1. This is a reference by the Local Government under Rule 17 of the Rules and Orders relating to the Kumaon Division. The suit as brought, was by a body of 97 plaintiffs describing themselves as deoprayagi pandas of' the Badrinath Temple in Kumaon. It appears to be admitted that the entire body of pandas entitled to this description is even more numerous, but the plaintiffs have taken the precaution of causing notice to esue under Order I, Rule 8 of the Civil Procedure Code and the result is that there can be no question in the present case as to the plaintiffs' representing the entire guild of pandas in whose names they claim to maintain the suit. Stated, as briefly as possible, the case for the plaintiffs is that their guild or corporation possesses an exclusive right to conduct pilgrims to a certain spring known as the Tapta Kund near the temple of Badrinath, to supervise the ceremonial bath which the pilgrims take in the said spring in accordance with the ritual prescribed by custom and to receive from the pilgrims such offerings as they may feel disposed to make in return for these services. It requires to be borne in mind that the right thus formulated has nothing to do with the question of the free choice left to any individual pilgrim from amongst the entire body of pandas. It may or may not be true that any particular pilgrim, on setting out for this sacred spring, has a free right of choice amongst the entire body of pandas and may select for his priest and religious guide such member of the guild or corporation as he chooses. What the plaintiffs claim is that this right of choice is limited to the body on whose behalf they bring this suit. The two principal defendants, Radha Kishen and Pitambar, are the sister's sons of one Tara Dutt, who was admittedly, in his life-time, a member of the guild or corporation of deoprayagi pandas. He died without issue, leaving a widow, and this widow has executed two deeds, one of them in British territory and the other in the state of Tehri Garhwal, by which she purports to convey to the said Radha Kishen and Pitambar whatever rights her husband possessed as a member of this corporation. She has also been impleaded as a defendant in this suit, while the two remaining defendants are reversioners under the Hindu Law to the estate of Tara Dutt aforesaid and have been impleaded on the ground that they have consented to the transfer purporting to be made by this deed of gift. The present suit was instituted an the Court of the Deputy Commissioner of Garawal and claimed a considerable sum by way of damages, along with a declaration of the rights of the entire body of deoprayagi pandas with reference to the conduct of pilgrimages to the aforesaid Tapta Kund and an injuuction restraining the principal defendants from interfering with those rights. the Trial Court has found in favour of the plaintiffs on all the main questions litigated, except as regards the amount of damages; and has, therefore, granted a decree for the recovery of Rs. 600 as damages, a declaration of right and a perpetual injunction against the defendants Radha Kishen and Pitambar. The Commissioner of Kumaon has affirmed this decision on appeal. The matter has been referred to this Court by the Local Government, mainly on the ground that the questions in dispute in this litigation were res judicata in favour of the defendants, by reason of a previous litigation which was commenced by the presentation of a certain plaint in the Court of an Assistant Collector of Kumaon on the 9th of February 1913, and concluded by a decree or order of the Local Government based upon a reference decided by a Bench of this Court on the 23rd of March 1916.
2. The entire file of this previous litigation is before us, and we have to consider the array of parties, the issues raised and the point or points actually decided. The defendants in that case were the same as the defendants in the suit now referred to us, but there were six plaintiffs only and these described themselves as 'panch pandas' of Badri Nath. The reliefs sought were the Cancellation of the deed of gift in favour of Radha Kishen and Pitambar and a perpetual injunction restraining these persons from acting as pandas at Tapta Kund. The plaint is ambiguous in some of its paragraphs and the effect of these ambiguities was felt throughout the litigation. The plaintiffs never seemed quite clear in their own minds whether they were claiming something for themselves personally or tor the benefit of the entire body of pandas. The judgment of the Deputy Commissioner of Garhwal in that case, when the suit came before him as the Court of first appeal, shows that, when the plaintiffs were challenged to show what locus standi they had for maintaining the suit at all, they went so far as to fall back upon a claim to which no reference was made in the plaint itself, to the effect that some of them were actually reversioners under the Hindu Law to the estate of Tara Datt. A certain misconception lies at the very root of the plaint in the former suit. The deed of gift sought to be impeached was treated as if it operated so as to transfer to Radha Kishen and Pitambar a right personal to Tara Dutt, which upon the death of Tara Dutt must be supposed to have devolved upon some specific individual or individuals. The question of the wrong done to the entire body of deoprayagi pandas, regarded as a guild or corporation, by the intrusion of two outsiders upon the exercise of priestly offices to which only members of the guild have a right, was, to a certain extent, put in issue by the pleadings, but was obscured over and over again, finally, with fatal effect by the form of the plaint. We find that when the plaintiff Lajja Ram was examined in the former litigation he tried to clear up his position by defining more accurately than had been done in the plaint the position of the plaintiffs as 'panehes ' or 'panch mukhias ' (for both expressions are used) of the entire body of deoprayagi pandas. Amongst other things he definitely claimed that the plaintiffs owed their position as punches to an election by the entire body, of deoprayagi pandas, carried out under the orders of tie Ruler of the State of Tahri Garhwal, which entitled them to maintain or defend suits on behalf of the entire guild of pandas. In the plaint, however, this posit on is very much obscured by an ambiguous paragraph in which it is stated that no one of the pinda caste except the plaintiffs is entitled to take gifts or offerings from the pilgrims, and also by another paragraph in the plaint in which it is distinctly stated that, if any panda, that is to say, any member of the guild or corporat on, dies without an heir entitled to succeed to his individual rights, then those rights pass to the pinches or panch mukhias as such. It seems beyond question that this paragraph of the plaint was intended to assert a claim in behalf of the plaintiffs personally, in their capacity of panch pandas, antagonistic to the rights of the guild or corporation of pandas as a whole.
3. We now proceed to the course of the litigation thus unhappily started. The Court of first instance, for reasons into which we need not enter, decided the suit in favour of the plaintiffs and gave them a decree. The Deputy Commissioner of Garhwal, sitting in first appeal, went into the whole matter at very great length. The pert of his judgment, with which we are principally Concerned now, is that in which he deals with the objection taken before him that the plaintiffs had no locus standi to maintain their suit. He had previously Overruled the plea that the plaintiffs included any reversioners to the personal estate of the late Tara Dutt. He goes on to consider those passages in the plaint in which the plaintiffs assert their rights as mukhias or panch pandas. He says that the plaintiffs have put forward a certain piece of evidence, namely, a sanad granted in their favour by the Tehri Darbar, which seems to recognise their right to act for the entire body of pandas and to con duct a litigation on their behalf, in a manner analogous to that of the Managing Directors of a company or corporation. He does not, however, base his decision upon this ground. He passes over it with the words 'whether this were so or not,' and goes on to hold that the plaint discloses a cause of action which would make it maintainable by any given member of the guild or corporation of deoprayagi pandas or by any group of such members. Having thus disposed of the objection that the plaintiffs had no right of suit, he deals with the merits of the dispute, and, finding on every point in favour of the plaintiffs and against the contesting defendants, proceeds to decree the claim for a declaration. In the concluding portion of his judgment, he gives reasons, into which we need not enter, for declining to grant an injunction. The result was that the plaintiffs went to the Court of the Commissioner of Kumaon in second appeal against the decree, in so far as it declined to grant the injunction for which they had prayed, while defendants raised cross-objection iterating, amongst other pleas, th(sic) that the plaintiffs had no right of suit. The judgment of the Commissioner deals many with the question of the injunction. He discusses also a claim which had been put forward on behalf of Radha Kishen, and Pitambar, to the effect that they were themselves members of the guild or corporation of deoprayagi pandas. This he decides against them, and he goes on to hold that the Deputy Commissioner had given no adequate reasons for refusing an injunction. In disposing of this matter, he seems to assume that the plaintiffs had a right to maintain the suit as panch mukhias on behalf of the entire body of pandas, but he does not discuss the point and records no specific finding. The result, however, was that the Court of the Commissioner, the High Court of Kumaon, decreed the plaintiffs' claim as brought. This decision, was referred to this Court by the Local Government under Rule 17 of the Kumaon Rules and Orders, precisely as the case now before us has been. The learned Judges of this Court, before whom the reference was heard, confined themselves to the single question of the locus standi of the plaintiffs to maintain that suit. It is quite clear from their decision that they were much pressed with that paragraph in the plaint to which we have already referred, in which the claim was put forward that no one except the plaintiffs was entitled to receive the offerings made by pilgrims to the Tapta Kund. In a later passage of the judgment, they represented the plaintiff as having claimed that they alone as panch pandas were entitled 1o these offerings. The expression used in this part of the judgment is not quite accurate, but the reference obviously is to that paragraph in the plaint in which it was asserted that whatever rights the late panda Tara Dutt had possessed in his life-time to share in those offerings had devolved upon is death on the panch pandas as such. Holing that the plantiffs as such. Holding that the plaintiffs (sic) upon the findings of the Courts be (sic) clearly failed to establish either of (sic) allegations, the learned Judges of (sic) Court recommended that the suit as (sic) should be dismissed. In the letter of reference from the Local Government which i- now before us it is suggested that the finding of this Court must be interpreted as a finding that the plaintiffs in the former suit had failed to establish that the deoprayagi pandas as a guild or corporation had an exclusive right to conduct pilgrims to this sacred spot, to superintend the performance of the usual ceremonies there and to receive the offerings by which the services of the officiating panda at the Tapta Kund are ordinarily rewarded. If we thought that any decision to this effect was to be found, either expressly or by implication, in the judgment of this Court other considerations would arise; but, for the purpose of the reference now before us, it is enough to say that we cannot find any such decision in this Court's judgment of the 23rd of March 1916. The learned Judges were obviously pressed with the defective form of the plaint and with those two particular paragraphs in which the then plaintiffs appeared to be asserting rights personal to themselves. If they decided anything by implication, it was that the plaintiff in that suit had faild to prove that they had any right as panch pandas to bring a suit on behalf of the entire guild or corporation of deoprayai pandas. It is perhaps doubtful whether a decision even to this extent should be regarded as implied in the answer made by this Court to the Local Government's reference in the former suit, but certainly the decision does not go a single step beyond this. The question in issue in the present litigation, namely, the rights of the deoprayagi pandas as a guild or corporation, in respect of the rites or ceremonies conducted on behalf of pilgrims to the Tapta Kund, and the question whether or not the defendants Radha Kishen and Pitambar have been trespassing on those rights without any justification, has not been decided in the former litigation and is not res judicata against the plaintiffs in the present suit.
4. The only other point taken in the Local Government's letter of reference is not stated with much precision, but amounts to a suggestion that no adequate case for the issue of an injunction is made out. On this point, it seems sufficient to say that, on the findings of the Courts below, the issue of, an injunction seems to us fully warranted. Our answer, therefore, to the reference is that the decision of the High Court of Kumaon in this case is not, in our opinion, open to objection on the grounds suggested in the letter of' reference, that it ought to be affirmed, and that the defendants should be made liable for the Costs of this hearing as certified by the parties.