–Report by Tannu Dahiya
Hon’ble Supreme while hearing the appeal on 8th February 2023 in the case of NATIONAL INSURANCE COMPANY LTD. Versus THE CHIEF ELECTORAL OFFICER & ORS., set aside the decision of Patna High Court made in 2017 and directed that the terms of the insurance policy should be strictly interpreted.
An MOU i.e memorandum of understanding was signed between the insurance company (Appellant) and Chief Electoral Officer, Bihar, Patna, on 9th Feb 2000, to cover the insurance of persons working for the Bihar Legislative Assembly Elections in the year 2000.
Now clause 3 of the MoU mentioned that the insurance will be for the death caused by accident in extra violence and any other means.
Now the duration of the scheme was extended from 24.05.2000 to 23.06.2000 seeing the period of the by-polls.
The husband of respondent no.2, who was a constable died while performing his duty in Bihar Legislative Assembly. It happened during the extended time of the scheme.
After a long time, the wife of the constable (respondent no. 2) claimed compensation in 2008.
The Assistant election officer of that time wrote to the secretary of Lokayukta, Patna, that it was not election duty but heat stroke which was the reason behind the death of the constable thus, no such compensation can be made.
The wife filed a writ in High Court for quashing the above-said statement. The learned single judge first asked the insurance company to pay the claim but then relied on the judgement made in Lilawanti Devi v. The State of Bihar & Ors 1, which opined that the duration to make a claim has expired and it was chief electoral office liability to make the compensation.
The chief electoral officer filed an appeal stating that it was the insurance company which should pay the compensation. The insurance company was then asked to take the liability.
The appellant contended before the court that the chief electoral officer had already paid the claim to respondent 2 and just wanted to fasten the liability on the company. The learned counsel claimed that the death of the deceased was due to heat stroke which is beyond the scope of the MoU. The appellant insurance company was not made aware of the time issue. And was notified only after eleven years.
It was found that the chief electoral officer had already paid the claim to the wife. Also, it was clarified that the death was due to heat stroke which was beyond the scope of the MoU. The delay in raising the claim was not driven by the chief electoral officer. Its role was only till recommended, which it did. It was pleaded that the insurance company was under an obligation to honour the promise.
The SC raised two aspects which need to be answered
- The result of a delay in claiming the amount
- Whether all the insurance policies covered the scenario of the death of the constable.
To answer the first, respondent no. 2 never claimed the chief electoral officer to get compensation till 2008. Thus the claim was beyond the period.
To answer the second, it said that the conduct of respondent no 1 would not allow them to fasten the liability on the appellant.
The Supreme Court in its verdict said that the chief electoral officer ‘has been playing ducks and drakes’.
The Supreme Court thus dismissed the judgement of Patna High Court calling it unsustainable. The insurance company was not liable. Also, the chief electoral officer would not recover any amount paid to the deceased wife.
READ FULL JUDGEMENT: https://bit.ly/3JOZYsq
Civil appeal no. 4769 of 2022