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Oriental Fire and General Insurance Co. Ltd. and anr. Vs. New Suraj Transport Co. (P) Ltd. - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectCommercial
CourtAllahabad High Court
Decided On
Case NumberF.A.F.O. Nos. 470 and 471 of 1978
Judge
Reported inAIR1985All136
ActsArbitration Act, 1940 - Sections 2 and 34; Carriers Act, 1865 - Sections 6
AppellantOriental Fire and General Insurance Co. Ltd. and anr.
RespondentNew Suraj Transport Co. (P) Ltd.
Appellant AdvocateS.N. Varma and ;Dinesh Kacker, Advs.
Respondent AdvocateJ.M. Pant, Adv.
DispositionAppeals allowed
Excerpt:
.....consigned goods were booked contained terms and conditions which were clearly set forth and printed on the reverse of the said g. the claim was not satisfied. in case of unsigned consignment notes containing clauses limiting the liability of the carriers as well as excluding the jurisdiction of certain courts and restricting it to specific court only, such clauses or terms or conditions must be brought to the notice of the consignor of the goods. they went up to the bedroom allotted to them, and on one of its walls was a notice that the proprietors will not hold themselves responsible for articles lost or stolen unless handed to the manageress for safe custody. under which the consigned goods were booked contained terms and conditions which were clearly set forth and printed on the..........the jurisdiction of certain courts and restricting it to specific court only, such clauses or terms or conditions must be brought to the notice of the consignor of the goods. if such terms and conditions are not brought to the notice specifically and adequately than the consignor or consignee would not be bound by these terms and it would be open for them to file a suit in any competent court having jurisdiction other than one mentioned in the clauses excluding jurisdiction of other courts. when more than one court have concurrent jurisdiction to try a suit in order to exclude jurisdiction of one court such condition required explicit warning. it must be brought to the notice beforehand and preferably printed in red ink or pointed by a hand in the red ink on the face of the.....
Judgment:

I.P. Singh, J.

1. F. A. F. O. No. 470 of 1978 and F. A. F. O. No. 471 of 1978 are between the same parties and respectively arise out of two separate orders both dated 5-4-1978 of Shri Phool Singh, Additional Civil Judge, Ghaziabad, passed in two separate Suits Nos. 86 of 1976 and 85 of 1976 respectively.

2. Plaintiff 1 is a company carrying on business of general insurance with its registered office at Jiwan Udyog, A-25/27, Asir Ali Road, New Delhi and nationalised by U. P. Government under Act No, 57 of 1972. Shri S.S. Bakshi is the Manager of the said insurance company and as such competent and authorised to file the suits by power of attorney.

3. Plaintiff 2 is a partnership firm duly registered under the Partnership Act and Daya Kishan Gupta is its partner. The said firm carries on business under the name and style of Anand Industrial at Gandhi Road, Pilkhuwa, Ghaziabad.

4. The defendant New Suraj Transport Company (P) Ltd., carries on business at various places jn India, including Pilkhuwa with its registered office at Amritsar.

5. In suit No. 86 of 1976,34 bales of cotton cloth and in suit No. 85 of 1976, 6 bales of cotton cloth were consigned by plaintiff 2 at Pilkhuwa with New Suraj Transport Company (P) Ltd, defendant to be carried to Calcutta and to be delivered there to plaintiff 2 or its endorsee. The freight was to be paid at the time of delivery by plaintiff 2, consignee. The goods were insured with Oriental Fire & General Insurance Company Limited,plaintiff 1 before they were booked for carriage with the defendant. At the time of booking of the consignments the transport company, defendant, had issued goods receipts (C.Rs.). The goods never reached their destination and thus were not delivered to plaintiff 2 at Calcutta despite repeated presentations of the respective G.Rs. A notice about the claim dated 9-7-73 was sent by plaintiff 2 to the defendant transport company demanding the price of the goods but the defendant transport company, on 17-2-73 made an endorsement on the G.Rs. at Calcutta that the goods were not received. Finally on 18-11-73, intimation was received by plaintiff 2 saying that the goods had not been received at Calcutta.

6. Accordingly suit No. 86 of 1976 was filed for the recovery of Rs. 46780.70 being the price of the consigned goods plus Rs. 16,847.40 towards interest at the rate of 12% per annum total Rs. 63,628.10.

7. Similarly suit No. 85 of 1976 was filed for the recovery of Rs. 9715.85 being the price of the consigned goods plus Rs. 3,508.50 towards the interest at 12% per annum total Rs. 13,223.85.

8. The defendant transport company filed applications in both the suits under Section 34, Arbitration Act, 1940, wherein he set up an arbitration agreement between the parties and prayed that the suit be stayed and the matter in dispute be directed to be referred to arbitration (so that the matter could be got decided in arbitration). It was specifically contended by transport company defendant that the alleged contract of carriage was complied and executed, inter se, vide G.Rs. issued by the defendant to plaintiff 2. The said G.Rs. were even referred to and relied upon by the plaintiffs on the basis of which suits were filed. It was contended that the said G.Rs. under which the consigned goods were booked contained terms and conditions which were clearly set forth and printed on the reverse of the said G.Rs. The plaintiffs had categorically accepted those terms and conditions and it was only then that the defendant Transport Company undertook to accept the goods for carnage. It was asserted that had the consigner not accepted those terms and conditions printed overleaf the G.Rs. the defendant would not have booked the consignments. Clause 16 thereof reads as follows :- -

'In case of any dispute whatever arising out of or relating to their carriage agreement or relating to its interpretation, cause of effect or to its existence, validity of effect thereof, shall be referred to arbitration of two persons, engaged in transport business at Amritsar to be appointed one by each party in accordance with the provisions of Indian Arbitration Act, 1940. All arbitration proceedings shall be conducted at Amritsar.'

9. Accordingly it was contended, that the dispute (subject matter of the suits) was compulsorily referable to the arbitration under the said clause. It was contended that defendant was always and is still ready and willing to do all such acts which were necessary for the proper conduct of the arbitration. The above application under Section 34, Arbitration Act, was supported by an affidavit of one Ramesh Charidra Arora the pairokar and booking agent of the defendant transport company.

10. The plaintiffs contested the above applications under Section 34, Arbitration Act, by asserting that the contract of carriage was not complied and executed inter se partes vide the alleged G.Rs. issued by the defendant to plaintiff 2. Rather the defendant accepted the goods consigned by the plaintiff for carriage to Calcutta on payment of the agreed freight to be paid at the destination and in token of the said contract goods receipts (G.Rs) were issued to the plaintiff which were nothing more than 'consignment notes'. In the alternative it was pleaded that if at all so-called terms and conditions do exist then they do not bind the plaintiffs because the said documents were not signed by any of the plaintiffs or their agents. Above all no reasonable notice of the said terms and conditions was given to the plaintiff and, as such there was no question of any 'categorical acceptance' of the said terms and conditions. The contention of defendant that had the plaintiff not accepted the terms and conditions printed overleaf the G.Rs. the defendant would not have booked the consignment in question, was absolutely wrong. It was further contended that the parties werenever ad idem and never intended to make submission to any arbitration. The mere issue of G.Rs. or consignment notes for the goods delivered to the transport company defendant and the printing of the terms and conditions on their reverse, if any, did not creat any obligation on the consigner (plaintiff) to be bound by the said printed terms which were actually unilateral in nature. In addition, it was pleaded that, as a matter of fact, the defendant transport company never denied their liability to deliver the goods or their obligation to pay the price or value in lieu thereof for non-delivered goods. The defendant transport company always promised that the matter was being looked into and inquiries were being made about the untraced truck (carrying the consignments in question). Accordingly, there did not exist any dispute which needed any reference to the arbitration.

11. The learned Civil Judge on the question of arbitration agreement recorded his finding in the following words :

'Under these circumstances, I am of the opinion that clause 16 was legible and it construed the agreement between the parties. Though it was not signed by plaintiff 2, still all the terms and conditions were accepted by him as soon as goods were booked and thus I can safely observe that there was agreement in between the parties for referring the matter to arbitration, in case of any dispute arising out or relating to the carriage.'

12. As to whether there existed any dispute in between the parties or not, the learned Civil Judge held to the effect that the case of non-delivery of consigned goods and nonpayment of the value of the goods was a 'dispute' covered by arbitration Clause 16 which includes in its ambit any dispute whatever arising out of an order relating to this carriage agreement. Accordingly, the learned Civil Judge allowed the applications under Section 34, Arbitration Act, 1940, and stayed the suits and the parties were directed to refer the matter to the arbitration according to agreement clause 16 and to get their matters decided.

13. Aggrieved against the above order, both the plaintiffs filed F. A. F. O. No. 470 of 1978 and plaintiff 1 alone filed F. A. F, O. No. 471 of 1978. In this latter appeal plaintiff 2 was impleaded as pro forma respondent 2.

14. In these appeals the learned counsel for the plaintiffs-appellants reiterated the following 3 points.

1. That even if the goods receipts (GRs.)/ consignment notes in question be taken at their face value including the so-called terms and conditions printed overleaf the same, do not form a contractual agreement inasmuch as they were not signed by the plaintiffs or their agents. Accordingly, even if those terms and conditions contained the so-called arbitration clause it would not amount to arbitration agreement between the parties binding on the plaintiffs.

2. That the said G.Rs./ consignment notes being unsigned (by the plaintiffs or their agents) the so-called terms and conditions printed overleaf were never categorically or unequivocally accepted by the plaintiffs and remained unstipulated terms and conditions, not enforceable against the plaintiffs.

3. That as defendant-transport company never plainly refused or denied the claims of the plaintiffs there did not exist any 'dispute' which needed a reference to the arbitration.

Point No. 1 : --

15. Section 2(a), Arbitration Act, 1940, defines 'Arbitration Agreement' as meaning a written agreement to submit present or future differences to arbitration whether an arbitrator is named therein or not.

16. A plain reading of the above definition makes it clear that before an agreement can amount to an arbitration agreement it has to be in writing. The requirement of the said written agreement to be signed by the parties to the agreement is not there. The signing of the written agreement is not the necessary ingredient to make the written agreement an arbitration agreement. In our view, whereas' an arbitration agreement must be in writing it need not be signed.

17. In the case of Banarsi Das v. Cane Commr. U. P., AIR 1963 SC, 1417 at p. 1425 it was laid down : 'that the arbitration clause in , the agreement was enforceable if agreed to, even without the signature of the appellant as it is a settled law that to constitute an arbitration agreement in writing it is not necessary that it should be signed by the parties and it is sufficient if the terms are reduced to writing and the agreement of the parties thereto is established.'

18. Secondly, in the case of Union of India v. A.L. Rallia Ram, AIR 1963 SC 1685 at p. 1689 it is laid down that : a writing incorporating a valid agreement to submit differences to arbitration is therefore requisite: it is however not a condition of an effective arbitration agreement that it must be incorporated in a formal agreement executed by both the parties thereto, nor is it required to be signed by the parties.'

19. We, therefore, hold that the mere fact that the said G.Rs./ consignment notes were not signed by the plaintiffs or their agents would not take out the said documents out of the arbitration agreement if otherwise they operated as arbitration agreement between the parties.

Point No. 3 :

20. The booked consignments never reached the destination. The goods remained undelivered. The claim was put in by plaintiff 2 consigner with the defendant transport company through notice. It was replied that the missing truck which carried the goods was still being traced. The claim was not satisfied. We confirm the finding of the court below that there existed a dispute between the parties. This dispute is certainly covered by arbitration clause 16 which opens with the words 'in case of any dispute whatever arising out of or relating to the carriage agreement.'

Points No. 2 :

21. In Smt. Mukul Dutta Gupta v. Indian Airlines Corporation, AIR 1962 Cal 311 at p. 314) it was observed as follows : --

'Three general rule have been laid down by the Courts to determine whether the traveller or depositor will be bound by the terms contained in the ticket.

1. If the person receiving the ticket did not see or know that there was any writing on the ticket, then he is not bound by the conditions.

2. If he knew that there was writing, and knew or believed that the writing contained conditions, then he is bound by the conditions even though he did not read them and did not know what they were,

3. If he knew that there was writing on the ticket, but did not know or believe that the writing contained conditions, nevertheless he would be bound if the party delivering the ticket has done all that can reasonably considered necessary to give notice of the term to persons of the class to which he belongs.'

22. In this case in the office of the Indian Airlines Corporation a board was affixed at the door in which the conditions of the carriage were written in bold letters. In the ticket issued to the passenger itself it was stated that the ticket was issued subject to the conditions of carriage. The condition of the carriage were printed inside the cover page of the ticket though in very small letters :

It was held that the Corporation did take steps to bring it to the notice of the passengers that the tickets were being issued subject to certain conditions of carriage. A passenger who was so minded could have been apprised of those conditions, if not from the ticket itself, at least from the hoard displayed at the door in which the conditions of carriage had been stated in sufficiently bold letters legible to all. The passenger must be deemed to have purchased the ticket with notice of the conditions and must also be deemed to have accepted them impliedly though not expressly.'

23. The above case no doubt was a 'ticket' case whereby the passenger had to travel himself after obtaining the ticket but the basic principle would, to our mind, apply equally to booking of goods for carriage and obtaining a goods receipt (G.R.) or consignment note.

24. The case of Road Transport Corporatoin v. Kirloskar Brothers Ltd., AIR 1981 Bom. 299 relates to 'consignment note'. The said consignment note bore exhibit mark 49. At the top of the said note it was written : --

'Consignment Note Road Transport Corporation' After these words it was written in small letters : 'Goods booked are carried subject to terms and conditions given overleaf.'

24A. On page 308 under para 28 it was observed. 'Admittedly it is an unsigned document either by the consigner or consignee. It is merely a consignment note which was not signed but merely delivered or handed over, after the oral agreement according to which the defendants undertook to transport the consignment from Calcutta ' to Kirloskarwadi.'

25. Obviously then it was not a contractual document.

26. In para 30 it was observed; 'when an unsigned document is merely delivered to consignor or consignee the question would arise whether the terms of the said document are adequately brought to his notice.'

27. This would be necessary to make the said terms integral part of the contract.

28. It was further observed, 'In a case where an oral contract has been concluded, further terms cannot be added by the defendants by handing over of a receipt acknowledging payment or other documents containing such terms.'

29. Para 46 reads as under ': --

'The most important question that has to be answered is: Did the defendant do what was sufficient to draw the plaintiffs attention to the relevant conditions before the contract was concluded? In the facts of the present case the last condition was to restrict the jurisdiction to a particular court out of the two courts having concurrent jurisdiction. In order that terms, and conditions on the overleaf of a consignment note passed by common carrier be binding on the consignor or consignee and in order that it should operate as special contract between the consignor or consignee on the one hand and the carrier on the other hand, the consignment note must be signed by the consignor and consignee and constitute a contractual document or at least must be identified as an integral part of the contractual document. In case of unsigned consignment notes containing clauses limiting the liability of the carriers as well as excluding the jurisdiction of certain courts and restricting it to specific court only, such clauses or terms or conditions must be brought to the notice of the consignor of the goods. If such terms and conditions are not brought to the notice specifically and adequately than the consignor or consignee would not be bound by these terms and it would be open for them to file a suit in any competent court having jurisdiction other than one mentioned in the clauses excluding jurisdiction of other courts. When more than one court have concurrent jurisdiction to try a suit in order to exclude jurisdiction of one court such condition required explicit warning. It must be brought to the notice beforehand and preferably printed in red ink or pointed by a hand in the red ink on the face of the document.'

30. On the facts of that case, it was held to the effect that as the consignment note was unsigned, no sufficient attention of the consignor or consignee was drawn to the last clause restricting jurisdiction to Calcutta courts alone. So the defendant carrier was not entitled to rely upon such clause in the consignment note excluding the jurisdiction of other competent courts.

31. In the case of the Special Secy. to Govt. of Rajasthan (Finance) Jaipur, Rajasthan v. Vedakantara Venkataramana Sheshaiyer, AIR 1984 Andh Pra 5 the discussion contained in paras 28 to 30 at page 11 seems to clarify the legal position on the subject, which is as follows :

'The time at which the party's attention to these terms is drawn is of equal importance. In the last mentioned case in Me. Cutcheon v. Devid Mac Brayne Ltd., (1964-1 All ER 430) the House of Lords have held that the receipt was given only after the oral contract had been concluded and hence not binding. In Olley v. Marlborough Court Ltd., (1949) 1 All ER 127 a husband and wife arrived at a hotel as guests and paid for a week's board and residence in advance. They went up to the bedroom allotted to them, and on one of its walls was a notice that the proprietors will not hold themselves responsible for articles lost or stolen unless handed to the manageress for safe custody. The wife then closed the self locking door of the bedroom went downstairs and hung the key on the board in the reception office. In her absence the key was wrongfully taken by a third party, who opened the bed room and stole her property. The defendants sought to incorporate the notice in the contract. But the court on appeal held that the contract was completed before the guests went up to their room and that no subsequent notice could affect their rights.

'In Thornton v. Sloe Lane Parking Ltd. (1971) 2 QB 163 Lord Denning pointed out; 'The customer is bound by these terms as long as they are sufficiently brought to his notice beforehand, but not otherwise........The ticket is no more than a voucher or receipt for the ....... money that has been paid .........on terms which have been offered and accepted before the ticket was issued..........The contract was then concluded, and it could not be altered by any words printed on the ticket itself.', and Magway, J., in the same case, observed :

'....... there must be some clear indicationwhich would lead an ordinary sensible person to realise, atorbefore the time of making thecontract, that a term of that sort....... was sought to be included.

'lf that was not done, it would amount to an effort on the part of the defendant to alter the terms of the contract by subsequently incorporating the printed terms of the ticket unilaterally. Burnett v. West Minster Bank, (1966)1 OB 742.'

From the aforesaid ruling it follows that unless the terms of the contract are arrived at after due negotiation, they cannot be held binding merely because a ticket is later issued containing the said terms. There must also be proof that the terms were meant to be contractual. The said terms must have been brought to the notice of the contracting party at or before the time when the contract was entered into. If the printed terms on the ticket do not, as aforesaid mentioned, become part of the contract they cannot be enforced unilaterally, for otherwise, it will amount to an alteration of the terms of the original contract.

In the present case the contention of the defendant transport company in the applications filed by it under Section 34, Arbitration Act, 1940, is that the alleged contract of carriage was complied and executed, inter se, vide Goods Receipts issued by the defendant to plaintiff 2. The said G.Rs. under which the consigned goods were booked contained terms and conditions which were clearly set forth and printed on the reverse of the said G.Rs. According to the defendants, the said terms and conditions were categorically accepted by the plaintiffs and it was only then that the transport company undertook to accept the goods for carriage. According to plaintiffs the defendant transport company had accepted the goods consigned by plaintiff 2 for carriage to Calcutta on payment of the agreed freight to be paid at the destination and the said G.Rs. were issued to the plaintiffs in token of the said consignment of the goods and in that circumstance the said G.Rs. were merely consignment notes. It was asserted that no reasonable notice of the said terms and conditions was given to the plaintiffs and as such there cannot be any question of any categorical acceptance of the said terms and conditions. The parties were never ad idem and never intended to make submission to any arbitration. The terms and conditions printed on the reverse of the G.Rs., under the circumstances did not create any obligation on the consignor plaintiff to be bound by the said terms and conditions.

32. Normally, what happens in the event of booking of consignment is that the consignor offers his goods at the office of the transporter and on an enquiry as to the fare that would be charged, agree to book the consignment and then the transporter issues the G.R./ consignment note to the consignor. In this background the contract is intially arrived at orally in pursuance of which the consignment note is issued. It seems beyond comprehension that to each and every customer the transporter reads out the terms and conditions of booking as printed overleaf the consignment note before the goods are agreed upon to be booked for carriage.

33. The ratio of the decision discussed above is that if the terms and conditions printed overleaf the consignment note are to be binding on the parties they must be brought to the notice of the consignor (customer) before the contract of carriage is completed. In other words, these terms and conditions must be specifically and categorically brought to the notice of the consignor before he agrees to book the consignment. Since it is not practical or feasible that such terms and conditions could be read out to the individual consignors it is expected that such steps be taken by the transporter to exhibit those terms and conditions outside or inside their office premises insufficiently legible and bold letters so as to attract the attention of the incoming customer and afford him sufficient warning beforehand that the transaction of booking the consignment will be subject to the said terms and conditions. If the transport company has acted in that way or in any other mode sufficient to bring to the notice of customer those terms and conditions then of course, the customer would be deemed to have known those terms and conditions and the contract of carriage entered into would be integral part of the contract.

34. In the present case there is no material on the record to suggest that the terms and conditions overleaf the G.Rs./ consignment notes were exhibited by way of notice outside or inside the working premises of the defendant Transport company or in any way brought to the notice or knowledge of plaintiff 2 before the goods were booked for carriage by the defendant transport company. The material on the record simply shows that the consignments were booked for carriage against the agreed fare to be paid at the destination and in token thereof the G.Rs./ consignment notes were issued by the defendant Transport company to plaintiff 2. The contract of carriage seems to have been completed at this stage. Of course, the consignment notes do carry the following printed matter on the upper portion of the front page : --

'Received goods as per details below for carriage subject to the terms and conditions given overleaf which are binding on the consignee, consignor and endorees.'

On the reverse those terms and conditions are printed including the relevant arbitration clause 16.

35. The material on the record leaves no doubt that an oral contract of carnage of goods was concluded before the G.Rs./ consignment notes in question were issued containing the so-called terms and conditions. This would be nothing but adding to the terms on which the oral contract of consignment was concluded. Such a course is not open to the defendant Transport company. Such unilateral terms and conditions cannot subsequently be incorporated in the contract already concluded by the defendant-transport Company by handing over the G. Rs./ consignment notes containing said terms. Since such terms and conditions were not brought to the notice of plaintiff 2 specifically and adequately, the consignor/ consignee would not be bound by such terms. In these circumstances it cannot be said that the parties to the contract of carriage were ad idem or intended to make submission to any arbitration. It was, therefore, open to the plaintiff to file the suits ignoring the arbitration clause. Section 34, Arbitration Act, 1940, therefore, is not applicable and the suits are not liable to be stayed. The impugned orders, therefore, cannot be upheld.

36. In the result, both the appeals must succeed and are hereby allowed. The orders dated 5-4-78 are set aside. The costs are made easy.


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