Skip to content


Shantilal H. Shah and ors. Vs. Union of India - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectCompany
CourtMumbai High Court
Decided On
Case NumberSuit No. 591 of 1972
Judge
Reported in[1975]45CompCas176(Bom)
ActsIndian Penal Code (IPC), 1860 - Sections 141 and 146
AppellantShantilal H. Shah and ors.
RespondentUnion of India ;(Fire and General Insurance Co. Ltd.)
Appellant AdvocateD.N. Buch, Adv.
Respondent AdvocateR.L. Mathalone, Adv.
Excerpt:
.....of word 'riot' appeared in clause of insurance policy raised - expression 'riot' to be given legal meaning as contemplated under sections 14 and 146. - indian succession act (39 of 1925), section 63: [s.b. sinha & cyriac joseph, jj] will validity - deceased, was a very wealthy person - he floated several companies - he left behind his daughters, s and j - he was suffering from various diseases including some neurological ones - for his treatment, he used to frequently visit united states of america accompanied by his wife and daughter - by reason of a will, he is said to have bequeathed 50% of his property to s and 50% to j in a letter addressed to the 1st respondent, viz., s, he is purported to have recorded that the he had given all his shares to her - will was not only..........6. at first blush one would have thought that the expression 'riot' ought to be given either the legal meaning as used in the penal code or the ordinary english meaning as stated in the standard dictionaries. however, on behalf of the plaintiffs it is contended by mr. buch that a third interpretation ought to be given to the expression 'riot' as used in clause 6 of the insurance policy, because the context of clause 6 so requires. it is, therefore, necessary to consider the context or the juxtaposition in which the expression 'riot' finds place in clause 6. clause 6 which is an exception to the liability under the policy states that the insurance does not cover any loss or damage occasioned by or though or in consequence directly or indirectly of indirectly or any of the occurrences.....
Judgment:

R.P. Bhatt, J.

1. By a policy of fire insurance dated 6th April, 1970, the predecessor of the defendants (hereinafter referred to as 'the defendants') agreed to identify the plaintiffs in the sum of Rs. 2,00,000 against fire, in respect of a property known as 'Pratap Sadan' situate at Nanavat, Surat, and also in respect of definite items of property mentioned in the said policy of insurance and of which the plaintiffs as present trustees are the owners.

2. Clause 6 of the said policy is in these terms :

'This insurance does not cover any loss or damage occasioned by or through or in consequence directly or indirectly of any of the following occurrences, viz. :

(a) Earthquake, volcanic eruption or other convulsions of nature.

(b) Typhoon, hurricane, tornado, cyclone or other atmospheric disturbance.

(c) War, invasion, act of foreign enemy, hostilities or warlike operations (whether war be declared or not) or civil war.

(d) Mutiny, riot, military or popular uprising insurrection, rebellion, revolution, military or usurped power, martial law or state of siege or any of the events or causes which determine the proclamation or maintenance of martial law or state of siege. Any loss or damage happening during the existence of abnormal conditions (whether physical or otherwise), which are occasioned by or through or in consequence; directly or indirectly, or any of the said occurrences shall be deemed to be loss or damage which is not covered by this insurance, except to the extent that the insured shall prove that such loss or damage happened independently of the existence of such abnormal conditions.'

In any action, suit or other proceeding where the society alleges that by reason of the provisions of this conditions any loss or damage is not covered by this insurance, the burden of proving that such loss or damage is covered shall be upon the insured.

3. On 15th January, 1971, at about 9 p.m. 200 to 300 persons attacked the press of the plaintiffs situate in the said building known as 'Pratap Sadan' and although the employees of the press who were working at that time, took all possible precautions by closing all doors and windows of the said building, the crowd succeeded in breaking open some of the windows and threw lighted kerosene rags and set the premises on fire. Although assistance was called for, none could be rendered, in view of the violent attitude of the crowd. It appears that the plaintiffs, who were insured, suffered a loss of about rupees 5 lakhs in connection with their property. The plaintiffs in view of the damage so ensued made a claim against the defendants under the said insurance policy. The defendants by their letter dated 4th November, 1971, replied that as 'riot risk' was not covered under the policy, the plaintiffs' claim need not be entertained. They relied upon the surveyor's report dated 8th September, 1971, in which the events leading to the fire were stated. The facts mentioned in the surveyor's report dated 8th September, 1971, are admitted by the plaintiffs, for tree purpose of deciding the question raised in the originating summons.

4. It is the contention of the defendants that from what transpired on the night of the 15th January, 1971, the damage occasioned thereby to the premises of the plaintiffs, was by reason of a 'riot' which took place on that night as it was the intention of the crowd that had gathered to destroy by fire the property which was insured by the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs, on the other hand, contend that what transpired on the night of the 15th January, 1971, was not a 'riot' within the meaning of that expression in clause 6 to the said policy and the plaintiffs were entitled to make a claim under the said fire insurance policy and the defendants were bound to make payment.

5. In view of the different interpretations placed by the plaintiffs and the defendants upon the expression 'riot' as used in clause 6(d) of the said policy this originating summons has now been taken out by the plaintiffs and the court is asked to determine the question whether, on the facts and circumstances set out in the plaint, the loss or damage to the plaintiffs was occasioned by or through or in consequence directly or indirectly of the occurrence of a 'riot' as that expression is used in clause 6(d) of the policy conditions.

6. At first blush one would have thought that the expression 'riot' ought to be given either the legal meaning as used in the Penal Code or the ordinary English meaning as stated in the standard dictionaries. However, on behalf of the plaintiffs it is contended by Mr. Buch that a third interpretation ought to be given to the expression 'riot' as used in clause 6 of the insurance policy, because the context of clause 6 so requires. It is, therefore, necessary to consider the context or the juxtaposition in which the expression 'riot' finds place in clause 6. Clause 6 which is an exception to the liability under the policy states that the insurance does not cover any loss or damage occasioned by or though or in consequence directly or indirectly of indirectly or any of the occurrences mentioned in clause 6. Clause (a) and (b) deal with, inter alia, calamities. Clause (c) deals with a state of war or workout operations and clause (d) with which we are materially concerned, deals with internal conflicts or internal disturbances of peace. It speaks of mutiny, riot, military or popular uprising, insurrection, rebellion, revolution, military or super power, material law or state of siege or any of the events or causes which determine the proclamation or maintenance or material law or state of siege.

7. Mr. Buch contends that the expression 'riot' is in juxtaposition with mutiny or morality or popular uprising against the established authority and not an act of violence of a crowd against a private individual in respect of a private individual in respect of a private motive. He contends that a restricted meaning must be given to this expression because a policy of insurance must be given an interpretation which is more beneficial to the insured. His argument in short is that, in the context of clause (d), the expression 'riot' should be given neither the legal meaning nor the ordinary dictionary meaning but a third meaning which the present context alone requires.

8. Mr. Mathalone, on the other hand, in reply, contends that the legal meaning must be given to the expression 'riot' (as the decided cases so show) or in any event at least the ordinary dictionary meaning should be given to the expression 'riot' and contends that, on the admitted factors placed before the court, it is quite clear that there was a 'riot' and it was due to the riot that the damage has occurred to the plaintiffs' property.

9. Mr. Buch on behalf of the plaintiffs relies upon the decision of the Supreme Court dated 12th March, 1974, in the case of Union of India v. Raman Iron Foundry and Union of India v. Air Foam Industries (P.) Ltd. being Civil Appeals Nos. 1330 of 73 and 1224 of 1973. The observations of the Supreme Court in that decision are relied upon for the submission that an expression or a word should be interpreted in the context in which it appears and that in the present case the expression 'riot' in juxtaposition with the other expressions, mutiny, military or popular uprising, etc., the only meaning that can be given to the word 'riot' is a general uprising against the established authority.

10. The following observations of that decision are relied upon :

'...... it is a well-settled rule of interpretation applicable alike to instruments as to statutes that the meaning of ordinary words is to be found not so much in strict etymological property of language nor even in popular use as in the subject or occasion on which they are used and the object which is intended to be attained. The context and collocation of a particular expression may show that it was not intended to be used in the sense which it ordinarily bears. Language is at best an imperfect medium of expression and a variety of meanings may often lie in a word or expression. The exact colour and shape of the meaning of any word or expression should not be ascertained by reading it in isolation, but it should be read structurally and, in its context, for its meaning may vary with its contextual setting.'

These observations are relied upon for the purpose of giving a special meaning to the expression 'riot' which would not be so if interpreted either legally or in popular language. the reason given for such interpretation is that sub-clause (d) of clause 6 speaks of an upheaval or a general uprising and a breach of peace thereby and thus means some sort of disorder against the established authority, whether a local authority or the State, and the word 'riot' finds place in such context. It is contended that a construction beneficial to the insured should be intended in a policy of insurance.

11. The expression 'riot' has been judicial considered both by the English courts as well as by the High Courts in India. It may be stated that conditions of all standard insurance policies like fire, burglary, motor accident, etc., usually incorporate in them standard and similar conditions. Such conditions are well understood by the parties entering into a contract of insurance and by usage and practice the words used in such conditions have received an accepted meaning in trading circles.

12. Before I proceed to deal with the legal decisions cited on this point, I would like to dispose of an argument on behalf of the plaintiffs that where two or more words which are susceptible of analogous meaning coupled together, noscitur a sociis, they are understood to be used in their cognate sense. It is stated that they take as it were their colour from each other, the meaning of the more general being restricted to a sense analogous to that of the less general. In this connect in Maxwell on the Interpretation of Statutes, 12th edition, at page 289, was cited a well as a passage to the same effect from Broom's Legal Maxims. The short answer to this contention is that for this principle of understanding two or more words which have been used in their cognate sense, the words must themselves suggest or must be susceptible of an analogous meaning. This principle cannot otherwise apply. In condition 6, sub-clause (d), each of the expressions or words used have, in my opinion, an independent meaning. Each word connotes or is attributed to a different occasion or circumstance. Therefore, in interpreting such a condition one has to interpret each expression and seek its meaning independent of the others words that may be used as each expression involves an independent set of circumstances or surroundings.

13. This, therefore, takes me to the consideration of the question as to whether the expression 'riot' should be given its legal meaning or should be given its ordinary dictionary meaning. I may state at once that, for the purpose of deciding this originating summons, it is unnecessary for me to determine as to whether the legal meaning or the dictionary meaning should be given to the word 'riot' because it is agreed that, on the facts of the case, on either of such meanings being given it will not be within the scope of the policy. However, as this point has been argued at length by the plaintiffs and the defendants, I shall shortly deal with this question.

14. Mr. Mathalone has relied upon the decision in London and Lancashire Fire Insurance Co. Ltd. v. Bolands Ltd., for the proposition that the legal meaning ought to be given to the expression 'riot' as used in a policy of assurance resting to loss by burglary, house-breaking and theft and there was a condition similar in threesome to the present No. 6(d) of the present policy of insurance. The observations of Lord Sumner at page 847, which are as follows, are relied upon :

'It is true that the uninstructed layman probably does not think, in connection with the word 'riot', of such a sense as is described in the case stated. How he would describe it, I know not, but he probably thinks of something, if not more picturesque at any rate more noisy. There is, however, no warrant here for saying that, when the proviso uses a word which is emphatically a term of legal art, it is to be confined, in the interpretation of the policy, to circumstances which are only within popular notions on the subject, but are not within the technical meaning of the word. It clearly must be so with regard to martial law; it clearly, I think, must be so with regard to acts of foreign enemies; and I see no reason why the word 'riot' should not include its technical meaning here as clearly as 'burglary' and 'house-breaking' do.'

15. These observations lend support to the contention of Mr. Mathalone that the expression 'riot' in the present policy of insurance must be given a legal meaning as defined in the Penal Code. He also relied upon the decision in Damodardas Nagori Motilal v. Ruby General Insurance Co. Ltd. That was a case in which a crowd of about 100 to 200 persons gathered round a motor vehicle which had knocked down a young boy and the crowd without waiting to inquire whether the driver was at fault, began to throw stones and set fire to the vehicle and thereby damaged the same. The owner of the motor vehicle then filed a suit against the insurance company under a comprehensive policy of insurance which he had obtained. The insurance company defended the suit on the ground that the damage to the motor vehicle was caused by a 'riot' and hence excluded from the cover of the policy. The court accepted the contention on behalf of the insurance company and held that the loss was caused by a 'riot' and as that risk was expressly excepted by the policy of insurance, no liability accused to the insurance company. It was held that the term 'riot' or civil commotion, etc., were terms of legal art and they must be given their technical meaning unless the court was fully satisfied that the instrument itself or from circumstances of the case the parties intended to give it any other meaning. The Madhya Pradesh High Court also relied upon the decision of the Appeal Court in London and Lancashire Fire Insurance Co. Ltd. v. Bolands Ltd., to which I have adverted before. Mr. Mathalone relied upon the following observations of the court at page 33 :

'Neither riot nor civil commotion has been defined in the policy of insurance but it is a settled rule of judicial construction that where terms of lead art are used in a policy of insurance, they must be given their technical meaning.'

16. Therefore, according to these decisions the word 'riot' when it occurs in a policy of insurance should be given legal meaning and must be understood in its strict legal sense and not in its popular signification. This also is the view of the authorities of standard text books on the law of insurance. It is unnecessary to refer to them as no contrary view has been cited by Mr. Buch for the plaintiffs. Reference may be made to the only argument placed by the plaintiffs against this rule of interpretation that in the context of the other words, viz, mutiny, military or popular uprising, etc., the word 'riot' cannot mean 'acts of violence against a private individual'. No principle has been propound to alter the judicial interpretation and why a meaning should be given to the expression 'riot' which is not in consonance with the same except the observations of the Supreme Court mentioned above. In my opinion, the observations of the Supreme Court in the above cited decisions do not apply to the facts of the present case. In that case the words to be interpreted were 'any claim for the payment of a sum of money'. Now this expression is not a legal expression but an expression of common occurrence in contracts of various types and used by the various contracting parties with a different intension, it may be used in a building contract, it may be used in a contract relating to sale of goods or it may occur in an hire purchase agreement. Therefore, in every such individual contract the expression has to be interpreted in the context of that particular contract and the intention of the parties. A policy of insurance, on the other hand, although a contract entered into with an individual assured, is always a contract as I have stated earlier in a standard form with standard conditions and which conditions have, by trade usage and judicial decisions, received a certain specific meaning and the same intention should, therefore, be ascribed to the parties entering into such a contract. If that be so, than in the present case also, it is clear to my mind, that the parties intended to give to the expression used in condition No. 6, the legal meaning thereto and it was intended by the parties that the expression 'riot' should have the meaning ascribed by the law. It is a matter of general knowledge that where in a policy either of fire, burglary or a motor accident, the assured wants an indemnity for an additional risk such as riot, civil commotion, etc., an extra premium has to be paid. Therefore, at the time when such a contract is entered into, the insurer is fully aware of the consequences if property is not covered faith a 'riot' is to be covered an additional premium is required. In my opinion, the expression 'riot' as used in condition No. 6, clause (d), must be given its ordinary legal meaning as is given in section 141 read with section 146 of the Indian Penal Code, viz., that whenever force or violence is used by any unlawful assembly or by any member thereof in prosecution of the common object of such assembly every member of such assembly is guilty of the offence of riot.

17. Turning now to the dictionary meanings of the expression 'riot', Webster's 7th New International Dictionary defined 'riot' as to be 'violence, tumult or disorder, a violent public disorder, specifically tumultuous disturbance of the public peace by three or more persons, assembled together and acting with a common intention'. In the Concise Oxford Dictionary the word 'riot' is stated to mean : 'disorder, tumult, disturbance of the peace, outbreak of lawlessness on the part of a crowd'. These attributes to the expression 'riot' correspond to a large extent with the legal meaning, except that in law the number of persons who create such a trouble or disorder have to be three in number under the English law and five under the Indian Law, viz., the Penal Code. Therefore, either taking the legal meaning in its strict sense or the dictionary meaning which may be termed as ordinary popular meaning on the facts of the case, a 'riot' did break out and damage cause to the property was by reason of such riot. The crowd in the present case numbered more than 200 to 300 and they attacked the press with the intention to cause damage and as stated in the surveyor's report a deliberate attempt was made to destroy by fire the property insured and which the rioters could partially succeed in doing. Therefore, in my opinion, as the damage was caused by a riot having broken out, the defendants are not liable under the policy of insurance dated 6th April, 1970.

18. I, therefore, answer the questions as follows :

(a) Yes.

(b) & (c) Refusal by the defendants was justified.

As the questions raised are of some importance, I think that the fair order for costs would be that there should be no order as to costs.


Save Judgments// Add Notes // Store Search Result sets // Organizer Client Files //