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Customs and Excise »
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Customs relief for hospital equipment
September, 01st 2014

The Supreme Court has clarified that a diagnostic centre, clinic or maternity home functioning in the premises of a hospital is also eligible for claiming exemption in customs duty for import of medical equipment provided it fulfils all the conditions envisaged in a 1988 notification. The conditions include free treatment to 40 per cent of outpatients and in-house treatment to those whose income is below Rs 500 a month. The medical equipment importer has to get a certificate from the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) to claim exemption. There was some doubt about the position of diagnostic centre, because of a judgment in the Mediwell Hospital case. In that 1997 case, a two-judge bench had stated that a diagnostic centre "run by a private individual purely on commercial basis" may not be entitled to the exemption. However, that view was doubted by a later set of judges who referred the question to a larger bench. A three-judge bench now, in the case, Bharat Diagnostic Centre vs Commissioner of Customs, clarified that any institution, centre, trust, society, association, laboratory, clinic or maternity home which renders medical, surgical or diagnostic treatment will get the benefit of the customs rule provided they meet the conditions of treatment of the poor. In this case, the diagnostic centre attached to a cancer hospital was not given the necessary certificate to import equipment by DGHS. Therefore, the customs authorities demanded duty. That was challenged in the Supreme Court. It dismissed the petition.

'Stop payment' as bad as cheque dishonour

Even "stop payment" instruction to a bank regarding a cheque can make the drawer liable for offence punishable under Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act, the Supreme Court stated in its judgment, Pulsive Technologies vs state of Gujarat. The high court had quashed a criminal complaint against a firm maintaining that an offence was committed only when a cheque was returned due to 'insufficiency of funds'. In this case, the high court said, the cheque payment was stopped by the drawer company as the payee firm had failed to discharge its business obligations. The Supreme Court set aside that high court view stating that whether the payee had failed to discharge its obligations is a matter of evidence. The high court could not exercise its discretionary power and decide the question of fact on its own; it should be left to the trial judge, the Supreme Court said.

AI canteen workers are not employees

The Supreme Court last week dismissed the appeal of those who work in the Air India canteen on casual/temporary basis claiming that they were employees of the airline and therefore should be regularised.

The industrial tribunal had held that they were employees of the airline . On airline's appeal, the Delhi High Court quashed the tribunal's decision, leading to the workers' appeal. The Supreme Court held that the responsibility to run the statutory canteen was that of Hotel Corporation of India (HCI), the airline's subsidiary and Chefair Flight Catering, an HCI unit. "The mere fact that Air India has certain degree of control over HCI does not mean that the employees working in the canteen are Air India's employees," the judgment explained. Air India exercises control in the nature of supervision, which is only to ensure standards in the canteen. That would not make the workers direct employees of the airline entitling to regularisation, the court said.

Leniency towards peasant landowners

When the lands of peasants are compulsorily acquired, delay in moving the court against it should be condoned, the Supreme Court stated in its judgment, Dhiraj Singh vs state of Haryana. In this case, the district judge awarded Rs 101 per sq yard while acquiring 132 acres. A number of landowners appealed to the Punjab and Haryana High Court against the rate. It enhanced the rate to Rs 200. Some peasants were not aware of the higher rate. They moved the court late, beyond the time limit fixed by law. The high court dismissed their petitions on the ground of delay, leading to the appeal. The Supreme Court asked the government to pay the higher rate to the late-comers, too. It observed that villagers are by and large illiterate and not conversant with the intricacies of law. Courts shall adopt a liberal attitude in such matters, the judgment said.

Hospital to pay Rs 20 lakh for negligence

The Supreme Court steeply enhanced compensation in a medical negligence case from Rs 5 lakh to Rs 20 lakh in a case in which a two-year-old girl child's right arm had to be amputated. In this case, Alfred Benedict vs Manipal Hospital, the parents had taken the baby to a paediatrician for common cold and cough. She was admitted and diagnosed for pneumonia as well. She was given IV fluid, allegedly into the artery instead of vein, blocking blood supply as discovered in an angiogram. She developed gangrene leading to amputation. The Karnataka state consumer commission awarded Rs 5 lakh in damages. The National Commission ordered an additional Rs 10,000. On further appeal by the parents, the Supreme Court stated that the amount awarded by forums below was low. She was now 13 years and her education and marriage prospects will suffer. Moreover, she has to incur battery charge of Rs 80,000 annually.

Wrong computation of damages

The Supreme Court has set aside the Madras High Court judgment reducing compensation in a road accident death from Rs 37 lakh to Rs 16 lakh. The high court wrongly computed the loss to the family and ignored the principles laid down by the Supreme Court in its earlier decisions, the judgment stated in the case, Sarala Devi vs Royal Sundaram Alliance Insurance Co. A person earning Rs 6 lakh a year was fatally hit by a vehicle when he was riding a bike. The insurer rejected the demand for compensation by the widow, her two daughters and the bed-ridden mother on the ground that the deceased person was negligent while riding the two-wheeler. They moved the motor accident claims tribunal, which awarded them Rs 37 lakh. However, the high court reduced the amount on the appeal of the insurance company. It deducted one-third of his income for personal expenses, while only one-fourth was allowed according to earlier judgments. Further, the high court awarded only Rs 10,000 for loss of consortium, love and affection instead of the standard Rs 1 lakh. The Supreme Court pointed out several other errors and restored the amount fixed by the tribunal.

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