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The Andhra Pradesh State Electricity Board, Hyderabad Vs. K. Ramachandra Reddy - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectCivil
CourtAndhra Pradesh High Court
Decided On
Case NumberC.R.P. Nos. 2157 of 1975 and 49, 59 and 68 of 1976
Judge
Reported inAIR1977AP200
ActsCourt-fees Act, 1870 - Sections 24 and 26
AppellantThe Andhra Pradesh State Electricity Board, Hyderabad
RespondentK. Ramachandra Reddy
Appellant AdvocateT. Ananta Babu, Standing Counsel
Respondent AdvocateD.B. Reddipantulu and ;D. Prasannakumari, Advs.
Excerpt:
.....arose as to amount of court-fees payable on plaints in four suits filed against electricity board - reliefs claimed by plaintiffs therein were injunction restraining disconnection of electricity supply, declaration that demand notice was illegal, declaration that notice of disconnection was illegal and restoration of supply - test to be applied by court in valuing relief either under section 24 (d) or section 26 (c) is to find out advantage sought to be gained by plaintiff or loss sought to be avoided - such valuation must be decided with reference to allegations in plaint and not on submissions made in written statement - advantage which plaintiff seek to gain in case relating to consumption charges was avoidance of demand notice - in three cases relating to pilferage notice of..........set out the relevant provisions of the court-fees act. section 24 of the court-fees act deals with suit for declaration which do not fall under s. 25. section 24(d) which is the relevant provision provides that in a suit for a declaration with or without consequential relief, not falling under s. 25 in other cases, whether the subject-matter of the suit is capable of valuation or not, fee shall be computed on the amount at which the relief sought is valued in the plaint or at which such relief is valued by the court whichever is higher. section 26 deals with suits for injunction and relevant cl. is 26 (c) which is as follows :-'in any other case, whether the subject-matter of the suit has a market value or not, fee shall be computed on the amount at which the relief sought is valued in.....
Judgment:

Alladi Kuppuswami, J.

1. In these four revision petitions the only question for consideration is what is the Court fee payable on the plaint. Suits were filed in different Courts by different parties. But the defendant in each case is the Andhra Pradesh State Electricity Board. O.S. 59/71 on the file of the Judicial Magistrate, Hyderabad West which has given rise to C.R.P. 2157/75 is a suit for perpetual injunction restraining the defendant from disconnecting the electricity service of the plaintiff. C.R.P. No. 59/76 arises out of suit O.S. 250/74 on the file of the Principal District Munsif, Visakhapatnam for a declaration that a notice issued by the Assistant Engineer of the Defendant Board is illegal and for a consequential injunction restraining the defendant from disconnecting the supply of service. Similarly O.S. 1324/74 on the file of the District Munsif's Court Visakhapatnam has given rise to C.R.P. No. 49/76 which is a suit for declaring that notice of disconnection is illegal and for a mandatory injunction directing the restoration of supply to the Plaintiff's establishment. Lastly O.S. 232/74 on the file of the District Munsif's Court, Visakhapatnam which corresponds to C.R.P. 68/76 is a suit for declaring that inspection proceedings of the defendant and disconnection of power is illegal and the service connection should be restored. In all these cases one of the contentions raised in the written statement was that the Court-fee paid was not proper. The plaintiff in each case valued the relief for injunction or declaration as the case may be, at a notional value of Rs.203/- in all the suits and Rs. 500/- in one suit and paid Court- fee on that amount. In each case the question of Court-fee was considered in the first instance by the Court below and it was found that the Court-fee paid was correct. These revision petitions have been filed by the Andhra Pradesh State Electricity Board as against the said orders. The contention of the Board is that the Court is entitled to value the relief and is not bound to accept the notional valuation placed by the plaintiff. According to the various decisions of this Court, the proper way to value the relief is to ascertain the advantage gained by the plaintiff if the relief asked for is granted or the loss caused to the plaintiff if it is not granted and value the relief accordingly. On the other hand, the contention of the respondent-plaintiff in each of these cases is that he is entitled to choose his own valuation and pay Court-fee on that value.

2. In order to appreciate the respective contentions it is necessary to set out the relevant provisions of the Court-fees Act. Section 24 of the Court-fees Act deals with suit for declaration which do not fall under S. 25. Section 24(d) which is the relevant provision provides that in a suit for a declaration with or without consequential relief, not falling under S. 25 in other cases, whether the subject-matter of the suit is capable of valuation or not, fee shall be computed on the amount at which the relief sought is valued in the plaint or at which such relief is valued by the Court whichever is higher. Section 26 deals with suits for injunction and relevant Cl. is 26 (c) which is as follows :-

'in any other case, whether the subject-matter of the suit has a market value or not, fee shall be computed on the amount at which the relief sought is valued in the plaint or at which such relief is valued by the Court, whichever is higher.'

3. It is seen from these two provisions which are almost similar that they apply to cases whether the subject matter of the suit is capable of valuation or not or has a market value or not. IN either case the Court fee to be paid on the amount at which the relief sought is valued in the plaint or at which such relief is valued by the Court, whichever is higher. It follows that if the Court is not satisfied with the value placed on the relief by the plaintiff it is entitled to value the relief itself and if such value exceeds the value adopted by the plaintiff the Court-fee has to be paid on the value arrived at by the Court. Unfortunately the Act does not give any guidance as to how the Court should value the relief. No principles are laid down. No guidelines are given. Apparently it is left to the Court taking all the circumstances of the case into consideration to give a proper value to the relief sought for. In spite of attention being drawn to this state of affairs no attempt had been made by the legislature to amend the Act or to frame rules under the Act providing guidelines for the Court to value the relief in different classes of cases. Fortunately, there is a series of decisions of this Court in which this question has been considered and the proper manner in which such relief has to be valued is indicated in these decisions. The earliest of these decisions is reported in Neelakantam v. State of Andhra Pradesh, ((1960) 1 An WR 106), where the plaintiff prayed for a declaration that the provisions of the Madras Rent Reduction Act would not apply to the plaintiff's village. It was held that by the proceedings applying the Rent Reduction Act the rent which the landlord was entitled to receive was reduced by a sum of Rs.3,298/- per year. The value of the relief in such circumstances would be the loss sustained by the plaintiffs by applying the provisions of the Rent Reduction Act which the learned Judge placed at ten times the rent which the landlords were collecting minus the rent fixed by the Government under the provisions of the Rent Reduction Act. This Court-fee was directed to be paid on this basis. This decision was followed in Muthayya v. Swarajyam, ((1960) 1 An WR 350). In that case the plaintiff filed a suit for declaration that a settlement deed was not binding on the creditors. It was held that the valuation of the relief should be equated to the loss sustained by the plaintiff which in that case was the aggregate of debts which amount to Rs. 7,467-80 and the Court-fee was to be paid on that amount. In Ramachandraiah v. Lakshmidevamma, (1965) 1 An WR 138 , it was held that when the valuation put by the plaintiff is arbitrary and unrelated to the real value of the right litigated the Court could value the relief under S. 24(d). In the absence of rules laying down any basis for valuation the Court should exercise its discretion judicially and value the relief on a reasonable basis. It would be reasonable to assess the value of the relief at the advantage to be derived by the plaintiff by the relief he seeks. The decisions in Neelakantam v. State of Andhra Pradesh , (1960) 1 An WR 106 and Muthayya v. Swarajyam , ((1960) 1 An WR 305) were approved and the principles laid down in these decisions were accepted as sound and equitable. In Smt. N. Sulochana v. Collector Hyderabad, (1968) 1 An WR 350) were approved and the principles laid down in these decisions were accepted as sound and equitable. In Smt. N. Sulochana v. Collector , Hyderabad, (1968) 1 An WR 296, it was held that even though the plaintiff has put a valuation it is open to the Court to see whether the valuation is properly made and the Court can value such relief itself. It was reasonable to assess the value of the relief at the advantage to be derived by the plaintiff from the relief he seeks. State Electricity Board v. Ramamoorthy, ((1968)2 Andh LT 54) is a case in which the facts are similar to the facts in the present case. A consumer of the Electricity filed a suit for a declaration that the demand of Rs. 3,026.06 by the Andhra Pradesh State Electricity Board was illegal and for a permanent injunction restraining the Board from recovering the amount. It was held that the plaintiff was trying to avoid recovery of the sum of Rs. 3,026-06 and that was the advantage which the plaintiff derived by reason of the injunction and hence ad valorem Court-fee has to be paid on that amount. In Jabbar v. State of Andhra Pradesh , ((1969) 1 An WR 411) the suit was for a declaration that the demand of Rs. 60,500/- as abkari arrears by the Government was illegal and for an injunction restraining the Government from taking proceedings to recover the said arrears. The plaintiff valued the relief at Rs.5,100/- and paid the Court fee under S. 24(d) of the Court-fees Act. It was held that the relief sought by the plaintiff was to be valued on the basis of the advantage he would gain or the injury or loss he would avoid. Applying the test, it was held that as the plaintiff had sought for a declaration that the demand of Rs.60,500 was illegal he had to value the relief prayed for by him on Rs.60,500/-. After an elaborate discussion of the provisions of the Act and the decisions the learned Judges held that the provisions of S. 24(d) of the Act are clear and empower the Court to value the relief and that relief has to be valued on the basis of the advantage he would gain or the injury or loss he would avoid. This decision which deals with S. 24(d) would equally apply to S. 26(c) which is the same terms. In another decision dated 24-7-1970 in C.R.P. 347 of 1969 this Court had to consider the case where the plaintiff filed a suit for an injunction restraining the Board from demanding and collecting hire charges on the transformers installed in the plaintiff's premises. The demand was for Rs.68,600/-. It was held that the plaintiff ought to value the suit on that amount, keeping in view the benefit which was going to be derived by the plaintiff. It was observed the there is no distinction between a case where a declaration was sought for and a case where injunction was asked for as in both cases the benefit derived would be avoidance of the demand.

4. It is seen from a consideration of all these decisions that the test to be applied by the Court in valuing the relief either under S. 24(d) or S. 26(c) is to find out the advantage which is sought to be gained by the plaintiff or the loss sought to be avoided. Keeping this principle in mind we may now consider the reliefs sought for in each of the cases with which we are concerned. The suit may broadly be classified into two categories. The first one relates to a case where the plaintiff did not pay the electricity consumption charges and a demand order was made by the Board. In the other set of cases it was alleged that the plaintiff was guilty of pilfering electricity. The Board made an inspection and estimated the pilferage at a particular amount. Notice was given to the consumer concerned that he is to pay the charges for the electricity pilfered and if he does not pay half the said amount within a particular period the premises will suffer disconnection. In one case it appears that it was actually disconnected and the plaintiff therefore had to seek for a mandatory injunction directing the restoration of the connection. As far as the case relating to consumption charges is concerned the advantage which the plaintiff seeks to gain is the avoidance of the demand made. The Court below ought to have valued the plaint at that figure. Regarding the three other cases which relate to pilferage, the notice of disconnection itself states that the plaintiff had to pay half the amount demanded if he desires to have continuance of supply. Therefore in seeking an injunction restraining the Board from disconnecting or an injunction restoring the connection the advantage gained by the plaintiff was the non-payment of half the amount demanded in the notice.

5. The learned counsel for the respondent strongly relied upon the decision of this Court in A.P.S.E.B. v. B.V. Raghavendra Rao, ((111973) 1 APLJ 33). In that case the plaintiff; filed a suit for a declaration that the disconnection was illegal because there was no pilferage and for an injunction directing the defendants to resume his electric connection. The Electricity Board had detected pilferage and disconnection notice was given to the plaintiff. He was informed that the cost of pilfered electric power was estimated at Rs. 3,264/- and if he paid half of it the supply of power would be resumed. It was held that there cannot be any quarrel with the principle that the relief sought by the plaintiff had to be valued on the basis of the advantage he would gain or the injury or loss he would avoid which was enunciated in all the cases referred to above. The plaintiff had made a submission that he had not committed any pilferage and if the Court accepted his case that there was no pilferage the objection of the Electricity Board would fall to the ground and if the Court found that there was pilferage the plaintiff would not be entitled to decree for a declaration. It was held that the plaintiff was not obliged to pay the Court-fee on the basis of the amount estimated by the Electricity Board as the cost of pilfered electric power. We are not inclined to agree with this decision. It is true that in matters relating to Court -fee the Court has to proceed mainly on the allegations in the plaint. In that case also even the plaint disclosed that there was a demand for a provisional estimate of pilfered electric power at Rs. 3,264/- and the plaintiff was asked to pay half the amount if he wanted resumption of electric power. By asking for a declaration that the disconnection was illegal and for an injunction directing the defendants to resume the electric connection the plaintiff was actually avoiding the demand of half the amount of Rupees 3,264/- which was made a condition for restoring connection to him. We are unable to see how the principles laid down in the earlier cases do not apply to the case which had to be considered in that decision.

6. At the same time it should be made clear that the advantage which the plaintiff seeks to gain or the loss which he seeks to avoid must be decided with reference to the allegations in the plaint. There may be cases where the defendant in a written statement comes forward with a case that a particular amount is due from the plaintiff. The learned counsel for the respondent is right to a certain extent in submitting that the Court-fee should not be made to depend upon what the defendant submits in his written statement. It is no doubt true as pointed out by Sri Anantha Babu that under the Court fees Act the defendant is given some sort of status even in the matter of Court fee. Section 11(ii) enables the defendant to plead that the subject matter of the suit has not been properly valued or that the fee paid is not sufficient. This provision does not in our opinion enable the defendant to contend that the Court fee has to paid on the basis of the allegations contained in the written statement. The Court is no doubt entitled to value the relief if it is not satisfied with the valuation put by the plaintiff. But essentially the question of Court fee has to be considered only on the allegations made in the plaint. Even so, in each of these cases we find that even on the allegations of the plaintiff the relief has to be valued on the basis of the entire demand in case of electricity consumption charges and half the provisional estimate in the case of pilferage. In C.R.P. 2157 of 1975 the plaintiff (in O.S. 59/75 Munsif Magistrate, West ) refers to the notice sent by the defendant demanding Rs.10,954-95 as consumption charges. The plaintiff however stated that he was not a defaulter. He was therefore entitled to a perpetual injunction against the Board restraining it from disconnecting the service. In effect therefore the plaintiff is questioning the demand and the consequent attempt to disconnect. If he succeeds in that suit the plaintiff not only avoids disconnection but will also avoid the demand made on him, which is for a sum of Rs.10,954-95. It is not a case where the Court is compelled to act upon anything that is stated in the Written Statement for the first time. Even looking into the plaint allegations alone it is clear that the plaintiff is seeking to avoid the demand of Rs.10,954-95. The proper Court fee, therefore would be that payable on the said amount. In C.R.P. 49/76 the plaintiff expressly prayed for a declaration that the notice dated 28-10-1974 is illegal. In that notice the amount of electric energy pilfered was provisionally estimated at Rs. 11,452-10 and the plaintiff was asked to pay half the amount if, he desired that the supply of electricity should be continued. There cannot therefore be any doubt in this case that the advantage gained in the non-payment of half the amount demanded. The facts in the other cases are similar and need not be separately dealt with. For these reasons we are of the view that the revision petitions are to be allowed. The Plaintiff will be directed to pay the Court fee in the light of the Judgment in these revision petitions. There will be no order as to costs. Six weeks time is granted for payment of Court fee. Carbon copies are to be given to the petitioner's advocate on payment of charges.

7. Revision petitions allowed.


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