Sunday, 2 October 2022

Supreme Court: Income Tax Returns And Audit Reports Are Reliable Evidence To Determine Income Of Deceased in motor accident claim petition

  In contrast, the High Court set aside the same on the ground

that the income earned was out of capital assets and cannot be said to

have been earned out of personal skills of the deceased. It

consequently went on to determine the income of the Deceased on a

notional basis as per his educational qualification. Unfortunately,

such an approach, in our opinion, is erroneous in view of the

decisions of this court in Amrit Bhanu Shali v National Insurance

Co. Ltd.10 and Kalpanaraj v Tamil Nadu State Transport Corpn.11

wherein this court has held that documents such as income tax

returns and audit reports are reliable evidence to determine the

income of the deceased. Hence, we are obliged to modify the

compensation, especially when neither any additional evidence has been produced to showcase that the income of the Deceased was contrary to the amount mentioned in the audit reports nor it is the stand taken by the Insurance Company that the said reports inflated the income. {Para 14}

REPORTABLE

IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION

CIVIL APPEAL NO.7046 OF 2022

K. Ramya & Ors. Vs National Insurance Co. Ltd. & Anr.

Author: Surya Kant, J.

1. Leave Granted.

2. The present appeal is directed against the judgment dated

30.06.2017 passed by the High Court of Judicature at Madras,

Madurai Bench whereby the appeal preferred by the National

Insurance Co. Ltd. (Respondent No.1; hereinafter, “Insurance

Company”) against the award dated 06.10.2012 passed by Motor

Vehicle Accident Claims Tribunal, Tiruchirappalli (hereinafter,

“Tribunal”) was allowed and the compensation granted to Apellants

was reduced from Rs. 4,29,37,700/to

Rs. 57,90,000/along

with

requisite interest. The factual matrix is succinctly discussed below

before delving into the issue of law regarding determination of

quantum of compensation which requires adjudication before us.


A. FACTS

3. S. Kumareshan (hereinafter, “Deceased”) was a resident of

Tiruchirappalli, Tamil Nadu. On the fateful day, at about 4 PM in the

evening, he was travelling alone in a Lancer Car bearing Registration

No. TN 45 S 9199 and met with an unfortunate accident with an

Ambassador Car bearing Registration No. TN 59 E 9288 along the

stretch of road between Sethathupatti and Soriampattti. The collision

was so powerful that the drivers of both vehicles passed away before

any medical assistance could reach them. The sole survivors of the

collision were occupants of the Ambassador Car, who miraculously

escaped death but were saddled with multiple injuries.

4. The Deceased was aged above 31 years at the time of death and

was an income tax assessee. He was a businessman who held diverse

interests in arenas such as jewellery, textiles, exports and transport.

Furthermore, he also drew income from his agricultural lands and

leased out real estate. At the time of his demise, he left behind a

widow, two minor children and parents who were stated to be

dependent on him. It is to be noted that among these dependents, the

father of the Deceased passed away during the proceedings before the

High Court.

5. The Deceased’s dependents filed a claim petition for Rs.

7,00,00,000/in

August 2004, alleging, inter alia, that he died as a

result of the injuries suffered in the abovementioned accident of

10.06.2004, which occurred due to the rash and negligent driving of

the Ambassador Car which the Insurance Company had insured.

Before the Tribunal, the Insurance Company took the stance that the

Deceased was the one who was responsible for the accident and that

the compensation sought by the Deceased was exorbitant. It is worth

noting that the injured occupants of the Ambassador Car who

survived the crash also filed their respective claim petitions.

6. In reaching its verdict, the Tribunal relied upon the statements

of the abovementioned injured occupants to conclude that it was the

driver of the Ambassador Car who was solely responsible for the crash

and therefore assigned liability for the accident to him, which

ultimately was to be borne by the Insurance Company. As a result, the

claim petition of the Deceased’s dependents was allowed partly, and

compensation of Rs 4,29,37,700/was

granted along with interest at

the rate of 7.5% per annum. The Tribunal relied on the Deceased’s

income tax returns and other financial documents, which were

supported by the testimonies of the chartered accountant, auditor,

and wife of the deceased (Appellant No. 1).


7. The aggrieved Insurance Company filed its appeal which was

decided through the impugned judgement dated 30.06.2017. The High

Court although being in total agreement with the Tribunal’s reasoning

in finding that the Ambassador Car driver was solely liable for the

accident, disagreed with the approach of the Tribunal in respect to the

computation of compensation, primarily under the head of ‘loss of

income’. It emphasized that the Deceased before his death had

transferred his interest in some of the partnership firms in favour of

his minor children. Furthermore, it highlighted that almost all of the

Deceased’s income consisted of returns he received on his capital

assests. Even after his death, the same assets were transferred to his

legal heirs who continued to enjoy the benefits derived from them. The

impugned judgement’s reasoning was hinged on the premise that

income derived from capital assets cannot be said to be income earned

out of the Deceased’s personal skills as there was no real contribution

by him. Consequently, the High Court concluded that the Deceased’s

dependants suffered no loss of income and instead computed the

compensation by fixing his salary at Rs 25,000/per

month on a

notional basis as per his educational qualification. Furthermore, it

also made minor alterations under other conventional heads and

accordingly, the compensation was reduced to Rs 57,90,000/along

with interest of 7.5% per annum.


B. CONTENTIONS

8. We have heard the learned counsel for parties and perused the

documents produced on record. It must be noted that Learned

counsels for both sides have not disputed the finding concerning the

Insurance Company’s liability to pay the compensation. The only

limited question that remains disputed before us in the present

proceedings pertains to concerning the quantum of compensation that

is to be granted to the Appellants.

9. Mr. K. Radhakrishnan, learned senior counsel for the Appellants

contended that – Firstly, High Court via impugned decision has erred

by computing the compensation on the basis of notional income

despite the fact that the Appellants adduced specific evidence to

ascertain the income earned by Deceased. He strongly asserted that

the Tribunal rightly relied on the income tax returns and the audit

reports of the Deceased to compute the amount under the head of

‘loss of income’ and stated that relevant testimonies supported the

same; Secondly, he contended that the Deceased was actively involved

in running multiple businesses and even undertook specialized

courses to achieve success. Hence, the High Court has unjustly

concluded that the Deceased has earned no income from his personal

skills; Thirdly, it is argued that the only deduction allowed while

computing an individual’s income is the tax payable by him in terms


of the decision of the Constitution Bench in National Insurance Co.

Ltd. v Pranay Sethi.1; Finally, he contended that the computation of

compensation under Section 168 of Motor Vehicles Act, 1988

(hereinafter, “The Act”) must be ‘just’ and the same must corelate

to

the standard of ‘fairness, reasonableness and equitability’ as per the

decision in Pranay Sethi.2

10. On the contrary, learned counsel for the Insurance Company

argued that High Court has rightly reduced the compensation in view

of the fact that the income tax returns and the audit reports highlight

that the Deceased’s income essentially constituted of returns from his

capital assets which have been duly bequeathed to the Deceased’s

dependents. It was argued that loss of income must be equivalent to

only that portion which corresponds to the skill of the deceased, as a

consequence of which there has been no loss of income to the

Appellants in the present case. High Court has rightly taken notional

income as the basis of determination of compensation under the head

of ‘loss of income’. The learned counsel has placed substantial reliance

on the decision of this court in Rani Gupta v United India

Insurance Limited3 to advance the argument that in the case of

accidental death of people in business, the genuine determination for

1 National Insurance Co. Ltd. v Pranay Sethi (2017) 16 SCC 680, para 59.3.

2 ibid, para 55.

3 Rani Gupta v United India Insurance Limited (2009) 13 SCC 498, para 24.


loss of income depends on ascertaining the Deceased’s contribution in

running the business and the same is a factual enquiry which varies

on the facts and circumstances of each case.

C. ANALYSIS

C.1 DETERMINATION OF ‘JUST’ COMPENSATION UNDER A SOCIAL WELFARE

STATUTE

11. At the outset, it is pertinent to reiterate the concept of ‘just’

compensation under Section 168 of the Act. It is a settled proposition,

now through a catena of decisions4 including the one rendered by the

Constitution Bench in Pranay Sethi5 that compensation must be fair,

reasonable and equitable. Further, the determination of quantum is a

factdependent

exercise which must be liberal and not parsimonious.

It must be emphasized that compensation is a more comprehensive

form of pecuniary relief which involves a broadbased

approach unlike

damages as noted by this court in Yadava Kumar v Divisional

Manager, National Insurance Co. Ltd6. The discussion in the

abovementioned cases highlights that Tribunals under the Act have

4 Helen C. Rebello v Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation (1999) 1 SCC

90; United India Insurance Co. Ltd. v Patricia Jean Mahajan (2002) 6 SCC 281; New

India Assurance Co. Ltd. v Charlie (2005) 10 SCC 720; National Insurance Co. Ltd. v

Indira Srivastava (2008) 2 SCC 763.

5 Pranay Sethi (n 1), para 55.

6 Yadava Kumar v Divisional Manager, National Insurance Co. Ltd. (2010) 10 SCC

341, para 17.


been granted reasonable flexibility in determining ‘just’ compensation

and are not bound by any rigid arithmetic rules or strict evidentiary

standards to compute loss unlike in the case of damages. Hence, any

interference by the Appellate Courts should ordinarily be allowed only

when the compensation is ‘exorbitant’ or ‘arbitrary’.

12. Furthermore, Motor Vehicles Act of 1988 is a beneficial and

welfare legislation7 that seeks to provide compensation as per the

contemporaneous position of an individual which is essentially

forwardlooking.

8 Unlike tortious liability, which is chiefly concerned

with making up for the past and reinstating a claimant to his original

position, the compensation under the Act is concerned with providing

stability and continuity in peoples’ lives in the future.9 Keeping the

abovementioned principles in the backdrop, we now move on to the

facts at hand.

C.2 RELIABILITY ON INCOME TAX RETURNS AND AUDIT REPORTS TO

DETERMINE ‘LOSS OF INCOME’

13. The Deceased in the present case was a businessman and

during the proceedings before the Tribunal, the Appellants produced

the relevant income tax returns, audit reports and other relevant

7 Ningamma v United India Insurance Co. Ltd. (2009) 13 SCC 710, para 34.

8 Peter Cane, Atiyah’s Accidents, Compensation and the Law (7th edn, Cambridge

University Press 2006) 411412.

9 ibid.

documents pertaining to the commercial ventures of the Deceased to

prove the loss of income attributable on account of his sudden demise.

The Tribunal relied on the same and computed the income by taking

an average of the income recorded in three prior financial years (FY

20002001,

FY 20012002

and FY 20022003)

to determine the

compensation under the head of ‘loss of income’.

14. In contrast, the High Court set aside the same on the ground

that the income earned was out of capital assets and cannot be said to

have been earned out of personal skills of the deceased. It

consequently went on to determine the income of the Deceased on a

notional basis as per his educational qualification. Unfortunately,

such an approach, in our opinion, is erroneous in view of the

decisions of this court in Amrit Bhanu Shali v National Insurance

Co. Ltd.10 and Kalpanaraj v Tamil Nadu State Transport Corpn.11

wherein this court has held that documents such as income tax

returns and audit reports are reliable evidence to determine the

income of the deceased. Hence, we are obliged to modify the

compensation, especially when neither any additional evidence has

been produced to showcase that the income of the Deceased was

contrary to the amount mentioned in the audit reports nor it is the

10 Amrit Bhanu Shali v National Insurance Co. Ltd. (2012) 11 SCC 738, para 17.

11 Kalpanaraj v Tamil Nadu State Transport Corpn. (2015) 2 SCC 764, para 8.


stand taken by the Insurance Company that the said reports inflated

the income.

15. At this stage, to facilitate our analysis, it would be pertinent to

divide the income as mentioned in the audit reports into two parts –

(a) Income from Business Ventures and other Investments and (b)

Income from House Property and Agricultural Land. It should be

emphasized that these audit reports only showcase amounts which

specifically stem from the shares and interest held by the Deceased in

the businesses and it is not a case wherein the entire turnover of

businesses are depicted as Deceased’s income. Moreover, it deserves

to be clarified that the income under the abovementioned two parts

have been computed at gross value as per the audit reports and

includes the deductions such as interest paid on loans and expenses

incurred by the deceased.

C.2.1 – Treatment of Income from Business Ventures and other

Investments

16. As per the audit report and other documents, the income under

this part was attributable to the amounts earned from the deceased’s

multiple business ventures, which included the partnership firms and

other investments such as shares and bank interests. On perusal of

the documents on record, it is to be noticed that almost all business

ventures were the result of the initiatives taken by the Deceased, and

he was actively involved in the daytoday

management of these

entities. In fact, the testimony of the Deceased’s wife points out that

the Appellants had to sell the buses which were utilized in the

transport business because they were not able to take care of the

vehicles on account of the demise of the Deceased and even the export

business was shut down due to the same reason.

17. The mere fact that the Deceased’s share of ownership in these

businesses ventures was transferred to the Deceased’s minor children

just before his death or to the dependents after his death is not a

sufficient justification to conclude that the benefits of these

businesses continue to accrue to his dependents. On the contrary, it

has come on record that the Deceased was actively involved in the

daytoday

administration of these businesses from their stage of

infancy, had undergone specialized training to administer his business

and that the audit reports neatly delineate Deceased’s share of income

from the businesses. These facts necessitate that the entire amount

from the business ventures is treated as income. Similarly, the

amount earned from the bank interests and remaining investments

must also be included as income.

18. The Appellants have produced audit reports for the last four

financial years which highlight the amounts under ‘Income from

Business Ventures and other Investments’ which is as per follows – (i)

for FY 20002001

is Rs. 8,95,812/(

ii) for FY 20012002

is Rs.

10,31,091/(

iii) for FY 20022003

is Rs. 14,65,060/and

(iv) for FY

20032004

is Rs. 9,79,099/.

The average of these amounts comes up

to Rs. 10,92,765.50/,

which is rounded off to Rs 10,93,000/and

the

same is awarded to the Appellants as loss of income derived under

‘Income from Business Ventures and other Investments’.

C.2.2 – Treatment of Income from House Property and Agricultural Land

19. As per the audit reports, the Deceased used to draw all his rental

income from the share he held in a commercial building known as

‘Lakshmi Complex’ and the remaining income was from his

agricultural lands, which have been bequeathed to his legal heirs on

his death. The audit reports indicate the amounts under the ‘Income

from House Property and Agricultural Land’ as per follows – (i) for FY

20002001

is Rs. 6,90,396/(

ii) for FY 20012002

is Rs. 6,47,127/(

iii) for FY 20022003

is Rs. 6,14,329/and

(iv) for FY 20032004

is

Rs. 4,78,240/.

The average of these amounts comes up to Rs.

6,07,523/.

20. At this juncture, we must note the decision in Shashikala v

Gangalakshmamma12 whereby this court deducted the entire

amount earned as income from house property while determining the

compensation under the Act. The decision in Shashikala13 was a split

decision because of disagreement between the bench on whether

future prospects are to be considered for awarding compensation

when the deceased is a selfemployed

person. Accordingly, the matter

was tagged and heard along with Pranay Sethi14 , wherein this court

had conclusively decided the abovementioned issue regarding future

prospects. After that, the matter was remitted back to a threejudge

bench for redetermination of compensation, wherein this court again

deducted the entire amount earned as income from house property.15

21. Now, the sole issue which remains before this court is whether

the entire amount under ‘Income from House Property and

Agricultural Land’ should be deducted or not. In this respect, we are

guided by the observations of this court in State of Haryana v

Jasbir Kaur16 wherein it was noted that –

8. xxxx

12 Shashikala v Gangalakshmamma (2015) 9 SCC 150.

13 ibid.

14 Pranay Sethi (n 1).

15 Shashikala v Gangalakshmamma (Civil Appeal No 2836 of 2015, 14 February

2019).

16 State of Haryana v Jasbir Kaur (2003) 7 SCC 484.

The land possessed by the deceased still remains with his

legal heirs. There is however a possibility that the claimants

may be required to engage persons to look after agriculture.

Therefore, the normal rule about the deprivation of income

is not strictly applicable to cases where agricultural income

is the source. Attendant circumstances have to be

considered.

(Emphasis Applied)

In our opinion, the abovementioned observations, though made in the

context of agricultural land, would also be applicable to rent received

from leased out properties as the loss of dependency arises mainly out

of loss of management capacity or efficiency. As a rule of prudence,

computation of any individual’s managerial skills should lie between

10 to 15 per cent of the total rental income but the acceptable range

can be increased in light of specific circumstances. The appropriate

approach, therefore, is to determine the value of managerial skills

along with any other factual considerations.

22. In the instant case, documents produced on record indicate two

salient aspects with respect to ‘Lakshmi Complex’, which was the sole

source of rental income for the deceased. The partition deed related to

the land on which the commercial building is situated, highlights that

the building was constructed on account of the joint investment made

by the Deceased and his partners. Furthermore, as per the rental

records, ‘Lakshmi Complex’ was leased out to more than ten different


commercial entities. Hence, keeping in mind that – first, the rental

amount which is sought to be deducted partakes the character of

investment; and second, that the managerial skills required for

supervising the said building would require sophisticated contract

management skills and goodwill among the business community, it is

necessary that we determine the value of managerial skills of the

Deceased on the higher side.

23. Accordingly, we deem it appropriate to award Rs 2,50,000/as

the amount for the Deceased’s managerial skills. It is clarified that the

said amount would also include the amount for the managerial skills

in respect of the Deceased’s agricultural lands. It is further clarified

that the remaining amount which has been deducted by us includes

the tax which has to be deducted in terms of the decision in Pranay

Sethi17.

D. CONCLUSION

24. In light of the above discussion, income of the Deceased is

computed by adding the amount awarded under the two parts ( Rs

10,93,000/+

Rs 2,50,000/),

which comes to Rs 13,43,000/.

In

terms of Pranay Sethi18, forty per cent of the income has to be added

towards future prospects, which would come to Rs 18,80,200/.

After

17 Pranay Sethi (n 1), para 59.3.

18 Pranay Sethi (n 1), para 59.3.


deducting onefourth

towards personal expenses as per Sarla

Verma19, the net amount comes to Rs 14,10,150/per

annum.

Applying the multiplier of 16, the total loss of dependency on account

of the Deceased’s income is calculated at Rs 2,25,62,400/.

We further

grant compensation under the remaining conventional heads as per

the decisions in Pranay Sethi20 and Satinder Kaur21.

25. Hence, the compensation is determined as per follows Head

Amount

1. Loss of Income = [(Income + Future

Prospects computed at 40%) – 1/4th

Deduction for Personal Expense] x

Multiplier

Rs 2,25,62,400/2.

Funeral Expenses Rs 15,000/3.

Loss of Estate Rs 15,000/4.

Loss of Spousal Consortium Rs 40,000/5.

Loss of Parental Consortium (Rs 40,000 x 2) =

Rs 80,000/Total

compensation (1+2+3+4+5) Rs 2,27,12,400/26.

We also direct that the interest at the rate of 7.5% per annum

shall be payable on the aforesaid amount from the date of filing the

claim petition till the date of realization. The enhanced amount shall

be paid to the claimants within three months from today. Needless to

19 Sarla Verma v DTC (2009) 6 SCC 121.

20 Pranay Sethi (n 1), para 59.8.

21 United Insurance Company Ltd. v Satinder Kaur (2021) 11 SCC 780, para(s) 3337.

say, that the amount already paid or deposited shall be adjusted while

depositing the enhanced compensation awarded by this court.

27. Hence, the judgment under appeal of the High Court is set aside

and the Appellants are held entitled to enhanced compensation as

determined above.

28. The appeal stands disposed of along with any pending

applications in above terms.

………..………………… J.

(SURYA KANT)

…………………………...J.

(V. RAMASUBRAMANIAN)

NEW DELHI

DATED: 30.09.2022


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