1. Whether a defendant can cross--examine a co--defendant and his witnesses is the sole point involved in this revision directed against the order of Shri N. D. Bhatara, Subordinate Judge 1st Class, Jagraon, dated 14th June, 1976, declining the prayer of Sadhu Singh, defendant--petitioner, to cross--examine his co--defendant Inder Singh, since dead.
2. It is necessary for the proper appreciation of the point in issue to set out the facts of the case. The dispute is about the management of a religious institution known as Gurdwara Nanaksar situated in village Agwar Lopon Khurd, Tehsil Jagraon, District Ludhiana. Sant Ishar Singh was the last Mohatmim of the Gurdwara and he died in 1963. Sant Narian Singh filed a suit for declaration that he was a validly appointed Mohatmim of this Gurdwara having been nominated by the late Mohatmim Sant Ishar Singh in 1963 and unanimously approved and elected by the Sangat on 22-7-1971. It was alleged that there was no established custom or usage of this institution about the succession of the office of Mohatmim. Sant Ishar Singh had been nominated by the previous Mohatmim Baba Nand Singh and approved and elected by the Sangat. Sant Narain Singh thereby claimed to have become successor to Sant Ishar Singh for the management of the affairs of the Gurdwara and the property attached thereto. He further alleged that the Revenue authorities while sanctioning the mutation of the land attached to the Gurdwara constituted a Managing Committee including him and the defendants which they had no right to do. Sant Narain Singh, thus prayed for a declaration that he was the validly appointed Mohatmim of the Gurdwara and also for a permanent injunction restraining the defendants from interfering in any manner with his rights as Mohatmim for managing the affairs of the Gurdwara and the properties attached thereto.
3. The defendants who are the members of the Managing Committee, constituted to manage the Gurdwara, contested the suit. All the defendants, except Sadhu Singh, defendant--petitioner, filed a joint written statement, whereas Sadhu Singh filed a separate one. The defendants, except Sadhu Singh, denied that Sant Narain Singh was nominated as Mohatmim of the Gurdwara by Sant Ishar Singh or his nomination was proved by the Sangat. According to them, Sant Narain Singh being of doubtful reputation could not be appointed a Mohatmim of the Gurdwara. It was alleged that the Managing Committee had been controlling the affairs of the Gurdwara since after the death of Sant Ishar Singh and it was not constituted by the Revenue authorities. Sadhu Singh, defendant-petitioner, and not Sant Narain Singh, plaintiff, did Hazoori (personal) service to Sant Ishar Singh. It was, consequently, prayed that the suit of Sant Narain Singh be dismissed.
4. Sadhu Singh, defendant--petitioner, in a separate written statement also denied that Smt. Narain Singh, plaintiff, had been nominated as Mohatmim by Sant Ishar Singh or his nomination was approved by the Sangat. According to him. Hazoori service was a necessary qualification for being appointed a Mohatmim of the Gurdwara. He was the only person who had done such service to Sant Ishar Singh. He was, accordingly, the only person entitled to succeed the exalted position of Mohatmim of the Gurdwara. He, as well, prayed that the suit of Sant Narain Singh, plaintiff, be dismissed.
5. On the pleadings of the parties the trial Court framed issues. For the purpose of this revision only issue No. 4(reproduced below) is relevant:--
Issue No. 4:
What are the usages and customs for the appointment of Mohatmim of Gurdwara Nanaksar?
6. The plaintiff having concluded his evidence in the affirmative, the defendants started leading their evidence in the trial Court. Inder Singh, defendant, appeared as a witness to support his case, Sadhu Singh, defendant--petitioner, desired to cross--examine him. The trial Court vide order dated 14th of June, 1976, did not concede to his request. He has, consequently, challenged this order in this revision.
7. Section 138 of the Indian Evidence Act, which deals with the order of cross--examinations including examination--in--chief, cross-examination and re-examination of witnesses, reads as under:--
'Witness shall be first examined-in-chief then (if the adverse party so desires cross-examined, then (if the party calling him so desires) re-examined.
... ... ... ...
... ... ... ...'
Section 138 allows the right of cross-examination of a witness to an adverse party. Sadhu Singh, petitioner, shall have a right to cross-examine Inder Singh, defendant. If they can be treated adverse to each other. For this purpose it would be necessary to advert to their pleadings as also to the nature of statement made by Inder Singh. So far as the statement of Inder Singh is concerned it is in accordance with his written statement. In this situation reliance shall have to be placed on the pleadings of Sadhu Singh, petitioner, and of the remaining defendants including Inder Singh.
8. Sant Narain Singh, plaintiff, has claimed to be the Mohatmim of the Gurdwara on the ground that he was so nominated by the late Mohatmim Ishar Singh and approved by the Sangat. The stand taken by Sadhu Singh is that Hazoori service of the last Mohatmim. As Sant Narain Singh did not perform such service to late Sant Ishar Singh, he was not eligible to be appointed a Mohatmim. The stand of the remaining defendants, other than Sadhu Singh, is that Hazoori service of the last Mohatmim is not an essential ingredient for appointment as a Mohatmim of the Gurdwara. After a Mohatmim is dead, the management of the Gurdwara is taken over by a Managing Committee who may nominate a suitable person as Mohatmim of the Gurdwara, who will be so elected, if approved by the Sangat, and it is what happened after the death of last Sant Ishar Singh in 1963. The subtle difference between the stands taken by Sadhu Singh, defendant-petitioner, on the one hand, and the remaining defendants on the other is about Hazoori service of the last Mohatmim being an essential ingredient or otherwise for eligibility for appointment as a Mohatmim of the Gurdwara.
9. The present revision has been resisted by Sant Narain Singh only. The cross--examination of Inder Singh, defendant, by Sadhu Singh, defendant-petitioner, was also disallowed on the objection raised by him. It has been argued on behalf of Sant Narain Singh that the statement made by the witness was not injurious to Sadhu Singh, and that two sets of defendants wishing to defeat the claim of the plaintiff on two different grounds cannot be treated as adversary to each other.
10. The purpose of cross--examination is to test the veracity of the testimony of a witness. Under issue No. 4, reproduced above, it is relevant to find out whether Hazoori service of the last Mohatmim is an essential ingredient or not for becoming eligible for appointment as a Mohatmim of the Gurdwara. On this particular point the stands taken by Sadhu Singh, defendant-petitioner, on the one side and the remaining defendants on the other, are not identical. Their stands on this point are rather contradictory. It cannot be said that the point of Hazoori service has no relevancy for the purpose of a just decision of the suit. Parties arrayed as defendants in a suit, having taken contradictory stands on a relevant and material issue, shall be adversary to each other and entitled to exercise their right of cross--examination against each other. Sadhu Singh, defendant--petitioner, therefore, had a right to cross--examine his co--defendant Inder Singh and it was wrongly disallowed by the trial Court.
11. In the result, the present revision is accepted and the impugned order set aside. The parties are left to bear their own costs.
12. Revision allowed.