Gangeshwar Prasad, J.
1. The following question has been referred to this Full Bench for its opinion:
'Whether, in the absence of an appellant or his counsel, an appellate Court should dismiss the appeal in default or decide the appeal on merits Whether under such circumstances the appellate Court has jurisdiction to dispose of the appeal on merits ?'
2. On au application made under Section 13 of the Arbitration Act the Munsif of Orai passed a decree in terms of an award made by an arbitrator. The defendant preferred an appeal against the decree to the Civil Judge of Orai. When, the appeal came up for hearing neither the appellant nor his counsel appeared and the learned Civil Judge dismissed the appeal by passing an order in the following terms:
'The appellant is absent. His counsel does not turn up to argue the appeal. The judgment appealed against is manifestly correct. Therefore, it is hereby ordered that the appeal fails and it is hereby dismissed with costs to the plaintiff-respondent.'
Against the dismissal of his appeal the defendant filed an application in revision in this Court. On a reference made by the learned single Judge before whom the revision application came up for hearing the following question was laid before a Division Bench for its answer: 'Whether in the absence of an appellant or his counsel, an appellate Court should dismiss the appeal in default or decide the appeal on merits The Division Bench has enlarged the scope of the question referred to it and has referred it for the opinion of a Full Bench.
3. It would be seen that the question referred to the Full Bench really consists of two questions: the first relates to the propriety or desirability of deciding an appeal on merits in the absence of an appellant and his counsel, and the second to the legality or the power of doing so. Naturally, it is to the second question that I should first address myself.
4. The provision which, in express terms, provides for the dismissal of an appeal in the event of the appellant's failure to appear at the hearing of his appeal is Order XLI, Rule 17, C. P. C., and if runs as follows:--'Dismissal of appeal for appellant's default:
1. Where on the day fixed, or on any other day to which the hearing may be adjourned, the appellant does not appear when the appeal is called on for hearing, the Court may mate an order that the appeal be dismissed. Hearing appeal ex parte.
2. Where the appellant appears and the respondent does not appear, the appeal shall be heard ex parte.'
5. By notification, dated 22nd December 1951 this Court has deleted the words 'on the day fixed or on any other day to which the hearing may be adjourned' from Sub-rule (1), and the sub-rule as so amended reads thus:
'1. Where the appellant does not appear when the appeal is called on for hearing, the Court may make an order that the appeal be dismissed.'
The change made by this Court in Sub-rule (1) is, however, not material for the purpose of the question under reference and it does not in any manner affect the answer to it.
6. It does not admit of any doubt that the dismissal provided for by Order XLI, Rule 17 (1) is not a dismissal on merits, but a dismissal only for default of appearance. On the language of the sub-rule the order that the appeal be dismissed has to be causally connected with the situation mentioned therein, and the order of dismissal which the appellate Court is empowered to pass thereunder cannot have its basis in anything else except the failure of the appellant to appear when the appeal is called on for hearing. The sub-rule does not require the Court to give any hearing to the respondent even if he is present or to refer to any part of the proceedings as Order XLI, Rule 30, C. P. C. does. Further, the only order which it authorises the Court to pass is that the appeal be dismissed and in no circumstance is it possible for the Court, while acting wader it, to dispose of the appeal in any other manner. If a consideration of the merits of an appeal were also within the scope of Order XLI, Rule 17 (1), C. P. C. it would necessarily have made provision for such other modes of disposal of the appeal as its merits may call for, and it could not have limited the power of the Court to an order that the appeal be dismissed. It is also significant in this connection that the legislature has not chosen to say that the Court may 'dismiss the appeal' but that the Court may 'make an order that the appeal be dismissed'. That these two expressions are not identical in meaning and effect may be gathered from a reference to Order XLI, Rule 11, C. P. C. Under Sub-rule (1) of Order XLI, Rule 11,; C. P. C. the Court 'may dismiss the appeal', but, in juxtaposition to it, under Sub-rule (2) of Order XLI, Rule 11, C. P. C. the Court may 'make an order that the appeal be dismissed'. This difference in the language used in the two sub-rules of the same rule cannot but be regarded as suggestive of a difference in the nature and content of the legal acts performed by the Court in the two different situations contemplated by them.
Under Rules 2, 3, 5 and 8 of Order IX also, which deal with default of payment of Court-fees or postal charges and default of appearance in relation to suits, the Court has only been empowered to 'make an order that the suit be dismissed'. Again, under Section 2, C. P. C. it is an order of dismissal for default' that has been excluded from the definition of the term 'decree'. The conclusion appears to be obvious that an order that the appeal be dismissed, passed under Order XLI, Rule 17 (1), has to be based merely on the ground of the absence of the appellant and cannot bo based on merits. On this matter there is no disagreement, and it is only when one proceeds to consider whether in the situation mentioned in Order XLI, Rule 17 (1), C. P. C. the Court is competent to travel outside the provision of the said sub-rule and to decide the appeal on merits that one enters upon controversial ground and meets with a conflict of decisions.
7. The High Courts of Madras, Calcutta, Assam, Rangoon, and the Punjab have all taken the view that in the event of the appellant's failure to appear when the appeal is called on for hearing the Court has no jurisdiction to dismiss the appeal on merits and it has either to dismiss it for default of appearance or else to adjourn it. The Patna High Court had taken a contrary view to an earlier case but in its later decisions it has dissented from its former view and has accepted the opinion mentioned above. The course that the decisions of this Court have taken has, however, been different. In an earlier case this Court had expressed its agreement with the views stated above but in its later decisions it has disagreed with it and has held that the Court has the power to decide an appeal on merits even where the appellant does not appear when the appeal is called on for hearing. Although no pronouncement of the Supreme Court directly on the question under reference is available, there are observations of the Supreme Court in a case involving an allied question which furnish a guide in answering the question under reference and indeed, in my opinion, they lead to the answer which I am giving. Before referring to these authorities, however, it is necessary to examine the statutory provisions bearing on the matter.
8. In the context of the question under discussion the most important feature of Order XLI, Rule 17 (1) is its permissive character. It provides that in the situation mentioned therein the Court 'may' make an order that the appeal be dismissed, and not that the Court 'shall' make such an order. The language used in the sub-rule, while empowering the Court to act in a particular manner, does not cast upon it the obligation to act in that manner alone and in no other, and it leaves the Court free to act in such other manner as may be authorised by or justified in law. It only confers upon the Court a discretion which the Court would not otherwise possess, and does not bind the Court to the particular course of action provided under it. The use of the word 'may' or 'shall' is certainly not decisive of the enabling or imperative nature of a statutory provision, and there may be cases where, having regard to the nature and object of the act contemplated by a statute and to the rights of persons for whose benefit it is to be done, the word 'may' has to be read as imposing a duty as well. But, prima facie, and in the absence of the considerations mentioned above, there is no compulsive force in the word 'may and it connotes merely a power and a discretion. It is well to bear in mind in this connection the wolds of Cotton, L. J. in In re, Baker; Nichols v. Baker, (1890) 44 Ch D 262:
'I think that great misconception is caused by saying that in some cases 'may means 'must. It never can mean 'must' so long as the English language retains its meaning; but it gives a power and then it may be a question in what cases, where a Judge has a power given him by the word 'may', it becomes his duty to exercise it.
9. There is nothing in the nature and object of the act empowered by Order XLI, Rule 17 (1), nor is there any such right in the person for whose benefit the power has been conferred, to couple the power with the duty to do that act and no other. In fact there are compelling reasons for holding that the legislature employed the word 'may* with the deliberate object of conferring upon the Court the power to act in the manner indicated in the sub-rule, and yet of leaving it free to act in such other manner as may be permitted by law.
10. Firstly, there is the fact that in Section 556 of the Civil Procedure Code of 1882 which was the corresponding provision for Order XLI, Rule 17 (1) of the present Civil Procedure Code the words used were 'the appeal shall be dismissed for default'. The section itself ran as follows:
'If on the day so fixed, or any other day to which the hearing may be adjourned, the appellant does not attend in person or by his pleader, the appeal shall be dismissed for default.
If the appellant attends and the respondent does not attend, the appeal shall be heard ex parte in his absence.'
11. The change from the obligatory word 'shall' used in the earlier Code to the permissive word 'may' in the present Code has, therefore, to be regarded as intentional and effected only with the object of giving to the Court a particular power without circumscribing the scope of its action.
12. Secondly, the contrast: in the use of the words 'shall' and 'may' is not merely historical but also contemporaneous. As distinguished from Sub-rule (1) of Order XLI, Rule 17, its Sub-rule (2) says that the appeal 'shall' be heard ex parte. It could thus be seen that the word 'shall' employed in the second part of Section 556 of the Code of 1882 was retained but the word 'shall' employed in the first part of the section was substituted by 'may' when the present Code was enacted. The conclusion seems irresistible that the word 'may' in Sub-rule (1) is potential and not obligatory. Reference in this connection may be made to the following observation of Lindley, L. J. in the above quoted case of (1890) 44 Ch D 262. 'If that was what Parliament meant it would have used very different language, and would not have said 'may' so often and contrasted it with 'shall'. Here the contrast is in different parts of the same sub-rule and it is positively indicative of the fact that Order XLI, Rule 17 (1) has no element of compulsion in it.
13. Even those decisions which lay down that the Court has no jurisdiction to decide an appeal on merits where the appellant fails to appear have recognised the permissive character or Order XLI, Rule 17 (1) and have construed the change from 'shall' used in the Code of 1882 to 'may' in the present Code as a change from a categorical imperative to a power or a discretion. But they have regarded the discretion as limited only to either ordering the appeal to be dismissed for default of appearance or adjourning it. I have examined these; decisions with great care and profound respect, but I have failed to see how this limitation can be placed upon the discretion of the Court and from where it can be derived, once the existence of the discretion is accepted. Of course, if there had been nothing in the Code empowering the Court to dispose of the appeal of an appellant who is absent at the hearing in any other manner save the one provided by Order XLI, Rule 17 (1) it would) have been indisputable that in case the appeal is not adjourned it has to be dealt with in the manner provided by the said provision. But if there is under the Code a general power of dealing with an appeal otherwise as well, that power, unless expressly excluded, will remain exercisable by the Court even where Order XLI, Rule 17 (1) is applicable. In that case the power conferred by Order XLI. Rule 17 (1) has to be regarded only as an additional power that may be used in the situation mentioned in it and not as also a limitation upon the generality of the power given elsewhere. The general power of the Court of appeal is contained in Rules 30, 82 and 33 of Order XLI.
14. Rules 32 and 33 of Order XLI are dependent upon Rule 30 of the Order inasmuch as they postulate the power to give judgment and this power is conferred by Rule 30. Order XLI, R, 30 is as follows:
'Judgment when and where pronounced.---1 The appellate Court, after hearing the parties or their pleaders and referring to any part of the proceedings, whether on appeal or in the Court from whose decree the appeal is preferred, to which reference may be considered necessary, shall pronounce judgment in open Court, either at once or on some future day of which notice shall be given to the parties or their pleaders.'
15. If the Court may act under this provision even where the appellant is not present when the appeal is called on for hearing it would of necessity follow that the Court is possessed of the jurisdiction to pronounce judgment in the manner laid down in Rules 31, 32 and 33 of Order XLI and, therefore, also to dismiss the appeal on merits. There is, however, one essential condition for the pronouncement of judgment, and that is, that the parties or their pleaders have to be heard. The question naturally arises whether this essential condition can be deemed as satisfied, if the appellant and his pleader are absent. There has been a divergence of views of the question but, in my opinion, the question must now be regarded as settled by the decision of their Lordships of the Supreme Court iu Sukhpal Singh v. Kalyan Singh : 2SCR733 .
16. The point involved in that case was whether the appellate Court was bound to decide an appeal on merits on the basis of the material on record when the appellant appears at the hearing but does not address the Court and it was held that the Court was not bound to do so and it could dismiss the appeal for default of proof that the decision appealed against was wrong. The provisions that came up for consideration in that case were Rules 16, 17, 30 and 31 of Order XLI. Rule 16 of Order XLI is in the following terms:
'(1) On the day fixed, or on any other day to which the hearing may be adjourned, the appellant shall be heard in support of the appeal.
2. The Court shall then, if it does not dismiss the appeal at once, hear the respondent against the appeal, and in such case the appellant shall be entitled to reply.' Dealing with this rule the Supreme Court observed:- 'It is clear from Sub-rule (1) that it is the duty of the appellate Court to hear the appellant in support or the appeal. This, however, does not mean that the appellate Court cannot decide the appeal if the appellant does not make his submissions to the Court showing that the judgment and decree under appeal are wrong. The appellate Court is not to force the appellant to address it. It can, at best, afford him an opportunity to address it. If the appellant does not avail of that opportunity the appellate Court can decide the appeal. Sub-rule (2) indicates that the appeal can be dismissed without hearing the respondent. The appellate Court will do so if it was not satisfied mat the judgment under appeal was wrong.'
17. The above observations make it clear that a provision enjoining that the appellant shall be heard is complied with if the appellant has been afforded an opportunity to be heard, and it cannot be said that he has not been heard merely because he has not availed of the opportunity given to him. The force of these observations is in no way lessened by the fact that the appellant in that case was present at the hearing out was not prepared to address the Court, because it should make no difference in principle whether the failure to avail of the opportunity consists in the absence of the appellant or in his refusal or inability to address the Court in support of the appeal. The essence of the matter is that opportunity to be heard has been given but has not been availed of. If the requirement of hearing is to be deemed to be fulfilled by giving the appellant who is present an opportunity to be heard it should be regarded as equally fulfilled even in the case of an appellant who has chosen to be absent in spite of having been given an opportunity to be heard.
The principle laid down by the Supreme Court with reference to Order XLI, Rule 16 applies with equal force to Order XLI, Rule 30 as well and it must likewise be held that what Order XLI, Rule 30 requires is not that the parties or their pleaders be actually heard but that they should be given the opportunity of being heard. The requirement of Order XLI, Rule 30 must, therefore, be considered as having been satisfied if the opportunity so given is not availed of, whether the failure to do so consists in the absence of the parties and their pleaders or in their refusal or inability to address the Court. From the following passage in the judgment of the Supreme Court it is clear that the requisite condition of hearing the parties laid down in Order XLI, Rule 30 was regarded as fulfilled by virtue of the fact that the opportunity of being heard had been given:
'It is to be noted that the rule does not make it incumbent on the appellate Court to refer to any part of the proceedings in the Court from whose decree the appeal is preferred. The appellate Court can refer, after hearing the parties and their pleaders, to any part of these proceedings to which reference be considered necessary. It is in the discretion of the appellate Court to refer to the proceedings. It is competent to pronounce judgment after hearing what the parties or their pleaders submit it for consideration. It follows, therefore, that if the appellant submits nothing for its consideration, the appellate Court can decide the appeal without any reference to any proceedings of the Court below and in doing so, it can simply say that the appellants have not urged anything which would tend to show that the judgment and decree under appeal were wrong.'
18. This decision of the Supreme Court, therefore, takes away the authority of those cases in which it has been held that Order XLI, Rule 30 can have no application to cases where the appellant does not appear, and gives its sanction to the view that the Court may act under Order XLI, Rule 30 even if the appellant has chosen not to avail of the opportunity of being heard either by his absence or by his refusal or inability to support the appeal. And if it is held, as I think it must be held in view of the decision of the Supreme Court, that Order XLI, Rule 30 applies even in the case of the absence of the appellant at the hearing, there should be little doubt left, that in the situation mentioned in Order XLI, Rule 17 (I) the alternatives before the Court are not exhausted between either making an order for dismissal of the appeal for default of appearance or adjourning the case, and the Court has also the option of considering the appeal on merits and confirming, varying or reversing the decree appealed against as provided by Order XLI, Rule 32.
19. 1 may now refer to the cases dealing directly with the question under reference. The most important case in support of the view that the Court has no power to dismiss an appeal on merits if the appellant does not appear at the healing is Musaliarakath Muhamad v. Manaviakrama, AIR 1923 Mad 13, and it is mostly the line of reasoning adopted in this case that has been accepted in the decisions which have followed the view. The facts of the case were that on the date of hearing of an appeal before the subordinate Judge the appellant was not present, but a Vakil holding a Vakalatnama from him was present and applied for an adjournment. The adjournment was refused, and the Vakil thereupon informed the Court that as he had no instructions or papers he could not argue the appeal, and he took no further part in the proceeding. The Subordinate Judge instead of dismissing the appeal under Order XLI, Rule 17 considered the evidence hearing on the appellant's claim with reference to the memorandum of appeal and dismissed the appeal with costs.
It was contended before the High Court on behalf of the appellant that it was not competent for the Subordinate Judge to inquire into the merits of the case in the absence of the appellant and his pleader and he could deal with the appeal only in the manner provided by Order XLI, Rule 17 (1). This contention was accepted by the Division Bench which heard the case and the judgment of the Subordinate Judge was held to be ultra vires and without jurisdiction. Both the learned Judges constituting the Bench referred to the change from the words, 'shall be dismissed in Section 556 of the old Code to the words 'the Court may make an order that the appeal be dismissed' in Order XLI, Rule 17 (1) of the present Code, but they were of the view that in spite of the change the Subordinate Judge had no power to go into the merits of the appeal. Adverting to the change, Ayling, J. expressed himself thus:
'For respondent it is contended that the law is different under the present Code, because the wording of Section 556 of the old Code 'shall be dismissed' has been changed in Order XLI, Rule 17 into 'the Court may make an order that the appeal be dismissed'. The question is whether this change of language was intended to throw open the door to a course which the Courts had held under the preceding enactment to be undesirable apart from its legality. Vide Mohesh Chunder Bose v. Thakoor Dass, 20 Suth WR 425.
It is quite possible to give effect to the change from 'shall' to 'may' without going to this length. Under the old Code the Court apparently had no power to adjourn the appeal in order to give the absent appellant a further opportunity to put in an appearance. Under the present Code that course is ordinarily open to it and I can see no reason why this latitude should not have been the object of the change.'
20. With great respect, I find myself unable to agree that the object intended to be served by the change was merely to authorise the Court to adjourn the case and allow the absent appellant a further opportunity to put in appearance. If it was intended to limit the choice of the Court to either adjourning the hearing of the appeal or passing an order that the appeal be dismissed for default of appearance, the obvious course for the legislature would have been to expressly provide for the other alternative. On the language used in Order XLI, Rule 17 (1) and bearing in mind the contrast it bears to the language of Order XLI, Rule 17(2), it does not seem possible to hold that even though a discretion was intended to be conferred upon the Court it was confined only to choosing between adjourning the hearing or ordering that the appeal be dismissed for default of appearance by the appellant. The other suggested alternative to the power exercisable under Order XLI, Rule 17 (1) having not been mentioned, the alternatives cannot be said to be exhausted; and all such other ways of dealing with the appeal as have been provided by the Code have clearly been left open.
Then, if it was thought desirable only to arm the Court with the power of adjourning the appeal in order to provide the absent appellant with a further opportunity of putting in appearance, there was no reason why the power to confer a similar benefit upon the absent respondent was not given and the word 'shall' was retained in Order XLI, Rule 17 (2). The absent appellant against whom an order is passed under Order XLVII, Rule 1 and an absent respondent against whom an appeal is heard and decided ex parte under Order XLI, Rule 17 (2) have both been given analogous remedies under Order XLI, Rule 19 and Order XLI, Rule 21 respectively; and it is, therefore, not possible to ascribe the deliberate change in the language of the present Code to the object indicated in the judgment of Ayling, J. It is also worthy of note that the Code of 1882 contained no provision corresponding to Section 151 of the present Code although the Courts in fit cases sometimes acted on the assumption that they possessed inherent powers to do all such acts as real and substantial justice required. Section 151 of the present Code, has, however, given statutory recognition to that power, and the power of adjourning an appeal in the absence of a party, even though there is no request in that behalf, has, therefore, now a statutory basis as well. Consequently, it could not be this power of adjournment which the legislature desired to confer in using the language which it has used in Order XLI, Rule 17 (1).
21. The other reason mentioned in the judgment of Ayling, J. for the view taken by him may also be reproduced below:--
'The objections to allowing an appeal to be rejected on its merits without hearing the appellant remain the same as when Six Richard Couch wrote his judgment in 20 Suth WR 425, and it seems to me that to allow it might expose an appellant to a prejudice which could hardly have been contemplated. What remedy is open to an appellant who has been unavoidably prevented from appearing at the hearing, but whose appeal has been gone into and decided against him on its merits. If the Court's order is not to be treated as one under Order XLI, Rule 17, Rule 19 which provides for re-admission can have no application. The only possible remedy for such an appellant that is suggested is an application for review. But it is by no means that such an application would lie in view of the provisions of Order XLVII, Rule 1, and in any case it could only be entertained by the same Judge as dismissed the appeal. Moreover there would be no appeal against the rejection of the application for review, such as is provided in the case of an application under Order XLI, Rule 19.'
22. Odgers, J., the other learned Judge, constituting the Bench made observations to a similar effect:--
'Under Section 556 of the Code of 1882 the Court was bound to dismiss the appeal if the appellant did not attend; the word used in Order XLI, Rule 17 is 'may'. Does this mean that the Court may decide the case on the merits If it does and the decision is against the appellant it is only open to review under Order XLVII, Rule 1 and the only clause applicable would be 'any other sufficient reason'. I think it very doubtful if the Court would apply this clause in which case the appellant who (or whose pleader) might have quite legitimate ground for failing to appear at the hearing of the appeal would be left without remedy, there being no appeal from a refusal to review. In my opinion, it cannot be said that the word 'may' was inserted in the present Code in order to bring about these serious consequences but more likely in order that the Court may exercise its discretion whether or not to dismiss the appeal forthwith if the appellant or his pleader for one reason or other were not present when the appeal was called on and, therefore, does not mean that the Court is entitled to decide the case on the merits under such circumstances.'
23. In themselves these considerations are no doubt weighty. But the question is whether they can justify reading the rule in question as obligatory when its words are merely permissive, placing a limitation upon the Court's discretion which the legislature chose to leave unfettered and, in particular, depriving the Court of the general power which has been explicitly conferred upon it by the statute. In Emperor v. Benoari Lal Sarma , the Privy Council observed:
'In construing enacted words the Court is not concerned with the policy involved or with the results injurious or otherwise which may follow from giving effect to the language used.'
In Craies on Statute Law it is stated:
'The argument from inconvenience and hardship is a dangerous one and is only admissible in construction where the meaning of the statute is obscure and there are alternative methods of construction. Where the language is explicit, its consequences are for Parliament and not for the Court to consider. In such a case the suffering citizen may appeal for relief to the law-giver and not to the lawyer.'
The words used by the statute in the provisions relevant to the question are explicit, unambiguous and free from obscurity and, therefore, considerations of possible hardship or 'serious consequences' should not be allowed to affect the construction. And if such considerations are to be taken into account, there are also some counter-balancing considerations to be reckoned with.
The decree appealed against may in some eases be so patently erroneous ami so flagrantly opposed to law that it should not be allowed to stand, and the Court seized of the appeal should have the power to set aside the decree or substitute in its place a decree which the merits of the case demand, irrespective of the fact whether the appellant is or is not present at the hearing. The Court should not be helpless in the face of a decree which shocks the judicial conscience or is unsupportable in law, by the mere fact of the absence of the appellant, and it should have the power to wipe out such a decree or suitably amend it. Howsoever rarely the exercise of such a power might be needed, it is undeniable that the power should exist. It is true that under the Code of 1882, on account of the imperative language used in Section 556 there was apparently no such power in the Court, but at the time of enacting the present Code the legislature might have thought it necessary to preserve this salutary power for the Court, and, by framing Order XLI, Rule 17 (1) in a permissive shape, to leave the Court free to exercise, its general power under Rules 30, 32 and 33 of Order XLI. If Order XLI, Rule 17 (1) is interpreted as preventing the Court from examining the merits of the appeal and disposing it of on merits, the Court would be deprived of a power which should obviously reside in it.
Again, it may be that the Court is convinced from the conduct of the appellant on earlier dates of hearing or from other circumstances connected with his absence at the hearing that he is deliberately or designedly avoiding the hearing of the appeal. Should not the Court in that situation be able to examine the merits of the appeal and dismiss it an merits, if it deserves dismissal However, sparingly the power may be exercised, the power of doing so should undoubtedly be there. It may, therefore, well be that the legislature took also into account the considerations set forth above and then decided that, even where the appellant fails to appeal; the Court should have the power to proceed under Rules 30, 32 and 33 of Order XLI, and its discretion should not be confined within the narrow limits of either adjourning the appeal or making an order that the appeal be dismissed for default of the appellant's appearance. Speculation about the intention of the legislature and of the considerations which might have weighed with it in framing a statutory provision is, however, not necessary when the words are plain and leave no doubt as to their meaning and effect. It would also be seen thai in the Madras case discussed above no reference has been made to Order XLI, Rule 30. For the foregoing reasons I find myself unable, with great respect, to accept the view expressed in this case.
24. In Nasir Khan v. Itwari, AIR 1924 All 144, a Division Bench of this Court expressed its agreement with the view taken by the Madras Court in the above case but there is no reason given in support of it nor is there any discussion of the provisions bearing on the point.
25. In Mauns Than Ge v. Mating Po Thin, AIR 1925 Bang 96, the order in appeal before the Rangoon High Court contained the following remarks:
'Under Order XLI, Rule 17, Civil Procedure Code it is perhaps not necessary to discuss this appeal or to enter into the facts of the case, but as I have considered the evidence, it may be as well to state my reasons for agreeing with the finding of the learned District Judge.''
26. 'Obviously, the Divisional Judge who passed the order in appeal was not clear about the provision under which he was acting. The order purported to be one under Order XLVII, Rule I but the Divisional Judge considered the merits of the ease as well. Dealing with Order XLT, Rule 17 (I) the learned single Judge of the Rangoon High Court said:
'It gives no power to the Court to decide the appeal on merits. The power of dismissing the appeal is no doubt discretionary, but if that discretionary power is not exercised the only other alternative is to adjourn the case, and to give the appellant an opportunity of being heard at a later date.'
27. It is true that Order XLI, Rule 17 (2) itself gives no power to the Court to decide the appeal on merits, but from that it does not follow that if the discretionary power conferred by the said provision is not exercised the only alternative left with the Court is to adjourn the appeal. The learned single Judge did refer to Order XLI, Rule 30 in his judgment but he thought that the Court could act under it only after actually hearing the parties or their pleaders. This view of what would constitute 'hearing' does not, however, appear to be tenable in the light of the Supreme Court decision in Sukhpal Singh's case. : 2SCR733 .
28. In Taher Sheikh v. Otaruddi Howladar, : AIR1929Cal475 , it was held by a Division Bench of the Calcutta High Court that under Order XLI, Rule 17 (1) the Court may dismiss the appeal or may adjourn it to some other date or pass other order but it does not authorise the Court to consider the merits of an appeal in the absence of the appellant and decide it on merits. If the authority to decide an appeal on merits is sought in Order XLI, Rule 17(1) it is certainly not to be found there; but that does not mean that the authority does not at all exist. The learned Judges who decided the case did refer to Order XLI, Rule 30, but they too thought that in the absence of the appellant the requirement of 'hearing the parties' could not be fulfilled and Order XLI, Rule 30, could, therefore, have no application.
29. In Digendra Chandra v. Radha Ballav, AIR 1953 Assam 191, the view taken in the cases noted above was followed by the Assam High Court without any reference having been made to Order XLI, Rule 30.
30. Kawleshwar Singh v. Raghubir Singh : AIR1961Pat299 , is a single Judge ease of the Patna High Court in which the decision did not depend upon the question under discussion, but the learned Judge who decided it referred with apparent agreement to the Rangoon, Calcutta, Assam and Madras eases noted above and expressed disagreement with the earlier Patna case of Daulat Singh v. Kesho Prasad Singh, AIR 1921 Pat 325, without any discussion of the question.
31. Kundha Singh v. Punjab State , a case decided by a learned single Judge of the Punjab High Court, also proceeded on the assumption that Order XLI, Rule 30 does not apply in the case of the appellant's absence at the hearing because both the parties cannot in that event be heard. There is, however, another reason (which is also mentioned in the Assam case cited above) advanced there in support of the view that an appeal cannot be heard on merits in the absence of the appellant, and it is this:--
'Sub-rule (2) of Rule 17 contemplates that when the appellant is present and the respondent does not appear, the appeal shall be heard ex parte. But it has not been provided in this rule that when the appellant does not appear and the respondent: appears, then the appeal shall be disposed of ex parte. If that were the intention or the legislature, clear direction to that effect would have been incorporated in this Rule.'
32. The answer to this objection appears to be that Order XLI, Rule 17 (1) could not simultaneously provide that the Court may order that the appeal be dismissed for default of appearance of the appellant and that the appeal shall be heard ex parte, and that an appeal in which the appellant is present has necessarily to be heard on merits even if the respondent does not appear, whereas an appeal in which the appellant is absent may either be dismissed for default of appearance or disposed of on merits under Rules 30, 32 and 33 of Order XLI.
33. Mosatir Mahton v. Mt. Bachani : AIR1963Pat1 , a Division Bench of the Patna High Court followed the Madras, Allahabad and Calcutta cases noted above and held that the case of AIR 1921 Pat 325, had not been correctly decided. The basis of even this decision appears to be that the parties cannot be said to have been heard when the appellant is absent, and Order XLI, Rule 30 would not, therefore, apply to such a situation.
34. Before I pass on to the cases in which a contrary view has been taken I must refer to the decision of a learned single Judge of the Rajasthan High Court in Shri Krishna v. Girdhari Lal, AIR 1955 NUC (Raj) 126. The relevant portion of the note of the ease contained in the N. U. C. is as follows:
'Reading the language of Rule 30 with that of Rule 17 it becomes evident that the discretion which has been allowed to a Court by the use of the word 'may' in Rule 17 only extends to the matter of granting an adjournment or to dismissing the appeal for default of appearance. It is not open to an appellate Court to decide the appeal on merits, without hearing an appellant or without allowing him an opportunity of so being heard. If no such opportunity is allowed, the decision on merits cannot be regarded as in accordance with law.'
35. The first portion of the note indicates that the learned Judge was inclined to agree with the view expressed in the cases dealt with above, but the second portion is suggestive of the fact that he was prepared to accept that the Court is competent to decide the appeal on merits if the appellant has been allowed an opportunity of being heard. The facts of the case, however, were that no notices were served on the appellants, and the counsel who filed an adjournment application did so because they could not contact the appellants and thus failed to receive instructions from them. The case thus appears to have been one in which, in the view of the learned Judge, the appellants had not been given the opportunity of being heard.
36. The earliest reported case since the enactment of the Code of 1908, in which a contrary view was taken is AIR 1921 Pat 325. Contrasting Order XLI, Rule 17 (1) of the present Code with Section 556 of the old Code the learned single Judge who decided the case observed that in the present Code a wide discretion has been given to the appellate Court and it can enter into the merits of the case and decide the case on merits.
37. In Mohammadi Husain v. Chandro : AIR1937All284 , a learned single Judge of this Court dealt with the effect and scope of Rules 30 and 31 of Order XLI but this case was overruled by a Division Bench in Mathura Das v. Narain Das : AIR1940All248 , and was disapproved by the Supreme Court in Sukhpal Singh's case : 2SCR733 . it is not, therefore, necessary to discuss it.
38. In Chimman Lal v. Zahur Uddin : AIR1938All548 , a case decided by a Division Bench of this Court, the earlier Division Beach decision in AIR 1924 All 144 (Supra) was not followed and it was held that if the appellant fails to appear in spile of being given an opportunity to do so the appellate Court can decide the appeal on merits. Referring to the argument that Order XLI, Rule 30 requires that the appellate Court shall decide the appeal 'after hearing the parties or their pleaders', the Bench observed:--
'We consider that these words apply only if the parties or their pleaders address the Court and that in case they do not address the Court the Rule does not prevent the Court making a judgment on the merits. Learned counsel further alluded to Rule 17 which deals with dismissal for default. In Sub-rule (1) it is provided that if 'the appellant does not appear when the appeal is called on for hearing, the Court may make an order that the appeal be dismissed. It is not provided that the Court shall make an order that the appeal be dismissed. It is optional for the Court to take that course. Learned counsel argued that the only alternatives were for the Court to make an order of dismissal for default or to make an adjournment. This is not provided by the section and there is nothing to show that the Court is not: allowed by the Rules to make a decree on the merits. In Sub-rule (2) it is no doubt provided in regard to the respondent that 'where the appellant appears and the respondent does not appear, the appeal shall be heard ex parte'. That, however, provides that there shall be a hearing on the merits.'
39. For the reasons that I have given above I am in respectful agreement with the view expressed by the Bench, and since it is this view of Order XLI, Rule 30 which is in conformity with the decision of the Supreme Court in Sukhpal Singh's case : 2SCR733 , the case must be regarded as stating the correct legal position. It may here be mentioned that the Bench rested its decision on Order XLI, Rule 11(1) also, holding that the power of the appellate Court to take the two courses mentioned under Order XLI, Rule 11 is not taken away when notice is issued to the respondent and the respondent appears in accordance with the notice. This second basis of the decision does not, however, appeal- to me to be sound inasmuch as the powers conferred by Order XLI, Rule 11 seem to relate only to the stage before notice to the respondent and not to the stage of hearing after notice. Further, it will be found that in : AIR1940All248 , a Bench constituted by the same learned Judges who decided Chimman Lal's case, : AIR1938All548 , said that a dismissal for default after notice could not be one under Order XLI, Rule 11 (2), If an order of dismissal for default of appearance by the appellant after notice to the respondent cannot be under Order XLI Rule 11 (2), dismissal on merits after notice to the respondent cannot, for the same reason, be under Order XLI, Rule 11 (1). The first basis of the decision in Chimman Lal's case, : AIR1938All548 , which has been quoted above is, however, quite sufficient to sustain it.
40. The point involved in the case of : AIR1940All248 , was different from the one in question in the present case. But the view that a Division Bench of this Court took in that case of Order XLI, Rule 30 received the approval of the Supreme Court in Sukhpal Singns case, AIR 1963 SC 146, and the following passage from it in reference to Order XLI, Rule 30 may, therefore, be quoted:
'Where the appellant and his pleader are not prepared to address the Court there is no hearing and, therefore, nothing is shown to the appellate Court us to why it should interfere with the decision of the Court below. The burden of proof is on an appellant to show that the decision which he appeals from was wrong and where he does not address the Court at all, it appears to us that there is no point raised for determination and it is not necessary, therefore, to give a decision on any point or the reasons for the decision. It is sufficient for the Court to pass an order of dismissal for default. Such an order docs not necessarily mean that the appeal is dismissed for default of appearance. In such circumstances the order means that the appeal is dismissed for default of proof.
41. According to this decision, therefore, the Court: may act under Order XLI, Rule 30 if the appellant and his pleader arc not prepared to address the Court. This impreparedness to address as I have said above may consist in refusal or inability to address or in the fact: that the appellant is absent, and, to my mind in all these cases the Court has the power to dismiss the appeal for 'default of proof that: the judgment appealed against is erroneous, i.e., to dismiss the appeal on merits.
42. The latest decision of this Court on the point under consideration is a Division Bench decision in Smt. Gajrani v. 'Sink Ram Rati : AIR1965All547 , where after dealing with the relevant provisions of the Code and referring exhaustively to the case law the Court: held, to quote the words of the head-note, that Order XLI, Rule 17 permits the appellate Court to follow the procedure of Rule 30 and dismiss the appeal on merits even though the appellant is absent, provided he has had reasonable notice of the date of hearing. The following passage from the judgment brings out the reason for the decision:
'In this case the appeal could have been dismissed by the lower appellate Court in default under Rule 17, or on merits under Rule 30 of Order XLI, or could have been adjourned to another date. The word used in Rule 17 is 'may' and not 'shall', and prima facie the legislature intended only to empower the appellate Court to dismiss an appeal in default: and not to make it obligatory upon it to do so. Once the word was 'shall' and the legislature substituted it by 'may' clearly indicating its view that it intended to leave the matter at the discretion of the appellate Court. Had the word been 'shall' the appellate Court would have no option but to dismiss the appeal in default and the only consequence of the amendment made by the legislature was to give it discretion. The legislature apparently did not think that an appeal should be dismissed in default regardless of all circumstances and contemplated that in some circumstances it may be more just to dispose of the appeal on merits under Rule 30 or to-adjourn it. It may be that ordinarily or in a majority of cases an appellate Court will exercise the discretion in favour of dismissing the appeal in default, but the question is not how the discretion is exercised ordinarily but whether the appellate Court has discretion in the matter at all or not. What order can be passed by an appellate Court if it does not dismiss the appeal in default is not laid down by the legislature; it may be either adjourning the hearing of the appeal or hearing it on merits under Rule 30. I find no words in Rule 17 or any other rule, expressly or even impliedly, requiring adjournment and prohibiting decision on merits. Hence a decision on merits is not against any provision and can be resorted to by the appellate Court in its discretion.'
13. Referring to the case of AIR 1955 NUC (Raj) 126, of the Rajasthan High Court, Desai, C. J. who delivered the judgment of the Bench observed:--
'Ranawat, J. in AIR 1955 NUC (Raj) 126, took the same view because he thought that an appeal can be decided on merits only under Rule 30 and only if the parties or their counsel have been allowed an opportunity of being heard. With great respect it may be pointed out that an opportunity is given to an appellant to be heard when he is informed of the date of hearing of the appeal and not by enforcing his attendance, and that if he is absent, hearing the appeal on merits cannot be said to be a hearing without his being given an opportunity of being heard. I agree with the learned Judge that what Rule 30 requires is that an opportunity be given to the parties to be heard and to hear them if they wish to be heard and not that if the parties arc not heard, whatever be the reason, the appeal cannot be decided on merits at all.'
44. This is in consonance with the observations of Supreme Court in Sukhpal Singles case : 2SCR733 , and with this statement of the law I respectfully agree.
45. Order XLI, Rule 30 no doubt makes the hearing of the parties or their pleaders a condition precedent to the pronouncing of judgment, but this condition has been laid down for the benefit of the parties and in their own interest, and its fulfilment is, by its very nature, dependent upon their volition and co-operation. The parties cannot, therefore, by refusing to avail of the benefit and by withholding their co-operation incapacitate the Court for using that power to the exercise of which the condition has been attached. If the opportunity for the fulfilment of the condition has been allowed, although it has not been availed of, the condition will be deemed to have been complied with and the Court will acquire the competence to exercise the power conferred upon it as if the condition has been fulfilled. If this were not so, the parties would, by their own omission to avail of the opportunity granted to them, be able to create an insurmountable impediment in what the Court has been authorised to do by the statute and render the power given to it totally ineffective and nugatory.
46. On a consideration of the relevant provisions and the eases dealing with them and in the light of the decision of the Supreme Court in Thakur Sukhpal Singh's case : 2SCR733 , I am of the view that even in the absence of the appellant and his counsel the appellate Court has the jurisdiction to dispose of the' appeal on merits, i.e., in any of the modes provided by Rules 32 and 33 of Order XLI. I may here state that throughout this discussion I have regarded, as Order XLI, Rule 17 (1) itself does, the appellant's failure to appeal as meaning his failure to appear either personally or through a counsel, and the word absence' in relation to the appellant has been used by me in the wider sense of the absence of both the appellant and his counsel.
47. I may now proceed to a consideration of the first question under reference. It relates, as I have said in the beginning, to the propriety or desirability of deciding an appeal on merits in the absence of the appellant and his counsel. Obviously, on such a matter no categorical answer which may hold good in all circumstances can be given. For, to do so would virtually amount to converting what is in the discretion of the Court into an imperative rule of law. To say that a particular discretion should always be exercised or that it is to be exercised in no circumstance is to deprive the discretion of its essential character and to reduce it to the rigidity of a formula.
48. The dismissal of an appeal on merits in the absence of the appellant and his pleader being discretionary with the Court it must naturally be subject to all those considerations to which a judicial discretion is subject But the most relevant of such considerations in this context is that the more drastic a discretionary power and the more far reaching its results, the more reluctant the Court should be to exercise it, particularly when the person who may be adversely affected by the use of the power has not been actually heard, even though it be that he has been given the opportunity of being heard. The hardship which the dismissal on merits of the appeal of an absent appellant may entail and the serious consequences which may ensue therefrom have been exhaustively set forth in the passages quoted above from the judgments of Ayling, J. and Odger, J. in the case of AIR 1928 Mad 13, and it is, therefore, unnecessary to detail them here. Those considerations which could not, in my respectful opinion, effect the construction of the relevant provisions of the Code in view of the clear language of the provisions are of prime importance in arriving at an answer to the first question under reference.
To them I may only add this, that the appellate Court, in the absence of the appellant, has not the means of knowing the reason of his absence and it is only very rarely that it can be in a position to be firmly convinced that there is no excuse for the appellant's absence and he is deliberately avoiding the hearing of the appeal. The material on which the Court may form an opinion in that matter against the appellant may be untrue, misleading or insufficient, and the circumstances appearing against him may be inconclusive or capable of being explained by the appellant or of being neutralised by other circumstances which the Court does not know and has not the means of knowing at that time. Also, the appeal may have merits which, on account of the absence of the appellant and his counsel, may not be brought to the notice of the Court or the Court may fail to discover. Having regard, therefore, to the serious consequences, that may follow and to the dangers of error, the Court should not ordinarily dismiss die appeal on merits in the absence of the appellant and bis counsel, but should leave it open to the appellant to apply under Order XLI, Rule 19 and have the dismissal set aside by satisfying the Court that there was sufficient reason for his absence. It is, in my view, only in exceptional circumstances that the Court should dismiss the appeal on merits in the absence of the appellant and his counsel. What those exceptional circumstances are cannot he rigidly formulated or exhaustively enumerated, and naturally the question under reference does not require it to be done. Of course, the allowing of the appeal does not result in the serious consequences mentioned in Musaliarakath Muhamad's case, AIR 1923 Mad 13, and is not attended by the dangers of error to which I have drawn attention. But, it is only after the Court has made up its mind that it will dispose of the appeal on merits and not dismiss it for default of appearance that it will ordinarily inquire into its merits. At the stage of making up its mind in regard to the discretion to be exercised by it, it cannot-anticipate what kind of decision the merits of the case would require. The Court may certainly examine the merits of the case also before making its choice between dismissing the appeal for default of appearance of the appellant and deciding it on merits; but that is not what would be done in actual practice. In the normal course, it will foe only after the Court has decided to dispose of the appeal that the merits will be examined and the Court will not be in a position to know till then whether the appeal will he allowed or dismissed. The Court must, therefore, have before it the consideration referred to above when it makes no its mind whether, in the absence of the appellant and his counsel it should dismiss the appeal in default of appearance or decide it on merits. And those consideration would in my opinion persuade the Court not to decide the appeal on merits but only to dismiss it for default unless as I have said above, there are exceptional circumstances demanding a decision on merits.
49. My answer to the question referred to the Full Bench is, therefore, as follows:
50. In the absence of the appellant and his counsel the appellate Court should ordinarily dismiss the appeal for default, and it is only in exceptional circumstances that it should decide the appeal on merits. The appellate Court has, however, the jurisdiction, oven in the absence of the appellant and his counsel, to dispose of the appeal on merits.
Bishambhar Dayal, J.
51. I agree.
S.C. Manchanda, J.
52. I agree.