Let us advert to the definition of the expressions ‘applicant’ and ‘application’ found in Ss. 2(a) and 2(b) of the Limitation Act, 1963;
“2(a) ‘applicant’ includes –
(i) a petitioner;
(ii) any person from or through whom an applicant derives his right to apply; (iii) any person whose estate is represented by the applicant as executor, administrator or other representative;
(b)’application’ includes a petition”. The definitions are inclusive. They do not expaliate the meanings that should be annexed to the expressions as such. We must find out what ‘application’ could legitimately and in the legal sense mean. The definition in Section 2(a) and 2(b) may not by themselves be helpful to decide this crucial aspect. In Shorter Oxford English Dictionary some of the meanings annexed to the expression ‘application’ are: “the action of putting a thing to another”; “the bringing of anything to bear practically upon another”; and “the action of making an appeal, request or petition to a person”. In Stroud’s Judicial Dictionary Third Edition, one of the meanings annexed to the expression ‘application’ runs as follows:
“‘Application’ includes the hearing of the action as well as an interlocutory proceeding (International Financial Society v. Mescow Gas Co., (1877) 7 CHD 241”.
The nomenclature of the application is not decisive. The words used in the statute must be construed not according to the more ordinary general meaning of the words. In this connection, we feel obliged to extract the following passage occurring in Maxwell on The Interpretation of Statutes — Twelfth Edition:
“The words of a Statute, when there is doubt about their meaning, are to be understood in the sense in which they best har-monian with the subject of the enactment. Their meaning is found not so much in a strictly grammatical or etymological propriety of language, nor even in its popular use, as in the subject, or in the occasion on which they are used, and the object to be attained. Grammatically, words may cover a case; but whenever a statute of document is to be construed it must be construed not according to the mere ordinary general meaning of the words, but according to the ordinary meaning of the words as applied to the subject-matter with regard to which they are used, unless there is something which renders it necessary to read them in a sense which is not their ordinary sense in the English language as so applied.”
The first and the foremost impression that occur to the mind of the Court is that an ‘application’ referred to in the Limitation Act, 1963, must be one intended to settle or secure the rights of the applicant and. correspondingly the obligations of the opposite party. There cannot be dispute that the application must be only before a Court of law. So long as no application is made or presented before a Court of law, the question of limitation would not arise at all. The provisions of the Code of Civil Procedure, hereinafter referred to as the Code, govern the presentation of proceedings before a Court of law. Section 26 of the Code prescribes that every suit shall be instituted by the presentation of a Plaint or in such other manner, as may be prescribed. Section 141 of the Code says that the procedure provided in the Code in regard to suits shall be followed as far as it can be made applicable in all proceedings in any Court of civil jurisdiction. What is the meaning to be given to the word ‘proceedings’?
The word ‘Proceedings’, in its compendium, will certainly take in applications. The scope of ‘Proceedings’ itself has been considered by pronouncements of this Court.
The words ‘suit or proceeding’ have been interpreted in various senses in different statutes according to the intent and scope of the statute, sometimes in a narrow sense and sometimes in a wide sense. The word ‘suit’ in a narrow sense is confined to a litigation initiated in a trial Court and ending with a decree or a final order passed by it. In this sense it would not include execution proceedings or proceedings in appeal. But in a wide sense it has been interpreted as comprehending the entire litigation commencing from the initiation of the litigation in the trial Court up to the state when the ultimate decision is reached in the final Court of appeal or as revision. In this view it would include execution proceedings in appeal as continuation of the suit.
The word ‘proceeding’ has been similarly interpreted. In its narrow sense, it is a step in any action or in an independent proceeding analogous to an action by which a litigation is initiated. In a wide sense it has been interpreted, if used in juxtaposition with a suit, to include any proceeding in the nature of a suit. Even in this view, having regard to the context, it is sometimes limited only to the stage of litigation commenced by filing a petition or application in the trial Court and ending with an order or decree passed by that Court.
In another view it is meant to indicate all the applications in execution of a decree or order passed in the main proceeding and also all proceedings in appeal as continuation of the proceeding. The word ‘proceeding’ used alone has been interpreted to mean all judicial proceedings and when applied to suits to mean the suit as a whole. Therefore the meaning to be attributed to the word ‘suit’ or ‘proceeding’ must depend upon the scope of the enactment wherein the said expressions are used and with reference to the particular context wherein they occur.”
In Kochadai Naidu and Another Vs. Nagayasami Naidu and Others, , Ramachandra Iyer, J. as he then was, while construing the word ‘proceeding’, occurring in S. 24 of the Code, had occasion to advert to its definition, found in Shorter Oxford Dictionary and in ‘words and phrases’ permanent Edition Volume 34, as follows:
“The word ‘proceeding’ is defined in the Shorter Oxford Dictionary as doing a legal action or process, any act done by the authority of a Court of law”. In ‘words and phrases’ Permanent Edition Volume 34, a number of meanings taken from American decisions are given for the word ‘proceedings’. Two of them which I give below bring out of the essential import of the words:
(1)’The word ‘proceeding ordinarily relates to forms of law, to the modes in which judicial transactions are conducted.’
(2) ‘The term ‘proceeding’ is a very comprehensive term and generally speaking means a prescribed course of action for enforcing a legal right and hence it necessarily embraces the requisite steps by which a judicial action is invoked.”
Venkatadri, J. in K.J. Lingan and A.V. Mahayalam and Others Vs. Joint Commercial Tax Officer and Another, , referred to the earlier pronouncements of this Court with regard to the meaning to be annexed to the term ‘proceeding’ and held that the very action of calling upon a dealer by the notice of commounding u/s 46 of the Madras General Sales Tax Act 1 of 1959 is a proceeding under that Act, since it is a step in aid or action taken by the concerned authority in the whole process of assessing the dealer on his turnover and hence, a Revision would lie against such notice.
Tek Chand, J. of the High Court of Punjab & Haryana in Workmen of Bali Singh and Bhagwan Singh Vs. Management of Bali Singh and Bhagwan Singh, , while construing the word ‘proceeding’ in S. 93 of the Punjab Reorganisation Act, (1966), observed as follows (at p 149 of AIR):
“Even if inclusive definition was not given of the word ‘proceeding’ in Section 93, in its general acceptation also, it is a term of wide amplitude; and means a prescribed course of action for enforcing or protecting a legal right and further embracing the requisite steps to be taken whether procedural or substantive. Proceeding also means forms in which relief is sought before Courts of Law or before other bodies or authorities determining rights and liabilities and in which actions are brought and defended and the manner of conducting them and the mode of deciding them”.
As a principle, it has to be stated that the word ‘proceedings’, which takes in applications within its ambit is relatable to an action in a Court of law. With regard to the meaning to be annexed to the word ‘action’, in Bharat Bank Ltd. v. Ruby General Insurance Co. Ltd., AIR 1951 Pun 97, the following passage from Haisbury’s Laws of England stands extracted:
“An ‘action’ according to the legal meaning of the term, is a proceeding by which one party seeks in a Court of Justice to enforce some right against, or to restrain the commission of some wrong by, another party. More concisely it may be said to be ‘the legal demand of a right’, or ‘the mode of pursuing a right to judgment’. It implies the existence of Parties, of an alleged right, of an alleged infringement thereof (either actual or threatened), and of a Court having power to enforce such a right.”
In Stroud’s Judicial Dictionary — Third Edition, one of the definitions given to the word ‘action’ runs as follows:
“This is a generic term, and means a litigation in a civil Court for the recovery of individual right or redress of individual wrong, inclusive, in Us proper legal sense, of suits by the Crown (Bradlauch v. Clarke, (1883) 8 App Cas 354; see also Judgment of Brett, M. R. in A. G. v. Bradlauch, (1885) 14 QBD 667).
In substance, an ‘action is a legal proceeding, whereby the applicant seeks enforcement or rights or claims and/or discharge of obligations cast on the opposite side towards the applicant. To put it in a nutshell as a proposition of law, an application must be an action before a Court of law.