Veena Sharma v. State Bank of India and Ors

2001 (49) BLJR 1543; (2001) IILLJ 1333 Pat
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Veena Sharma, the Petitioner, submitted medical bills incurred during her late husband’s hospitalization. After contracting a disease, her late husband was admitted to a hospital. After being discharged, his condition deteriorated. On the recommendation of the State of India, the Respondent, and the Bank’s doctor, he was admitted in a different private hospital. Upon submitting the bills for reimbursement, the Respondent was only partly reimbursed the bills and deducted the rest of the amount from the patient’s Provident Fund account (PF account).

The Petitioner filed a writ petition in the High Court under Article 226 of the Constitution of India (original writ jurisdiction of High Court) for full reimbursement of medical bills for the treatment of the Petitioner’s late husband. The Petitioner also prayed to the Court to direct the Respondent to return the money it deducted from the PF account. The Respondent contended that the State Bank of India Officers (Terms and Conditions of Services) Rules (the Rules) allowed it to put a limit to the amount that could be reimbursed “depending on the status of the officer.”

On the issue of reimbursement of medical bills incurred in a private hospital, the Court placed reliance on State of Punjab v. Mahendra Singh Chawala, (AIR 1987 SC 1225) to hold that once approval for the private hospital had been given by the concerned authority, expenses incurred towards room rent and related expenses had to be reimbursed.

As to whether limits of reimbursed could be linked to the status of the officer, the Court held that it would be a violation of Article 14 of the Constitution. It held that the purpose of the law, reimbursement of medical expenses, had no rational nexus with the status of employee and therefore violated the right to equality as envisage in the Constitution. The Court further held that fixing limits on reimbursement also violated Article 21 (right to life) of the Constitution of India. It also directed the Respondent to reformulate the Rules keeping in mind the constitutional mandate.

The Court directed the Respondent to reimburse the amount in full and return the money deducted from the Petitioner’s late husband’s PF account within six weeks of the judgment.

“The horizon of the fundamental right under Articles 14 and 21 have been even expanding and it is too late for the Government or instrumentalities which are State-as employer to refuse to reimburse the medical claim of the employees, subject, of course, to any enquiry as to its genuineness and essentiality of treatment. To this extent...Guidelines fixing the so called reasonable limits on the reimbursement of the expenses on account of stay in the hospital in course of treatment does not appear to be in accordance with Article 21 of the Constitution, and making it dependable on the status of the officer, does not appear to be in accordance with Article 14 of the Constitution.” Para. 9.