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Nawal Kishore Sharma Vs Union of India & Others - 2021 - SC - Heart Ailment is Not a Legal Disability

R.S.Agrawal ,
  13 April 2021       Share Bookmark

Court :
Supreme Court of India
Brief :
In the judgment of the case- Nawal Kishore Sharma v. Union of India & Others, delivered on February 10, 2021, a 3-judge bench of the Supreme Court, consisting of Justices, Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Dinesh Maheshwari and Hrishikesh Roy have held that a heart ailment is not covered within the definition of "disability" in the Right of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 and the Court would hesitate to import words, which the legislature chose not to, in their definition of 'disability'.
Citation :
Nawal Kishore Sharma v. Union of India & Others, delivered on February 10, 2021,

In the judgment of the case- Nawal Kishore Sharma v. Union of India & Others, delivered on February 10, 2021, a 3-judge bench of the Supreme Court, consisting of Justices, Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Dinesh Maheshwari and Hrishikesh Roy have held that a heart ailment is not covered within the definition of "disability" in the Right of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 and the Court would hesitate to import words, which the legislature chose not to, in their definition of 'disability'.

The Court has stated further, that When the 1995 Act 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 which prevent his full and effective participation in society.

Section 2 ( zc ) defines, "specific disability" as those mentioned in the Schedule to the 2016 Act.In the said Schedule, "physical disability", intellectual disability", "mental behaviour", are specified.

The dilated cardiomyopathy condition of the appellant is neither a specified disability nor is the same relatable to the broad spectrum of impairments, which hinders his full and effective participation in society. Therefore, the Court has voiced its considered opinion that Dilated Cardiomyopathy condition of the appellant does not bring his case within the ambit of neither the 1995 Act or of the 2016 Act. The Patna High Court, therefore, was correct in concluding that Dilated Cardiomyopathy condition would not facilitate any benefit to the appellant under section 47 of the Disability Act.

In this case, the appellant has challenged the judgment of the Patna High Court, delivered on March 26, 2019, where under the HC had rejected the seaman’s claim for disability compensation under Clause21of the National Maritime Board Agreement and thereby affirmed the order passed on October 7, 2011 by the Shipping Corporation of India (SCI) , according to which, the appellant’s case was not a case of accidental injury during duty on the vessel and therefore, only severance compensation is payable to the appellant. This is because the seaman is capable of performing other kinds of job and his day-to-day normal work is not affected.

The appellant joined as a crew on the foreign going vessel on September 18, 2009 and he was discharged on June 18, 2010 with the declaration of being permanently unfit for sea service due to Dilated Cardiomyopathy. The HC while considering the challenge to the SCI’s rejection order, took into account the literature relied upon by the appellant. The Judge, while appreciating that reduced blood pumping capacity of heart could be one of the occupational diseases of the seafarer, held that the disability compensation is not merited unless 100% incapacity is found in course of employment on the vessel. Here however, there is nothing to show that the seaman was not fit for another job of general nature.

The HC interpreted both Clauses 21 and 25 and found that the appellant’s case does not fall in the category of Clause 21 since there is no impediment in his performance of normal day to day affairs. In other words, the seafaring work may not be feasible but the person is capable of discharging duty of another job of general nature. The HC, therefore, found no basis to overturn the SCI’s rejection of the claim for disability compensation.

Cent percent 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. But it is not the case of either side that the appellant has suffered any accidental injury in course of his engagement in the sea vessel. The question then is, whether the term "injury", should be construed in the manner suggested by the appellant’s counsel as anything which diminishes the health status of a seaman. Such broad interpretation in the context of the specific expression in the agreement, would in our view, 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 secure coverage of Clause 5.9.F (ii), the incapacity must relate to injury being suffered whilst in employment. In this case, the appellant never claimed to have suffered any injury during his ship duty. Moreover, the impaired heart function cannot reasonably be attributed to his nine month engagement. In such circumstances, , although the seaman commenced his engagement with a fitness certificate, it would be unreasonable, in the SC’s view , to relate medical condition of the appellant as having causal connection with his sea voyage engagement.

The SC has noted that in the present case no material is 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, in the Court’s opinion, the disability compensation is not merited.

The Clause 21 applies to a case of total disability, but this is not a case of 100% disablement. In other words, the Dilated Cardiomyopathy may prevent the man from performing sea service but the same will not be an impediment for him to perform other jobs. With this interpretation, the HC has held that only severance compensation under Clause 25 is payable for the seaman. In the opinion of the SC, it sees no reason to reach any other conclusion on the implication of Clause 21 and Clause 25, for the appellant.

While dealing with the appellant’s argument that his heart ailment should be understood as a disability under the Disability Act and consequential benefits be granted to him. Section 2 ( i ) of the Act 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’ given in the Act.

In the result, the Supreme Court has dismissed the appeal and upheld the High Court’s judgment.

 
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Published in Labour & Service Law
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