AGARWALSINCE DECEASED v. VISHAN DAYAL RAJPOOT

Ronak Goyal, 3rd Year Law Student, National Law Institute University, Bhopal

FACTUAL BACKGROUND-

The appellant, the landlord filed a small cause suit in 2008 in Small Causes Court Firozabad praying for decree of eviction, rent and damages. The suit was transferred to the Court of Additional District Judge as the valuation exceeded Rs 25,000 i.e. pecuniary limit of Small Causes Court. Meanwhile the case was pending the pecuniary limit of Small Causes Court was increased from Rs. 25,000 to Rs 1,00,000 by UP Civil Laws (Amendment) Act 2015. Additional district Judge decided the suit in favor of the landlord. Aggrieved by the judgment the tenant filed a revision petition before High Court questioning the competence of Additional District Judge after the amendment. High Court ruled in favor of the tenant and allowed the revision thus setting aside ADJ’s Judgment. Aggrieved by the same the landlord filed a Special leave petition which is now for redressal before the Supreme Court.

RULING OF THE COURT-

When Statute provides that cognizance of particular cause is to be taken by a particular Court then no other Court can take cognizance of the same cause. The objection to jurisdiction must be raised before Court of first instance at the earliest possible opportunity.

INTERPRETATION OF LAW

UP Civil Laws (Amendment) Act, 2015 amended Section 15(2)[2] of Provincial Small Causes Court, 1887 and raised the limit of pecuniary jurisdiction of Small Causes Court from Rs 25,000 to Rs 1 lakh with effect from 07-12-15. However the question here was whether the amendment is only prospective or also applicable on the pending cases?

The division bench relied on an earlier judgment of High Court in Shobhit Nigam v. Smt. Batulan & anr[3][hereinafter Shobhit Nigam]where a similar question was raised and the court held that Additional District Judge has no jurisdiction in deciding the suit of valuation Rs 44,000 after the amendment and it must be transferred to Small Causes Court presided over by Civil Judge, Senior division. The above application was challenged by respondent who relied upon another single judge judgment in Pankaj Hotel v. Bal Mukund[4][hereinafter Pankaj Hotels], who held that the amendment will have only prospective application and will not apply to the pending cases. 

The division bench looked into the objects and reasons for formation of Small Causes Court. The same were formulated to expediate the process and to make the procedure less cumbersome than regular Civil Courts. There is a “necessity to empower the District Judge/Additional District Judge to decide small cause cases relating to eviction by lessor against lessee were with the above intent. The Legislature never intended that all cases pertaining to suits by lessor against the lessee of any valuation could be filed in any Small Causes Court”.

District Judge or Additional district judge can take cognizance of all the cases irrespective of their value when functioning as a Small Causes Court but the same is in contradiction with the pecuniary separation between two courts in taking such cognizance. If the above interpretation is carried out it will confuse the litigants, lawyers and subordinate courts. “The mere fact that District Judge or Additional District Judge can take cognizance of suits of unlimited value will not empower them to take cognizance of cases, which, according to statutory Scheme can be taken only by small causes courts presided by Civil Judge”.

The division bench also referred to M.P. Mishra v Sangam Lal Agarwal[5] where it was held that suits above valuation of Rs 5000 decided by District Judge or Additional District Judge will be decided as a Small Causes Suit and not as a normal one.

Black’s law dictionary defines cognizance as court’s “right and power to try and determine cases”. In Pankaj Hotels it was held that UP Civil Laws (Amendment) Act 2015 is prospective and will only apply to suits or appeals instituted after 07-12-15.

SS Bola v. BD Sardana[6] held that “statement of objects and reasons of the statute can be looked into only as extrinsic aid to find out the legislative intent only when the meaning of statute by its ordinary language is obscure and ambiguous”. The same principle was also discussed in Bhaiji v. Sub-divisional Officer[7] where reference to statement of objects and reasons is permissible to understand the background of the circumstances pertaining to the statute.

Therefore division bench in present case explains the meaning of word “cognizance” and states that “When statute provides that cognizance of particular cause is to be taken by a particular court, no other court can take cognizance of the cause, since legislature never creates or provides for parallel jurisdiction in two different courts for taking cognizance of a cause”.

After the amendment the power to decide the suits up to valuation Rs 1 lakh vested in Small Causes Court, Civil Judge Senior Division and therefore no court is competent to take cognizance of such cases. Hence the decision rendered in Shobhit Nigam can be relied upon whereas judgment of Pankaj Hotels cannot be approved.

Section 21 CPC purports that no judgment would be reversed by an Appellate or Revisional Court if objection to jurisdiction was not brought before the court of first instance at the earliest opportunity. In Karan Singh v. Chaman Paswan[8], the Court looked into the legislative intent of Section 21 and 99[9] CPC and Section 11[10] of Suits Valuation Act. It held that a judgment would not be altered purely on technical grounds and objection to both territorial and pecuniary jurisdiction cannot be considered by Appellate or Revisional Court. The Court also enumerated that a decree passed by the court that had jurisdiction because of undervaluation cannot be set aside and “mere change of form is not a prejudice within Section 11 of Suits Valuation Act”.

The division bench relied upon RSDV Finance Company P. ltd v. Shree Vallabh Glass Works ltd[11] and discussed the applicability of Section 21 CPC. It is applicable when-

  • Objection to both territory and pecuniary jurisdiction are not raised before the Court of first instance at the earliest opportunity.
  • No objection is raised before settlement of such issues or
  • There has been no “consequent failure of justice”.

 The categories of jurisdiction were discussed in Harshad Chiman Lal Modi v. DLF Universal ltd.[12] Jurisdiction can be divided into- (a) Pecuniary, (b) Territorial and (c) Other subject matters. In both pecuniary and territorial jurisdiction the objection must be raised at the earliest possible opportunity and no subsequent objection during appellate or revisionary stage will be entertained. However an order passed by the court without its jurisdiction over a subject matter will be null and void.

The present case falls under the pecuniary jurisdiction and therefore Section 21 (2)[13] CPC will be applicable which supports the earliest possible objection before Court of first instance. Since the respondent raised no objections regarding the competence of Court before ADJ and “took a chance to obtain judgments in his favor on merits, he cannot be allowed to turn−round and contend that the court of Additional District Judge had no jurisdiction to try the Small Cause Suit and the judgment is without jurisdiction and nullity”. Section 21 was enacted for similar purposes and since the case was heard on merits and there was no consequent failure of justice, the tenant cannot be allowed to take benefit of his own wrong. Hence the court allowed the appeal thereby correcting the errors made by High Court.

JUDGMENT

The division bench unanimously observed that High Court committed an error in allowing the Revision filed by the respondent. Section 21 CPC is intrinsic and it purports that no objection to jurisdiction can be raised at a revision stage for the first time. Though Additional District Judge was not competent to decide the Small Causes suit after the amendment as pecuniary jurisdiction was increased to Rs 1 lakh and therefore the matter now fell under Court of Small Causes i.e. Civil Judge, Senior Division and the same cannot be interrupted. However the appeal preferred by landlord in Supreme Court is allowed as the tenant failed to bring the objection before the court of first instance and is now barred under Section 21 CPC. 

The Court also cleared the confusion between the Statutes as District Judge or Additional District Judge have unlimited power to hear the suits of any value whereas Small Causes Court, Civil Judge, Senior Division can hear up to Rs 1 lakh. If this interpretation is carried out the litigants will have two forums to be approached for valuation of suits less than Rs 1 lakh and the intention of legislature behind creating Small Causes Court will be defeated. Therefore the Court held that District Judge or Additional District Judge can hear suits of value Rs 1 lakh as “if one statute provides cognizance of a particular suit to one Court then no other Court can take cognizance of the same suit”. This was done to avoid confusion between litigants, lawyers and subordinate courts.

CONCLUSION

The Court looked into Section 21 CPC and concluded that party has an obligation to present its objection to jurisdiction at the earliest opportunity and before the court of first instance and no objections would be permitted later at the Revision Stage.

In present suit the tenant did not object to the competence of Court of Additional District Judge after the enactment of UP Civil Laws (Amendment) Act but he waited for the decision to be in his favor. The suit was decided on merits and no consequent failure of justice was recorded. I concur with the opinion of the Court as “Equity aids the vigilant and not those who slumber on their rights”.

The Court rightly decided to allow the appeal clarifying that Additional District Judge had no jurisdiction to decide the case if any objections would have been raised by the tenant before him. Since he had a fair chance to defend himself but he waited upon for the decision to be in his favor and hence he lost the opportunity to challenge it before High Court as he is now barred under Section 21 CPC.


[1] Om Prakash Agarwal Since Deceased v. Vishan Dayal Rajpoot, AIR 2018 SC 5486.

[2] § 15(2), Provisional Small Causes Court, 1887.

[3] Shobhit Nigam v. Smt. Batulan & anr, (2016) 6 ALJ 484.

[4] Pankaj Hotel v. Bal Mukund, (2017) 9 ADJ 516.

[5] M.P. Mishra Vs. Sangam Lal Agarwal, AIR 1975 ALL 425.

[6] S.S. Bola v. B.D. Sardana , (1997) 8 SCC 522.

[7] Bhaiji vs. Sub−Divisional Officer, (2003) 1 SCC 692.

[8] Karan Singh v. Chaman Paswan (1955) 1 SCR 117.

[9] § 99, Civil Procedure Code, 1908.

[10] § 11, Suits Valuation Act, 1887.

[11] RSDV Finance Company P. ltd v. Shree Vallabh Glass Works ltd, (1993) 2 SCC 130.

[12] Harshad Chiman Lal Modi v. DLF Universal ltd., (2005) 7 SCC 791. 

[13] § 21(2), Civil Procedure Code, 1908.

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