The Supreme Court has asked the government to amend the Merchant Shipping Act and Rules “to ensure that the life of seafarers employed in different ships in the high seas is made more secure and safe and in case of loss of life their kith and kin are paid adequate amount of compensation.” In this case, Sabeeha Faikage vs Union of India, some seafarers were presumed dead after a mishap while they were towing a dead ship from Namibia to Alang in Gujarat. The foreign ship vanished after transmitting distress signals. The complaint of the relatives was that the Indian authorities did not properly investigate the mishap, and therefore their fundamental right to life was violated and they should be paid compensation. The Supreme Court rejected the argument based on the right to life stating that damages would be due only if there was “malicious intent” on the part of the wrong-doer. Regarding the government’s submission that the Shipping Act did not apply to seamen on board foreign vessels, the court directed it to take a second look at the law to benefit the victims.
Sale of mortgaged property
The Supreme Court has set aside the judgment of the Uttarakhand High Court and stated that high courts should not interfere in the sale of properties pursuant to default in repayment of loans. In this case, Pradeep Kumar vs UPFC, a firm borrowed funds from the UP Financial Corporation but did not pay instalments. Before selling the mortgaged property under the State Finance Act, the owner of the property already sold it to another and there was a resale too. In the dispute over the sale, the high court cancelled the sale in favour of the purchaser from the corporation. He appealed to the Supreme Court. It quashed the high court order stating that the corporation had the power to sell the mortgaged property and courts should not interfere in such private sales of property.
Re-possession of vehicle OK
The Supreme Court last week declared that if a vehicle bought on hire purchase is seized by the financier for default of instalments, no criminal action can be taken against him as he is ‘re-possessing’ the goods owned by him. The court thus upheld the judgment of the Gauhati High Court in the case, Anup Sarmah vs Bhola Nath, and quashed the criminal proceedings against the financier. The court reiterated its view that the dispute over payment is civil in nature and criminal complaint would not lie. Moreover the financier is the owner till the dues are cleared. The hire purchaser is only a trustee/bailee on behalf of the financial institution, the court clarified.
CESTAT can condone delay
The Supreme Court last week ruled that the Customs, Excise and Service Tax Appellate Tribunal (CESTAT) has the discretion to condone the delay in filing appeal under the Customs Act if there is sufficient cause for the delay. In this case, M/s Thakker Shipping Ltd vs Commissioner of Customs, the tribunal had refused to pardon the delay in filing the appeal under Section 129D(4) of the Customs Act as the application was not made within the prescribed period. The commissioner went on appeal to the Gujarat High Court, which reversed the decision and allowed the application of the Commissioner for condonation of delay. This view was upheld by the Supreme Court.
Be liberal in compensation
In awarding compensation for motor accident cases, “regard being had to the value of life and limb in our country, the approach has to be liberal as well as a balanced one,” the Supreme Court stated last week in the judgment Subulaxmi vs Tamil Nadu State Road Transport Corporation. A 30-year-old woman worker lost both her legs and 86 per cent of ability to work in a bus accident in which the driver was negligent. The tribunal awarded Rs 2 lakh on several counts. The Madras High Court raised it to Rs 2.75 lakh. But it ruled that she was not entitled to compensation for permanent disability. Nor did it grant interest on the amount of award. The Supreme Court reversed the high court on these counts.
Leave selection to expert body
In the matter of selection of persons eligible for LPG distributorship, the decision of the expert committee consisting of qualified persons should be respected and their decision should be followed unless there is mala fide. In this case, Sajeesh Babu vs NK Santhosh, the Kerala High Court had set aside the selection of a BPCL distributor, going into the details of the selection process. The Supreme Court overruled the high court and asserted that “it would normally be wise and safe for courts to leave the decision of selection to the experts.” The high court should not have sat as an appellate court on the recommendations made by the expert committee, the judgment said.