State can’t claim sovereign immunity in Motor Accident situations-Says Delhi Higher Court

The already devastated legal heirs of deceased victim of the automobile accident involving government car now, no longer have to run from pillar to post to get compensation which is denied to them on the ground of government car engaged in so named sovereign duty and therefore claim sovereign immunity which is an archaic idea. No civilized nation in this world which claims itself to be founded on the notions of the welfare state, shun its liability towards accident victims and their legal heirs involving its personal car on the ground they have been undertaking a government duty, therefore, entitled to act in any manner as it is sovereign. No legal system right now can place the State above law as it is unjust and unfair for a citizen to be deprived of his life or property illegally by negligent act of workers or officers of the State without any remedy. The Government and its functionary have trend to deny their liability towards the poor victim or the legal heir victim of state negligent act by raising the plea of the sovereign immunity, displaying their apathy towards the victims which reflects the medieval mindset borrowed from the British Raj.

The Motor Accident Claims Tribunal awarded the compensation to the poor widowed lady whose husband died in an accident cause by the Air Force Vehicle. The Air force filed an appeal in the Higher Court that it is not liable to pay compensation as its automobile was exercising a sovereign function, an oft repeated plea taken by a variety of departments of governments to shun their liability towards the accident victim. Advocate Neeraj Aarora took the noble cause to fight for justice for the poor lady pro bono and represented the poor lady in the Delhi Higher Court against the irresponsible behavior of the Air Force. Advocate Neeraj Aarora argued at length the dichotomy between sovereign and non-sovereign functions citing leading judgments of Apex Court and various Higher Courts which shows that the doctrine of sovereign immunity has no application so far as claims for compensation beneath the Motor Autos Act is concerned.

The Hon’ble Mr. Justice J.R. Middha, taking the note of the critical constitutional problem that regardless of whether the “Doctrine of Sovereign Immunity” is offered to defeat the claim for compensation beneath the Motor Cars Act, 1988 appointed Amicus Curie and also requested the Additional Solicitor General to assist the case. The legal luminaries submitted that the Motor Vehicle Act, 1988 was a particular law and no exception had been carved out in the statute in respect of use of government automobile for defense purposes. It was also submitted that the doctrine of sovereign immunity had no place in Indian Jurisprudence citing the judgment of the Hon’ble Apex Court in State of Rajasthan Vs. Vidyawati, AIR 1962 SC 933. The said principle has been reiterated by the Supreme Court in a massive number of decisions and in 1 of the decisions the idea was described as ‘Old and Archaic”. In addition to the judgments of the Supreme Court, there are a substantial quantity of judgments of various High Courts which have rejected the plea of sovereign immunity. The doctrine of sovereign immunity is based on the supremacy of the monarchy of the England. In India, which is a parliamentary democracy governed by the Constitution, there is no equivalent to monarch.

The Hon’ble Mr. Justice J.R. Middha took note of the contentions raised against the illogical principles of sovereign immunity reflecting the apathy of the state towards the poor victims of the accident involving government vehicles and rightly observed that it did not behoove the State to take cover beneath the principle of sovereign immunity only to shun liability for the consequences of the negligence of its servants. Nevertheless, prior to passing any final verdict on the issue, the Hon’ble Mr. Justice J.R. Middha thinking about the adverse implications of the government raising the plea of sovereign immunity in claims under the Motor Autos Act, 1988 in spite of clear and well settled law by the Hon’ble Supreme Court issued the path to the Ld. Attorney Common searching for its opinion as to in how numerous instances, the state has taken or raised the plea of “sovereign immunity” in pending motor accident claim cases in numerous courts and tribunals and also directed the Attorney General to contemplate the possibility of issuance of a circular/Government of India directive in respect of all pending motor accident claim situations as properly as cases that might arise in future.

The aforesaid directions of the Hon’ble Mr. Justice J.R. Middha are judicious, well thought-out, extremely commendable as it seeks out to curb the government apathy and irresponsible behavior in motor accident cases after and for all not only in present pending circumstances but also the related instances which could arise in future by means of the country.

The Ld. Solicitor Basic Mr. Gopal Subramaniam in his communiqué dated 19th May, 2010 addressed to the Hon’ble Higher Court of Delhi opined that taking into account correct legal position as enumerated above, a clear workplace memorandum should be issued to the effect that the defence of sovereign immunity not be pleaded by Department of Government in situations involving compensation arising out of motor automobile accidents involving the use of Government autos on Government duty and advised the Ministry of Law &amp Justice to problem the said memorandum.

Hence, the aforesaid path of the Hon’ble Justice Mr. J.R. Middha has paved a new foundation for justice and corrected a grave constitutional error in form of doctrine of sovereign immunity which can now no far more be pressed as defence by the government departments to shun their liability towards its poor subjects.

Neeraj Aarora