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Employees Compensation and Doctrine of Notional Extension, What SC held

The Supreme Court has held that when a driver who has to remain with the bus for twenty-four hours due to the nature of his duty, dies after falling from the roof of the bus, it is death arising during the course of employment. Consequently, such a deceased person is entitled to compensation under the Employees Compensation Act, 1923 (Act).

The judgment was delivered by a Bench of Justices Arun Mishra and Navin Sinha.

The deceased was working as driver of a bus ferrying passengers from Indore to Burhanpur. The bus used to ferry passengers from Burhanpur at 6.30 am and reach Indore at 11 am. The return journey would commence from Indore at 3 pm and terminate at Burhanpur at 7.30 pm.

Because of the nature of the duty, the deceased would stay with the bus for twenty-four hours and would not come home for as long as a week.

On the fateful day, the deceased had returned to Burhanpur from Indore at 7.30 pm. He met with an accidental death while he was coming down the roof the bus after having his meal at about 8.30 pm.

The short question for consideration before the Supreme Court was whether the death occurred during the course of, and arising out of the employment.

The appellants who are legal heirs of the deceased, contended that the nature of the duty performed by the deceased required him to be with the bus twenty-four hours failing which the employer’s requirement could not be fulfilled. The presence of the deceased on the bus was by way of compulsion and not by choice.

Merely because the accident took place while the deceased was coming down from the roof of the bus after having his meal cannot be sufficient to hold that the death did not arise out of the employment.

On the other hand, counsel for the Respondent contended that the duty of the deceased got over at 7:30 pm. He is stated to have fallen off the bus after duty hours at 8:30 pm. Hence, the deceased cannot be said to have died in the course of and arising out of the employment since he was on the roof of the bus eating his meal by choice.

The Court noted at the outset that the Act is a welfare legislation and has to be interpreted in the facts of each case and the evidence available.

In the instant case, the Court concluded that the deceased was present at the bus terminal and remained with the bus even after arrival from Indore not by choice, but by compulsion and necessity, because of the nature of his duties. The route timings of the bus required the deceased to be readily available with the bus so that the passenger service being provided by respondent remained efficient and was not affected.

If the deceased would have gone home every day after parking the bus and returned the next morning, the efficiency of the timing of the bus service facility to the travelling public would definitely have been affected as it would be dependent on the arrival of the deceased at the bus stand from his house. Naturally, that would bring an element of uncertainty in the departure schedule of the bus and efficiency of the service to the travelling public could be compromised, the Court ruled.

Hence, the Court concluded that merely because the deceased was coming down the roof of the bus after having his meal, cannot be considered in isolation and interpreted myopically to hold that he was off duty and therefore would not be entitled to compensation.

The Court, therefore, applied the doctrine of notional extension of employment which had been considered in General Manager, B.E.S.T. Undertaking, Bombay vs. Mrs. Agnes [(1964) 3 SCR 930]

Based on the above, it ruled that the deceased is entitled to compensation under the Act.