P.D. Desai, C.J.
1. The appeal arises out of the rejection of a claim petition instituted under Section 10-A of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1939, (hereinafter referred to as 'the Act') on the ground of limitation.
2. The fatal accident giving rise to the claim petition occurred on April 28, 1980. The victim of the accident, who was a man aged about 28, died the next day. He left behind him a widow, five minor children and aged parents. The claim petition was instituted on June 28, 1982. An application for condonation of delay made under the proviso to Section 110-A, Sub-section (3), of the Act accompanied the petition. The 'sufficient cause' pleaded for condoning the delay was as follows :--
(1) That the claimants remained under mental shock and agony on account of the sudden accidental death;
(2) That the claimants were illiterate rustic villagers residing in the interior of Mandi District having no knowledge of the remedy;
(3) That there was no adult educated male member in the family capable of prosecuting the remedy;
(4) That the widow having gone to Mandi came to know about the remedy and the petition was moved on the same day.
The application was duly supported by ah affidavit sworn by the first appellant (widow).
3. The claim petition was resisted by both the respondents-the owner of the vehicle and the Insurance Company on the ground, inter alia, that it was barred by limitation. Along with other issues, the Tribunal framed an issue as to the sufficiency of cause for the condonation of delay. Evidence was led on all issues. The first appellant examined herself as a witness and, inter alia, supported her plea for the condonation of delay in the course of her statement. She was extensively cross-examined on that issue not only on behalf of the owner of the vehicle but also an behalf of the Insurance Company. All technical objections were raised including that a copy of the application was not served on the respondents.
4. The Tribunal dismissed the claim petition, without adjudication on merits, holding that no 'sufficient cause' for the condonation of delay was made out. X X X X X
5. Before dealing with me matter on merits,it is worthwhile to refer to the pertinent observations of the Supreme Court in the Trustees of Port of Bombay v. Premier Automobiles Ltd., AIR 1974 SC 923 in respect of such a plea of limitation raised by public authorities. The relevant observations are as follows : --
'We are of the view, in reiteration of earlier expression on the same lines, that public bodies should resist the temptation to take technical pleas, or defeat honest claims by legally permissible but marginally unjust contentions, including narrow limitation.'
6. The Insurance Companies, which arenow an organ of the State, should bear in mind the thrust of these observations and they should not ordinarily take up a plea of limitation, especially in the context of a beneficent legislation like the Motor Vehicles Act, 1939, which, inter alia, prohibits the use of a motor vehicle in a public place, unless there is in force in relation to the use of the Motor Vehicle a policy of insurance covering, inter alia, the risk against any liability which may be incurred in respect of death or bodily injury to any person, or damage to any property of a third party, caused by or arising out of the use of the vehicle in a public place and, subject to the provisions of Section 96 of the Act, makes the insurer liable to pay to the person entitled to the benefit of the award a sum not exceeding the sum insured, as if the insurer was the judgment debtor. The law itself having prescribed limited defences available to an Insurance Company, the legislative policy is clearly defined and, in the context of a legislation of this nature, it does not ordinarily behove an organ of the State to raise the plea of limitation so as to shut-out the trial of the claim petition on merits. One legitimately expects that bearing in mind the observations of the Supreme Court in the above mentioned case and the observations made herein, the Insurance Companies would desist from raising such pleas, at least in those cases where the delay is not attributable to total lack of diligence or bona fide. It would not be out of place to mention that a similar view is found expressed in Vasava Hiraben v. Ishwarbharti Karsanbharti Gauswami, AIR 1977 Guj 146, where a plea of limitation was set up and pursued with determined diligence by the Gujarat State Road Transport Corporation and that the decision in that case has been affirmingly cited by a Division Bench of this Court in Asa Singh v. State of Himachal Pradesh, AIR 1981 Him Pra 75.
10. In light of the factual position established on record and the legal aspects highlighted above, in my opinion, the Tribunal erred in law in refusing to condone the delay approximately of twenty months in the institution of the claim petition. It was indeed impossible, on the facts and in the circumstances of the case, to arrive at the conclusion that 'sufficient cause' within themeaning of the proviso to Sectiion 110-A, Sub-section (3) was not made out. The victim of the accident, aged about 28, was the bread-winner of the family who left behind him a young widow, five minor children and aged parents. His sudden and tragic death had left the family in a severe mental shock and agony. The widow and parents are illiterate. Apart from the physical and mental debility, the parents are shown never to have moved out of the village which is situate in the interior. It is not necessary that in ail cases an application for the condonation of delay should be supported by the affidavit(s) of all the applicants as assumed by the Tribunal. In a case like the present, where one of the applicants has given oral evidence to prove the relevant facts and such evidence on the material points has remained uncontroverted, the absence of such affidavit(s) is a circumstance of no consequence. A close look at the oral evidence of the first appellant reveals that the rustic witness that she was, she was thoroughly perplexed, while under the strain of severe cross-examination as regards the circumstances surrounding the institution of the claim petition. She deposed that she was not aware of the remedy and that she came to know about the same only when people told her arid when consequentially she consulted a lawyer. She then stated that she had consulted the lawyer when she went to Mandi about 11 months after the death of her husband. She also deposed that on that occasion she had appended her signature to the claim petition but, in the next breath, she stated that that event had occurred on June 28, 1982. Then she proceeded to slate that the claim petition was carried by her to the village in order to obtain the signatures of her parents-in-law and that she had returned to Mandi about 5/6 months later. Again she corrected herself by saying that she had returned to Mandi after about 2/3 days. It is thus apparent that the first appellant was totally confused as to the timing and sequence of events and that on an overall view of her evidence no positive inference is reasonably possible that the presentation of the claim petition was unduly delayed after she obtained legal advice. Having regard to the totality of circumstances, the grounds which weighed with the Tribubal in refusing to condone the delay are unconvincing.
11. For the foregoing reasons, the appeal is allowed. The impugned decision is quashed and set aside. The delay in presentation of the claim petition is condoned. The case is remanded to the Tribunal with a direction to hear and dispose of the same with the utmost expedition and not later than June 30, 1985. The appellants are entitled to the costs of this appeal which are quantified at Rs. 250/-. The second respondent will pay or deposit in the Tribunal the costs within a period of four weeks from today. If the costs are not paid or deposited accordingly, the said respondent will not be permitted, to address arguments before the Tribunal. The parties are directed to appear before the Tribunal on April 30, 1985.