For 53-year-old Bhavnaben, the Rs 7 lakh insurance money she got after a long, unending legal battle seems to pale in comparison to the war she waged with life after her husband died in a tragic accident 30 years ago leaving her alone with two little children. But she persevered and mounted an unflinching case against his employer’s insurance firm, and won. On May 29, last year, the Gujarat High Court ruled in favour of the Kalol resident following multiple appeals from the defence.
And she has Shivang Jani, her lawyer, to thank.
On March 29, 1991, at 7:15 am, Bhavnaben’s husband Dahyabhai Joshi was on his way to work for the morning shift when he was killed in an accident at Kalol Railway crossing. He was an employee of Bharat Vijay Mills. Dahyabhai’s shift had begun at 7:10 am.
Suddenly finding herself alone with two young kids to feed, Bhavanben appealed for compensation from the Employees’ State Insurance Corporation (ESIC) under the ESI Act 1948. ESIC is a statutory body under the Ministry of Labour and Employment. It is a self-financing scheme.
The ESIC denied her claim for dependency benefit citing Dahyabhai’s medical report that stated that he died from brain haemorrhage and neurogenic shock, and not from a workplace injury.
While planning her case, Bhavnaben had to also look after her children – Milap and Nikita who were only three and two years old respectively at the time.
When the legal battle was in court, Bhavnaben’s brother Arvind Shukla had been very supportive and helped her complete a course to be able to earn a livelihood. She completed her Pre PTC – a teacher training course – from Palanpur and got her first job for Rs 250 per month.
It was not enough to sustain but she lived in Kadi on rent and began raising her children. “I used to help them study and was able to earn to put food in their mouth,” recalls Bhavnaben.
“It would have not been possible without my brother,” she added.
After ESIC denied her request, she filed an application with the trials court. The ESI Corporation maintained its defence basing it on Dahyabhai’s forensic reports. The court denied the claims of the corporation and directed it to give Bhavnaben dependency benefits under Section 52 read with Schedule I of the ESI Act in 1996.
However, the corporation appealed to the Gujarat HC the same year challenging the order. The appeal had been pending for 23 years. During the hearing on November 15, 2019, the corporation claimed that it was not an employment injury as it did not occur in the work premises but while commuting, so it was not liable to pay for compensation. Various findings and judgments of the Supreme Court were cited by Bhavnaben’s lawyer. The High Court also ruled in Bhavnaben’s favour.
The ESIC, however, moved the Supreme Court only to be quashed down upon admission without a hearing.
Finally, on May 29, 2020, the Gujarat High Court, on a final appeal by ESIC, ruled that Dahyabhai’s death was an accident at work.
“Justice always prevails,” says Bhavnaben.
“It is all because of Jani saheb’s efforts for the last 30 years that today I have received a compensation of Rs 7 lakh and a pension of Rs 2,700 every month,” she added.
Today, both of her children have completed their graduation and Milap is an MBA. They are also happily married.
The journey to normalcy, however, was arduous and painstaking.