(1) The appellants are the widow and sons of one Lallu Rathod, who died in a motor accident. The accident occurred on 25th May 1957 at about 1-25 P. M. at the junction of the Queens's Road and the Princess Street, by car bearing No. BMZ 6532. The car belonged to respondent No. 1 and was being driven either by respondent No. 2 or respondent No. 3. As the plaintiffs had not enough funds to pay court fees, they filed an application to sue in forma pauperis in the City Civil Court about the early part of 1958. They claimed Rs. 15,000/- as damages on all grounds, for the death of Lallu Rathod.
(2) The application was pending before the Registrar for enquiry into their pauperism in November 1960. In October of 1959 by notification dated 28th October 1959 the State Government constituted a Motor Accidents Claims Tribunal with effect from 1st December 1959 under section 110 of the Motor Vehicles Act 1939. It appears that in view of section 110-F of the Said Act the Registrar of the City Civil Court returned the plaint for presentation to the Tribunal.
(3) The appellants then filed their claim petition before the Motor Accident claims Tribunal on 23rd November 1960. Tis application lay dormant until it was discovered by the Tribunal while taking inventory of the applications pending before it. A notice was duly sent to the applicants. The Advocate for the applicants appeared and the question as to whether the application was maintainable before the Tribunal was considered. The Tribunal examined the provisions of the Act and came to the conclusion that as the accident had occurred prior to the establishment of the Motor Accidents Claims Tribunal and as the proceeding was already commenced in the City Civil Court at Bombay, the Tribunal had no jurisdiction. It returned, therefore, the application to the appellants. The appellants filed a Special Civil Application under Article 227 of the Constitution, being, Spl. C. A. No. 399 of 1964. The appellants also filed an appeal from Order, Being A. O. No. 252/64 with an application for condonation of delay in filing the appeal. Delay in filing the appeal has already been condoned.
(4) The question that falls for consideration is whether the Tribunal is right in its decision when it held that as the proceedings was already pending in the City Civil Court it had no jurisdiction to entertain the application. A similar question arose in a different form in Appeal No. 484 of 1960 decided on 17-8-1961 (Bom) where the accident had occurred on 22nd May 1959 but the suit for recovering damages was filed in the City Civil Court after the Tribunal came to be established with effect from 1st Dec. 1959. The Division bench, of which I was a member, held that inasmuch as the proceeding for damages was commenced after the establishment of the Tribunal, the Tribunal would have jurisdiction to deal with the matter but in respect of proceedings which were pending in the City Civil Court before the Tribunal came to be constituted the City Civil court would continue to have jurisdiction and that jurisdiction would not be lost. subsequently, a similar question came up for consideration in Khatumal Ghanshamdas, v. Abdul Qadir Jamaluddin, : AIR1961MP295 , where the question arose directly before the High Court. The High Court held that the section which took away the jurisdiction of the Court did not affect retrospectively pending suits in Civil Court and that the regular Courts continued to have jurisdiction in the matter.
(5) The relevant provisions are sections 110 and 110-F of the Act. Section 110 enables the State Government to constitute Motor Accidents Claims Tribunal for areas notified by it for adjudicating claims for compensation for death or injuries arising out of accidents by the use of motor vehiccles. Section 110-F ousts the jurisdiction of the Civil Court for the area to entertain any question relating to any claim triable by a Tribunal.
(6) It is a well-settled rule of construction of Statutes that statutes are generally not to be construed to apply retrospectively unless made so expressly or by necessary implication except in the case of procedural laws. It is also well settled that exclusion of the jurisdiction of Civil Courts is not to be readily inferred. It is true that in an areas where a Tribunal is constituted the Civil court will have no jurisdiction to entertain the claims. But merely because that is so, it does not follow that the Civil Court must lose jurisdiction to try pending suits in respect of such claim.
(7) Section 110-F is not made retrospective in express language. The question is, whether the relative provisions retrospectively affect pending suits. Section 110 merely provides for the constitution of a Tribunal and Section 110-A lays down the manner of making applications and by whom they can be made. Sub-section (3) provides a short period of sixty days from the date of the accident of the making of the application for compensation. this sub-section would suggest that the provisions are intended to apply to proceedings commenced after the constitution of the Tribunal. It is obvious that once the claims Tribunal is constituted Civil Courts' jurisdiction is excluded whether the cause of action arose before the constitution of the Tribunal or after its contitution.
(8) It is true that no one has a vested right in procedure for obtaining relief. But when it comes to a question as to whether a proceeding already commenced is maintainable, it cannot be regarded as a mere matter of procedure. If any authority is needed to show that a provision such as this cannot apply retrospectively to pending proceedings. It is to be found in Beadling v. Goll ILR (1922) 39 128, where section 1 of the Gambling Act, 1922 came to be construed by the court of Appeal in England.
(9) The language moreover of section 110-F also does not lead to an inference that the legislature intended to exclude the jurisdiction of the Civil Court in pending matters. The words used in S. 110-F are that 'no Civil Court shall have jurisdiction to entertain . . . . . .' 'To entertain' means to 'receive and determine' It is a prohibition applicable in future. It does not even by implication prohibit the continuance of a proceeding already commenced ina civil Court, but only prohibits the reception and determination by the Court, of any cause or matter after the constitution of the Tribunal.
(10) It also cannot be contended that what was pending was merely an application to sue in forma pauperis and not a suit. The provisions of Order 33 show that once an application is granted or the court-fee is paid, the institution of the suit is deemed to be as on the date of presentation of the application. In any event the proceedings for vindicating the claim for damages were already started in the Civil Court and the question whether the proceedings ripened into a suit or not would not be relevant.
(11) We accordingly hold that the City Civil Court continued to have jurisdiction in the matter and that the learned Registrar was in error in returning the application as being not maintainable. The Tribunal was right in rejecting the application.
(12) In the result we set aside the order made by the learned Registrar of the City Civil Clourt. We direct him to accept the petition which will be refiled before him in accordance with out judgment and to proceed with the matter from the stage it was left.
(13) The appellants will get their costs in the appeal. No order is necessary on the Special Civil Application.
(14) Order accordingly.