HOUSEHOLD WORK is no mean feat and fixing notional income for a non-earning “homemaker… is a step towards the constitutional vision of social equality and ensuring dignity of life to all individuals”, the Supreme Court has ruled in a motor accident claim case.
The matter was decided on Tuesday by a bench headed by Justice N V Ramana and also comprising Justices S Abdul Nazeer and Surya Kant, which enhanced the compensation allowed in the case from Rs 22 lakh to Rs 33.2 lakh, payable with 9 per cent interest from May 23, 2014 when the Detailed Accident Report was filed.
Justice Ramana in a separate concurring judgment elaborated on the legal complexities that plague the calculation of notional income of a non-earning homemaker. “The sheer amount of time and effort that is dedicated to household work by individuals, who are more likely to be women than men, is not surprising when one considers the plethora of activities a housemaker undertakes,” he said.
“A housemaker often prepares food for the entire family, manages the procurement of groceries and other household shopping needs, cleans and manages the house and its surroundings, undertakes decoration, repairs and maintenance work, looks after the needs of the children and any aged member of the household, manages budgets and so much more. In rural households, they often also assist in the sowing, harvesting and transplanting activities in the field, apart from tending cattle… However, despite all the above, the conception that housemakers do not ‘work’ or that they do not add economic value to the household is a problematic idea that has persisted for many years and must be overcome,” he said.
The ruling pointed out that according to the 2011 Census, nearly 159.85 million women stated that “household work” was their main occupation, as compared to only 5.79 million men.
The court said that “the issue of fixing notional income for a homemaker, therefore, serves extremely important functions”.
“It is a recognition of the multitude of women who are engaged in this activity, whether by choice or as a result of social/cultural norms. It signals to society at large that the law and the courts of the land believe in the value of the labour, services and sacrifices of homemakers. It is an acceptance of the idea that these activities contribute in a very real way to the economic condition of the family, and the economy of the nation, regardless of the fact that it may have been traditionally excluded from economic analyses,” the court said. “ It is a reflection of changing attitudes and mindsets and of our international law obligations. And, most importantly, it is a step towards the constitutional vision of social equality and ensuring dignity of life to all individuals.”
On how such notional income of a homemaker is to be calculated, Justice Ramana wrote that “there can be no fixed approach” and “it is to be understood that in such cases the attempt by the court is to fix an approximate economic value for all the work that a homemaker does, impossible though that task may be. Courts must keep in mind the idea of awarding just compensation in such cases, looking to the facts and circumstances”.
The ruling added that “there can be no exact calculation or formula that can magically ascertain the true value provided by an individual gratuitously for those that they are near and dear to. The attempt of the court in such matters should therefore be towards determining, in the best manner possible, the truest approximation of the value added by a homemaker for the purpose of granting monetary compensation”.
The Motor Accidents Claims Tribunal had earlier awarded Rs 40.71 lakh compensation for the death of the couple – Vinod and his homemaker wife Poonam – on April 12, 2014 when a car hit a motorcycle in which they were travelling. Later, the Delhi High Court reduced the compensation to Rs 22 lakh. The couple were survived by two minor daughters.