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Ratansey Virji Vs. Meghji Hirji Jangeali - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectCivil
CourtMumbai
Decided On
Case NumberO.C.J. Appeal No. 30 of 1933 and Suit No. 1366 of 1932
Judge
Reported inAIR1934Bom431; (1934)36BOMLR901; 153Ind.Cas.283
AppellantRatansey Virji
RespondentMeghji Hirji Jangeali
DispositionAppeal dismissed
Excerpt:
.....as a whole whether bound to follow procedure when it has inherent jurisdiction to inquire into caste offences-jurisdiction of court in caste matters-membership involving right to property gives jurisdiction.;the general principles applicable to the expulsion of members from a club govern cases of expulsion of persons from caste. those principles, so far as relevant, involve that the expulsion must be in accordance with the rules of natural justice, which means primarily that the accused must have a fair hearing, and that the expulsion must be in accordance with the rules.;jagannalh churn v. akali dassia (1893) i.l.r. 21 cal 463. appaya v. padappa (1898) i.l.r. 23 bom. 122, and krishnasami v. vira-sami (1886) i.l.r. i.l.r. 10 mad. 133, followed.;where the membership of a caste..........he criticised the conduct of defendant no. 3, when he was acting as president of the mahajan or caste meeting. the letters are couched in quite courteous terms, and the criticism is not, i should have thought, of a very serious character, and i am disposed to agree with the learned trial judge ,that if defendant no. 3 had been more a man of the world, he would not have troubled much about this criticism. however, he seems to have taken offence at these letters, and decided to bring the matter before a meeting of the caste. accordingly, notice was given to the plaintiff 'that a meeting of the caste would be held at which these letters would be considered, and at the same time notice of the meeting was given to all; the members by a notice which was affixed to the meeting place, in.....
Judgment:

John Beaumont, Kt., C.J.

1. This is an appeal from a decision of Mr. justice Mirza. The plaintiff was a member of the Cutchi Dassa Oswal caste. Defendant No. 3 is the acting President of the caste, and the other defendants are prominent members of the caste. The caste have authorised defendants Nos. 2, 3, and 4 to defend the suit. The plaintiff claims a declaration that the resolution dated August 26, 1932, expelling him from the caste is invalid and of no effect, and an injunction to restrain the defendants from giving effect to the resolution. The material facts can be shortly stated. In the month of August, 1932, namely, on August 3 and 9, the plaintiff wrote two letters to defendant No. 3, which are exhibits A and B, in which he criticised the conduct of defendant No. 3, when he was acting as President of the Mahajan or caste meeting. The letters are couched in quite courteous terms, and the criticism is not, I should have thought, of a very serious character, and I am disposed to agree with the learned trial Judge ,that if defendant No. 3 had been more a man of the world, he would not have troubled much about this criticism. However, he seems to have taken offence at these letters, and decided to bring the matter before a meeting of the caste. Accordingly, notice was given to the plaintiff 'that a meeting of the caste would be held at which these letters would be considered, and at the same time notice of the meeting was given to all; the members by a notice which was affixed to the meeting place, in which it was stated that the letters would be placed before the meeting for proper action, and the fact that the letters made allegations against defendant No. 3 as President was referred to. There is, I think, not the slightest doubt that the plaintiff received a proper notice of the meeting and of the various adjournments. Eventually, the meeting was held on. August 26, having been adjourned on various previous occasions, and at that meeting the plaintiff appeared and gave his defence. He then asked for an adjournment, which the caste refused, there already having been, one adjournment at the plaintiff's request, and the caste finally decided that they would fine the plaintiff Rs. 101 for his offence in writing the two letters in question, and then they passed a further resolution to the effect that if the fine was not paid within twenty-four hours the plaintiff should be outcasted. Thereupon the plaintiff immediately started this suit.

2. Various points have been taken on behalf of the plaintiff, which are dealt with exhaustively in the judgment; of the learned trial Judge. It is said that the letters involved no caste offence, and that the caste did not proceed in accordance with the rules of natural justice, but it is not necessary, I think, to deal with any of the points taken except one, and that is that the caste did not proceed in accordance with its own rules. That point was taken by the plaintiff in the plaint, and the answer made to it was a denial by the defendants that the caste had not proceeded in accordance with the rules. Now, it appears that in the month of August, 1904, certain rules were made by this caste, and it was provided that all the work of the Mahajan would be carried on according to the rules so long as no changes were made therein, and that the various committees and servants of the Mahajan and the Mahajan itself should act agreeably to the rules. Then the 8th rule deals with the question of punishment of members of the caste. That rule provides :-

If it is found that any member or family of the Mahajan has committed any-offence whatever with reference to the community, then such member or family will be called before the meeting of the Managing Committee for inquiry, and if the aforesaid Committee finds anyone guilty after giving him full opportunity to defend himself and after fully considering every matter, then proper punishment will be, meted out to him with the consent of the Mahajan.

3. That, I think, is the only material part of the rule, which appears to contemplate four steps. First of all, there must be a finding that a member has committed an offence. That probably means that it must be made to appear-whether to the Mahajan or its committee is not apparent -but it must be made to appear that there is prima facie reason for thinking that a member has committed an offence. Then, secondly, that: member has to be called before the meeting of the managing committee; and, thirdly, the managing committee has to give full opportunity to him to defend himself, and it has to consider fully every matter. If it finds the member guilty, then the fourth step is that proper punishment is to be meted out to him with the consent of the Mahajan, which seems to mean that the committee has to propose the punishment, but the Mahajan itself has to consent to the punishment. Now, it is quite clear that in this case the second and third stages provided for by the rules were omitted altogether, and the fourth stage was altered. When, at the meeting of August 26, the Mahajan came to the conclusion that there was an offence by the plaintiff, its duty under the rule was to refer the matter for inquiry to the managing committee. That the Mahajan did not do. After the committee had inquired, giving the plaintiff full opportunity to be heard before it, and after the committee had suggested a proper punishment, then only could the Mahajan consent to that punishment. Instead of doing that, the Mahajan themselves entered into an inquiry. As far as I can see, they gave the plaintiff a perfectly fair hearing, but the plaintiff did not get the hearing to which he was entitled under the rule, namely, the hearing before the committee; he got a hearing before the whole Mahajan, and the punishment meted out was not the punishment suggested by the committee; it was a punishment imposed by resolution of the whole Mahajan. Therefore, it is perfectly plain that the expulsion of the plaintiff was not in accordance with the rule.

4. Mr. Taraporewala for the defendants has argued that it is open to the Mahajan to disregard the rules. He says that this rule is a rule of no great importance, and deals only with procedure. I am not at all prepared to accept that view. I think the rule is a vital rule which deals with the sort of inquiry which has to be made before the very serious step is taken of punishing a member, possibly by expulsion. I think that questions as to whether a particular rule is a vital rule, or a rule of procedure, are really hardly appropriate to consider when one is dealing with the rules of a body like a caste, which itself has not drawn any such distinction. It seems to me that all that the Court can do is to see that the rules as they stand are obeyed. It is clear from many cases decided by the Indian High Courts, e. g., Krishnasami v. Virasami I.L.R (1886) Mad. 133. Jagannath Churn v. Akali Dassia I.L.R(1893) Cal 463. and Appaya v. Padappa I.L.R(1898) Bom. 122, that the general principles applicable to the expulsion of members from a club govern cases of expulsion of persons from caste, and those principles, so far as relevant, involve that the expulsion must be in accordance with the rules of natural justice, which means primarily that the accused must have a fair hearing, and that the expulsion must be in accordance with the rules. The last proposition is stated in Jagannath Churn v. Akali Dassia, and referred to with approval in Appaya v. Padappa, and indeed the proposition seems to me to be obvious. Mr. Taraporewala has suggested that there is a distinction between the case of a caste and the case of a club, because, he says, in the case of a club there is no power of expulsion unless such a power is given by the rules, whilst in the case of a caste there is an inherent power of expulsion. I will assume, without expressing any opinion on the point, because I myself feel some doubt about it, that there is an inherent power of expulsion in a caste not dependent on proof of usage within the caste. But, assuming that there is an inherent power of expulsion from the caste, it seems to me an elementary proposition that if the caste chooses to make a rule as to the procedure and methods which shall be adopted before that power is exercised, then the caste must comply with the rule. The argument of Mr. Taraporewala really comes to this : that because it was not necessary for the caste to make a rule, and because the caste can alter the rule when it has made it, therefore the caste can ignore the rule whilst it exists. That seems to me a proposition which it is quite impossible to establish. Here the expulsion of the plaintiff having been carried out in complete disregard of the rules of the caste, the plaintiff is, in my opinion, entitled to the declaration Which he asks, and the injunction. It has not been disputed that in this case the plaintiff's membership of the caste involves rights to property, and that, therefore, this Court has jurisdiction to entertain the suit. That being so, I think the appeal must be dismissed with costs.

Rangnekar, J.

5. I agree. I think the only point in the case is as to the correct meaning and effect of Rule 8, which is one of the rules made by the caste in 1904. The business of the Mahajan and of the committees appointed by it had to be carried on, as the heading shows, in accordance with the rules, and the community had to act agreeably to the rules.

6. Rule 8 contemplates four definite steps or stages. The first is, a complaint or an allegation that somebody has committed an offence against the community. In my opinion what is contemplated is not any preliminary inquiry about a complaint or preliminary finding that an offence is committed, but a mere complaint about the commission of the offence. This, I think, is clear from the original Gujarati wording of the rule. The second stage is, the managing committee has to fix a meeting for inquiry into the allegation or complaint and summon the accused to appear before it. The third stage then comes in, and that is the inquiry itself, and the rule directs that the inquiry has to be as complete as possible and the accused is to be given full opportunity to defend himself. The final stage is then reached, and it is that the managing committee has to bring in its verdict. If the accused is found guilty, then, ' proper punishment will be meted out to him with the consent of the Mahajan.' It is not clear whether the sentence is to be pronounced by the Mahajan or by the managing committee after a consultation with the Mahajan. It appears to me that the punishing authority prima facie must be the tribunal investigating the complaint, but it has to consult the Mahajan as to the nature of the sentence to be awarded.

7. It is said that this is a mere rule of procedure which does not affect or take away the inherent power of the Mahajan to inquire into an offence committed by a member of the community against the community itself, and the power to inquire into the alleged offence was delegated as a matter of procedure to the managing committee, and that in spite of such delegation the Mahajan as a whole did not surrender its inherent jurisdiction to the managing committee, and was not deprived of its inherent jurisdiction. I am unable to accept the argument. It seems to me, on a true reading of the rules, that the caste resolved that a caste offence should in the first instance, at any rate, be inquired into by the managing committee appointed by it. This means and must mean that the accusedhas a right of trial by the managing committee; (Sic) first instance. The only way in which the argument can be (Sic) be to read in Rule 8 some such words as ' but without (Sic) the power of the Mahajan to inquire into the offence itself.' (Sic) are no such words. In this view, the rule was a vital rule, and not a more rule of procedure. It is clear on the evidence that the rule was not followed, and that being so, the defendants must fail.

8. In this view, it is not necessary to consider the question whether rules made by the caste are open to consideration in a Court of law, though, as at present advised, I think the Court will have a right to consider whether a particular rule which is relied upon either in support of a case or in answer to a case made is vital, or a rule of mere procedure.

9. In my opinion, the plaintiff had a right of a hearing before the managing committee as to the allegations made against him, and he has been deprived of that hearing. Apart from anything else, the rule is not meaningless. For one thing the matter is more likely to be considered more fully and scrutinized more carefully by a smaller body of members of the community of which the managing committee is composed, and if, for instance, such a body finds that a particular charge is not established, it is quite likely that the Mahajan as a whole may not proceed further.

10. The caste as a whole, undoubtedly, has an inherent jurisdiction to inquire into a caste offence, but if the caste makes a rule that such inquiry should, In the first instance, be held by its managing committee, then that rule must be followed. The failure to follow the rule amounts and must amount to a denial of a right of hearing given by the caste to an accused person, and a denial of an opportunity to defend himself before the tribunal set up by the caste itself.

11. In this view, I agree that the appeal must be dismissed with costs.

Beaumont, C.J.

12. The cross-objections of respondent No. 2, and of respondents Nos. 3 to 6 are both dismissed with costs.


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