JURISDICTION OF CIVIL COURT
Principles for determination:
The question as regard ouster of a jurisdiction of a Civil Court must be construed having regard to the Scheme of the Act as also the object and purport it seeks to achieve. The law in this regard is no longer res integra.
A plea of bar to jurisdiction of a civil court must be considered having regard to the contentions raised in the plaint. For the said purpose, averments disclosing cause of action and the reliefs sought for therein must be considered in their entirety. The Court may not be justified in determining the question, one way or the other, only having regard to the reliefs claimed dehors the factual averments made in the plaint. The rules of pleadings postulate that a plaint must contain material facts. When the plaint read as a whole does not disclose material facts giving rise to a cause of action which can be entertained by a civil court, it may be rejected in terms of Order 7, Rule 11 of the Code of Civil Procedure.
In Dhulabhai and others vs. The State of Madhya Pradesh and another (1968) 3 SCR 662, Hidayatullah, C.J. summarized the following principles relating to the exclusion of jurisdiction of civil courts :
(a) Where the statute gives a finality to the orders of the special tribunals, the civil court’s jurisdiction must be held to be excluded if there is adequate remedy to do what the civil courts would normally do in a suit. Such provision, however, does not exclude those cases where the provisions of the particular Act have not been complied with or the statutory tribunals has not acted in conformity with the fundamental principles of judicial procedure.
(b) Where there is an express bar of the jurisdiction of the court, an examination of the scheme of the particular Act to find the adequacy or the sufficiency of the remedies provided may be relevant but is not decisive to sustain the jurisdiction of the Civil Court.
Where there is no express exclusion, the examination of the remedies and the scheme of the particular Act to find out the intendment becomes necessary and the result of the inquiry may be decisive. In the latter case, it is necessary to see if the statute creates a special right or a liability and provides for the determination of the right or liability and further lays down that all questions about the said right and liability shall be determined by the tribunals so constituted, and whether remedies normally associated with actions in Civil Courts are prescribed by the said statute or not.
(c) Challenge to the provisions of the particular Act as ultra vires cannot be brought before tribunals constituted under that Act. Even the High Court cannot go into that question on a revision or reference from the decision of the tribunals.
(d) When the provision is already declared unconstitutional or the constitutionality of any provision is to be challenged, a suit is open. A writ of certiorari may include a direction for refund if the claim is clearly within the time prescribed by the Limitation Act but it is not a compulsory remedy to replace a suit.
(e) Where the particular Act contains no machinery for refund of tax collected in excess of constitutional limits or illegally collected, a suit lies.
(f) Questions of the correctness of the assessment, apart from its constitutionality, are for the decision of the authorities and a civil suit does not lie if the orders of the authorities are declared to be final or there is an express prohibition in the particular Act. In either case, the scheme of the particular Act must be examined because it is a relevant enquiry.
(g) An exclusion of the jurisdiction of the civil court is not readily to be inferred unless the conditions above set down apply.
See also Rajasthan State Road Transport Corporation and another vs. Krishna Kant and others (1995) 5 SCC 75; Dwarka Prasad Agarwal vs. Ramesh Chand Agarwal, (2003) 6 SCC 220; Sahebgouda vs. Ogeppa (2003) 6 SCC 151; Dhruv Green Field Ltd. vs. Hukam Singh (2002) 6 SCC 416 and Swamy Atmananda and Ors. vs. Sri Ramakrishna Tapovanam and Ors., (2005) 4 SCALE 116.
The same, however, would not mean that in a given case if the court has the jurisdiction to determine a part of the relief claimed, it will not confine itself thereto and reject the plaint in its entirety. For the purpose of determination of question as to whether the suit is barred, the averments made in the plaint are germane. See Sopan Sukhdeo Sable and others vs. Assistant Charity Commissioner and others, (2004) 3 SCC 137.
With a view to determine the question as regard exclusion of jurisdiction of civil court in terms of the provisions of an Act, the court has to consider what, in substance, and not merely in form, is the nature of the claim made in the suit and the underlying object in seeking the real relief therein.
If for the purpose of grant of an appeal, the court comes to the conclusion that the question is required to be determined or dealt with by an authority under the Act, the jurisdiction of the civil court must be held to have been ousted.
We may give some examples:
In State of Madras vs. Kunnakudi Melamatam and another AIR 1965 SC 1570 a composite suit for injunction was filed claiming two different reliefs, viz. (1) an injunction restraining the levy of contributions and audit fees under Act II of 1927; and (2) an injunction restraining the levy of contributions and audit fees under Act XIX of 1951. It was, in that context, held that although the decision under Section 84(2) of Madras Hindu Religious Endowments Act that an institution is outside the purview of the Act, the demand of contribution as being not enforceable under the 1951 Act was maintainable.
In Sri Vedagiri Lakshmi Narasimha Swami Temple vs. Induru Pattabhirami Reddi AIR 1967 SC 781, this Court was concerned with a question as to what constitutes an administration of religious property. In that case, the provisions of the Act did not impose a total bar on the maintainability of a suit in a civil court and having regard to that aspect of the matter vis-a-vis Section 92 of the Code of Civil Procedure it was held that Section 93 of Madras Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act would apply in the matter for which provision has been made in the Act and would not bar the suit under the general law which do not fall within the scope of any section of the Act. This decision instead of helping the Appellant runs counter to their claim.
In Chiranjilal Shrilal Goenka (Deceased) through L.Rs. vs. Jasjit Singh and others (1993) 2 SCC 507, it was held that in matters relating to Will the Probate Court has exclusive jurisdiction. The said decision was rendered having regard to the fact that the decision of a probate court is a judgment in rem and conclusive and binds not only the parties but also the entire world.
In Rajasthan State Road Transport Corporation and Another vs. Krishna Kant and others (1995) 5 SCC 75, this Court following Dhulabhai (supra) held that having regard to the provisions contained in the Industrial Disputes Act and Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act, 1946, the civil court will have no jurisdiction as enumerated in paragraph 35.
In Sahebgouda (Dead) by L.Rs. and others vs. Ogeppa and others (2003) 6 SCC 151, the allegations made in the plaint showed that the only right claimed by the Appellants was that of being ancestral pujaris of the temple. They did not claim to be the trustees of any trust. No declaration regarding the existence or otherwise of the trust or any particular property is the property of such trust had been claimed and in that view of the matter, it was held that the reliefs so claimed do not come within the purview of Section 19 or Section 79 of the Act wherefor the Deputy or Assistant Charity Commissioner will have the exclusive jurisdiction to hold an inquiry and give a decision.
Ramesh Chand Ardawatiya vs. Anil Panjwani (2003) 7 SCC 350 has no application in the present case as therein the Charity Commissioner took a specific objection that the civil court’s jurisdiction is barred whereupon several additional issues were framed and determined.
In NDMC vs. Satish Chand (Deceased) by L.R. Ram Chand (2003) 10 SCC 38, this Court clearly held that Sections 84 and 86 of the Punjab Municipal Act, 1911 bar the jurisdiction of the civil court as the Act provided a complete remedy to the party at plea as also a remedy by way of an appeal.
In Mahibubi Abdul Aziz and others vs. Sayed Abdul Majid and others 2001(2) Mh LJ 512, a learned single Judge of the Bombay High Court held that a civil suit cannot be entertained only because a complicated questions of title has been raised.
In Keki Pestronji Jamadar and another vs. Khodadad Merwan Irani and others AIR 1973 (Bom) 130, the question was as to whether the author of a trust was the lawful owner of the property of which he has created the trust. The Full Bench of Bombay High Court held that the author of the trust has no title over the property and Section 80 would not operate as a bar.
In Nagar Wachan Mandir, Pandharpur vs. Akbaralli Abdulhusen and Sons and others (1994) 1 Mh LJ 280 a question arose as regard power of a co-trustee to delegate a matter relating to grant or determination of lease to another co-trustee keeping in view of Section 47 of the Act which deprives the trustee from delegating his office or any of his duties to a co-trustee or a stranger unless conditions mentioned therein are complied with.
The principle enunciated in each of the decision laid down relate to the fact-situation obtaining therein. In each case indisputably the lis arose for determination of a question relating to interpretation of one or the other clause enumerated in different provisions of the BPT Act which come either within the exclusive jurisdiction of the statutory authorities or otherwise. The Civil Court will have no jurisdiction in relation to a matter whereover the statutory authorities have the requisite jurisdiction. On the other hand, if a question arises, which is outside the purview of the Act or in relation to a matter, unconnected with the administration or possession of the trust property, the Civil Court may have jurisdiction. In this case, having regard to the nature of the lis, the jurisdiction of the Civil Court was clearly barred.[ Court in Church of India vs. Lavajibhai Ratanjibhai and Ors. (2005) 10 SCC 760]