S. Const. amend. XIV. The court ruled that parents have property interests in the corneas of their deceased children protected by the Due Process Clause of U.S.

Litigations just do not last merely a life time. In death as in life, will litigations thrive!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Homosexuality - Relevance of religious or cultural views

High Court judgment de-criminalises homosexuality

Law is what is legislated; law is also what the courts declare. In the constitutional scheme, the Union and the States have distinct spheres of legislative competence, while some subjects of legislative power of the Union and the States may also overlap. The validity of legislation may be tested on the question of power to legislate on a particular subject or whether it conflicts with any right guaranteed under the constitution. In recent history, no judgment of a Court has generated as much interest ( and therefore controversy as well) as the judgment of the Delhi High Court striking down a portion of the Section 377 IPC that criminalizes consensual sexual practices between adults of the same sex as violating the fundamental tenets of equality, privacy and right to life.

The forensic course in the judgment

The judgment traces the penal provision to owe its origin to Judeo-Christian moral and ethical standards (IPC was drafted by Lord Macaulay and introduced in 1861), and while the English law was reformed by Sexual Offences Act, 1967, de-criminalising homosexuality, the law has stayed in statue book in India. The government of India spoke through two voices: the Ministry of Home Affairs sought to justify the retention of section 377, where as the Ministry of Health Welfare insisted that continuance of Section 377 IPC has hampered the HIV/AIDS prevention efforts. Ideas of personal liberty, right to privacy, social morality and decency are dynamic concepts that change with times and the legal regimes that respect individual liberty have changed their laws either through pro-active legislation or through judgments striking down such discriminatory laws. Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Tran-sexual (LGBT) propensities are but emotions of a minority and protection of minority rights is the new paradigm to understanding concepts of equality and non-discrimination.

Why the existing law is said to be wrong

The judgment expatiates that even if the penal provisions are not enforced (the CJI is reported to have remarked that he had not come by any instance of a case filed against consenting adults for practices of homosexuality in his long judicial career) they reduce gay men and women as “unapprehended felons”. The judgment records the contention that a law that proscribes homosexuality to be wrong in legal principle because they exceed the proper ambit and function of the criminal law in a modern society; wrong because they oppress a minority in the community and target them for an attribute of their nature that they do not choose and cannot change. In this respect they are like other laws of colonial times that disadvantage people on the ground of their race or sex; wrong because they fly in the face of modern scientific knowledge about the incidence and variety of human sexuality; and wrong because they put a cohort of citizens into a position of stigma and shame that makes it hard to reach them with vital messages about safe sexual conduct, essential in the age of HIV/AIDS.

How it conflicts with constitutional morality

In any way, the judgment states, the legislative object of protecting women and children has no bearing in regard to consensual sexual acts between adults in private. Section 377 IPC is facially neutral and it apparently targets not identities, but in its operation it does end up unfairly targeting a particular community. Sexual orientation is analogous to sex and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is not permitted by the fundamental rights protected under Articles 14 (equality), 15 (discrimination on the ground of sex), 19 (fundamental freedom guaranteeing right to privacy) and 21 ( right to personal life and liberty). The judgment examines the diverse legal regimes across the globe and takes the whiff of opinions that is blowing around to be suffused in Indian Constitutional notions of equality, privacy, personal dignity and morality.

Objections that the judgment does not address

The objections have been on the basis that (i) the judgment is against Indian sense of morality, tradition and cultural values. In other words, west is west; east is east; (ii) It is against our religion: Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Jainism and Buddhism proscribe such sexual practices as sins; (iii) Homosexuality is a disease. It can be cured. Legitimizing it is allowing an illness to permeate into our society and fester the healthy environment; (iv) Parental objections will see a new genre of runaway gay couples coming to police stations and courts seeking for protection of their lives and liberty. Surprisingly, the judgment that runs into 105 pages written with remarkable lucidity, verve and logical persuasiveness does not examine religious objections or what are perceived as against Indian culture. One may suspect that the omission is deliberate. The court had delivered the judgment on the strength of legal reasoning that is distanced from religion and dogma. The special leave petitions to Supreme Court, as reported through the press, have challenged the judgment only on the grounds that the judgment does not deal with.

Religious texts on homosexuality

Hindu religious texts focus on love and transcendental at that. Gopika’s love for Radha or of the cowherd boys at Vrindavan to Krishna, as depicted in Bhagvatam cannot simply be treated as vulgar. The focus here is entirely on love and there is no claim or suggestion about the degree of same-sex intimacy involved other than what is described. Many of the world’s great religions have pondered as to whether or not there is sex life in the spiritual world, but in Hinduism there is no debate. Swami Prabhupada, the founder of Hare Krishna movement would expound: ‘The pastimes of Krsna with the gopis clearly demonstrate that pure, unadulterated sex enjoyment exists in the transcendental realm.’ At lesser levels of human existence, sexual preferences between members of the same sex were immortalized in 10th century Khajraho’s friezes. This is not to suggest that they were widely prevalent. They perhaps reflect the view of a powerful, creative minority; and the expression of views of minority was respected. In Jainism, liberation from material existence is achieved through extreme bodily mortifications. Monks forswear all sexual contact; the laity may marry, but must remain faithful to their spouses. Jainism is so unsympathetic to sexual contacts that it is doubtful, if it approved of homosexuality (see Sutrakritangu 1.9.10, 10.13). Buddhism founded a generation later was less rigorous and struck a middle ground, in which liberation is achieved by casting away desires. Monks and nuns were to observe chastity and the religious texts do not seem to favour homosexuality, but as it evolved in their practices in China, Japan and some East Asian countries, homosexuality was tolerated. Both Islam and Christianity through their Books, Koran(7:80-82; 27:165-175; 27:55-58; 29:28-29; 4:15-16) and Bible (there are innumerable references and hence to state a few: Levitcus 18:22, 20:13; Deuteronomy 23:17) treat homosexuality as deadly sins.

Manusmriti refers to a homosexual as kliba. The references in the text are: causing an injury to a priest, smelling wine or things that are not be smelled, crookedness, and sexual union with a man are traditionally said to cause loss of caste (11.68); If a man has shed his semen in women born of the same womb as himself, with the wife of his friend or his son, with virgins or women of the lowest casted, he should carry out the vow for violating the guru’s marriage-bed (11.171); If a man has shed his semen in non-human females, in a man, in a menstruating woman, in something other than a vagina, or in water, he should carry out the ‘Painful Heating’ vow (11.174). Kautalya’s Arthasastra states: Intercourse with a woman other than through the vagina is punishable (4.13.40); male homosexuality is punishable (4.13.40).

The debate will continue

It is irrefutable that religious texts are important sources of law and social practices. To that extent, law will follow religious prescriptions, but it is also true that zeal for reformation has taken the breadth of law to traverse beyond the confines of religion. The Hindu laws of succession, adoption, maintenance, guardianship, etc., have undergone several changes that will have no moorings with the customary Mitakshara or Dayabhaga laws. Again, except that Manusmriti has a historical value, no one is prepared to accept whatever Manu’s text states, as for instance, varnashrama dharma. Kautalya’s Arthasastra holds no more interest than how state craft was practiced in ancient India and it is doubtful if it has any contemporary relevance. Muslim personal laws have generally followed Koranic prescriptions and Hadith but criminal laws are same for all communities and punishments prescribed in Koran offer no guidance to the punishments prescribed under the Indian Penal laws for persons practicing Islam. Indeed, some of the Islamic countries have taken conscious decisions, even on the subject of homosexuality by not terming them as offences. The examples in Turkey, Jordan, Egypt and Mali are cases in point. Notwithstanding the strong biblical views on homosexuality, a host of countries that practice Christianity have changed their laws. The other opinions are, if homosexuality is a disease (many modern medical experts would disagree), why punish a sick person, if you do not punish persons having AIDS or cancer? Some may still ask ,if parental objections arise to same sex marriages, why apply a different yardstick, when law protects runaway couples seeking court’s help through police support to uphold freedom of choice and individual liberty? A judgment always does not change the course of history or annihilate deeply embedded prejudices. It only shows another way; another line of thinking. And, in Delhi High Court judgment, it finds its legitimacy from the Indian Constitution and not from religious texts.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Motor Insurance - New Imperatives for Reforms

The business of motor insurance

In all countries across the globe, motor insurance constitutes around 60% of business of all insurance companies. The public interest element is still relevant, even as global markets bring private players in the insurance sector. The objective of optimizing benefits for persons who are most vulnerable in motor accidents could never be in doubt. It directs a focus on what ’third parties’ shall secure. Among this category are victims of hit and run cases, where the offending vehicles causing death or personal injuries are not traced or when the driver of the offending vehicle does not possess a valid driving license or when there is no valid policy of insurance at all and the Insurance Company finds a ground to disown liability. The Motor Vehicles Act 1988 (MV Act) does address the claims of victims of hit and run cases and of cases where the drivers do not have effective valid driving licences, but not substantially. The Act gives no relief except against the owner in a case where there is no valid insurance. There is still the problem of even the awards of Tribunals not getting satisfied immediately.

Just as the motor Insurance sector stands poised for a de-tariff regime and there is scope for lowering of tariffs in a competitive market, there is as well a need to look into the imperatives for a better deal to victims of motor victims. Here, the insurance companies who are the stake holders in the business could play a pivotal participatory role in amelioration of the woes of victims or their families. To this end shall be the present exercise of examining the relevant provisions, the judicial precedents and scope for reform: first, by referring to the hit and run cases; second, to cases where drivers do not have effective driving licences; third, to cases where there are no valid insurance policies and four, for delayed satisfaction of awards passed by Tribunals. The article suggests the creation of a body like Motor Insurance Bureau, amendments to Insurance laws and Motor Vehicles Act and the limitations to the proposals.

Hit & Run cases under MV Act

The MV Act contains provisions for redeeming the claims of victims of hit and run cases where the vehicle owner is not identified. Section 161(b) defines “hit and run motor accident” to mean an accident arising out of the use of a motor vehicle or motor vehicles the identity whereof cannot be ascertained in spite of reasonable efforts. The Solatium Scheme (the 1989 scheme) introduced by the Central Government by notification in the Official Gazette and administered by the General Insurance Corporation sets out the mechanism for processing and disbursing respectively Rs.12,500 for permanent disability for a victim and Rs.25000 in case of death of a person in a motor accident.

Driver who has no effective driving license under MV Act

As regards the claims involving driver who does not possess an effective driving licence, the Act enables the insurer to state as permissible defence to a claim for damages that there is a condition in the policy of insurance 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. A person holding Light Motor Vehicle (LMV) licence but driving a Heavy Goods Vechicle and causing an accident has been found to have had no effective driving licence and the Insurance Company has been exonerated. Again, the driver who did not renew his licence within the grace period was found to create a situation when the insurer could escape liability.The protection to still proceed against the insurer comes through section 149(4) that enacts a salutary ‘pay and recover’ principle making the insurer primarily liable for the claims for and behalf of a third party even in an eventuality of a breach of condition but however providing for an indemnity from the owner of the vehicle. It was not however till the Supreme Court emphatically laid down in New India Assurance Company Limited v Kamla that courts came to the succor of the claimants for upholding their claims against insurers but surprisingly, the application of this section itself has been defensive in some later judgments of the Supreme Court, either by reference to its prerogative to decline interference under Art 136 of the Constitution by allowing the award to stand as a measure of grace and providing to the insurer a right of recovery or depart with a feeling of despondency that nothing much could be done for the victim and the insurer was entitled to deny liability or direct that decision shall not be cited as a precedent. There is a need to dispel any prevarication in such situations where the right to enforce the claim for a third party victim against the insurer is fully protected by statute.

Insurance policy, its lack or inadequacy under various situations

The provision for compulsory insurance is provided under sections 146 and 147 to the following types of situations resulting in personal injuries or death: a vehicle meant to carry dangerous or hazardous goods that is required to cover risks detailed under the Public Liability Insurance Act, 1991; owner of the goods or his authorized representative carried in the vehicle; passenger in a public service vehicle; workman such as an employee engaged in driving the vehicle or a conductor in a public service vehicle, or a person engaged in examining tickets in the vehicle, employees carried in a goods carriage to the extent of liability provided under Workmen’s Compensation Act. A policy of insurance to cover such cases is called in common parlance as ‘Act only policy’. A personal cover for risk for an owner travelling in his own motor vehicle where he meets with accident due to his own negligence or the driver of the owner, a gratuitous passenger such as a friend or relative being carried in a private vehicle, a pillion rider in a motor cycle that is involved in an accident due to the negligence of the rider and a passenger in a goods carriage (who is not a traveler along with his goods) are cases that fall outside the scheme of compulsory insurance. To such persons, unless there is specific insurance policy coverage (usually by payment of higher premium), the insurer will not be liable.

Delay in satisfying awards

It is common knowledge that cases take a long number of years for disposal and when awards get to be passed, there is scope for appeals and stay of operation of the awards. Although an insurer is barred from disputing the issue of quantum, grant of permission under section 170 to the insurer is a matter of course in proceedings before Tribunals. Filing an appeal through the insured, even when such permission is not granted under section 170 is a familiar practice. Liability to pay subsequent interest at 6% p.a is seldom an incentive to deposit money in court immediately after the award, all of which add to the victim’s woes.

MIB cited in Law Commission Report

Among the most important changes brought in the MV Act viz., the provision that contemplates a scheme for payment out of a fund for victims of hit and run cases came after the 51st Report of the Law Commission of India. Making reference to Article 41 of the Constitution of India, the Commission exhorted the need to compensate victims as arising under the Directive Principles of State Policy that ‘The State shall within limits of its economic capacity and development, make effective provision for securing the right to public assistance in cases of unemployment, old age, sickness and disablement, and in other cases of undeserved want’. Further tracing the justification for this provision to U.K, the Law Commission referred to the agreement of Motor Insurance Bureau (MIB) with the Minister of Transport that provided for enforcement of ‘a judgment in respect of any liability which is required to be covered by a policy of insurance, whether or not such person is in fact covered by a contract of insurance and such judgment is not satisfied in full within 7 days from the day when the judgment was given, then the MIB will satisfy the judgment.’ Initially the agreement did not provide for payment in cases where the offending vehicle could not be traced or when the driver had no valid driving licence. This was strongly criticized by Sachs J., in Adams v Andrews that dealt with a case of negligence of an untraced motor-cyclist, who caused the driver of a car, in which the plaintiff was travelling a passenger, to swerve and overturn. He observed as illogical the MIB’s unwillingness to come to the rescue of the individual who had to go cap-in-hand- for an ex-gratia payment.

Situations when MIB will pay

Over the years, the situation has changed and MIB now operates under two agreements with the Secretary of State for the Environment namely, ’The Uninsured Drivers Agreement’ and ‘The Untraced Drivers Agreement’. The "uninsured driver" will either have no car insurance at all, or by virtue of the policy have no valid car insurance. If the uninsured driver was for example, a tourist driving a friend's car without having any car insurance, the MIB will be involved in the settlement of the Third Party injury and / or property claim. If the uninsured driver has no valid car insurance for example, there is only private use on the policy but whilst using the car for business the driver causes a Third Party to suffer a loss, the insurer will repudiate the claim. The MIB will however insist that the insurer will pay the Third Party. The insurer must then attempt to recover its costs from its own customer. An "untraced driver" is for example, a joy rider or someone who has failed to stop at the scene of an accident and is never found. The MIB will consider claims for losses caused by untraced drivers provided that those losses are otherwise uninsured, and the incident resulted in personal injury or death. This is because it would be too easy to submit a fraudulent claim for property only.

MIB model alone satisfies the present need to apply to all enumerated situations that otherwise exonerate insurance companies

In its present form as applied in UK and other countries of the European Union, MIB addresses the concern of all the four situations what we have mentioned earlier, viz, of hit and run cases, of unlicensed drivers, uninsured vehicles and non-satisfaction of the award for a period beyond 7 days when the award becomes enforceable. The 1989 scheme that provides for a mechanism for payment of compensation and which was inspired by MIB, unfortunately subverts the entitlement to the nature of gratis with a further cap on the quantum of entitlement to a few thousands of rupees. Underwriting motor insurance policies is no loss making proposition, although it is always a familiar refrain trumpeted from roof tops by insurance companies. Look at the statistics: The Tariff Advisory Committee – Data Repository has issued the Summary of reports form Motor Data of 4 PSUs for 2005-06 that against a total premium of Rs6217.78 cr collected for all categories of vehicles, the total number of claims were to the tune of 2,610,930. The total claims paid were to the tune of Rs.5544.92 cr against total incurred liability of Rs.6180.40 cr. Both the figures could be seen to be less than total premiums collected. It is therefore not correct to assume that Insurance companies are running under loss in motor insurance business. Better management by private insurance companies and competitive policies with better collection of revenues by tapping the market effectively ought to allow for sufficient surplus to run the scheme on the lines of MIB, successfully in India. The MIB model has been successfully replicated by nearly 50 countries that include all the countries belonging to European Union. Singapore already has MIB set up as early as in 1975.

Changes in law that may be necessary

In India, insurance is in List A (Union) in Sch VII of the Constitution of India. The primary legislation that deals with insurance business in India is Insurance Act, 1938 and Insurance Regulatory & Development Authority Act, 1999. IRDA has the power to regulate, promote and ensure orderly growth of the insurance business and re-insurance business. The power shall include control and regulation of the rates, terms and conditions that may be offered by insurers in respect of general insurance business not so controlled and regulated by the Tariff Advisory Committee under section 64U of the Insurance Act, 1938 (4 of 1938). It has also power to issue directives under section 34 of the Insurance Act, which could include power to set up a fund and enjoin contributions by all insurance companies engaged in underwriting risks in motor accidents. It has power to set up a body to oversee and operate the fund to address the claims of victims or their legal representatives in motor accidents. There shall be corresponding amendments to the provisions in M V Act. The combined effect shall be:

(i) Victims of ‘hit and run’ cases shall be truly compensated in monetary terms of what the victim or his family would have got as ‘just compensation’ under Section 166 of the Motor Vehicles Act or at any rate, at least the amount that is provided under the structured formula under Section 163A.

(ii) The failure to comply with the terms of compulsory insurance as constituting an offence punishable with imprisonment of 3 months under section 196 of the Motor Vehicles Act shall be made more stringent to include provision for distraint and sale of the vehicle to satisfy the claims of third parties under circumstances mentioned above.

(iii) While an owner of a vehicle cannot be expected to obtain compensation for his own negligence or that of his employee, it would be most unjust to deny a gratuitous passenger such as a relative or friend in a private vehicle or a pillion rider in a motor vehicle a right to compensation for the failure of the owner to take sufficient insurance cover. There ought to be provision for claim against a solvent insurer or a voluntary body of persons a la MIB or General Insurance Company that holds a specific fund to defray the claims by affected persons with a right of indemnity to the Insurer on the lines of pay and recover principle.

(iv) With a body such as MIB in place, the claimant shall have a right to recover the award within a period of one week when the amount becomes recoverable.


The various aspects of how MIB is put to operation in UK and other countries have not been addressed here, nor are the exceptions when the right will not be available. The costs of running the Fund and the extent of contributions from Insurance Companies, State participation and how much of increased costs will have to be absorbed by premiums payable by consumers have also not been discussed. This is but a formal presentation of the road that lies ahead for reforms. Air, water, rail and road are just well mediums of transport. Of them, you hold the key from your doorstep only for motor car. They will inevitably be the most used, abused and misused. Our ability to also solve the problems that we create is the hallmark of worthy human endeavor. Cry for reforms in various fields rent the air. A MIB may not solve all problems but it at least assures a better deal for third party victims of motor accidents for a little additional price through higher premiums. As Washinton Irving said, ‘There is a certain relief in change, even though it be from bad to worse! As I have often found in travelling in a stagecoach, that it is often a comfort to shift one's position, and be bruised in a new place’.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Summer ’09 – Dharamshala (June 03 to 08)

Jwalaji TempleIt is refreshing always to break free from the routine and what better way is there to find freedom for the soul and body than to visit new places. I am no adept person at planning but these days at my age and standing at the society, there are persons around, who are overly anxious that my creature comforts are reasonably well attended to. It was a long journey over 280 kms from Chandigarh to Dharamshala. We struck anchor at Chintapurni temple in the first fringe of the Himalayan range, after about 4 hours of drive. The temple is decked at the ‘fourth floor’ and it almost seemed like visiting an apartment house reaching the temple through a lift taking you vertically up from the ground floor. There is also steep climb to the temple that one could do by foot . The temple is dedicated to Mata Chintpurni and located in the Una district. The deity has derived such a name from the idol of goddess Durga in the temple, which is without a head. According to the Hindu mythology, Lord Vishnu cut the corpse of Sati in to fifty one pieces with his chakra to quell the wrath of Lord Shiva. It is believed that the feet of Sati fell in this place where the temple has been built. Local people pray at a stone carving of a foot smeared with red kumkum paste bedecked with flowers and golden shawl with enormous religious fervor.

Jawalamukhi (or Jawala ji) Temple Visit full size imageAfter noon was still hot and we stopped by to cool ourselves at a Guest house at a place 25 kms away and after lunch (with an appendage of sleep) , we headed to Jwalaji, a picturesque temple town built in the Indo-Sikh style. The temple is a modern building whose dome is of gilded gold and possesses a beautiful folding door of silver plates, presented by the Sikh Raja Kharak Singh. There is a large cement pit, where a panditji is sitting with fire billowing from 3 places along the walls. The panditji is dripping in sweat with fire around him and

he is offering deepam to each of the fiery bursts, treating them as fire goddess, Jwalaji. On seeing us, he is signaled to get up to identify the 4th place outside the cement pit and approach a place that resembles maadam or pirai in old houses of south India. The pandit held a burning oil wick inside the pirai, and presto, there was blue soft flame catching up along the wall. I patted my cheeks with crossed hands in reverence. That was Jwalaji-IV. My science experts (who, but my wife & son?) tell me that there must have been a volcano several thousands of years ago but our people would care no hoots for such scientific explanations. It is nice to approach gods with childlike qualities of innocence and not through reason. It is only when you transcend reason that you see god, don’t you? Legend has it that after Daksha Yoga Bhagna, Lord Shiva placed the burnt dead body of Sati on his shoulders and started wandering about in a state of wild rage. To save the world from the destructive wrath of Lord Shiva, Lord Vishnu started cutting the limbs of the dead Goddess Parvati one by one. The places where they fell became sacred centers for the worship of Shakti. The tongue of Sati fell at the place where the temple of Jwalamukhi is situated. The flames that come out of the openings in the earth?s surface are regarded as the manifestations of the fallen tongue of Sati and are worshipped as "Jwalamukhi Devi" (Goddess, who emits flames from her mouth).

Chandigarh & Dharamshala 017.JPGWe were received at the border of the town at Dharamshala by the driver of my judge friend, Ajay and piloted our way to Ajay’s father-in-law’s house for a cup of tea. It was 5 pm and still hot. The old lady in the house pulled a table fan to lavish a gush of air to cool our burning collars. Ajay drove along with us to drop us at McCleodgang, the upper Dharamshala, at his firend’s bungalow. The bungalow was perched at the precipice of a large rock, adjoining the Dalai Lama’s official residence and on the parikrama of a Buddhist monastery. It was at once a scenic place with the valley under your feet and abutting the parikrama, the place pulsates with spiritual energy. The monks wear bright red tunic overalls and look solemn. Old men and women, with walking sticks in their hands as props for slow ambulatory gaits, young men and women, boys and girls, all with beads in their hands counting their repetitive prayers. The redemption of Tibet from the hands of the Chinese is among their prayers, as well. The prayer flags hung between trees and flapping in the winds are eternal human messages to gods in heavens to hear their supplication.

Chandigarh & Dharamshala 024.JPGAjay took us around the ups and down of Dharamshala. It is a large town that stretches from about 2000 ft above sea level to nearly 11000 ft. The town is hemmed in by mountains that raise to eternity like walls vertically, at once imposing and breathtaking in their effect. In summer, the terrain looks dry, but Ajay’s father in law tells us that Dharamshala records second highest rain fall in India, next to Maw Syn Ram (where have Chirapunji and Agumbe gone?). we drove to high points of Dharamshala but the sun seemed sharp.

The next day, Ajay and I decided to trek to the high point, Triund, situate at 9000 ft above sea level. We drove about 3 kms and began our trek. Ajay’s driver, a young man with a paunch and his personal security officer joined us. It is puffing of breath and pounding of heart that accompanies you all the way through. Along the rugged path, you turn to one side, to catch the glimpse of the distant valley that you have come away from and look at the other other side, you have the imposing mountains that hold

Summer Holiday '09 Dharamsala, Kulu & Manali 016.jpgSummer Holiday '09 Dharamsala, Kulu & Manali 012.jpg you in disbelief of the distance that you have to still climb and heaven that it promises. After two and half hours continuous trek, we stopped by to have chocolates, (yummm, that melts to give you instant energy) and tea to warm the pounding heart. At 10.30, after 4 hours of trot, we arrived at Triund. There were already few campers, stretching themselves, earning their rest.

Summer Holiday '09 Dharamsala, Kulu & Manali 036.jpg Ajay said, it was not all; if I had the pluck I could walk another two hours, I would come by Chamba valley and I would have arrived at the most charming sight ever, at the Dhauladhar range. He was not himself in any mood to join in. With relatively good health that I enjoy, with regular gymming, I decided that I would prod on. Ajay’s security person was prepared to go along. It seemed a steeper climb or maybe, the continuous walking for over 4 h ours was having its toll and made me feel so. We puffed and chugged, rolled and went on all fours and tumbled to a flat ground from where began a steep incline. We checked ourselves from further trek, still unable to consume all that nature had to offer. I seated myself on a tiny rocky stone, amidst a bed of button roses, yellow, purple and white, dotting the velvety green grass. It was eerie silence, with the tall mountains absorbing all the wind and the sounds that the trees were generating. Even the rumbling sound of water flowing down from the snowy peaks seemed to happen at a distance. I lied down facing the snow peaked mountains for nearly 30 minutes and we decided to return to Triund to have lunch.

There was a small coffee shop, where three persons from Israel had been engaging the shop-owner in some of communication through some language that sounded like English. The shop owner seemed better in his proficiency in English than the Israelis. Summer Holiday '09 Dharamsala, Kulu & Manali 037.jpgSummer Holiday '09 Dharamsala, Kulu & Manali 038.jpg As we saw them going away, we occupied the tarpaulin covered front space of the shop and energized ourselves with chocolates and coffee. We readied to go down again to Triund and we galloped down the in an hour, triggered by hunger to wallop the lunch that I knew Ajay was carrying. Black clouds capped the mountains and there was slight drizzle when we spread lunch on the carpet that the driver had spread. The paranthas and curry had been made hot again, thanks to the shop keeper’s munificence of lending his gas stove.We feasted on the gourmet as if it were the last meal of a life time. The shopkeeper warned us to get treading along down the hill before it rained heavily. We started the climb down, with rain gods accompanying us, not lashing out in torrents but with gentle caress of a bath room shower for nearly an hour. We also had umbrellas with us to spare us from being wholly drenched.

I had a shower at our guest house and went out again for a dinner arranged by Ajay’s cousin, who was celebrating his wedding anniversary. There was chilled beer to quench our parched throats but Ajay and I were too tired to hold out for long at the dinner. I got back to early and hit the bed. Only on rare days could sleep be death. I was dead for 6 hours.

McCleodgunj has a nice market and eateries. We ate well, shopped well and went around the local sights leisurely. Dal lake was pathetic, but the deodar trees surrounding the lake, what seemed like puddle, seemed a lovely spectacle. Ajeya got himself a telescope that seemed a vintage stuff. I browsed through some books at a Tibetan book shop and Raji got some precious stones. Late in the evening, we bought some CDs and Kangra Tea at the local market. Most of the shops have stickers declaring that Chinese goods are not sold. We stayed at the Circuit house that is located near tea plantations and after a leisurely day spent at the guest house, we readied ourselves to go to Manali.