1.The controversy in appeal here is with regard to the liability of the State of Haryana for the accident caused by a Harayana Roadways Bus driven away by a stranger while the driver and conductor thereof were sitting at a way-side tea-stall taking tea or drinks, as the case may be.
2. Krishna Kumar, deceased, was proceeding on his cycle when a Haryana Roadways Bus No. HRB-4427 came from behind and ran him over. He died at the spot. This happened on Oct. 13, 1978 at about 6.30 p.m. bear Barwala in district Hissar. There is no dispute that this accident had been caused by the rash and negligent driving of the bus-driver.
3. According to the claimants, when the accident occurred, the bus was being driven by Suraj Bhan. It was said that while the bus-driver Bhim Singh and Mahabir Singh the conductor thereof started taking liquor, on reaching Barwala, Suraj Bhan got into the bus and drove it away and then caused this accident.
4. The stand taken by the State of Haryana, in its returns, was to an extent of in consonance with the case of the claimants, namely: that when the bus stopped at Barwala to enable passengers to board it, the driver and conductor thereof started taking liquor and it was then that Suraj Bhan got into the bus and drove it away. The plea here, however, being that Suraj Bhan had done so without the knowledge or consent of either the bus-driver or the conductor.
5. The version of the bus-driver Bhim Singh as set out in his written statement, on the other hand was that on reaching Barwala, he and the bus-conductor were having tea when all of a sudden, some one without their knowledge or consent got into the bus and drove it away. They ran after the bus but could not stop it. There was no mention by him of the name of the person who is said to have so driven away the bus.
6. Suraj Bhan on his part, denied that he was driving the bus when the accident occurred or that he was in any way involved in the accident. His plea, in fact being that he did not know driving.
7. The case of the claimants rests upon the testimony of P.W. 4 Ashok Kumar a cousin of Krishna Kumar deceased., who stated that there were about 20 to 25 passengers travelling in the bus when the accident occurred. He deposed that Suraj Bhan, while driving the bus rammed into the cycle of Krishna Kumar deceased from behind. The deceased was on his correct side of the road when this happened. After causing the accident, Suraj Bhan did not stop the bus but drove it on. It was eventually on his request and that of the other passengers that he stopped the bus about a furlong away where he got down and ran away.
8. The first information report of the accident was recorded on the statement of this witness Ashok Kumar which, is on record as exhibit PC. This was recorded on the statement made by Ashok Kumar to the investigating officer within a short time of the occurrence. Ashok Kumar deposed in this behalf that he was on his way to the police station when he met the thanedar who then recorded his statement on the basis of which the case came to be registered.
9. The cross-examination of P.W. 4 Ashok Kumar provides further support to the claimant's case as he stated there that he had seen Suraj Bhan drive the bus on earlier occasions too and that too in the presence of the official bus-driver. What is more, he stated, that when he got into the bus at Barwala to drive it, he had come from the tea-stall where the bus-driver and the conductor were taking drinks.
10. Suraj Bhan was the only witness forthcoming from the side of the respondents. He admitted that he was being prosecuted for an offence under S. 304 I.P.C. in respect of this accident, but denied having caused it and branded as totally wrong the suggestion that he had even driven the bus.
11. It was the finding of the Tribunal that the bus was not being driven by Suraj Bhan at the time of the accident and it was further held that even if he had been driving it--whether with or without the authority of the bus-driver--the State of Haryana could not have been rendered liable for payment of compensation in this case. It is the correctness of this finding that is now assailed in appeal.
12. The most important evidence in this case is that P.W. 4, Ashok Kumar, he being the only eye-witness to the occurrence and also the person on whose statement the F.I.R. came to be recorded. The Tribunal chose not to accept his statement. The reasons for this cannot but be held to be wholly untenable. Ashok Kumar was, no doubt, the cousin of the deceased which necessarily required his testimony to be scrutinized with care, but this could not be itself be reason enough to discredit his credibility. The important feature regarding his testimony is the strong corroboration it received from the F.I.R. recorded on the basis of his statement. What has been recorded there was in no manner shown to be contrary to what he stated in the witness box. this report, as has been mentioned earlier, was recorded with utmost promptitude without there being any time or opportunity for thinking out or concocting any version of the accident other than the manner in which it had actually occurred. Further, a reading of his testimony would show that no motive or reason was suggested for him to have named Suraj Bhan as the driver of the bus or to have said that he had been seeing Suraj Bhan driving this bus on earlier occasions too. In these circumstances, the Tribunal clearly fell in error in doubting the testimony of Ashok Kumar, merely for reason that it being a working day, and he being an employee of a Bank, had boarded the bus at 4 p.m. when the Bank closed at 5 p.m. It was clearly not necessary for the Bank Manager to have been put in the witness box to support the statement of Ashok Kumar that he had left the Bank earlier with his permission. Similarly, his going to the village to see his fields at 6.30 p.m. was not such a statement as could be taken to impeach his credibility. The statement of Ashok Kumar, therefore, read as a whole, in the context of the circumstances of the case, deserves reliance and must accordingly be accepted.
13. Turning to the respondents' version, the non-production of the bus driver and the conductor must indeed be taken as a telling circumstance against them warranting an adverse inference against their story of happening in this case.
14. Considered in their totality, the circumstances of the case and the evidence on record, amply justify the finding that the accident here was caused by the rash and negligent driving of the respondent Suraj Bhan.
15. The main and important question which now arises is with regard to the vicarious liability of the State of Haryana for the compensation payable to the claimants in this case.
16. There is a presumption, rebuttable no doubt, that a vehicle is driven on the master's business and by his authorised agent or servant, and consequently the owner or master is vicariously liable for the negligence of such servant or agent committed in the course of his employment. The judgment of the High Court of Gujarat in Gujarat State Road Transport Corporation v. Haribhai Vallabhbhai Darji, 1984 Acc CJ 72: (AIR 1983 Guj 210), provides and apt precedent here. In this case, the bus-driver left the bus unattended in a thickly populated locality while he went for meals. A stranger came and unauthorisedly drove away the bus and caused an accident resulting in several causalities. It was held that the driver, in leaving the bus unattended acted in a grossly negligent manner and this was the effective cause of the accident and the owner of the bus was thus liable for this negligence of the driver. Quoted with approval here was what Lord Denning said in Ormrod v. Crosville Motor Services, (1953) 2 All ER 753:-
'It has often been supposed that the owner of a vehicle is only liable for the negligence of the driver if that driver is his servant acting in the course of his employment. This is not correct. The owner is also liable if the driver is, with the owner's consent, driving the car on the owner's business or for the owner's purposes.
........ The law puts a special responsibility on the owner of a vehicle who allows it go on the road in charge of someone else, no matter whether it is his servant, his friend or anyone else. It is being used wholly or partly on the owner's business or for the owner's purpose, the owner is liable for the negligence on the part of the driver. The owner only escapes liability when he lends it or hires it to a third person to be used for purposes in which the owner has no interest or concern'.
17. Next to note here is Ganga Sugar Corporation ltd. Deoband v. Sukhbir Singh, 1973 Acc CJ 499: (AIR 1974 All 113). This was a case where the driver left the ignition key in the jeep while he went to the police station. In his absence, someone drove the jeep and caused the accident. After a review of the authorities on the subject, it was held that the law relating to the liability of drivers and of their masters in cases of drivers leaving vehicles on the highway appears to be that ;--the driver, and consequently the master, in such cases, is liable if the driver was guilty of initial negligence and if, as a reasonable man, he could have anticipated the intervention of a third party. Applying this principle, it was held that the driver was guilty of negligence in leaving the keys in the jeep as he should have reasonably anticipated that some one wold get into the jeep and try to drive it, and further that since the driver was acting the course of his employment, the owner too was liable.
18. Applying this test here, the negligence of the bus-driver is inherent in his leaving it unattended at a crowded place like a bus stand. As a reasonable man, he should behave anticipated someone from the crowd there getting into the bus and trying to drive it. The effective and approximate cause of the accident was thus clearly this negligence of the bus-driver rendering thereby the State of Haryana--its owner--vicariously liable.
19. Mr. Harbhagwan Singh, Advocate General, Haryana, sought to wriggle out of the rigour of the rule in Ganga Sugar Corporation Ltd. v. Deoband's case (AIR 1974 All 113) (supra), by seeking to distinguish it from the present case on the ground that in that case the ignition key had been left in the jeep which was not the case here. This is clearly no ground of distinction, ad admittedly, the bud did not need a key for starting it as a mere push of the button was all that was required for the purpose.
20. Such being the position in law. there can be no escape to the conclusion that the accident here must be attributed to the negligence of the bus-driver for the consequences of which the State Haryana would clearly be vicariously liable.
21. Turning now to the quantum of compensation payable to the claimants, the evidence here shows that the deceased was 40 years of age at the time of his death. He was engaged in cultivation of land which was his source of livelihood and also that of his dependants. Earlier, he had worked as a Sanitary Inspector but had left that job to look after the cultivation of his land and that of his father. P.W. 3 Lajwanti, the widow of the deceased estimated the income of the deceased at Rs. 40,000/- to 50,000/- per annum. In assessing the loss suffered by the claimants, it must be borne in mind that the land owned by the deceased has now come to them and that too as accelerated inheritance. All that the claimants have lost is the earnings, that can be attributed to the management and supervision of the cultivation of land by the deceased. The value of this, considering the size of the holding of the deceased, can be put at Rs. 500/- per month. Taking into account here also the principles laid down in the Full Bench in Lachman Singh v. Gurmit Kaur, (1979) 81 PLR 1: (AIR 1979 Punj & Har 50), and considering generally the circumstances of the claimants and the deceased, it would be fair and just to take '16' as the appropriate multiplier in this case and the loss to the dependants at Rs. 4,000/- per annum. This would work out to Rs. 64,000/-.
22. The claimants are accordingly hereby awarded Rs. 64,000/- as compensation which they shall be entitled to along with interest at the rate of 12 per cent per annum from the date of the application to the date of payment of the amount awarded Rs. 5,000/- each, shall be paid to the parents and the children of Krishna Kumar deceased and the balance to his widow.
23. The respondents shall be jointly and severally liable for payment of the amount awarded.
24. This appeal is hereby accepted with costs. Counsel fee Rs. 300/-
25. Appeal allowed.