10 Feb 2121

The Courts are not empowered to import words into the definitions under the Statutes, which the legislature chose not to - Supreme Court of India

Case : Nawal kishore Sharma v. Union of India and Ors. Civil Appeal No.150 of 2021

Court : Supreme Court of India

Bench : Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Dinesh Maheshwari and Hrishikesh Roy

Decided on : 10 Feb 2121

Relevant Statutes

Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016

Sections 2 and 47 of the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995

Brief Facts and Procedural History

1. The appellant was registered in the Shipping Corporation of India’s offshore fleet service but he was released at his request with effect from 19.08.1996 and transferred to the Shipping Corporation of India’s foreign going seaman’s roster, with fresh registration. Those in the seaman’s roster category are engaged on contract, specific for the sea-going vessel. The appellant joined as a crew on the foreign going vessel on 18.09.2009 and he was discharged on 18.06.2010 with the declaration of being permanently unfit for sea service, due to Dilated Cardiomyopathy.

2. The appellant claimed disability compensation under clause 21 of the National Maritime Board Agreement.

3. Shipping Corporation of India rejected the appellant’s claim by order as according to the Shipping Corporation of India the appellant's case was not of accidental injury during duty on the vessel and therefore, only severance compensation was payable to the appellant. This was because the Seaman was capable of performing other kinds of jobs and his day-to-day normal work is not affected.

4. The High Court of Judicature at Patna endorsed the order of the Shipping Corporation of India. The aggrieved appellant challenged this judgment before the Supreme Court.

Issue of the Case

Whether the term “injury”, should be construed as anything which diminishes the health status of a seaman?

The Observations of the Court

The Honourable Supreme Court observed that:

1. The High Court while considering the challenge to the Shipping Corporation of India’s rejection order appreciated that reduced blood pumping capacity of the heart could be one of the occupational diseases of the seafarer; the disability compensation is not merited unless 100% incapacity is found in course of employment on the vessel. However, there was nothing to show that the appellant was not fit for another job of general nature. The High Court interpreted both Clause 21 and Clause 25 and found that the appellant’s case did not fall in the category of Clause 21 since there was no impediment in his performance of normal day-to-day affairs. Only severance compensation under Clause 25 is payable for the seaman. The High Court, therefore, found no basis to overturn the Shipping Corporation of India’s rejection of the claim for Disability compensation.

2. The National Maritime Board Agreement which governs the parties, is the outcome of collective bargaining between the Indian Ship Owners Association and the Seafarers’ Union, governing the terms and conditions of a seaman. 100% compensation is payable to a seaman under Clause 5.9. F (ii) in a situation where a seaman is found medically unfit for sea service, as a result of injury, while in employment.

3. If “injury” is construed as anything which diminishes the health status of a seaman, such broad interpretation in the context of the specific expression in the agreement would efface the intent of the agreement between the parties. Merely because of the beneficial objective, the clear expression in the agreement must not be ignored to give another meaning which could not have been the intention or the understanding, of the contracting parties to relate the medical condition of the appellant as having a causal connection with his sea voyage engagement.

4. No material was produced to correlate the appellant’s impaired heart function with the 9-month engagement in the ship. In the absence of any connecting link between the job and the medical condition of Dilated Cardiomyopathy, the disability compensation was not merited.

5. Section 2(i) of the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995 takes into account visual disability, locomotor disability, mental illness, mental retardation, hearing impairment, and leprosy. A heart ailment is not covered within the definition of disability in the said Act and the Court hesitated to import words, which the legislature chose not to, in their definition of disability. When the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995 was replaced by the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, “a person with disabilities” was defined under Section 2(s) as a person with long term physical, mental, intellectual, or sensory impairment that prevents his full and effective participation in society. Section 2(zc) defines, “specified disability” is attributed to “physical disability”, “intellectual disability”, and “mental behaviour”.

6. The dilated Cardiomyopathy condition of the appellant was neither a specified disability nor was relatable to the broad spectrum of impairments, which hindered his full and effective participation in society. Therefore, the High Court was correct in concluding that Dilated Cardiomyopathy condition would not facilitate any benefit to the appellant under Section 47 of the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995.

The Decision Held by the Court

The Honourable Supreme Court dismissed the appeal for being devoid of merit.

Click here to view/download the judgement >