This is an appeal against a judgment and decree dated August 12, 1938, of the Additional Civil Judge of Agra, in a suit for declaration of title to certain movable and immovable property. The plaintiff, hereafter called the Sabha, is the administrative council of one section of the followers of Radha Swami faith, hereafter called the Dayal Bagh Satsangis and it has been registered as a charitable society under the Societies Registration Act (XXI of 1860). For many years the president of the Sabha and the spiritual head of the Dayal Bagh Satsangis was a person of great ability whose real name was Sir Anand Swarup but who was called by his followers and was popularly known as Sahebji Maharaj. Under his guidance and as a result of contribution made by his followers a religious colony was established in the suburbs of the city of Agra which is popularly known as Dayal Bagh, and there came into existence in its colony for the benefit of Satsangis, model houses, educational institutions, model industries, workshops, a hospital, a dairy and an agricultural farm. The colony now occupies about 3,500 acres of land covered with costly buildings and it holds assets valued at about 60 lakhs of rupees.
The Income-tax Officer of Agra treating all the contributions made by the Dayal Bagh Satsangis and all the property which had grown out of these contributions as also all the income which arose out of such properties as the personal property of Sahebji Maharaj started proceedings against him personally for assessment to income-tax. As a result, this action was raised by the plaintiff against the Secretary of State for India in Council as the defendant No. 1 and Sahebji Maharaj as the defendant No. 2 which was continued after the death of the latter against his widow and two sons as the defendants 2 to 4 for a declaration 'that all the offerings, all the properties, movable and immovable, and Government securities in the name of the plaintiff Sabha and all business run by the plaintiff under the name and style of Model Industries, Tanneries, Brickfields, Construction Department, the Dairy Farm and the Agricultural Farm known as R. E. I. Dairy, and the educational institutions known respectively as Radha Swami Educational Institute, Prem Vidyalaya, and Technical College, together with all their buildings, boarding houses etc. attached to them, Dayal Bagh Press and Saran Ashram Hospital, and all the income from the above property, in ?) and vesting in the Sabha are the properties and income vesting in the plaintiff Sabha to which his Holiness Sahebji Maharaj Sir Anand Swarup, Kt., or his widow and sons after him have had no right or title.'
Sahebji Maharaj and after his death took place on June 24, 1937, during the pendency of this suit, his widow and two sons accepted the Sabhas claim, but the Secretary of State for India in Council resisted the claim on various pleas of law and facts; these pleas, however, were all overruled by the Civil Judge who granted to the plaintiff the declaration claimed.
The matters which were debated before us in this appeal relate to the status of the Sabha, whether it was a genuine society or was merely a sham body acting as a dummy for Sahebji Maharaj and whether, having regard to its constitution and bye-laws, it could be validly registered as a charitable society under Act No. XXI of 1860; they relate to the question whether the offerings which were made by the Dayal Bagh Satsangis to Sahebji Maharaj and the property which had grown out of them and which at all material time had stood in the name of the Sabha vested in the Sabha for the benefit of Satsangis and Sahebji Maharaj had no legal title to it and the beneficial or personal interest in it or them, or whether the Sabha held those offerings or property as a mere benamidar and had no legal title to it and the beneficial title to it was vested in Sahebji Maharaj; and lastly they relate to the question whether the action of the Income-tax Officer of Agra in treating the disputed property as owned by Sahebji Maharaj and in starting proceedings of assessment against him furnishes any cause of action to the plaintiff against the defendant No. 1.
Before we approach these matters in controversy it is necessary to narrate, however, briefly a few facts relating to the tenets of this religious faith and its early history, the circumstances in which the plaintiff Sabha came into existence, the position which Sahebji Maharaj occupied in relation to the Sabha and in relation to the followers of this faith, to Sahebji Maharaj personally and to the Sabha.
The Radha Swami faith was founded in the year 1861 by Shiv Dayal Singh, a Khattri resident of Agra. Radha Swami Dayal after whom the faith is named is the name given to the deity by the followers of this faith. The deity, according to the tenets of this faith, is represented on this earth by a human being who is called the Sant Satguru. Human spirit, according to this faith, is tied up to the material world by chains of mind and matter, and it cannot secure emancipation and unity with god, which is the object of all human endeavour, without the assistance of Gods representative on earth, namely the Sant Satguru. In order to attain this unity the service and devotion of human being to the Sant Satguru is essential and this devotion is enjoined by this faith to be absolute in body, mind and riches. A follower of this faith has to be initiated into certain practices by the Sant Satguru and is enjoined to keep his company as much as possible, and this association is called Sat Sang and the follower of the faith is called Satsangi. These are some of the essentials of the Radha Swami faith upon which there is general agreement; but these is a divergence of opinion on the question whether the Sant Satguru is an incarnations of God or he is only human being in communion with God, or he is merely recipient, in the language of the theology of this sect, of the Divine Current; and there is also some uncertainty on the question as when one Satguru, to use again the language of the theology of this faith, departs from the world and another Satguru takes his place, how the discovery of the new Satguru is to be made.
The founder of the faith, Shiv Dayal Singh, popularly known as Swamiji Maharaj (1861 to 1878) was its first Sant Satguru. The second Sant Satguru was Rai Bahadur Salig Ram, popularly known as Huzurji Maharaj (1878 to 1898). The third Sant Satguru was Pandit Brahman Shanker Misra, popularly known as Maharaj Saheb (1898 to 1907). These first three Gurus as the true exponents of the creed by all the followers of this faith.
On the death of the third Guru which took place on October 12, 1907, a schism broke out which split the faith into two sections one of which is popularly known as Swami Bagh Satsangis and the other is known as the Dayal Bagh Satsangis and the other is known as the Dayal Bagh Satsangis. The Swami Bagh party believe that the Divine Current after the departure of Maharaj Saheb, the third Guru, from this world came to the sister of Maharaj Saheb, a lady called Buaji, who took the place of Sant Satguru from 1907 to 1913, though by reason of her sex she could not perform all her duties as Sant Satguru and Babu Madho Prasad was acting for her. After her death in 1913 Babu Madho Prasad became the Sant Satguru and he is still holding that office. The Dayal Bagh party, on the other hand, believe that the Divine Current after Maharaj Saheb came to Kamta Prasad Singh who became the fourth Sant Satguru (1907 to 1913) and was popularly known as Sarkar Saheb and on his death Sir Anand Swarup (1913 to 1937) became the fifth Sant Satguru and as such he was called Sahebji Maharaj.
The faith with small belongings spread itself. It grew in numbers and from the offerings made by the devotes to the Sant Satguru of the time being a fund accumulated which was partly utilised for the construction and maintenance of the shrines of the deceased Sant Satgurus and for places of worship and residence of this community and partly for the other objects of this faith. And in 1902 it became necessary to establish a Council to hold the properties and to administer the affairs of this religious community. In 1904 a trust deed was also executed vesting the properties in certain trustees. In the rules and regulations by which the Council was established as also in the trust deed the Sant Satguru was, in accordance with the tenets of the faith, given a position of absolute and overriding authority both upon the trust property and upon the administrative council.
After the schism of 1913 the Swami Bagh party came in possession of the religious shrines and of the properties which were vested in the trustees under the trust deed of 1904. A controversy now sprang up between the two sections as to the management of the shrines and the administration of trust property and this controversy brought into forefront the question whether the property held by the trustees under the deed of 1904 which admittedly had come into existence as a result of offerings made to the Sant Satguru for the time being was impressed with a public trust of a religious or charitable nature or it was property free from such a trust and at the absolute disposal of the Sant Satguru. This controversy led to a civil suit at Benares which finally came to an end by a decision of His Majesty in Council in Chhotabhai v. Jana Chandra Basak in which to was held that the offerings made to the first three Sant Satgurus and the properties which came out of them were not impressed with any public trust of a charitable or religious nature. As a result of this decision the entire property which was the subject-matter of the trust deed of 1904 remained in possession of the Swami Bagh section, and we not directly concerned with it in this case.
The independent history of the Dayal Bagh section with which we are directly concerned in this case begins after the schism in the end of 1907 when it started with a clean slate so far as any offerings and property were concerned under the fourth Sant Satguru, the Sarkar Saheb. This fourth Sant Satguru who was a lawyer by profession soon after his installation established an administrative council in the year 1910 which was called the Radha Swami Satsang Sabha to take charge of the offerings, to keep accounts, to hold and manage the property of the religious community under his care and to administer its affairs. He was succeeded on his death in 1913 by the fifth Sant Satguru called Sahebji Maharaj. The fifth Guru of the Dayal Bagh section was a person endowed with gift of leadership and he was also possessed of administrative ability and powers of organization. To a religious mind he also joined a practical mind for worldly affairs and he conceived it his duty not only to look after the spiritual welfare of his flock but also to its duty not only to look after the spiritual welfare of his flock but also to its material welfare. While agreeing with the first three Gurus that it was the duty of the devotee of the faith to serve the Sant Satguru with body and mind and riches he also conceived it to be the duty of the Sant Satguru by his very constitution not to make any personal use of these services but to apply them for the benefit of the community and for its intellectual, moral and material uplift.
In 1915 the first real beginning was made of establishing a religious colony at Agra at Dayal Bagh when extensive land began to be acquired and the construction of model houses began. In 1917 an educational institute was established. In 1919 model industries were started. By 1921 sufficient progress had been made in these projects to realise the necessity of registering the Sabha, which had been functioning since 1910 and whose president since 1913 was Sahebji Maharaj, as a charitable society under the Act XXI of 1860. In 1926 a hospital was established. In the same year a dairy and an agricultural farm were established. In 1927 a technical college was started. In 1930 a girls college was founded, and in the same year a provident fund called Jiwan Udhar Fund was established for the benefit of Satsangis which holds now a capital of 10 lakhs of rupees. And up to the time when Sahebji Maharaj died on June 24, 1937, the colony had an uninterrupted record of progress in all its activities - religious, charitable, educational and industrial.
The Sabha was established by a unanimous vote of the followers of the Radha Swami faith in a session held at Ghazipur on March 26, 1910. At the second session of the Sabha held on 29th December, 1910, it framed and passed its constitution and bye-laws which were amended at its 4th, 19th, 31st, 52nd (special) and 53rd sessions held on 29th December, 1912, 9th October, 1921, 17th April, 1927, 19th April, 1930, and 26th and 27th March, 1937, respectively. At its 19th session which was held on 9th October, 1921, it decided to get itself registered under Act No. XXI of 1860 and was registered under the said Act soon after in that year.
The objects of the Sabha are set out in three clauses of section 2 of its memorandum of association and at present they read as follows :-
'(a) To regulate the conduct of the followers of the Radha Swami faith, and to establish, render and subsidise religious, educational and industrial institutions with a view to advance the cause of religious, mental, moral and technical education among the followers of the Radha Swami faith solely with the object of doing public good and not for purposes of profit;
(b) To collect, preserve and administer the properties, movable and immovable, that have been or may hereafter be dedicated to Radha Swami Dayal or that may be acquired for or presented to the Radha Swami Satsang Sabha and to deal with the apply the same of the furtherance of the religious and charitable objects of the Sabha;
(c) To do the above and all such other things as are incidental or conducive to the attainment of the above objects, provided that the mandates, if any, of the Sant Satguru of the time, who is recognised as the representative of the Supreme Creator, Radha Swami Dayal, shall be paramount and absolute in all matters relating to the furtherance of the religious and charitable objects specified above.'
The bye-laws of the association at present are 78 in number and they lay down rules and regulations for the Sabha itself, for its executive committee, for the central assembly of the Satsangis, for the branch assembly of the Satsangis and for the maintenance of the League of Service, Radha Swami Education Institute, engineering and industrial institutions and of a Saran Ashram (a home for the poor and sick and a hospital) and for the maintenance of a dairy and agricultural farm and other miscellaneous institution. Some of these institutions for which provision is made in these bye-laws are distinctly religious, but many of them are clearly charitable, though some of them are not directly religious or charitable. Out of 20 bye-laws which deal with the constitution and the functions of the Sabha first three and 18 at present read as follows :-
'1. The members of the Sabha shall hold office at the pleasure of the Sant Satguru of the time.
2. After the departure of the Sant Satguru and before his re-appearance in human form, the Sabha shall continue to hold office for a period of two years.
3. If a longer interim than two years ensues between the departure of the Sant Satguru and his re-appearance, the Sabha shall stand dissolved unless the Satsangis affiliated to it desire it to continue.
18. All offerings, movable and immovable, howsoever and through whomsoever presented to the Supreme Creator, Radha Swami Dayal, or to the Radha Swami Satsang Sabha, and all properties, movable and immovable, acquired or that may be acquired from such offerings or that may be handed over or placed in the charge of the Sant Satguru, the executive committee or any other committee or any individual member, manager or agent, or that may come in possession of the any one of them in their official capacity as such, shall always remain vested in the Sabha.'
Prior to the amendment of 1937, clause (c) of Section 2 of the memorandum of association and bye-law, No. 1 of the Sabha, which we have quoted above, were somewhat differently worded. Clause (c) of Section 2 before the amendment was as follows :-
'(c) To do the above and all such other things as are incidental or conducive to the attainment of the above objects, provided that the mandates, if any, of the Sant Satguru of the time, who is recognised as the representative of the Supreme Creator, Radha Swami Dayal, shall be paramount and absolute in all matters referred to above.'
Bye-law No. 1 before the amendment read as follows :-
'1. The Sabha shall hold office at the pleasure of the Sant Satguru of the time.'
Prior to the registration of the society, in place of bye-law No. 18, there was a bye-law No. 17 which was as follows :-
'All the properties, movable and immovable, that may be handed over or placed in the charge of the executive committee or any individual members, manager of agent, or that may come in their possession in the course of their term of office as such, shall always remain vested in the Sabha, as the trustee of Radha Swami Dayal, whose representative is the Sant Satguru for the time being and shall on the dissolution of the Sabha revert to the Satguru of the time as the representative of Radha Swami Dayal.'
This bye-law No. 17 was amended early in 1922 and did not find a place in the first printed memorandum of association and bye-laws which came out after the registration of the society, and in its place was substituted a bye-law of the same number which read as follows :-
'All the properties movable and immovable that may be handed over or placed in charge of the executive committee or any other committee or any individual members, manager or agent or that may come in possession of the executive committee or any other committee or in that of any individual member, manager or agent in the course of his term of office as such, shall always remain vested in the Sabha.'
The bye-law No. 17 was later on changed into bye-law No. 18 and was finally amended into its present form, which we have quoted above, in 1937.
From its inception the Sabha has been functioning normally and regularly. Its proceedings are all recorded in books which have been exhibited in this case and some of the resolutions by which important business was transacted by the Sabha are referred to in the judgment of the trial Court on pages 79 and 80 of our printed record. For the founding of the colony, for the establishment of model housed, educational institute, model industries, the hospital, the dairy, the technical college, the girls college and provident fund etc., in fact for all important projects which were undertaken after the establishment of the Sabha in the interest of Satsangis of Dayal Bagh section, there are proceedings of the Sabha for the initiation of those projects. The title deeds of the land in occupation of the colony and of the model houses of the colony and stand in the name of the Sabha. The Sabha receives grant from the Government for its educational and charitable institution and the Government has acquired property under the Land Acquisition Act for its benefit. The Sabha raises and defends actions in law courts in its own name and admittedly all the property, movable and immovable, which at present exists at Dayal Bagh or outside in which the followers of the Radha Swami faith of Dayal Bagh section are interested as a religious community, stands recorded in the name of the Sabha and is vested in the Sabha.
There is, however, one class of property in possession of the Sabha which requires a separate consideration. The followers of the Radha Swami religion believe in making offerings to their impersonal God, Swami Dayal, and the greater they make these offerings, the greater is the merit for them. Even when they embark upon a purely secular enterprise like starting a provident fund or a bank or a dairy farm for the common benefit of the community and they make contributions for it earmarking it for a special purpose they call it an offering or to use a word which has become current in this society 'Bhent.' Some of these offerings or Bhents are made direct to the Sabha, some are made to the Sant Satguru himself and some are made after the death of the Sant Satguru when there is a vacancy in the office, such as there is at present after the death of Sahebji Maharaj. There is not much difficulty with regard to these offerings or with regard to the property which has been acquired out of such offerings; they all are clearly vested in the Sabha and in any case the Sant Satguru for the time being has no beneficial interest in them. But there is another class of offerings which are not for any special purpose and which consist of small of money and which are presented to Sant Satguru personally at annual feasts (Bhandaras) and on other ceremonial occasions by the followers of the faith and devotees of the Sant Satguru. As a matter of practice, these offerings, though formally presented to Sant Satguru, are really collected by the treasurer of the Sabha and entered in the account books of the Sabha and the Sabha administers these offerings as a part of the funds of the Sabha and in due course they are merged in the general funds of the Sabha and utilised for the objects of the Sabha. All the evidence in the case is to the effect that the Sant Satguru, Sahebji Maharaj, never made any personal use of the offerings which were given to him and that he considered himself accountable for them and they were immediately taken possession of by the Sabha and Sahebji Maharaj, and after him, his widow and two sons had no beneficial interest in them. To a limited extent defendant No. 1 also agreed with this evidence in so far as he conceded that these offerings were attached to the office of Sahebji Maharaj as Sant Satguru and they did not pass on his death to hid widow and sons.
There are undoubtedly some remarkable features in the constitution and the bye-laws of the Sabha. Clauses (a), (b) and (c) of section 2 of the memorandum of association which set out the objects of the Sabha were till the year 1937 governed by a proviso that 'the mandates, if any, of the Sant Satguru of the time, who is recognised as a representative of the Supreme Creator, Radha Swami Dayal, shall be paramount and absolute in all matters referred to above.' It is true that by the amendment of 1937 it has been made clear that the paramountcy and absoluteness of the mandates of Sant Satguru are now confined to 'all matters relating to the furtherance of the religious and charitable objects specified above,' but before the amendment it was open to doubt whether the power of the Sant Satguru was so restricted and was not general enough to permit him to change the constitution itself if he so desired. The bye-law No. 17, as it was before the amendment of 1922, provided that 'all the properties of the Sabha on the dissolution of the Sabha shall revert to the Satguru of the time as the representative of Radha Swami Dayal.' Bye-law No. 1, as it stood prior to the amendment of 1937, provided that 'the Sabha shall hold office at the pleasure of the Sant Satguru of the time' and further bye-law No. 2 provided that 'after the departure of Sant Satguru the Sabha shall hold office for a period of two years' and it after two years the next Satguru did not appear, bye-law 3 provided that 'the Sabha shall stand dissolved unless the Satsangis affiliated to it desire it to continue.' These bye-laws have been amended in 1937 and bye-law, No. 1 now provided that 'the members of the Sabha shall hold office at the pleasure of the Sant Satguru of the time' and not that 'the Sabha shall hold office......' and a new bye-law 4 (a) has been added which is as follows :-
'In case of dissolution of the Sabha and in the absence of the election of a new Sabha and the appointment of a new executive committee under bye-law 4 above the provisions of Section 14 of Act XXI of 1860 will apply.'
On the basis of the religious creed of the followers of the Radha Swami faith that the salvation of the followers lies in surrendering 'their body, mind and wealth' to the Sant Satguru, which creed has also in a way found expression in the memorandum of association and bye-laws mentioned above, three main contentions were advanced before us. First that the Sabha had no independent existence of its own and it was a sham body acting as a mere dummy or benamidar for Sant Satguru. Secondly, that it could not be validly registered as a charitable society under Act XXI of 1860, and thirdly, that all the property nominally vested in the Sabha is at the absolute disposal of Sant Satguru and the Sabha has no legal title or beneficial title to it. As a part of this last contention there was a further contention that in any case offerings made personally to Sant Satguru and the property arising out of them are the personal property of Sant Satguru and do not vest in the Sabha.
We have referred above to the origin of the Sabha and to its activities. The Sabha came into existence and was registered as a society because the Dayal Bagh section of the followers of Radha Swami faith, from a purely religious community, transformed themselves into a mixed secular and religious society which necessitated maintenance of highly organised educational, industrial and charitable concerns. For the administration of the affairs of this community and for holding its property free from disputed succession, creation of a juristic person was necessary and the Sabha was registered as a society to serve that end. It is possible that the president of the society, to serve by reason of his position as a spiritual head of the sect, could dominate the members of the Sabha who were his devotees in religious faith, but there is not reason to suppose that the Sabha was sham body and had no independent legal existence of its own. Undoubtedly Sahebji Maharaj wanted a juristic person to hold the property of the community and to administer the affairs of the community. Undoubtedly the Sabha which consisted of his own followers would ordinarily act in accordance with his wishes. There is no reason why he should bring into existence a sham Sabha when his object could be achieved by having a genuine Sabha also.
The question whether the Sabha was validly registered under Act XXI of 1860 raise two different considerations. The objects of the Sabha, as set out in its memorandum of association, were religious and charitable. The Societies Registration Act (XXI of 1860) permits registration of societies for charitable purposes and charitable purposes are exemplified in Section 20 of the Act. It is not clearly mentioned whether a purely religious society is or is not a charitable society within the meaning of the Act, but in Anjuman Islamia of Muttra v. Nasirud-din, Banerji and Richards, JJ., held that a religious purpose may be a charitable purpose and a religious society might legally be registered under the provisions of the Societies Registration Act, 1860. In Khaji Muhammad Hussain v. Majiday Mahmood Jamat Managing Committee, Wadsworth and Venkataramana Rao, JJ., held society, some objects of which are charitable and some religious, but the paramount object of which is charitable may be validly registered under the Act. In Radha Swami Satsang Sabha v. Tara Chand and the Secretary of State for India in Council this Court held with regard to this very Sabha that it was validly registered under the Act. The bye-laws of the association provided for the establishment and maintenance of several institutions which are clearly charitable, and, even if some of the objects of the Sabha were religious, the dominant intention was charitable, and in our view the Sabha could be validly registered under the Act. Nor do we think that those clauses in the constitution which give overriding powers to Sant Satguru over the Sabha invalidate its registration. As a matter of fact, these clauses have all now been amended and even before their amendment when they existed in the constitution and bye-laws, in so far as they were inconsistent with the Act, they were not enforceable against the Sabha after the registration, nor could they prevent its registration.
There remains now the question of the title to the property, movable and immovable, which stands recorded in the name of the Sabha, and connected with it is the question whether the cash offerings made to Sant Satguru were vested in the Sabha or in the Sant Satguru. Prima facie, all property the title deeds of which are in the name of the Sabha is owned by and is vested in the Sabha. Bye-law 17 of the Sabha which provided the reversion of these properties to Sant Satguru in the event of the dissolution of the Sabha was cancelled immediately after the registration of the society in 1922 and since then has not found a place in the bye-laws of the society. In the controversy which arose between the Swami Bagh section and Dayal Bagh section about the administration of shrines referred to above and which was finally decided by the Privy Council, Sahebji Maharaj was examined as a witness in the Court of the Civil Judge of Benares and his deposition in that case, after his death, has been exhibited in this litigation. In that deposition he has made several statement with regard to his position in relation to the offerings which were made to him and in relation to the property which is vested in the Sabha. At page 160 of our record he stated as follows :-
'The properties with the Sabha do not belong to Sant Satguru as proprietor or owner. As a representative of Radha Swami Dayal they are managed by him and they do not belong to him.'
In the written statement which he filed in this suit before his death and in the written statement which his widow and sons have filed after his death, both have disclaimed any interest in the property. Indeed defendant No. 1 concedes that the properties are nominally held by the Sabha and the properties go with the office and Sant Satgurus heirs have no personal interest in them. But it is contended that because the mandates of Sant Satguru were held to be paramount in the memorandum of association prior to the amendment of 1937, this fact alone made the property held by the Sabha subject to those mandates and the result was that the ownership of the Sabha became that of an agent of Sant Satguru or of a mere benamidar of Sant Satguru. We have held above that the Sabha was not a sham body and was not a benamidar of Sant Satguru and was brought into existence to serve a genuine need and wish to the community which either originated with Sahebji Maharaj or with which he sympathised. Once this conclusion is reached that the Sabha was an independent body and held title deeds to the property, then the clause in the memorandum of association, as it was prior to the amendment of 1937, could not legally destroy the title which arose in favour of the Sabha. It must not be forgotten that a good deal of property which stands in the name of the Sabha came into existence without any intervention of cash offerings made to Sant Satguru personally, but as a result of contributions made direct to the Sabha itself.
The most controversial portion of the case is as regards the title to cash offerings which were made by the devotees to Sant Satguru and which immediately after were taken possession of by the secretary or the treasurer of the Sabha. On behalf of the Sabha it is contended that under bye-laws of the Sabha they automatically get vested in the Sabha to be held by the Sabha in trust like any other fund or property held by the Sabha. This undoubtedly is the position under bye-law 18 as it now stands after the amendment. Before the amendment the bye-laws were silent with regard to the title to cash offerings which were made personally to Sant Satguru. On behalf of the defendant it is contended that the offerings made by the devotees to the Sant Satguru were personal presents and they were not impressed with any trust, private or public and on acceptance by the Sant Satguru these presents became the personal property of Sant and remained as such till he disposed them of in such manner as he thought fit. It is further contended that it was held in Chhotabhais case by the Privy Council that the offerings made to the Sant Satguru were not impressed with any public trust. It is not possible to apply one unchanging rule in order to determine the true legal characteristics of these offerings. When a Hindu makes an offering to an idol it is ordinarily, having regard to Hindu law and usage, impressed with a trust and it cannot be regarded as the personal property of the priest officiating in the temple. Similarly, if a Hindu makes a present to a Hindu religious person, ordinarily it is the personal property of that person and is not impressed with any trust. There can also be no doubt that having regard to the teachings of the first three Gurus of the Radha Swami sect and the conditions which prevailed in their time the offerings made by Satsangis to those Satgurus were not impressed with any public trust of a religious or charitable nature and in any case the devotes who made those offerings did not by their words or deeds impress those presents with any public trust of a religious or charitable nature. But it is possible for religious conceptions with regard to these offerings to change. Even the first three Gurus did not make any personal use of these offerings and it is possible for their successor to take a different view of the matter and to regard them as property in the nature of trust. This is a position which this religious community undoubtedly reached in 1937 when it amended its bye-laws. But there is a good deal of evidence to show that even before this amendment and throughout the time when Sahebji Maharaj was the spiritual head of this community the view held by him and by the community was that these presents, though given personally to Sahebji Maharaj, were not meant for his personal use, but were meant for the social and religious uplift and welfare of the community. All the witnesses at the trial have definitely stated that Sahebji Maharaj could not make any personal use of these offerings and they were to be vested in the Sabha and were to be held for the benefit of the community. In the statement which Sahebji Maharaj made at Benares on October 27, 1926, there are several passages which set out his view on this subject. At page 153 of our record he stated as follows :-
'A Sant Satguru is always accountable to Satsangis whether an offering is made conditionally, the offering is made through him to Radha Swami Dayal. As soon as an offering is accepted all the Satsangis become interested in it. An offering is not made personally to a Sant Satguru. He will not accept any offering made to him personally and he always accepts offerings for Radha Swami Dayal............ No portion of the offering can be utilised by a Sant Satguru for his personal expenses.'
At page 162 of the record he stated as follows :-
'I never received any offerings. Offerings are taken by the Sabha. Offerings are handed over to the secretary of the Sabha and to myself as well. All kinds of offerings are so handed over to him by the offered and when they are placed before me, they are made over to secretary.'
Again at page 156 he stated :-
'As Sant Satguru accepts offerings for Radha Swami Dayal, as His representative, therefore, he is accountable to Satsangis.
I am not saying so from a legal point out of view, but I say so from my point of view. If a Sant Satguru appropriates offerings to his own personal use, it would be a breach of trust but a Sant Satguru will never do that............'
It is possible that when these offerings were made by the devotees to Sant Satguru they were made with a knowledge and under the belief that in accordance with the well-known views of Sahebji Maharaj and the practice prevailing in the Sabha no personal use of these offerings would be made by Sant Satguru and they would automatically vest in the Sabha and would be utilised for the benefit of Satsangis. If so, a trust may well get impressed on the offerings. It is also possible that the offerings were given by the devotees absolutely to Sant Satguru, but the Sant Satguru received them subject to a condition which he himself imposed by is own wish that they should not serve any personal use of his and that they should vest in the Sabha and he held by it for the benefit of Satsangis. Even then a trust may get impressed upon it though the founder in each case would be different. The beneficiaries in both cases would be the same. It is also possible that the Sant Satguru after receiving the gift without any condition subsequently made over the offering to the Sabha to be held by the Sabha for the benefit of the community. Whatever view may be taken of this matter it leads to the conclusion that Sahebji Maharaj did not get any personal interest in the offerings and if he got any he lost all personal and beneficial interest in them by his own wish and these offerings, either at the time when they were made or immediately after, came to be vested in the Sabha to be held and administered by the Sabha, for the objects of the Sabha.
For the purpose of this case it is sufficient to find that the Sabha had a legal title to these offerings and it is not necessary to determine whether the offerings were impressed with any trust and, if so, whether the trust was founded by the donors or by Sahebji Maharaj and what were the objects and who were the real beneficiaries of the trust and above all the question whether the trust was a private trust or a public trust of a charitable or a religious nature. Nor is it necessary for the purpose of this case to determine whether all the properties which are now vested in the Sabha are held by it for purposes of public trust of a charitable or religious nature, not is it necessary to find whether all the activities are of a charitable or religious nature. The trial Judge has refrained from expressing any opinion on the question whether the property of the Sabha and its income are liable to income-tax or not and at the request of learned counsel we further refrain from expressing any opinion on the question whether all the property vested and held by the Sabha about which a declaration is granted to it is held by it as a public trust of a charitable or religious nature.
The cause of action alleged against the defendant No. 1 is that the plaintiff is a charitable society, that the property in dispute is vested in the society for charitable purposes and the Income-tax Officer of Agra, who is an officer under the defendant No. 1, is interested in denying and in fact denies that the property is so vested and he wrongly asserts that the said property is owned by Sahebji Maharaj because as the property of the society it is not liable to tax and as the property of Sahebji Maharaj it is. The defendant, on the other hand, contends that in starting proceedings against Sahebji Maharaj the Income-tax Officer was exercising a jurisdiction by the Income-tax Act (XI of 1922) not only to make assessment but also to find facts which would give him jurisdiction to make the assessment, and so long as a statutory body acts within jurisdiction its acts cannot be questioned in a Civil Court and do not furnish a cause of action against the Secretary of State for India in Council.
Now Sahebji Maharaj was undoubtedly an assessee within the jurisdiction of the Income-tax Officer of Agra and to may be conceded that the said officer had power under the Indian Income-tax Act not only to assess him but also to investigate and find the property of the assessee which was liable to tax. In determining the property of the assessee the Income-tax Officer may come to a right conclusion or to a wrong conclusion. But if his decision is wrong it could be challenged under the Act by the assessee in the manner provided by the Act and it could not be challenged by a suit in Civil Court. It may further be conceded that if the assessee had made a default in payment of the tax and if the demand had been certified under Section 46 of the Income-tax Act it could be recovered as an arrear of land revenue, and to realise the demand the Collector under Section 162 of the U. P. Land Revenue (III of 1901) could have sold any property which he found was owned by the assessee and a suit to question the process of the Collector would have been barred under Section 233 (m) of the U. P. Land Revenue Act (III of 1901). But the question still remains whether this jurisdiction, which the Indian Income-tax Act gives to the Income-tax Officer and the U. P. Land Revenue Act gives to the Collector, in one case to make the assessment and in the other case to sell the property, extends only to assessee in one case or defaulter in the other, or does it bind the strangers also who were not assessees and who were not in default. We can find no jurisdiction in the Income-tax Act or the U. P. Land Revenue Act to bind third parties; and the act of the Income-tax Officer in denying the plaintiffs title in without jurisdiction and furnishes a cause of action against the defendant No. 1.
There is some conflict of authority on the interpretation of Section 233 (m) of the U. P. Land Revenue Act. In Secretary of State for India in Council v. Mahadei and in Abdullah v. Secretary of State for India in Council it was held that the language of the clause was wide enough to bar the suit of a stranger whose property was affected by the process of the Collector. On the other hand, in Tulsa Kunwar v. Jageshar Prasad, it was held that the clause should be restricted to the defaulter. The proviso to Section 162 (1) of the U. P. Land Revenue Act supports the view that strangers are not affected by the process of the Collector and the wide language of Section 233 (m) should, therefore, be restricted to defaulters.
But for the purpose of this case it is not necessary to pronounce any final opinion on this controversy. The property has not yet been sold and we have not yet reached the stage of assessment and if the law is that after the assessment when the process is once issued by the Collector the stranger would be left with no remedy by operation of Section 233 (m) it seems just and convenient that the stranger should have a remedy before the bar of Section 233 (m) comes in.
Subject to what we have said above, the plaintiff was entitled to the declaration granted by the trial Court and this appeal should be, and is hereby, dismissed with costs.