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Branch Manager, State Bank of India, Puri Branch Vs. Satyaban Pathal and ors. - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectCommercial
CourtOrissa High Court
Decided On
Case NumberFirst Appeal No. 270 of 1978
Judge
Reported inAIR1989Ori236; [1991]71CompCas251(Orissa)
ActsSuccession Act, 1925 - Sections 212(2), 214(2), 370 to 381
AppellantBranch Manager, State Bank of India, Puri Branch
RespondentSatyaban Pathal and ors.
Appellant AdvocateS.N. Sinha, ;A.S. Naidu and ;P. Mohanty, Advs.
Respondent AdvocateP.K. Misra, Adv.
DispositionAppeal dismissed
Cases Referred(Dina Nath v. Balkrishna
Excerpt:
.....is, without leaving behind a will, the claimant has to producelegal representation in the form of letters of administration to the estate of the deceased and this is indisputably the appropriate form. the effect of the certificate as is provided under section 381 of the act is that it shall be conclusive as against the persons owing such debts or liable for such securities which afford full indemnity to such persons as regards all payments made or dealings had in good faith in respect of such debts or securities to or with the person to whom the certificate is granted. since money lending by private persons is now almost prohibited and most of the money lending is through banks, it is desirable to make clear legislation so that the legal representatives as well as the banks are..........devi v. sarti devi) while considering the scope of grant of succession certificate in respect of pledged ornaments to the bank held that there is no scope for grant of such certificate with regard to ornaments pledged. in a decision of allahabad high court reported in air 1963 all 46 (dina nath v. balkrishna) while considering the scope of grant of a certificate where gold ornaments of a lady who died in the kumbha mela were in custody of the mela officer who claimed production of a succession certificate from the relations of the deceased who approached him for return of the articles held (para 6) :'what is ordinarily understood by the word 'debt' is a liability owing from one person to another whether in cash or kind, secured or unsecured, whether ascertained or ascertainable,.....
Judgment:

S.C. Mohapatra, J.

1. Defendant No. 3, the Branch Manager of State Bank of India, Puri Branch is the appellant.

2. Deceased Sanatan Pathal took loan from State Bank of India and as security pledged some gold ornaments. Shortly thereafter, Sanathan having expired, plaintiff 1, the eldest son approached the State Bank of India for release of the gold ornaments pledged on receipt of the amount due on the loan advanced from him. State Bank of India had no objection to release the pledged articles on receipt of the dues provided that the successors produce letters of administration or a succession certificate, as the case may be. This in short, is the grievance of the plaintiffs.

3. Demand for production of a legal representation in the form of letters of administration by the State Bank of India is supported by a circular issued by it for guidance of its officers which has been proved and marked as Ext. B. in the suit. Relevant portion is extracted below : --

'II. APPROPRIATE FORM OF LEGAL REPRESENTATION

3. Where a Hindu depositor with the Bank of goods and moveable property either by way of pledge or in safe deposit locker or safe custody dies intestate that is, without leaving behind a will, the claimant has to producelegal representation in the form of letters of administration to the estate of the deceased and this is indisputably the appropriate form. Where, however, the goods and moveable property are 'securities' as defined in the Indian Succession Act, a succession certificate covering the securities would also be the appropriate form.'

4. Trial Court decreed the suit on the finding that Circular No. 5 of 1977 (Ext. B) is not a statutory document to bind the plaintiff. It distinguished the decision reported in AIR 1942 Lahore 173 (FB) (Sri Ram v. Collector, Lahore), which relates to letters of administration in respect of shares and held that Section 212 of the Succession Act, 1925 (hereinafter referred to as 'the Act') having made a clear provision that letters of administration is not necessary in the case of a Hindu, the defendants are not justified to claim production of letters of administration for releasing the gold ornaments.

5. There is no dispute that Sanatan, a Hindu governed under the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 died intestate leaving behind the plaintiffs as his sole heirs and legal representatives. He had deposited with the State Bank of India, Puri Branch gold ornaments by way of pledge. With these admitted facts, short question for consideration is whether letters of administration or a succession certificate is required to be obtained by the legal representatives to get back the gold ornaments on payment of dues to the Bank ?

6. Succession Certificate is granted on an application under Section 372 of Indian Succession Act, in respect of debt or security. A succession certificate specifies the debts and securities as per the application. The effect of the certificate as is provided under Section 381 of the Act is that it shall be conclusive as against the persons owing such debts or liable for such securities which afford full indemnity to such persons as regards all payments made or dealings had in good faith in respect of such debts or securities to or with the person to whom the certificate is granted. The purpose of succession certificate is thus, to grant indemnity to the person whoowes the debts or is liable on the securities to pay the debt to the person who gets the certificate or deals with that person with regard to the security.

7. Security has been defined in Section 370(2). It reads as follows : --

'For the purpose of this Part, 'security' means-

(a) any promissory note, debenture, stock or other security of the Central Government or of a State Government;

(b) any bond, debenture, or annuity charged by Act of Parliament of the United Kingdom on the revenues of India;

(c) any stock or debenture of, or share in, a company or other incorporated institution;

(d) any debenture or other security for money issued by, or on behalf of, a local authority;

(e) any other security which the State Government may, by notification in the Official Gazette, declare to be a security for the purposes of this Part.'

Articles pledged do not come within any category and gold ornaments pledged to the Bank are not securities. Hence, no succession certificate can be granted in that regard.

8. The next question is whether gold ornaments pledged are debts for which succession certificate can be granted. Section 381 of the Act deals with payment of debts and meaning of the word 'debt' is to be determine in that context. 'Debt' has not been defined in this Chapter relating to succession certificate although the same has been defined in Section 214(2) as follows :-

'The word 'debt' in Sub-section (1) includes any debt except rent, revenue or profits payable in respect of land used for agricultural purposes.'

Meaning of the word 'debt' as aforesaid is wide excluding a limited few as provided by Statute. Since the meaning is confined to Sub-section (1) only, it may not be of much help for the purpose of a succession certificate. Dictionary, meaning also would be of no assistance since it is stated to be that which is due from one person to another, whether money, goods or services, that which one person is bound to pay to another or to perform for his benefit, things owed, obligation; liability. In Shrouds Judicial Dictionary the meaning of the word 'debt' is given as a sum of money payable in respect of liquidated money demand recoverable by action. Meaning of the word 'debt' came for consideration of the Supreme Court in the decision reported in AIR 1966 SC 1370 (Kesoram Industries and Cotton Mills Ltd. v. Commr. of Wealth-tax (Central), Calcutta). In para 22 at page 1377 it has been summarisedthus :

'We have briefly noticed the judgments cited at the Bar. There is no conflict on the definition of the word 'debt'. All the decisions agree that the meaning of the expression 'debt' may take colour from the provisions of the concerned Act: it may have different shades of meaning. But the following definition is unanimously accepted; 'a debt is a sum of money which is now payable or will become payable in future by reason of a present obligation; debitum in praesenti, solvendum in futuro'. The said decisions also accept the legal position that a liability depending upon a contingency is not a debt in praesenti or in future till the contingency happened. But if there is a debt the fact that the amount is to be ascertained does not make it any the less a debt if the liability is certain and what remains is only the quantification of the amount....' ,

9. Applying the said meaning to the word used in Sections 370 to 381 as regards succession certificate it can safely be concluded that pledged articles are not debts and therefore, there is no scope for obtaining a succession certificate in respect of the same.

10. Patna High Court in a decision reported in AIR 1962 Patna 220 (Mt. Shyam Sundari Devi v. Sarti Devi) while considering the scope of grant of succession certificate in respect of pledged ornaments to the Bank held that there is no scope for grant of such certificate with regard to ornaments pledged. In a decision of Allahabad High Court reported in AIR 1963 All 46 (Dina Nath v. Balkrishna) while considering the scope of grant of a certificate where gold ornaments of a lady who died in the Kumbha Mela were in custody of the Mela Officer who claimed production of a succession certificate from the relations of the deceased who approached him for return of the articles held (Para 6) :

'What is ordinarily understood by the word 'debt' is a liability owing from one person to another whether in cash or kind, secured or unsecured, whether ascertained or ascertainable, arising out of any obligation, express or implied.'

and applying the said wide meaning it was held that the refund of ornaments recovered from the persons of the dead lady, becomes an obligation on the authorities to hand over the same or their value to the rightful claimant of the deceased and for such a liability an application for succession certificate could be made in law.

11. As has been observed by the SupremeCourt, the meaning of 'debt' shall take the colour in the context of the Statute in which if is used. With due respect, I am not able to accept the view of Allahabad High Court in preference to the view of Patna High Court. My view is fully supported by a decision of the Bombay High Court reported in (1976) 78 Bom LR 219 (Ranchhodas Govinddas Banatwala) where an application for succession certificate was made in respect of the estate of the deceased which included the ornaments pledged to the Bank since the Bank in spite of payment of the full amount covering the loan did not return the pledged ornaments demanding legal representation either by way of letters of administration or a succession certificate. Considering various decisions including those of Patna and Allahabad High Courts earlier referred to, it was held that petitioner would not be entitled to a succession certificate in respect of the multiple gold necklace pledged to the Bank.

12. Next question for considering is the requirement of letters of administration to release the pledged ornaments from the Bank. There is no legal compulsion under the Act for obtaining a letters of administration in order to release the articles from the Bank. The effect of not obtaining letters of administration is that a suit shall not be entertained in that regard. Section 212(2) of the Act, however, excludes the property of a Hindu dying, intestate. Thus, in a suit by the legal representatives for their title in respect of properties of the deceased Hindu, a Court would not insist upon letters of administration. In that view of the matter, Bank ought not to have demanded letters of administration which the plaintiffs would not be legally bound to comply. It is true as submitted by Mr. S. N. Sinha, learned counsel for the appellant that the Bank insisted for the same as a matter of caution and to safeguard itself against any claim which some other person might make against the Bank in respect of the gold ornaments. Where, however, the Bank has no doubt that the persons claiming the same are the legal representatives of the Hindu dying intestate, the claimants should not be driven to litigation since the Bank can protect itself by obtaining an indemnity bond from the person who comes forward to redeem the pledged ornaments. In case, the Bank officers have doubt, they can issue a public notice, inviting objections to such claim and where there would be dispute relating to the legal representation, letters of administration may be required. Since money lending by private persons is now almost prohibited and most of the money lending is through Banks, it is desirable to make clear legislation so that the legal representatives as well as the Banks are protected from avoidable litigations.

13. In view of what I have found there will be no difficulty for the Bank to allow the plaintiffs to redeem the pledged ornaments on payment of the dues to the Bank by executing a letter of indemnity in favour of the Bank.

14. In the result, there is no merit in this appeal which is accordingly dismissed. No costs.


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