S.N. Phukan, C.J.
1. By this common judgment and order, we propose to dispose of the following appeals, as the point involved in these appeals is the same:
1. FAO (MVA) No. 41 of 1992 (Sadh Ram v. State of H.P. and Anr.).
2. FAO (MVA) No, 302 of 1992 (Kanta Jain and Ors. v. The Chairman-cum-Managing Director and Ors.).
3. FAO (MVA) No. 65 of 1993 (Moti Lal v. General Manager and Ors.)
2. The accident took place before coming into force of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, but the claim petitions were filed after coming into force of the said Act. As there was delay in filing the claim petitions, an application was filed for condonation of delay of the period of limitation. By the impugned orders, the Motor Accident Claims Tribunal relying on un-amended Sub-section (3) of Section 166 of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 (hereinafter referred to as the 'Act of 1988') refused to condone the delay, as the claim petitions were filed beyond the period of 12 months, as contained in the said sub-section. Hence, the present appeals.
3. During the pendency of the appeals, the Motor Vehicles Act (Amendment) Act, 1994 (hereinafter referred to as the 'Act of 1994') came into force and as by this Act, Section 166 was amended omitting Sub-section (3) of Section 166 of the Act of 1988 and thereby fixing no period of limitation for filing a claim petition. The only question that needs our decision is whether the claim petition filed before coming into force of the Act of 1994 will be governed by the Act of 1988 or by the Motor Vehicles Act, 1939 (hereinafter referred to as the 'Act of 1939'), as the accident took place when this Act of 1939 was in force.
4. To appreciate the contention raised before us at the Bar, it is necessary to quote the relevant sections of the Acts of 1939, 1988 and 1994 and also the statement of Objects and Reasons of the Act of 1994.
Sub-section (3) of Section 110-A of the Act of 1939 runs as follows:
(3) No application for such compensation shall be entertained unless it is made within six months of the occurrence of the accident:
Provided that the Claims Tribunal may entertain the application after the expiry of the said period of six months if it is satisfied that the applicant was prevented by sufficient cause from making the application in time.
Sub-section (3) of Section 166 of the Act of 1988, which is corresponding to Section 110-A(3) of the Act of 1939 runs as follows:
(3) No application for such compensation shall be entertained unless it is made within six months of the occurrence of the accident:
Provided that the Claims Tribunal may entertain the application after the expiry of the said period of six months but not later than twelve months, if it is satisfied that the applicant was prevented by sufficient cause from making the application in time.
Section 53 of the Act of 1994 runs as follows:
53. Amendment of Section 166.-In Section 166 of the principal Act-
(a) for Sub-section (2), the following sub-section and proviso shall be substituted, namely:
(2) Every application under Sub-section (1) shall be made, at the option of the claimant, either to the Claims Tribunal having jurisdiction over the area in which the accident occurred, or to the Claims Tribunal within the local limits of whose jurisdiction the claimant resides or carriers on business or within the local limits of whose jurisdiction the defendant resides, and shall be in such form and contain such particulars as may be prescribed:
Provided that where no claim for compensation under Section 140 is made in such application, the application shall contain a separate statement to that effect immediately before the signature of the applicant.
(b) Sub-section (3) shall be omitted;
(c) for Sub-section (4), the following sub-section shall be substituted, namely:
(4) The Claims Tribunal shall treat any report of accidents forwarded to it under Sub-section (6) of Section 158 as an application for compensation under this Act.
5. Therefore, it is clear that under the Act of 1939, the Tribunal had the power to condone the delay in filing such claim petition beyond the period of six months without any restriction regarding the maximum period provided the Tribunal is satisfied on the cause shown, but this unlimited power was curtailed by Sub-section (3) of Section 166 of the Act of 1988, thus, causing hardship to the families of the victims of the motor accident.
6. The Legislature duly considered this aspect of the matter and enacted the Act of 1994, which came into force on 10th September, 1994. By Section 53, Section 166 of the Act of 1988 was amended and Sub-section (3) of Section 166 was omitted and the effect of omission is that for filing the claim petition by the victim of the motor accident or dependent members of the family, there is no period of limitation and it can be filed at any time. It is necessary to quote the Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Act of 1994, which runs as follows:
Statement of Objects and Reasons to Amending Act 54 of 1994.-The Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 (59 of 1988) consolidated and rationalised various laws regulating road transport. The Act came into force with effect from 1st July, 1989 replacing the Motor Vehicles Act, 1939.
2. After the coming into force of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, Government received a number of representations and suggestions from the State Governments, transport operators and members of public regarding the inconvenience faced by them because of the operation of some of the provisions of the 1988 Act. A Review Committee was, therefore, constituted by the Government in March, 1990 to examine and review the 1988 Act.
3. The recommendations of the Review Committee were forwarded to the State Governments for comments and they generally agree with these recommendations. The Government also considered a large number of representations received, after finalisation of the Report of the Review Committee, from the transport operators and public for making amendments in the Act. The draft of the proposals based on the recommendation of the Review Committee and representations from the public were placed before the Transport Development Counsel for seeking their views in the matter. The important suggestions made by the Transport Development Council relate to, or are on account of:
(a) the introduction of newer type of vehicles and fast increasing number of both commercial and fast increasing number of both commercial and personal vehicles in the country;
(b) providing adequate compensation to victims of road accidents without going into long drawn procedure;
(c) protecting consumers' interests in Transport Sector;
(d) concern for road safety standards, transport of hazardous chemicals and pollution control;
(e) delegation of greater powers to State Transport Authorities and rationalising the role of police authorities in certain matters;
(f) the simplification of procedures and policy liberalisation in the filed of Road Transport;
(g) enhancing penalties for traffic offenders.
4. Therefore, the proposed legislation has been prepared in the light of the above background. The Bill inter alia provides for-
(a) modification and amplification of certain definitions of new type of vehicles;
(b) simplification of procedure for grant of driving licences;
(c) putting restrictions on the alteration of vehicles;
(d) certain exemptions for vehicles running on non-polluting fuels;
(e) ceilings on individuals or company holdings removed to curb 'Benami' holdings;
(f) States authorised to appoint one or more State Transport Appellate Tribunals;
(g) punitive checks on the use of such components that do not conform to the prescribed standards by manufacturers, and also stocking/sale by the traders;
(h) increase in the amount of compensation of the victims of hit and run cases;
(i) removal of time limit for filing of application by road accident victims for compensation;
(j) punishment in case of certain offences is made stringent;
(k) a new pre-determined formula for payment of compensation to road accident victims on the basis of age/income, which is more liberal and rational.
5. The Law Commission in its 119th Report had recommended that every application for a claim be made to the Claims Tribunal having jurisdiction over the area in which the accident occurred or to the Claims Tribunal within the local limits of whose jurisdiction the claimant resides or carries on business or within the local limits of whose jurisdiction the defendant resides, at the option of the claimant. The Bill also makes necessary provision to give effect to the said recommendation.
6. The Bill seeks to achieve the above objectives.
We have heard the learned Counsel for all the parties at length.
7. Our attention has been drawn to decision of the Apex Court in Vinod Gurudas Raikar v. National Insurance Co. Ltd. and Ors. In this case, the accident took place before coming into force of the Act of 1988, but the claim petition was filed belatedly after coming into force of the Act of 1988. The Apex Court held that the question of condonation of delay must be governed by new law and delay of more than six months could not be condoned in view of the specific prohibition of the un-amended Section 166 of the Act of 1988. Therefore, in these appeals the Trial Court rightly held that the claim petitions were barred by limitation in view of un-amended Section 166 of the Act of 1988. As stated above, during the pendency of the appeals, Act of 1994 came into force. Therefore, it is necessary to consider whether the present claim petitions are to be dealt with under Section 166 of the Act of 1988, as amended by Act of 1994.
8. We first have a look at the statement of Objects and Reasons. In Bharat Singh v. Management of New Delhi Tuberculosis Centre, New Delhi and Ors. (1996) 2 SCC 614, the Apex Court held that the Objects and Reasons give an insight into the background why a particular section was introduced and though the Objects and Reasons cannot be the ultimate guide in interpretation of Statutes, it often times aids in finding out what really persuaded the Legislature to enact a particular provision. It was further held with reference to that case that the Objects and Reasons had clearly spelt out that the delay in the implementation of the awards is due to the contests by the employer which consequently cause hardship to the workmen. If this is the object, then would it be in keeping with this object and consistent with the progressive social philosophy of our laws and to deny the workmen the benefits of this section simply because the award was passed, for example, just a day before the section came into force ? The Apex Court was of the view that it would be defeating the rights of the workmen and going against the spirit of the enactment. A rigid interpretation of this section would be rendering the workmen worse off after coming into force of the section in question. According to the Apex Court in the interpretation of statutes, Courts have to make an attempt to make the object of the enactment effective and to render its benefits to the persons in whose favour it is made. It was also held that plain words have to be accepted as such, but where the intention of the Legislature is not clear from the words and where two constructions are possible, it is the Court's duty to discern the intention in the context of the background in which a particular section is enacted, and once such an intention is ascertained the Courts have necessarily to give the statute a purposeful or a functional interpretation. According to the Apex Court, a construction which would defeat the rights of the have-nots and the underdog and which would lead to injustice should always be avoided.
9. In Chern Taong Shang and Ors. v. Commander S.D. Baijaj and Ors. (1988) 2 SCC 507, it was held by the Apex Court that it is pertinent to mention that in interpreting a statute the Court has to ascertain the Will and policy of the Legislature from the object and scheme of enactment and the language used therein.
10. In Rameshwar Prasad and Ors. v. State of Uttar Pradesh and Ors. the Apex Court held that it is a well settled rule of construction of Statutes that whenever a Court is called upon to interpret an amended provision it has to bear in mind the history of the provision, the mischief which the Legislature attempted to remedy, the remedy provided by the amendment and the reason for providing such remedy.
11. Thus, law regarding taking aid of Statement of Objects and Reasons to a piece of legislation by the Court in interpreting the law is clear. Objects and Reasons give an insight into the background why a particular legislation has been made and though the Objects and Reasons cannot be the ultimate guide in the interpretation of statutes, but it is an aid to the Court in finding out reason as to why Legislature enacted the particular law or provision of the law, as it clearly spells out the intention of the Legislature. As the Legislatures are entrusted with the task of making laws, so while interpreting the same, the Courts should not take rigid stand, more particularly, in respect of a progressive social welfare legislation. It should make an attempt, to make the object of the legislation effective and render its benefits to the persons in whose favour it is made. The Courts should not attempt a construction, which defeats the very intention of the Legislature and deprives the have-nots of the benefits of the legislation.
12. From the statement of Objects and Reasons of the Act of 1994, we find that after enactment of the Act of 1988, the Government received number of representations from the State Governments, transport operators and members of public regarding the inconvenience faced by them because of the operation of some of the provisions of the Act and, therefore, a Review Committee was constituted. The report of the Review Committee was placed before the Transport Development Council for views and one of the important suggestions made by the Transport Development Council was to provide adequate compensation to the victims of the road accidents without going into long drawn procedure. Therefore, the legislation in form of the Bill was introduced for providing amendment in respect of as many as 11 items including removal of time limit for filing of applications by the road accident victims for compensation. Thus, it is clear that as hardship was caused by fixing maximum time limit for filing the claim petition under Section 166 of the Act of 1988, this section was amended to remove this hardship. This was the intention of the Legislature, which we have to keep in view while interpreting the law, as it is the duty of the Court to give full effect to such intention.
13. The un-amended Section 166 of the Act of 1988 laid down the period of limitation, though the accident took place prior to the un-amended section and the claim petition was filed after coming into force of the Act of 1988 in view of the ratio laid down by the Apex Court in Vinod Gurudas Raikar's case (supra), for the purpose of limitation, the claim petition will be governed by the Act of 1988.
As stated above, after the present appeals were filed, Section 166 of the Act of 1988 was amended by the Act of 1994.
14. In Lakshmi Narayan Guin and Ors. v. Niranjan Modak it was held that it is well settled that when a Trial Court decrees a suit and the decree is challenged by a competent appeal, the appeal is considered as a continuation of the suit and that a change in law during the pendency of appeal has to be taken into account and will govern the rights of the parties. Similar views were expressed by the Apex Court in Ram Sarup v. Munshi and Mula v. Godhu The appeal in fact is in the nature of re-hearing of the suit.
15. In Kanaya Ram and Ors. v. Rajender Kumar and Ors. the Apex Court relying on its earlier decision in Rameshwar v. Jot Ram and the leading case in Abbott v. Minister of Lands 1985 AC 425, it was held that in such a situation Court is bound to take, into consideration the subsequent events and mould the relief accordingly.
16. As the present appeals are in continuation of the original claim petitions, we have also to consider in view of the above settled law the subsequent events, namely, the Act of 1994, while deciding the point involved in these appeals.
17. In view of the language of the amending Act 1994 and the various decisions of the Apex Court for deciding whether a particular amendment is prospective or retrospective, it would be necessary for us to decide whether the limitation is a procedural law or not.
18. In C. Beepathuma and Ors. v. Vetasari Shankaranarayana Kadambolithaya and Ors. the Apex Court held that law of limitation is a procedural law.
19. In all the appeals, the claim petitions were filed praying for compensation on account of death or injury sustained by the result of the road accident. The law gives a right to the claimants to claim compensation for such road accidents. This accrued right did not come to an end, but to obtain the relief, the hurdle was put in view of the limitation imposed by Sub-section (3) of Section 166 of the Act of 1988. But subsequently, this hurdle of limitation was removed by the Act of 1994. Therefore, while considering the amending Act 1994, more particularly, in respect of amendment of Section 166 of the Act of 1988, we have to consider whether this accrued right can be pursued by the claimants. We may now refer to some of the decisions regarding interpretation of the statutes vis-a-vis its prospective or retrospective effect.
20. Section 166 of the Act of 1988 was amended by the Act of 1994 to remove hardship to the families of the deceased in a road accident. This had to be done keeping in view of the condonation, more particularly, of the poor and downtrodden, who are ignorant of the rights to claim compensation. The percentage of literacy is also low in our country. Therefore, the legislature in its wisdom decided to remove the period of Limitation for filing a claim petition.
21. In Indra Sawhney and Ors. v. Union of India and Ors. 1992 Supp. (3) SCC 217, it was held that the Judges who are entrusted with the task of fostering an advanced special policy in terms of the Constitutional mandate cannot afford to sit in ivory towers keeping Olympian silence unnoticed and uncaring of the storms and stresses that effect the society.
22. In a recent decision of the Apex Court in Dahiban widow of Ranchhodji Jivanjiv. Vasanji Kevalbhia (dead) and Ors. regarding interpretation it was held that being
concerned with the legislation beneficial to tenancy, Courts are required to give a liberal interpretation; it was also held that the amendment would apply to the suit, which was pending when the amendment had come into force.
23. Relying on the earlier decisions of the Apex Court, it was held by the Apex Court in Othayathlekshmy Amma and Anr. v. Nellachinkuniyil Govindan Nair and Ors. that while construing a
statute with a benevolent provision, the Court has to consider the dominant purpose of the statute, the intention of the Legislature and the policy underlying.
24. In Gurbachan Singh v. Satpal Singh and Ors. an amendment to the Indian Evidence Act incorporated in Section 113-A was considered with reference to an offence under Section 306, IPC, which was committed prior to the amendment. It was held that Section 113-A of the Indian Evidence Act does not create any new offence and as such it does not create any substantial right, but it is only the procedural law and as such it is retrospective and will apply to all the cases. Reference was also made to Halsbury's Laws of England (Fourth Edition) Volume 44 page 570 and the following passage was quoted:
The general rule is that all statutes, other than those which are merely declaratory or which relate only to matters of procedure or of evidence, are prima facie prospective, and retrospective effect is not to be given to them unless, by express words or necessary implication, it appears that this was the intention of the Legislature ....
The Apex Court in the case of Union of India and Anr. v. Pradeep Kumari and Ors. inter alia, held that in relation to
beneficent legislation, the law is well settled that while construing the provisions of such a legislation the Court should adopt a construction, which advances the policy of the legislation to extend the benefit rather than a construction, which has the effect of curtailing the benefit.
25. The Apex Court in the State of West Bengal and Anr. v. Nripendra Nath Bagchi held that regarding recourse of the
Statutes, the Court has to find out the meaning of law as it stood before and then the evil, which was sought to be removed.
In Mithilesh Kumari and Anr. v. Prem Behari Khare it was held that the Court has to interpret the language used in the Act and when the language is clear and unambiguous, it must be given effect to. Quoting Maxwell, the Apex Court said that is a fundamental rule of English Law that no statute shall be construed to have retrospective operation unless such a construction appears very clear from the Actor arises by necessary and distinct implication. It was further held that before applying a statute retrospectively the Court has to be satisfied that the statute is, in fact, retrospective. According to the Apex Court, the Court must look at the general scope and purview of the statute and at the remedies sought to be applied and consider what was the former State of Law and what the legislation contemplated and that the laws made justly and for the benefit of individuals and the community as a whole may relate to a time antecedent to their commencement. It was also held that it cannot be said to be an invariable rule that a statute could not be retrospective unless so expressed in every terms of the section which had to be construed.
In Pasupuleti Venkateswarlu v. The Motor and General Traders while considering the provisions of Order 7 Rule 7 read with Section 115, CPC, the Apex Court held that, if during the pendency of a proceeding under Rent Control legislation between the landlord and tenant, a subsequent event in the facts of the case takes place, which is material bearing on the right of the party that can be taken into consideration for deciding the case.
26. From the amending Act of 1994, as would appear from the statement of Objects and Reasons and also the provisions of the Act, we have no hesitation in holding that it is a welfare legislation. Now, let us consider the law regarding interpretation of a welfare legislation, in view of the ratio of the Apex Court, as stated above, vis-a-vis its retrospective effect and also the aid of Objects and Reasons.
27. We may add here that as in the present appeals, the accident took place prior to the coming into force of the Act of 1988, in view of the ratio in Vinod Gurudas Raikar's case (supra), the claim petitions before the Tribunal have to be decided on the basis of the Act of 1988.
28. The statement of Objects and Reasons give an insight into the background why a particular section was introduced though it may not be the ultimate guide in interpretation of statutes, but it oftenly helps the Court to find out what really persuaded the legislature to enact a particular provision. Once the Court finds out the intention of the Legislature, a rigid interpretation of the amending section would defeat the very intention of the Legislature, more particularly, in respect of a welfare legislation. Even if the plain words in a particular section are accepted and where the intention of the Legislature is not clear from the words in the amending Section and where two constructions are possible, it is the duty of the Court to discern the intention in the context of the background of a particular section, and once such an intention is ascertained, the Court has to give the amending provision a purposeful and functional interpretation. If rigid construction would lead to injustice it would be avoided. While interpreting the amending provision, the Court has to bear in mind the history of the provision, the mischief which the Legislature attempted to remedy, the remedy provided by the amendment and the reason for providing such remedy. Though the Legislatures are entrusted with the task of making laws and interpretation has to be made by the Courts which should not take rigid stand, more particularly, in respect of a progressive social welfare legislation. It is the duty of the Court to make an attempt to make the object of the legislation effective and to render its benefit to the persons in whose favour it is made.
29. It is also well settled that appeal is a continuation of the suit and a change in law during the pendency of the appeal has to be taken into account and will govern the rights of the parties. The Court is also bound to take into consideration the subsequent events in a particular case. It is also settled law that the law of limitation is a procedural law. In Halsbury's Laws of England (Fourth Edition) Volume 44 page 570, which was quoted by the Apex Court in Gurbachan Singh's case (supra), it has been laid down that the general rule is that all statutes, other than those which are merely declaratory or which relate only to matters of procedure or of evidence, are prima facie prospective and retrospective effect is not to be given to them unless, by express words or necessary implication, it appears that this was the intention of the Legislature.
30. As stated in the earlier part of the judgment under the Act of 1939, though the period of limitation for filing a claim petition before the Motor Accident Claims Tribunal was fixed, but the Tribunal could condone the delay, if satisfied. There was no maximum time limit fixed in this respect. However, in the Act of 1988, the Legislature took a riged stand and maximum period of limitation was fixed, thereby causing hardship to the victims and their family members of the road accident. This was duly considered, as would appear from the statement of Objects and Reasons by the Legislature and that taking into consideration the report of the Review Committee as well as the Transport Development Council, the amending Act of 1994 was enacted. By this amending Act, the limitation fixed in respect of filing such claim petitions was completely removed by omitting Sub section (3) of Section 166 of the Act of 1988. Thus, the mischief which the Legislature wanted to remove was to remove the period of limitation and now a victim of the road accident can file a claim petition at any point of time. This is the intention of the legislature, which we have to keep in view.
31. Unlike some statutes in the amending Act of 1994, the Legislature did not specify as from which date this amending Act, more particularly, amended Section 166 would come into force. As this is a welfare legislation and keeping in view the mischief sought to be removed and also taking into consideration the intention of the Legislature, we are of the opinion that the amended Section 166 shall have the retrospective effect to remove hardship to the victims of the road accident or their family members.
32. Viewed from another angle, we note that the Act of 1994 was passed after the impugned orders are passed, but during the pendency of there appeals. Therefore, the amended provision will apply to all the present appeals, more particularly, as the law of limitation is a procedural in nature.
33. For the reasons stated above, we hold that the claim petitions have to be considered in the light of the amended Section 166 of the Act of 1988. As there is no period of limitation now, all the claim petitions have to be decided on merit.
34. On behalf of the respondents, it has been urged that the owners/ Insurance Company of the vehicles will be deprived of their vested right, if the above view is taken by the Court. In this connection, various decisions have been cited and we need not burden this judgment by referring to all such decisions. We only refer to some of the decisions, which in our opinion, are relevant for the present purpose.
35. Reference has been made to K. Eapen Chako v. The Provident Investment Co. (P) Ltd. AIR 1976 SC 2610, wherein the Apex Court, inter alia, held that words not requiring retrospective operation so as to affect an existing statutory provision prejudicially ought not to be so constructed and it is well recognised rule that statute should be interpreted if possible so as to respect vested rights.
36. In A.A. Calton v. The Director of Education and Anr. it was held that the legislature may pass laws with retrospective effect subject to the recognised constitutional limitation and that no retrospective effect should be given to any statutory provision so as to impair or take away an existing right, unless the statute either expressly or. by necessary implication directs that it should have such retrospective effect.
37. Our attention has also been drawn to the decision of the Apex Court in Padma Srinivasan v. In that case the Apex Court considered the amending Act of 1969 in respect of Section 95(2)(a) of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1939 vis-a-vis the liability of the Insurance Company and held that insurance of motor vehicles in respect of 3rd party risk, the liability of the insurer would be extended to the legal provision, as it stood on the date of accident and to as per the amending Act.
38. Reference was also made to the decision of the Apex Court in Gulab Chand v. Kudilal and Anr. whether it was held that a statute is not to have retrospective operation is only applicable where it is doubtful from the language of a statute plainly gives it a retrospective operation, the rule has no application. In this connection, we may state that we have already stated that the language of the Act of 1994 does not prohibit giving of retrospective operation and apart that from the intention of the Legislature, we have already held that it will have the retrospective operation.
39. Reliance was also placed on decision Shah Bhojraj Kuverji Oil Mills and Ginning Factory v. Subhash Chandra Yograj Sinha wherein the Apex Court, inter alia, held that the ordinary rule is that substantive rights should not be held to be taken away except by express provision or clear implication in the Act. However, it was also held that though a law may be prospective inform it can be given retrospective operation, if the intention of the legislature is apparent.
40. In Mathukutnalli Rantayya and Ors. v. Uppalapati Lakshmayya AIR 1942 Privy Council 54, it was held that ordinarily a suit would be governed by the law of limitation in force when the suit has been instituted; but if the defendants are able to show that the right of action had become barred under the Old Act then the title that they have acquired cannot be defeated by the subsequent Limitation Acts. In respect of the present claim petitions for compensation, we may add here that these are not the suits. That apart, when it was filed though the period was prescribed, but subsequently the law of limitation was changed during the pendency of the proceedings before this Court, therefore, this ratio is not applicable to the cases in hand.
41. We have already stated that as a result of the road accident, the victims or their family members got a vested right to get compensation, under the Social Welfare Legislation, namely, the Motor Vehicles Act, but their remedy was prevented in view of the law, namely, un-amended Section 166 of the Act of 1988. The owners of the vehicle and Insurance Company under the terms of contract, namely, insurance policy, are liable to compensate for the injuries sustained or death caused due to motor accident. It was their legal obligation to compensate under the contract of insurance. Therefore, they did not acquire any right not to pay the compensation, but the only right they acquired is to contest the claim petition by taking re-course to unamended Section of 166 of the Act of 1988. As we have already stated, during the pendency of the proceedings, namely, these appeals, there was a change in law, inasmuch as the period of limitation was removed, and, therefore, neither the owner nor the Insurance Company cannot get out from the contract of insurance, in view of our decision that the amended Section 166 will apply to the present proceedings. Therefore, the decisions cited above, are of no help to the Insurance Company or the owners in view of their legal liability to award compensation. The technical plea of limitation also does not survive as during the pendency of the proceedings, this hurdle was remored by the legislature keeping in view the hardship caused by the un-amended section.
We may add here that by virtue of un-amended section, the Insurance Company did not acquire any substantive right to oppose the claim petition.
42. Regarding the ratio laid down by the Apex Court in Padma Srinivasan's case (supra) that though Section 95(2)(a) of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1939 was amended by amending Act, 1969, the liability of the Insurance Company in respect of 3rd party risk would extend to the legal provision as it stood on the date of the accident. We are of the opinion that this decision does not help the respondents, inasmuch as there cannot be any dispute that in the present claim petitions also, the liability of the Insurance Company would be limited to the contract of insurance.
43. Various decisions were placed before this Court regarding amending Section 92-A, which was added by the amending Act of 1982. This section regarding 'no fault liability' was discussed in some of the decisions cited before us. It was held by the various Courts that this is prospective in nature. This decision also does not help the Insurance Company/owners inasmuch as this 'no fault liability' has ultimately to be taken into account at the time of passing the final award. In other words, if any compensation is awarded, from that amount any interim relief granted under Section 92-A has to be deducted.
44. Reliance was placed on Section 6, i.e. effect of repeal of the General Clauses Act by 1994 Act, in our opinion, this section is not attracted to the present appeals, as we have held that the limitation is procedural in nature and after taking into consideration the intention of the Legislature we have also held that the amended section will have the retrospective effect of the legislation.
45. Our attention was also drawn to the principles of Statutory Interpretation, Fifth Edn. Reprint 1993 page 303. Under the heading statutes of limitation, the learned author relying on the various decisions of the Apex Court stated that statutes of limitation are regarded as procedural and the law of limitation which applies to a suit is the law in force at the date of the institution of the suit irrespective of the date of accrual of the cause of action and that the object of a statute of limitation is not to create any right but to prescribe periods within which legal proceedings may be instituted for enforcement of the rights which exist under the substantive law. It is also observed by the learned author that after expiry of the period of limitation, the right to sue comes to an end, therefore, if a particular right of action had become barred under an earlier Limitation Act, the right is not revived by a later Limitation Act even if it provides a larger period of limitation than that provided by the earlier Act. We have also dealt with this matter and will only state that under the un-amended Section 166 of the Act of 1988, there was a provision for condonation of delay, but the period was fixed. Subsequently, however, during the pendency of these appeals, the law was changed, therefore, the above observation of the learned author is not applicable to the present appeals.
46. For the reasons stated above, we hold that Section 166, as amended, shall have the retrospective effect in respect of all pending proceedings whether before the Tribunal or before the Appellate Authority including the High Court. The Tribunal and the Appellate Authority shall have to decide the claim petitions in terms of amended Section 166 of the Motor Vehicles Act. In other words, if any point of limitation is taken, it has to be dismissed.
For the reasons stated above, all the impugned awards passed by the Tribunal are set aside and the claim petitions are remanded to the Tribunal to dispose of the petitions on merit.
The appeals are allowed. No costs.