What was the worker doing?

British India was always an odd blend of compassion and ruthlessness.  By the 1920s, the Raj had enacted workers’ compensation laws for the subcontinent.  It then proceeded to enforce them fairly ruthlessly.

In about 1936 Mr Maung Ba Aye was employed by the Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation as an elephant handler.  On the day in question, however, he had been asked to hand-deliver a letter between two company officials.  On his way back he was attacked by a bear, suffering fatal injuries.  The Commissioner for Workmen’s Compensation ordered that compensation be paid to the deceased’s mother.  The Company appealed to the High Court of Burma, stating that the deceased was not a worker at the relevant time.

Elephant at work - Rangoon
Elephant working in Rangoon, 1907 (Image from here)

The Workmen’s Compensation Act 1923 (Br. Ind.) relevantly defined a workman at 2(1)(n) as

… any person … who is –…

(ii) employed in any such capacity as is specified in Schedule II [which included employment”in the training, keeping or working of elephants or wild animals”] …;

Roberts CJ considered that the Act was a “quasi-penal statute” and so it should be read strictly rather than leniently.  As a result –

it is clear that at the time that the deceased was being sent out on a message to Mr. Barlow he was not employed in the task of training, keeping or working of elephants or wild animals. He was a person who was normally employed in that capacity, but was being given other duties to perform on that particular day. … [B]eing obliged to administer the Act as it stands,we are constrained to say that the deceased was not a workman within the meaning of the Act for the  pur­poses of this appeal.

A similar line of reasoning was followed by Dunkley J.  As a result the employer could not be ordered to pay compensation in relation to the death.

Bombay Burmah Trading Corp’n Ltd v Ma E Nun, AIR 1937 Rang 45

Naushad v State of Uttar Pradesh (2010) H&FLR 2014-17

Naushad v State of Uttar Pradesh (2010) H&FLR 2014-17

Supreme Court of India

27 October 2010

Coram: Bedi and Prasad JJ

Appearing for the Prosecutor: Not Known
Appearing for the Defendant: Not Known

Catchwords: India – food – milk – non-fatty solids – adulteration – delay

Facts: It was alleged that on 4 August 1981 the appellant breached the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act 1954 by retailing milk containing 6.7% non-fatty solids, rather than the prescribed 9%. He was convicted and sentenced to a fine and a term of imprisonment.

An appeal and an application for review were dismissed. The defendant appealed to the Supreme Court of India.

Held: Dismissing the appeal –

1. There was no basis for interfering with the findings of fact.

2. Because the offence had occurred almost thirty years earlier and the defendant was by then aged 84 years, justice would best be served by reducing the sentence to the 15 days already served.

Das v State of West Bengal (1998) 9 SCC 678 and Bhagwan v State of Maharashtra (1987) 2 SCC 645, considered.


The Court’s judgment is available here.