Mughal-era law still governs road accident relief: SC
Yes, under a law that was enacted when the last Mughal Emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar, was the titular head of the throne at Delhi. Taking note of this, the Supreme Court has asked the Centre to immediately commence work to draft a new law to replace the archaic legislation. It expressed serious concern over the extreme inadequacies in the law governing suits for damage filed by relatives to claim compensation for death due to rash and negligent act, including drunken driving cases.
It rapped the government for not taking note of a 20-year-old apex court judgment recommending drastic change in the 1855 law or a new legislation to meet the present day challenges. A bench of Justices Aftab Alam and R M Lodha said: “We are constrained to observe that a suit for damages for a murder of a person, like the present one, is filed under Fatal Accidents Act, 1855. As the year of enactment shows, the Act dates back to the period when the greater part of the country was under the control of East India Company with the last Mughal ‘Emperor’, Bahadur Shah Zafar, as the ineffective, though titular monarch on the throne at Delhi.”
The Act was enacted to provide compensation to families for loss occasioned by the death of a person caused by actionable wrong. “It is a matter of grave concern that such sensitive matters like payment of compensation and damages for death resulting from a wrongful or negligent act are governed by a law which is more than one and a half centuries old,” said Justice Alam, who wrote the judgment for the bench.
With anguish it remembered that a constitution bench of the Supreme Court in a 1990 judgment had said: “The Fatal Accidents Act, on account of its limited and restrictive application, is hardly suited to meet such challenge. We are, therefore, of the opinion that the old antiquated Act should be drastically amended or fresh legislation should be enacted which should contain appropriate provisions” for various exigencies. Justice Alam said: “It is unfortunate that the observations of the Supreme Court have so far gone completely unheeded. We hope and trust that the Union government would at least now take note of the urgent need to bring a contemporaneous and comprehensive legislation on the subject and proceed to act in the matter without further delay.”
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