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Prabhu Dayal and anr. Vs. Leela Dhar and ors. - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectProperty
CourtAllahabad High Court
Decided On
Case NumberSecond Appeal No. 504 of 1970
Judge
Reported inAIR1972All269
ActsEasements Act, 1882 - Sections 18
AppellantPrabhu Dayal and anr.
RespondentLeela Dhar and ors.
Appellant AdvocateG.D. Srivastava, Adv.
Respondent AdvocateK.C. Agarwal, Adv.
DispositionAppeal allowed
Excerpt:
.....district and it creates a right in each of the inhabitants irrespective of his estate or interest in any particular property'.this case thus clearly lays down that once a custom is established it creates a right in each of the inhabitants of the locality, conversely it would follow that a right which is claimed not in respect of each of the residents of the locality but is confined only to the descendants of one single person would not be a custom as recognised by the law. on the application of the test laid down by the privy council, the plaintiffs' case must fail......filed a suit alleging that they and the defendants were descended from a common ancestor hari shah. it was asserted that there were about 500 descendants of hari shah in qasba sikandarabad while some other descendants reside outside. it was alleged that the defendants were the owners of the disputed courtyard which was situated inside, and that from time immemorial, the descendants of hari shah had been doing pooja on the occasion of holi. and also burning holi and performing other rites connected thereto in that court-yard, as of right and without any interruption. the plaintiffs' grievance is that defendants nos. 1 and 2 had prevented them from performing the aforesaid acts on the occasion of holi. which has caused immense mental suffering to the plaintiffs and hence the suit.....
Judgment:

C.S.P. Singh, J.

1. This is an appeal bythe defendants. The plaintiffs filed a suit alleging that they and the defendants were descended from a common ancestor Hari Shah. It was asserted that there were about 500 descendants of Hari Shah in Qasba Sikandarabad while some other descendants reside outside. It was alleged that the defendants were the owners of the disputed courtyard which was situated inside, and that from time immemorial, the descendants of Hari Shah had been doing Pooja on the occasion of Holi. and also burning Holi and performing other rites connected thereto in that court-yard, as of right and without any interruption. The plaintiffs' grievance is that defendants Nos. 1 and 2 had prevented them from performing the aforesaid acts on the occasion of Holi. which has caused immense mental suffering to the plaintiffs and hence the suit for injunction restraining the defendants from preventing the descendants of Hari Shah from performing Pooja and other rites connected with Holi.

2. The defendants took up the stand that the descendants of Hari Shah never utilised the court-yard for the performance of various rites on the occasion off Holi. and further that the dimension of the court yard was very small and was insufficient to accommodate 700 or 800 persons who were descended from Hari Shah. In paragraph 7 of the written statement, it was asserted that even if there was any such custom as pleaded by the plaintiffs, it was opposed to law. unreasonable and not enforceable.

3. The trial court held It proved that the descendants of Hari Shah were performing the various rites connected with Holi in the inner court-yard of thedefendants since time immemorial and had acquired a customary right to perform these rites. It also found that the performance of such rites by the plaintiffs was not unreasonable. In this connection, it held that even if the number of the descendants of Hari Shah was large, yet only such number of persons as could be accommodated in the court-yard entered, and the plaintiffs and the defendants both being the descendants of Hari Shah, no grievance on the ground that the custom was unreasonable could be made by the defendants. In this connection, it was held that the mere fact that the ladies of the house of the defendants were put to inconvenience either by confining themselves to the upper story or by going to other houses in the neighbourhood, during the time when the male descendants of Hari Shah were assembled. was not such an element as to make the exercise of the right of using the courtyard on the occasion of Holi unreasonable. On this finding, the trial court decreed the suit and issued a permanent injunction against the defendants.

4. The defendants thereafter filed an appeal. At this stage, it was conceded by the counsel for the defendants that the right of burning Holi and of performing various ceremonies connected therewith had been peacefully enjoyed ever since the inception without any obstruction. The finding of the trial court that the exercise of such a right was unreasonable was, however, contested. The lower appellate court accepted the finding of the trial court and took the view that inasmuch as the entire body of the descendants of Hari Shah did not insist on entering the courtyard all at a time, the mere fact that the dimensions of the court-yard were small did not render the custom set up unreasonable. Following two decisions of this Court in Lakhmi Chand v. Moti Lal : AIR1939All165 and Kanhai Singh v. Basdeo Sahai : AIR1939All387 the lower appellate court held that the right of burning Holi was a customary right of easement and could be acauired and took the view that the present controversy was covered by these two decisions. It distinguished a decision of the Rajasthan High Court in Ram Chandra Singh v. Partap Singh where it was held that the right to rest cattle at a particular spot outside the abadi was unreasonable in view cf the fact that there has been considerable increase in the Abadi and the plot now fell right in the heart of the Abadi. as it took the view that the Raiasthan case did not relate to a customary right of easement In view of these findings the lower appellate court held that the plaintiffs had acquired a customary right of easement of performing the various rites connected with Holi. andfurther that the exercise of such right could not be said to be unreasonable.

5, Counsel for the appellants has contended that the right being claimed by the plaintiffs cannot be enforced inasmuch as no customary right of easement or for that matter any customary right can be claimed by the descendants of one single person qua the property of another, and has also urged that the right claimed has with the passage of time became unreasonable. The lower appellate court has decreed the plaintiffs' suit on the footing that it was a customary easement. Customary easements are recognised in Section 18 of the Easements Act which may be quoted:--

'An easement may be acquired invirtue of a local custom. Such easements are called customary easements'.

6 Two questions thus arise. Firstly, whether the right claimed by the plaintiffs is an 'easement' and secondly whether it is 'in virtue of a local custom'.

7. So far as the first question is concerned, it seems that the matter is settled by a Division Bench decision of this Court in AIR 1939 All 165 (supra). The Hindu residents of certain Mohalla in the town of Aligarh claimed the right of going to a particular plot of land at a certain time of the year, collecting fuel there and burning Holi. and also performing certain religious ceremonies. The Court held that such rights can be acquired and are recognised by courts. In coming to this conclusion, it relied upon two earlier decisions of this Court in Ashraf Ali v. Jagannath (1884) ILR 6 All 497 and Rajah All v. Raioo Khan. 12 All LJ 963 : (AIR 1914 All 4161. Referring to this decision, another Division Bench in : AIR1939All387 (supra) observed that such a right was a customary right, and that such a customary easement came under Section 18 of the Easements Act, In view of these decisions, it is not possible to accept the contention raised on behalf of the appellants that the right claimed by the appellants was not an easement, and as such cannot fall within Section 18 of the Easements Act.

8. The second aspect of the question may now be considered. Before advantage of Section 18 of the Act can be taken, an easement claimed must be in virtue of a local custom which implies that a custom of the kind pleaded is prevalent in the locality. It is settled that before a party can succeed on the basis of a custom, the particular custom must be specifically pleaded and proved. In the present case, on a reading of the plaint it is clear that the plaintiffs did not base their claim upon any local custom. All that was pleaded was that the plaintiffs and the descendants of Hari Shah, whether they reside in the locality or outside, had acquired a customary right by uninterrupted user. This is quite different from setting up a local custom. The case of the plaintiffs as such did not fall under Section 18 of the Easements Act. and the approach of the lower appellate court to this question seems to be erroneous. This, however, is not sufficient to dispose of the appeal, for the trial court has found that the plaintiffs had acquired a customary right and as such it is necessary to consider as to whether the descendants of one particular family, whether they reside in a particular locality or not. can acquire a customary right to do something on the land of another. In Halsbury's Laws of England. Third, Edition. Vol. 11, under Article 294, 'custom' has been defined thus:--

'A custom is a particular rule which exists either actually or presumptively from time immemorial and has obtainedthe force of law in a particular locality .....'

The relevant portion of a subsequent article (Article 295) runs thus:--

'Customs have several essential characteristics ..... The one is thenecessity of the existence of a custom, either actually or presumptively, from time immemorial, and the other is confinement of all customs to a definite limited locality ..... As to the latter,there is a well defined rule that all customs must be local and confined to particular places. There cannot be a custom in one place to do something in another place. A custom must import some general right in a district. The land in a particular place and the inhabitants in respect of it may be charged by custom for matters within that place, but custom will not apply to matters out of it'.

The learned author, thereafter, refers to the distinction between 'custom' and 'prescription' in Article 297 and has observed thus:--

'The chief point of difference between prescription and custom is that a claim by prescription is personal, that is to say, it is always made in the name of a certain person and his ancestors or those whose estate he has, or in a body corporate and its predecessors: while custom, being local, is not attached to any particular persons, but to a particular locality, and affects the property of the indeterminate number of persons for the time being connected with or being members of a particular class in that locality .....'

From the quotations made above, two propositions, so far as are relevant to the present controversy may be deduced, The first is that the custom claimed is confined to a definite limited locality and must import some general right in a district; and secondly, that it is not attached to any particular persons but to a particular locality. Another important consideration which flows from these quotations is that a custom is not claimed by single person or his ancestors. These principles would suggest that a custom is one which is claimed by a particular class of the inhabitants of a locality, and not by any individual as of personal right. In the present case, the rights which are being claimed are for the descendants of Hari Shah whether they reside in the locality or not. It is difficult to see how such a right can be claimed by way of custom, for the ancestors (descendants?) of one particular individual even though they do not reside in the locality in which the custom is being set up. In Raghoba v. Anandabai, AIR 1930 Nag 40 it has been held that a customary right can be acquired only in favour of a class or community. The Privy Council in Lakshmi-dhar Misra v. Rangalal AIR 1950 PC 56 considering the nature of a customary right on page 59 observed thus:--

'A customary right can exist only In relation to the inhabitants of a district and it cannot be claimed in respect of the public at large. Fitch v. Rawling, (1795) 2 H B1 393 : 3 RR 425. The custom, if established makes the local law of the district and it creates a right in each of the inhabitants irrespective of his estate or interest in any particular property'.

This case thus clearly lays down that once a custom is established it creates a right in each of the inhabitants of the locality, conversely it would follow that a right which is claimed not in respect of each of the residents of the locality but is confined only to the descendants of one single person would not be a custom as recognised by the law. On the application of the test laid down by the Privy Council, the plaintiffs' case must fail. Some cases, however, lay down that it would be sufficient to uphold a claim of a customary right if the persons claiming the customary right form a distinct class or community. Even if the test laid down by these cases is applied, it can hardly be said that the plaintiffs or the other descendants of Hari Shah from a distinct class or community. The only common characteristics of the plaintiffs and the others for whom the relief is sought is that they are the descendants of one Hari Shah. Before a body of men can be said to form a particular class or community, they must have some other feature in common other than the mere relationship by blood. The word 'class' in the context would connote rank, order in society, and the word 'community' would mean a body of men having same religion, profession etc. in common. Thus the mere fact that the descendants of Hari Shah had been using the inner court-yard of the impugned house for performing the various religious rites on the occasion of Holi could not confer any customary right on them.

9. Counsel for the respondents has, however, laid great emphasis on a decision of this Court in Sheo Rai Chamar v. Mudeer Khan : AIR1934All868 and in particular to the judgment of Sulaiman, C, J., where considering the question as to whether a particular family can claim a customary easement of burrying their dead on a particular plot of land, he took the view that such a right can be claimed by a family or individual. The main reason given by Sulaiman, C. J. for holding that such a right can be claimed by a family or an individual, was that if by virtue of a local custom a large community could claim the right, there was no reason why it could not be claimed by a family or an individual. Mukerji, J. however, did not express any opinion on this point. The observations made by Sulaiman, C. J. undoubtedly support the contention raised on behalf of the respondents. This view however does not fall in line with the cases referred to earlier, and is contrary to what has been laid down by the Privy Council. A Full Bench of this Court in Kishan Chand v. Ram Babu : AIR1965All65 has taken the view that the decisions of the Privy Council are binding on this Court. That being so, I am bound to follow the decision given by the Privy Council in the case of AIR 1950 PC 56 and hold that the rights claimed by the plaintiffs cannot be classified as a customary right. In view of my finding that the right claimed by the plaintiffs is not such as could come within the description of 'a customary easement' or 'a customary right' as recognised under the law, it is not necessary to record a finding as to whether the right claimed is reasonable or not.

10. The appeal is accordingly allowed with costs. The judgments and decrees of the courts below are set aside.


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