Grimwood Mears, Kt., C.J. and Piggott, J.
1. This was a suit brought by Raja Udairaj Singh of Kashipur against the Secretary of State for India in Council in which certain reliefs were sought by way of declaration. Those reliefs may be set forth at once in the precise language of the plaint. They are as follows:
(a) A declaration 'to the effect that the plaintiff is entitled to hold the domain of Barhapura for all time as a revenue free and untaxable domain in perpetual succession.'
(b)A declaration 'that the imposition of 1874 is illegal and invalid as against himself.'
2. We do not quite understand why the second relief has been worded in this particular form. What the plaintiff desires to challenge is the levy of a cess on the property described as 'the domain of Barhapura' under the provisions of the N.W.P. Local Estes Act (Act No. XVIII of 1874), which came into force on the 6th of April of that year. The record before us shows that a cess was levied upon this property immediately on the passing of the said Act.
3. One of the pleas raised by the defendant was that the cognizance of the suit by the court in which it was instituted, that of the Subordinate Judge of Bijnor, was barred by the provisions of Section 14 of the U.P. Local Rates Act (Local Act No. I of 1914), which now takes the place of the older statute under which the cess was first imposed. The words of this section are as follows:
A suit shall not lie in any civil court to set aside or modify any assessment of a rate imposed under this Act.
4. The trial court framed an issue on this plea, but has not decided it: it tried out the suit and has dismissed it on the merits. The question of jurisdiction has, however, been argued out before us and we think we ought to determine it. We note that the words of the prohibition are: 'To set aside or modify.'
5. It might perhaps be argued that any question, as to the amount of assessment imposed under this Act might well be left to the exclusive jurisdiction of the revenue courts, but that it must be competent for a civil court to adjudicate upon the large question whether certain property was liable to assessment at all. It is undoubtedly a principle of English law that a subject from whom any tax or impost is sought to be levied, is entitled to raise before a court of competent jurisdiction the question whether the authorities levying such tax or impost are or are not acting within their statutory powers. The question in this case, however, is as to the proper tribunal competent by law to give the plaintiff the relief which he seeks. In this province we have, side by side with the ordinary civil, courts, other courts constituted under the local Land Revenue and Tenancy Acts, and certain matters are reserved by law to the exclusive jurisdiction of these latter courts. The Collector of a district, the Commissioner of a division and the Board of Revenue in these provinces are not merely executive authorities, but they are also courts of justice with special jurisdiction of their own which is guarded by statute from interference on the part of the ordinary civil courts. In determining questions winch from time to time arise with regard to cases apparently lying somewhere near the borderland of the jurisdiction of the two sets of courts, one principle has been consistently laid down and maintained by this Court: it is the substance of the relief sought, and not the mere form in which the case is preferred in the plaint, that must be looked to in order to determine the proper forum for the trial of the action. Looking at the question thus broadly, it seems to us almost beyond argument that the present suit is, as regards the second of the two reliefs claimed, a suit to set aside the assessment of a rate imposed under the Local Estes Act. If it be suggested that the revenue courts to which we have referred, being presided over by officers directly concerned in the assessment and collection of taxation levied upon agricultural land, are not suitable authorities to adjudicate upon a question of liability such as that raised by the plaintiff in this case, the answer appears to be that the Legislature having seen fit to trust these courts to make a just and impartial use of the special knowledge which their presiding officers do undoubtedly possess in such matters, it is not for us to question the policy of the Legislature. Moreover, it may be pointed out that an appeal lies to His Majesty in Council from a decision pronounced by the Board of Revenue in its judicial capacity.
6. Mr. O'Neil, in his argument on behalf of the appellant, laid great stress on the provisions of Section 42 of the Specific Belief Act (Act No. I of 1877). We do not deny for a moment that the plaintiff, on the facts alleged by him, would have a cause of action for relief under the provisions of this section, provided always that the jurisdiction of the ordinary civil courts in this matter is not expressly taken away by statute. A mere reference to the general provisions of Section 42 of the Specific Belief Act cannot by itself assist us in determining the further question, whether the relief sought in this particular suit does or does not fall under the prohibition contained in Section 14 of the U.P. Local Bates Act (Act No. I of 1914). Indeed, if the point is to be argued on technical grounds rather than on the broad principle which we have already suggested, this reference to Section 42 of the Specific Belief Act only suggests a further difficulty in the plaintiff's way. Under that section itself the civil courts are prohibited from granting relief by way of a mere declaration when the plaintiff, being entitled to further or consequential relief, has omitted to claim it. In the present case it seems obvious that the plaintiff could have claimed further relief, both by way of a refund of money paid by him Under protest in the past in satisfaction of the demand which he alleges to be illegal, and also by way of a perpetual injunction for the future. The plaintiff has omitted to claim these further reliefs, because by doing so he would have made it too flagrantly obvious that his suit was essentially one to set aside the assessment of a rate imposed under the U.P. Local Bates Act of 1914. The civil court, however, is not concerned with the reasons which may have influenced a plaintiff in omitting to claim a particular relief. It would be a curious and anomalous result if we were compelled to hold that the cognizance of the civil court was barred in respect of, the subsidiary reliefs obviously claimable by the plaintiff and necessary in order to give him complete relief on the cause of action preferred by him, but that this bar could be evaded by the plaintiff's abandoning such consequential reliefs and limiting himself to a suit for a mere declaration.
7. The conclusion we arrive at is that the cognizance of this suit by the learned Subordinate Judge of Bijnor was barred, at any rate, in respect of the second of the two reliefs claimed, by the prohibition enacted in Section 14 of the U.P. Local Rates Act of 1914. It is contended, however, that these considerations do not apply to the first of the two reliefs claimed. Our own opinion with regard to this relief is that in so far as the defendant to the action is concerned, the declaration sought is one which it is simply incompetent for any court of civil jurisdiction to grant. The question sought to be raised by the words 'in perpetual succession' in the said relief is not one which concerns the defendant. He does not desire to prevent the 'domain of Barhapura' from descending as an inalienable estate, in accordance with the line of succession laid down in a certain sanad of the year 1828 which is the original document of title set up by the plaintiff; nor is there anything in the imposition of a local rate or cess upon this land to interfere with the plaintiff's tenure of the property, or its devolution after the death of the plaintiff. So far as the defendant is concerned, the claim preferred in connection with this first relief is one for a declaration that the land described as 'the domain of Barhapura' is for all time untaxable by any Act either of the Local, or of the Imperial Legislature. If the land in suit forms part of 'the territories for the time being administered by the Governor of the United Provinces,' then it is subject to the jurisdiction of the Legislature of the province, and a civil court exercising jurisdiction within those territories has no right to declare it for ever untaxable. This is a perfectly distinct question from the question whether the rate or cess which is being levied upon the plaintiff now has actually been imposed, or is being levied, within the statutory authority of the Local Bates Act of 1914.
8. We doubt, however, whether this point can be made perfectly clear without a more detailed examination of the pleadings and evidence in the case. Moreover, we are bound to take note of the fact that the trial court has elected to pass, over the preliminary objection to its own jurisdiction and to try out the suit on the merits. In spite, therefore of the doubts which we felt at an early stage of the argument on the question of jurisdiction, we thought it our duty to hear the appeal on the merits and it seems only fair to both parties that we should pronounce a decision on the same.
[Their Lordships then discussed the evidence at length and arrived at a conclusion on the merits adverse to the plaintiff.]
9. We now pass to a matter of more general interest. The plaintiff valued this suit for purposes of jurisdiction and court-fees at no less a sum than fifty lakhs.
10. Whilst appreciating, though not wholly accepting, the view of the Raja that the claim of the Local Government touches the dignity and honour of his house and family, we express our regret that he should have acquiesced in or directed such a figure to be inserted.
11. Allowing the widest margin for contingencies, the interest on a capital sum of Rs. 50,000 would more than provide the annually recurring payment, and it would, in our opinion, have been better had the plaintiff set out the considerations of status and dignity in the petition and, whilst emphasizing the importance which he attached to them, had stated that he refrained from appraising them in terms of money.
12. It is necessary in the interests of the litigant public that a fair valuation should be put upon every suit. In this Court fees on the higher scale are usually given, and in the absence of taxing masters they are graduated according to the valuation fixed by the plaintiff. Obviously if a plaintiff is permitted to place any fanciful figure as the value of the suit, he subjects the defendant to an unfair burden as regards the costs which he is prima facie liable to pay has counsel and also subjects him to a continuing possible liability to pay the plaintiff an amount by way of costs far in excess of the real value of the case.
13. A minor and less important matter is that the plaintiff may embarrass himself.
14. The latter indeed is exactly what happened. The effect of this unwise valuation pressed so heavily upon the Raja in this Court that he applied on the 15th of May, 1923, for a nine months' adjournment on the ground that he was prevented at present from 'undertaking heavy expenditure in counsel's fees.' On the 3rd of December, 1923, he applied again stating that until the Kharif collections in January, 1924, he would not be in a position to find the fees necessary to engage counsel. At the time of granting these concessions the Court was not in possession of information to enable the extravagance of the valuation to be estimated.
15. We think that counsel for the defendant, when first this excessive valuation came to their notice, should at once, before drafting any written statement, have applied to the court for an order on the plaintiff to deliver particulars in writing 'of the valuation of fifty lakhs stating how much thereof is referable to the cess and how much to other and what considerations.' It is as much the duty of a counsel to protect his client from the liability to pay excessive fees as to protect him from an adverse decree. It was not, in our opinion, sufficient for the written statement to allege that the valuation was excessive and to leave it at that.
16. It would have been the manifest duty of the Judge to make such an order and in all probability the plaintiff would have amended his valuation to an amount more within the limits of reality.
17. If he failed to do so, then the Judge should himself have decided the matter and been watchful not to allow the plaintiff, if he succeeded, more than a reasonable amount of costs. As regards the costs incurred by the defendant, there would be no ground for withholding any sum'certified as having been paid, even if such amount happened to be more than, in the opinion of the Judge, would have been disbursed on a fair valuation.
18. In this particular case we have been told that the Local Government has paid the usual higher scale fee on the recognized computation and whilst the recoupment of this to the Local Government will impose a heavy burden upon the plaintiff, we can see no ground for relieving him of any part of the liability. The amount of the valuation was fixed by him and He must bear the consequences.
19. We, therefore, dismiss the appeal with costs.