18 November 2019


Judgments

Supreme Court

Naveen Kumar Vs. Vijay Kumar and Ors.

MANU/SC/0077/2018

06.02.2018

Motor Vehicles

A claimant for compensation ought not to be burdened with following a trail of successive transfers, which are not registered with registering authority

In instant case, an accident took place. By its award, the Tribunal granted compensation. The Tribunal noted that, the registration certificate of the offending vehicle continued to be in the name of the First Respondent. The Tribunal held the First Respondent jointly and severally liable together with the driver of the vehicle. The vehicle was uninsured on the date of the accident. The award of the Tribunal was challenged by the First Respondent. A learned Single Judge of the High Court allowed the appeal on the ground that, there was no justification for the Tribunal to pass an award against the registered owner, when there was evidence that he had transferred the vehicle and the last admitted owner was the Appellant herein. In the view of the High Court, the Tribunal ought to have passed an award only against the Appellant as the owner.

A combination of circumstances cumulatively weighed with present Court. Requisitioning by its very nature is involuntary insofar as the person whose property is requisitioned is concerned. Present Court observed that, it is the person in control and possession of a vehicle which is under an agreement of lease, hypothecation or hire purchase who is construed as the owner and not the registered owner. The same analogy was drawn to hold that, where the vehicle had been requisitioned, it was the state and not the registered owner who had possession and control and would hence be held liable to compensate. Purnya Kala Devi v. State of Assam does not hold that, a person who transfers the vehicle to another but continues to be the registered owner under Section 2(30) of Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, in the records of the registering authority is absolved of liability. The situation which arose before the Court in that case must be borne in mind because it was in the context of a compulsory act of requisitioning by the state that present Court held, by analogy of reasoning, that the registered owner was not liable.

In view of the definition of the expression 'owner' in Section 2(30), it is the person in whose name the motor vehicle stands registered who, for the purposes of the Act, would be treated as the 'owner'. However, where a person is a minor, the guardian of the minor would be treated as the owner. Where a motor vehicle is subject to an agreement of hire purchase, lease or hypothecation, the person in possession of the vehicle under that agreement is treated as the owner. In a situation such as the present where the registered owner has purported to transfer the vehicle but continues to be reflected in the records of the registering authority as the owner of the vehicle, he would not stand absolved of liability.

Parliament has consciously introduced the definition of the expression 'owner' in Section 2(30), making a departure from the provisions of Section 2(19) in the earlier Act of 1939. The principle underlying the provisions of Section 2(30) is that, the victim of a motor accident or, in the case of a death, the legal heirs of the deceased victim should not be left in a state of uncertainty. A claimant for compensation ought not to be burdened with following a trail of successive transfers, which are not registered with the registering authority. To hold otherwise would be to defeat the salutary object and purpose of the Act. Hence, the interpretation to be placed must facilitate the fulfilment of the object of the law. In the present case, the First Respondent was the 'owner' of the vehicle involved in the accident within the meaning of Section 2(30). The liability to pay compensation stands fastened upon him. Admittedly, the vehicle was uninsured.

In Dr. T.V. Jose v. Chacko P.M., present Court observed that, there can be transfer of title by payment of consideration and delivery of the car. But for the purposes of the Act, the person whose name is reflected in the records of the registering authority is the owner. The owner within the meaning of Section 2(30) is liable to compensate. The mandate of the law must be fulfilled. The liability to compensate the claimants in terms of the judgment of the Tribunal will stand fastened upon the First Respondent. The judgment of the High Court is set aside. Appeal allowed.

Relevant

Section 2(30) of Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, Purnya Kala Devi v. State of Assam MANU/SC/0285/2014
: (2014) 14 SCC 142 : (2015) 1 SCC (Cri) 304 : (2015) 1 SCC (Civ) 251, Dr. T.V. Jose v. Chacko P.M. MANU/SC/1691/2001
: (2001) 8 SCC 748

Tags : Compensation Payment Liability

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