Justice J.R. Midha, Delhi High Court, Ibrahim Khalifullah, A.K. Sikri, Supreme Court Judges, K. Chandru and P.N. Prakash, Madras High Court judges deserve our kudos as prime actors in taking a huge part in the cleansing and streamlining of the critical, yet vexed motor accidents claims jurisdiction. Each one of them, in their own inimitable way has at various stages, contributed their mite, aiding restoration of purity of administration, in this welfare-oriented dispensation, which stood tainted beyond recognition.
Motor insurance is mandatory. "Parliament's mandate is not to enable insurance companies to get insurance premium and run their businesses on profitable lines, but to provide timely succour and relief to innocent accident victims". (SC- Kokilaben Chandravadan case -1987). On August 9, the President of India gave assent to Motor Vehicles (Amendment), 2019, to become part of MV Act, 1988. To those in the know of things, though Parliament has flagged some innovative provisions, including providing cover for those impacted by uninsured vehicles, cashless treatment and golden hour care, all specific to victims, they may have missed a lot more tricks. But that is another story altogether.
On August 14, Justice P.N. Prakash directed the Registrar-General, Madras High Court to issue a circular to all Motor Accidents Claims Tribunals in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, for implementation of Motor Accidents Claims Annuity Deposit Scheme (MACAD), on and from October 1,2019. MACAD was flagged off by Justice J.R. Midha in Rajesh Tyagi case and picked up by Justice Sikri in MR Krishnamurthy case. It is a clear recognition of the factum of practitioners in this field, pejoratively called the world over as 'ambulance chasers', purchasing accident victims as chattel with complicity of willing police officials, touts and brokers, hospitals, even 108 and other Ambulances and drivers and siphoning of huge sums from the compensation awarded to victims.
Despite periodical efforts to plug the 'leakage', such as by restricting disbursement of compensation except upon credible proof of need and justification, or ensuring Direct Bank Transfer to the accounts of the victims, the practitioners, in cahoots with their accomplices have been one up on the systemic protections. That is why Justice J.R. Midha crafted the Annuity Rule to ensure compulsory investments and only periodical disbursement to the claimants, in line with their respective need. Such dispensation may dissuade the practitioners' and Co from investing heavily in purchase of claims, advancing sums to victims to tide over medical and other financial emergencies, including funeral expenses and to even perform obsequies. No expenses are beyond their generous best, for they recoup it all, several times over the 'investments', from the ultimate award as reward for their chivalry. It is Champerty at worst, and that is illegal in India.
This litigation began with the death of one Mr. Mohan in a motor accident, when he hit a parked lorry, from behind, while riding his motor cycle. Three claims were filed, two in Chennai and one in Tiruvallur, claiming over Rs.1 crore in all, by three different advocates, against a private insurer. On tapping into the Detailed Accident Report (DAR) platform, mandated by Justice Khalifullah and carried forward by Justice Prakash, the insurer discovered possible tampering with FIR by false implication of an insured lorry and existence of double/duplicate claims in hundreds.
Enter Justice K. Chandru (Retd.) as Expert Body with specific Terms of Reference to suggest solutions to rid the ills afflicting this area. He came up with shocking revelations of sale/purchase of claims, open involvement of touts, poaching of clients, violent acts over money matters, criminal prosecutions, and claimants being taken for a ride with pittance, as just compensation, out of humongous awards in their favour. The whole seamy affair stood exposed from the affidavits of practitioners and responses from Claims Tribunals and resulted in 10 advocates facing disciplinary proceedings before Bar Council of TN and Puducherry.
Justice Prakash was shocked, dismayed, anguished and angered. He ordered CB-CID investigation for alleged tampering with FIR, loss of 56 accident claim bundles from claims tribunals belonging to an advocate, from within High Court compound and pursued a crime for alleged fabrication of medical/hospital records in Vellore, in accordance with law. But the tipping point was that he pointed out that the pernicious practices accidentally discovered were only tip of the iceberg. Double/Duplicate claims - 276 in all - worth Rs.48.22 crore were withdrawn during the proceedings.
The best thing that could have happened in the midst of these dark facts, was his direction to Advocate General of the State, on the initial 48 Hour Trauma Care, to accident victims. The State has responded that they have already institutionalised this service as Trauma Accident Emergency Initiative (TAEI) as part of National Health Mission of Central Government. But the State conceded that a lot more needed to be done, to set up a high end infrastructure to the existing 80 Trauma Care Centres and hence sought the support of motor insurance companies. Justice Prakash saw merit in this request, and has directed General Insurance Council, Mumbai, representing all motor insurance companies, to offer their assistance, as permissible, to the commendable efforts of the State. The Judge has placed this 48 Hour Trauma Care issue in the lap of Chief Justice to be picked up on the judicial side, as it partook the character of a Public Interest Litigation.
One takes a bow to the judiciary as the prime pillar of democracy. And these judges who have done their duty by adhering to their oaths and going beyond the contours to dedicatedly tweak the dispensation for doing good to society where it matters. The cause of innocent accident victims, who more often than not, belonged to poor and underprivileged sections, as Justice Krishna Iyer, never tired of highlighting, may have received a huge leg up.
In the recent run up to the 2019 general elections, Aziz Premji foundation did what Pew Research always does. They tapped into the voters' responses on the status of the institutions in India vis a vis Politics, Military, Judiciary etc. The results were obvious in that the Armed Forces ranked as most respected. The judiciary did not lag far behind as highly respected, while the politicians trailed behind as last and least respected.
Judicial overreach is an expression used to criticise the judiciary as encroaching on the other two branches of a democratic polity. But, with the executive and legislative branches 'limping behind' as Nani Palkhiwala said, thank heavens judiciary takes the lead and stands by us. We The People. And the motor accidents claims jurisdiction is possibly the direct among them, as it impacts the lives and limbs of many. The five justices have added six-pack to the health of society, by dealing with firm hands, warm hearts and erudite minds, to render justice.
(Author is practising Advocate in the Madras High Court)...