SEC 19(b) SRA

Seethakathi Trust Madras v Krishnaveni, SC 2021

FACTS – It is the claim of the Appellant (trust) that C.D. Veeraraghavan Mudaliar had sold 50 acres out of 120 acres of land to one Niraja Devi on 16.11.1963 vide registered sale deed, who took possession of the said land and enjoyed the same. Niraja Devi sold the 50 acres of land to one Perumal Mudaliar vide registered sale deed dated 19.04.1964, who also took possession of the said land and enjoyed the same. As per the Appellant, Perumal Mudaliar sold the 50 acres of land to the Appellant Trust on 19.03.1968 vide a registered sale deed.

On the other hand Respondent claimed that C.D. Veeraraghavan Mudaliar entered into an agreement of sale with her on 10.04.1961 for sale of 50 acres.

The Respondent filed a suit in 1964 before the Principal Sub-Court, Chengalpattu for specific performance of the agreement dated 10.04.1964 against C.D. Veeraraghavan Mudaliar and his son, which was dismissed on 13.08.1964. The Respondent preferred an appeal against the said order, before the District Judge, Changalpattu and the said appeal was also dismissed on 08.03.1966. However, the fate of the Respondent brightened in the second appeal, in 1966, before the High Court of Judicature at Madras, when they succeeded in terms of the judgment dated 07.07.1970 whereby specific performance of the agreement dated 10.04.1961 was decreed. The High Court inter alia held that time was not the essence of the contract and the land could be identified. In pursuance of the decree so passed in the second appeal, the Respondent filed for execution, the Sub-Court purportedly executed the sale deed on 09.04.1981 through the officer of the Court and a delivery receipt dated 26.09.1981 was issued to Respondent.

The controversy insofar as the present case is concerned arose from a suit filed by the Respondent, in 1984 before the Court of District Munsif, Chengalpattu against the Appellant praying for declaration of title and delivery in her favour to the extent of 0.08 cents of the land and delivery of the same. The suit was predicated inter alia on a rationale that the Respondent had taken possession of 50 acres by way of the execution proceedings, and that the Appellant had trespassed over 0.08 cents of the same. The suit was, however, dismissed in 1988 as the trial court formed an opinion that the Respondent cannot be said to have taken possession of 50 acres of land as the delivery receipt read that the delivery was effected by the Vetti. The crucial aspect is that the Respondent, who was the best person to speak about the delivery of 50 acres of land chose not to appear in the witness box. This proved fatal to her case as the manager of the Respondent who did appear in the witness box deposed that he was not authorised by the respondent to conduct the case. Thus, the case fell on the evidence led by the Respondent themselves. The testimony of the manager also became material as he admitted to possessing knowledge of the sale deed effected by C.D. Veeraraghavan Mudaliar in favour of Niraja Devi. The manager acknowledged that he was aware of the same through the corresponding encumbrance certificate before the filing of the suit in 1964, and also knew that Niraja Devi had sold 50 acres of land to Perumal Mudaliar. The subsequent purchaser, to the knowledge of the Respondent, was never impleaded as party in the suit nor did she seek to get the sale deeds cancelled. It is in view thereof it was opined that the Respondent was estopped from questioning the appellant’s purchase. The plea of sale being hit by lis pendens was rejected and the appellant was held to have adverse possession of the land as confirmed by the Panchayat Board President, who appeared as a witness and deposed that the Appellant had been enjoying the land for more than 30 years.

The Respondent preferred an appeal, in 1998, before the Principal Sub Court, Chengalpet, which was dismissed on 28.03.2002. The dismissal was predicated on a dual finding, i.e., that the appellant was in adverse possession of the land, and as per Section 114(3) of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 the expression “may be presumed” showed that the court can infer the reality from available evidence and documents. The delivery receipt was found to be not a real document of delivery of possession, but of mere paper delivery.

The aggrieved Respondent filed a second appeal before the High Court of Judicature at Madras in 2003 claiming she was the absolute owner of land to the extent of 50 acres pursuant to the clear demarcation by the surveyor as well as the sale deed between her and C.D. Veeraraghava Mudaliar, which was executed on 09.04.1981 through the court process. The grievance against the Appellant was of trespass upon 0.08 cents of land, as a barbed wire fence and a gate had been put up on the same. It was Respondent’s case that possession of the land had been taken over on 26.09.1981, and that the Appellant could not contend that he had title over the land by adverse possession. She professed ignorance of the sale in favour of Niraja Devi and Perumal Mudaliar as rationale for not impleading the Appellant, even though her manager had deposed to the contrary while she had not entered the witness box during the trial.

It was contended that no proper delivery had ever been made as admitted by the amin and the possession was only a paper delivery without actual physical possession. No question of law was left to be determined as urged by the Appellant. The High Court vide impugned judgment dated 06.01.2012, however, allowed the second appeal and set aside the judgments passed by the courts below on the ground that they did not properly appreciate the evidence particularly with respect to the execution proceedings.

CAUSE – The High Court set aside the judgements passed by the courts below on the ground that they did not properly appreciate the evidence particularly with respect to the execution proceedings.

ARGUMENTSLearned senior counsel for the appellant contended that no substantial question of law was framed by the High Court, which itself is a sine qua non of exercising jurisdiction under Section 100 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908. The manner in which the High Court proceeded, it was urged, amounted to re-appreciating the evidence and disturbing the concurrent findings of the courts below. The Respondent alone had knowledge of the alleged facts as appeared from the deposition of the manager and, thus, an adverse inference must be drawn against the Respondent in view of the judicial pronouncements in Vidyadhar v. Manikrao and Anr. where It has been held that if a party to a suit does not appear in the witness box to state their own case and does not offer themselves to be cross-examined by the other side, a presumption would arise that the case set up is not correct. Also, a third party who had no personal knowledge cannot give evidence about such readiness and willingness, even if he is an attorney holder of the person concerned.

The admission of the manager of the Respondent who appeared in the witness box acknowledging that the sale to Niraja Devi by a registered conveyance deed dated 16.11.1963 prior to the filing of the suit shows that the Respondent was aware of the further sale by Niraja Devi to Perumal Mudaliar by another registered sale deed and thereafter in favour of the Appellant. In such an eventuality, it was urged that the purchasers were necessary parties to the suit and a decree for specific performance obtained behind their back would be a nullity.

In the alternative, it was pleaded that the decree of specific performance was vitiated by a fraud with the purchaser of the property being deliberately not impleaded in the suit. Since Niraja Devi was a bona fide purchaser long prior to the institution of the suit for specific performance by the Respondent, specific performance could not be enforced against her or her transferees as they would fall within the exception of transferee for value who had paid money in good faith and without notice of the original contract.

On the other hand learned senior counsel for the respondent claimed that the Respondent and her daughter are quite old and do not have the wherewithal to pursue litigation. The litigation has been pending since 1961. It was urged that the appellant had title only to 70 acres of land and has trespassed into 0.08 cents of the land, which blocked the entrance to respondent’s land. Thus, though the suit pertains only to a smaller extent of land it affected the enjoyment by the respondent of their possession over larger extent of the land. Learned counsel urged that the trial court and the lower court had overlooked crucial and vital evidence and, thus, the High Court rightly exercised jurisdiction under Section 100 of the said Act. There was no question of impleading the appellant or the prior purchasers as parties as no issue had been framed in the suit in respect thereof. The presumption under Section 114(e) of the Evidence Act must arise and the appellant Trust was aware of the execution proceedings as some of the persons belonging to the appellant Trust are stated to have obstructed the Surveyor’s entry when he went to demarcate the land as well as by the interim and final reports of the surveyor. The Trust never questioned the same at the time and cannot question it now.

ISSUE – Whether the High Court ought to have interfered with the concurrent findings of the trial court and the first appellate court?

DECISION -We find that there are more than one infirmities which make it impossible for us to uphold the view taken under Section 100 of the said Code. Even if the question of law had not been framed at the stage of admission, at least before the deciding the case the said question of law ought to have been framed.

There is undoubtedly an element of dispute with respect to possession raised by the two parties qua their respective 50 acres. Insofar as 70 acres of land is concerned that undisputedly vests with the Appellant. The dispute sought to be raised by the Respondent does not pertain to 50 acres but only to 0.08 cents, a fraction of an acre (0.08 per cent of an acre). It may, however, be noticed that according to the Respondent the small area is important for the enjoyment purposes. In our view, it is not necessary to go into the issue of adverse possession as both parties are claiming title. The crucial aspect is the decree obtained for specific performance by the Respondent and the manner of obtaining the decree. The Respondent was fully aware of the prior registered transaction in respect of the same property originally in favour of Niraja Devi. This is as per the deposition of her manager. In such a scenario it is not possible for us to accept that a decree could have been obtained behind the back of a bona fide purchaser, more so when the transaction had taken place prior to the institution of the suit for specific performance.

The second vital aspect insofar as the case of the Respondent is concerned is that the Respondent did not even step into the witness box to depose to the facts.

It is the manager who stepped into the witness box that too without producing any proper authorisation. What he deposed in a way ran contrary to the interest of the Respondent as it was accepted that there was knowledge of the transaction with respect to the same land between third parties and yet the Respondent chose not to implead the purchasers as parties to the suit. Thus, the endeavour was to obtain a decree at the back of the real owners and that is the reason, at least, in the execution proceedings that the original vendor did not even come forward and the sale deed had to be executed through the process of the Court. The case of Niraja Devi and the subsequent purchasers including the Appellant would fall within the exception set out in Section 19(b) of the Specific Relief Act, being transferees who had paid money in good faith and without notice of the original contract.

We are, thus, unequivocally of the view that for all the aforesaid reasons, the High Court ought not to have interfered with the concurrent findings of the trial court and the first appellate court. The suit of the Respondent stands dismissed in terms of the judgment of the trial court and affirmed by the first appellate court and the impugned judgment of the High Court dated 06.01.2012 is consequently set aside. The appeals are accordingly allowed leaving the parties to bear their own costs.

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