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S.J.S. Uppal, P.C.S., Colonisation Officer, Jullundur Vs. Chief Settlement Commr., Ministry of Rehabilitation, Govt. of India, Delhi and ors. - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectProperty
CourtPunjab and Haryana High Court
Decided On
Case NumberCivil Writ No. 232 of 1955
Judge
Reported inAIR1957P& H186
ActsConstitution of India - Article 226; Displaced Persons (Claims) Act, 1950 - Sections 5 and 6; Displaced Persons (Claims) Supplementary Act, 1954 - Sections 5(1) and 5(3); Code of Civil Procedure (CPC) , 1908 - Sections 1 and 4 - Order 20, Rule 3; Displaced Persons (Debts Adjustment) Act, 1951 - Sections 2(3) and 32; Displaced Persons (Compensation and Rehabilitation) Act, 1954 - Sections 7
AppellantS.J.S. Uppal, P.C.S., Colonisation Officer, Jullundur
RespondentChief Settlement Commr., Ministry of Rehabilitation, Govt. of India, Delhi and ors.
Appellant Advocate H.S. Daobia, Adv.
Respondent Advocate S.M. Sikri, Adv. General
Cases ReferredRex v. Westminster Assessment Committee
Excerpt:
.....- 1.1,66,600 (annexure 'd' filed with the written statement). the petitioner as well as the respondents in the reply state this figure at rs. consequently, the punjab legislature as well as the central legislature passed number of acts to achieve this object. it is well-known that for some years it was almost impossible to get the required documents including revenue papers from pakistan and therefore considerable latitude had to be given and was given to the claims officers in deciding tins matter. i need not add that in doing either they must actin good faith and fairly listen to both sides, for thatis a duty lying upon every one who decides anything. they can obtain information inany way they think best, always giving a fair opportunity to those who are parties in the controversyfor..........a revision petition under section 6(3) of the displaced persons (claims) act, 1950, before the claims commissioner who divided the entire area into 2914 plots without deducting any area for roads and valued it at rs. 800 per marla.thus the claim was verified on the 20th of january 1953 at rs. 23,31,200. it appears that shri shiv lal malik, claims commissioner, revised the assessment made by the. claims officer on the 2nd of august 1952 and by his order dated the 28th of april 1953, reduced it to rs. 1.1,66,600 (annexure 'd' filed with the written statement). the petitioner as well as the respondents in the reply state this figure at rs. 18,23,550 which is. the amount which was assessed by the claims officer. this order purports to have been made under section 5 (1) (b) of the 1954.....
Judgment:
ORDER

Bishan Narain, J.

1. Shri Jaswant Singh Uppal owned considerable urban and rural lauds in Lyallpur. The present case relates to urban land. PS area was 20 acres 3 kanals,. 14 marks, 212 sq. ft. Out of this area Jaswant Singh Uppal Bled a claim for verification, for 18 acres, 1 kanal, 14 marlas, as the remaining area had been built upon and its claim was separately' filed. In this petition only the unbuilt area of about 18 acres is involved. At the time of partition the claimant had earmarked this area for development into residential plots, but the scheme had not yet materialised and at the time of partition it was actually under cultivation.

This area was near about Lahore-Lyallpur Road and was situated between built up area. It was situated in the locality known as Abadi Jiwan Singhwala within the municipal limits of Lyallpur, (this name is given to this area after the name of claimant's father Jiwan Singh).' the claimant has valued this land at Rs. 29,14,000 at the rate of Rs. 1,000 per marla. By his order dated the 2nd of August 1952, the Claims Officer valued the entire area at Rs. 800 per marla on the basis of developed land and after taking into consideration the value of neighbouring sites of Makhan Singh and of Amar Singh Harbans Singh. The Claims Officer, however, did not allow any compensation for the area which would have been under roads after its full development and also deducted costs of laying the roads. Thus the Claims Officer assessed and verified the claim at Rs. 18,23,550. The claimant filed a revision petition under Section 6(3) of the Displaced Persons (Claims) Act, 1950, before the Claims Commissioner who divided the entire area into 2914 plots without deducting any area for roads and valued it at Rs. 800 per marla.

Thus the claim was verified on the 20th of January 1953 at Rs. 23,31,200. It appears that Shri Shiv Lal Malik, Claims Commissioner, revised the assessment made by the. Claims Officer on the 2nd of August 1952 and by his order dated the 28th of April 1953, reduced it to Rs. 1.1,66,600 (annexure 'D' filed with the written statement). The petitioner as well as the respondents in the reply state this figure at Rs. 18,23,550 which is. The amount which was assessed by the Claims Officer. This order purports to have been made under Section 5 (1) (b) of the 1954 Act. The copy of the order produced in this case does not show whether it was passed in the presence of or after notice to the claimant,

2. the proceedings were again started and this time by Shri R.K. Vaish, Settlement Commissioner, under Section 5 (1) (b) of the 1954 Act on the ground that there were two conflicting orders of two different revising authorities. He called upon the claimant to appear before him on the 29th of May 1954 and after hearing him he dictated an order which shows that he was inclined to uphold the order of the Claims Commissioner dated the 20th of January 1953, the petitioner applied for a copy of this order but it was never supplied to him in spite of his repeated requests.

Tho Settlement Commissioner directed the claimant by notice dated the 25th of June 1954 to produce documentary evidence before him in the nature of sale-deeds and affidavits of respectable persons to prove the value of land in 1946. He also called upon the claimant to file his affidavit disclosing how he had acquired the land in. question. Thereafter proceedings were taken and the Settlement Commissioner by his order dated the 19th of May 1955 reduced the assessment of the value of this land to Rs. 400 per marla and verified the claim at Rs. 11,65,600. It is against this order that the claimant has made the present petition under Article 226 of the Constitution for an order in the nature of a writ of certiorari quashing the same.

3. Before dealing with the petitioner's case on merits I may notice the contention of the learned Advocate-General to the effect that the impugned order cannot be considered to bo a judicial or quasi-judicial order and therefore this Court cannot interfere with it and cannot quash it by issue of a writ of certiorari. He argued that the authorities under the 1950 and 1954 Acts are in the position of statutory valuers without any duty or obligation to act judicially. 'It is to be noticed that the learned Advocate-General was not willing to call the order to be an order passed in the exercise, of administrative or executive jurisdiction.

4. Their Lordships of the Supreme Court have authoritatively laid down the tests that should be applied to determine whether a statutory body exercises judicial, quasi-judicial or administrative or executive functions in Bharat Bank, Ltd., Delhi v. Employees of the Bharat Bank, Ltd., Delhi, AIR 1950 SC 188 (A), and it appears to me unnecessary to recapitulate them in this judgment. I shall bear in mind these tests for deciding the present question.

5. the scope and object of the Displaced persons (Claims) Act, 1950, as set out in the preamble is 'to provide for the registration and verification of claims of displaced persons in respect of immovable property in Pakistan.' Thus the object is to register and verify the claims of those persons who had to leave under compelling circumstances their homes and hearths leaving all their properties in territories now forming part of Pakistan. Sections 1 to 4 provide that the Central Government shall appoint various officers for this purpose. The proceedings under the Act commence under Section 5 by a displaced person filing an application for registration of his claim,

A Claims Officer, then is required to hold summary enquiry into the. claim or claims sent to him by the Central Government and 'after taking such evidence and examining such documents as may be necessary pass such orders as he thinks fit in relation to the verification of the claim and the valuation of such claim' (vide Section 6). The Claims Officer and all other officers appointed under the Act have the same powers as are vested in 'civil Courts under the Civil Procedure Code in respect of enforcing the attendance of witnesses and ordering discovery and production of documents, etc. The decision of the Claims Officer has been declared to be final subject to revision by the Chief Claims Commissioner who cannot vary the decision of the Claims Officer without giving the party concerned an opportunity to he heard (vide Section 6).

These officers are deemed to be civil Courts For the purposes of Ss. 480 and 482, Criminal Procedure Code, and these proceedings are deemed to be judicial proceedings within the meaning of Section 193 and Section 228, Indian Penal Code. Any person who submits in respect of the claim any information which he knows or has reason to believe to be false and who submits his claim to more than one Registering Officer is liable to punishment of imprisonment and fine, but these proceedings can be initiated only upon a complaint in writing made by the Joint Chief Claims Commissioner. The rules framed under Section 16 of the Act lay down in detail the procedure that is to be adopted by the claimants and authorities when proceeding under the Act and there is an ultimate H. 24 which reads -

'In so far as these rules make no provision or make insufficient provision, the provisions in the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, shall, so far as may be, apply to all proceedings under these rules.'

Thus the entire Civil Procedure Code is applicable to these proceedings. The 1950 Act expired on the 17th of May 1933. The proceedings under this Act had not, however, completely come to an end by this time. The President promulgated Ordinance III of 1954 to provide for the disposal of proceedings pending under the 1950 Act and for matters connected therewith. Its provisions were then enacted in the Displaced Persons (Claims) Supplementary Act 12 of 1954. the only significant change in this Act from the 1950 Act is that under Section 5 the Chief Settlement Commissioner has been given power to revise claims verified by the Claims Officers under the 1950 Act on application and to revise verified claims suo motu if he considers it proper.

From these provisions it appears to me to be clear that although the Officers acting under this Act do not function as Courts in the technical sense of the words, they are under an obligation and duty to observe the provisions of the Civil Procedure Code in these proceedings. They have no administrative or executive functions to perform. They must register and value claims on evidence made available to them. They must scrutinise the claims in a judicial manner and not according to their whims. After considering all the provisions of the Act it is obvious that these officers discharge quasi-judicial functions.

6. The learned Advocate-General, however, invited my attention to the judgment of their Lordships of the Privy Council in Nakkuda Ali v. M.F. De S. Jayaratne, 54 Cal WN 883 (B), and argued on the. basis of this judgment that the officers under the Act neither have legal authority to determine questions affecting the rights of subjects nor they have any duty to act judicially and without these characteristics their orders are not subject to the controlling jurisdiction of the High Court under Article 226 of the Constitution, the argument is that these officers merely value the property left in Pakistan but that valuation does not affect rights of subjects nor are these officers under an obligation to act judicially. In my opinion there is no force in this contention.

7. It will be noticed that the Claims Officer and other officers set up under the Act decide titles to properties belonging to displaced persons which were left in Pakistan and after verifying the claims 'It is their duty to value it. These are judicial functions but in view of extraordinary circumstances under which these functions are to be performed the Legislature has in its wisdom thought fit to appoint special Officers to perform these functions. It became necessary to pass this Act and other allied Acts relating to displaced persons and evacuees because at the time of partition of the country in, 1947 millions of people were compelled to abandon their homes and rush to India to save their lives.

They were unable to bring their movables even, including documents of title and other documents. Most of the movables left in Pakistan were looted and burnt during disturbances there during. 1947. This compulsory exchange of population created new and novel problems which had to be solved expeditiously. The properties of those persons who had migrated to Pakistan had to be administered while the displaced persons had to be rehabilitated. The affairs of uprooted displaced persons had to he organised. Consequently, the Punjab Legislature as well as the Central Legislature passed number of Acts to achieve this object. It was also realised that the displaced persons should be compensated for their losses and the first step which had to be taken was to verify the titles of the individuals and their values. It is well-known that for some years it was almost impossible to get the required documents including revenue papers from Pakistan and therefore considerable latitude had to be given and was given to the Claims Officers in deciding tins matter. They were, however, required to follow the procedure laid down in the Civil Procedure Code and as I have already stated these proceedings were of a quasi judicial nature.

It is, however, argued, that the verification of the immovable properties and their valuation did not affect rights of subjects as it 'is mere valuation under the Act and nothing else. There is no force in this argument. Besides mere valuation a claim has to be verified, i.e., whether a certain displaced person is rightly, claiming the property left 'in Pakistan as belonging to him. Moreover, this valuation was not made for its own sake but had an objective behind it This Act was passed, as I have already said, as a first step for assessing compensation which should be paid to displaced persons. Tin's is clear from the provisions of the Displaced Persons (Debts Adjustment) Act of 1951. The definition of 'compensation' given in Section 2(3) of the Debts Adjustment Act and Section 32, laying down how the compensation, which may be awarded to displaced persons, is to be made available to certain creditors, make clear the purpose of this valuation.

The Central Government has now enacted the Displaced Persons (Compensation arid Rehabilitation) Act 44 of 1954 arid from Section 7 it is clear that the displaced persons are to receive compensation on the basis of verified claims registered under the Displaced Persons (Verification of Claims) Acts, 1950 and 1954. Taking the circumstances which necessitated this piece of legislation and considering what I would calf its legislative environments it appears to me obvious that the verification of claims registered under the two Acts of 1950 and 1954 was meant to and did affect valuable rights of displaced persons. For all these reasons I am of the opinion that the proceedings and decisions under these Acts are quasi judicial and therefore these proceedings and decisions are subject to the controlling jurisdiction of High Courts under Article 226 of the Constitution by issue of writs in the nature of certiorari and mandamus.

8. Tin's brings me to the petitioner's grounds for invoking this jurisdiction. These grounds are:

1. That Shrj R.K. Vaish, Settlement Commissioner, had no jurisdiction to take proceedings under Section 5(1)(b) of the 1954 Act;

2. that his order dated the 29th of May 1954 was his final order and could not be in effect, reviewed by subsequent proceedings;

3. that the impugned order of the 19th of May 1955 is mala fide and is erroneous on the face of the record; and lastly.

4. That the order of the 19th May 1955 is vitiatedby perverse reasoning and by the Settlement Commissioner relying on certain pieces of evidence which were not put to the applicant who had no opportunityto explain or distinguish them.

9. The first point raised is that Mr. R.K. Vaish, Settlement Commissioner, had no jurisdiction to initiate proceedings under Section 5(1)(b) of the 1954 Act. It is conceded that the powers of the Chief Settlement Commissioner under Section 5 have been delegated to him in accordance with the provisions of Section 10 of the Act. Now, on the record there are two verified claims, one- by Mr. I.M. Lall, dated the 20th ol January 1953, and the other by Shri Shiv Lal Malik, Claims Commissioner, dated the 28th of April 1953. Shri R, K. Vaish in his final decision states that on account of these conflicting orders he decided to take proceedings under Section 5 (1) (b) of the 1954 Act.

The applicant's reply is that he never knew of the second decision alleged to have been given by Shri Shiv Lal Malik and that it can have no effect in law. This may or may not be so, but the fact remains that two decisions are on the record verifying the same claim by different officers at different figures and in the circumstances I am of the opinion that Shri R.K. Vaish was justified in taking action under this provision of law, as this circumstance affords a sufficient ground for that purpose as laid down in Rule 18(iv) framed under the Ordinance and applicable to the 1954 Act. I have therefore no hesitation in rejecting this contention of the learned counsel for the petitioner.

10. the next ground taken is that the order of the 29th of May 1954 was a final decision and therefore Shri R.K. Vaish had no jurisdiction to reopen it. Tho applicant's case is that this decision was dictated on this date in his presence. There is no reason to doubt the correctness of this statement. The order, however, is not signed, nor does it contain any operative portion disposing of the revision, nor is it dated. After going through the matter, which was argued at great length before me, it appears that the order records Mr. Vaish's impression and his intention to decide the matter in favour of the petitioner and this impression was shared at that time and rightly shared by Shri Jaswant Singh Uppal.

In my opinion, however, this order technically speaking does not amount to a final order as it does not purport to terminate the proceedings, nor was it pronounced according to the provisions of Order 20, Rule 3, Civil Procedure Code. I, therefore, hold that the Settlement Commissioner was entitled to continue proceedings under Section 5(1)(b) in spite of the dictation of an order on the 29th of May 1954. The Settlement Commissioner appears to have changed his mind between the 29th of May 1954 and 25th of June 1954 when the applicant was called upon to produce evidence, but there is nothing in the Civil Procedure Code or in the 1954 Act to debar him from doing so. I therefore reject this objection,

11. The next ground taken was that the order of the 19th of May 1955 was mala fide, but in the course of arguments no reason other than the reason which are dealt with in this judgment was given in support of this assertion. It was also urged that the decision is erroneous on the face of it, but no real attempt has been made to show that the decision is wrong on the face of it. All that is argued is that it has been wrongly decided on merits and that it is not in accordance with the evidence on the records. It is not open to me to act as a Court of Appeal against the order of the Settlement Commissioner and then go into the merits of the case when I am exercising jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution. I therefore see no force in these contentions of the learned counsel for the petitioner.

12. Finally it was argued on behalf of the applicant that he was not given proper and adequate hearing by Shri R.K. Vaish inasmuch as the Settlement Commissioner has based his decision on evidence and instances which were not disclosed to him and ho was not given any opportunity to explain or comment on them. There is considerable force in this argument. In his decision dated the 3,9th of May 1955 Shri R.K. Vaish has distinguished the evidence of Bhan Singh produced by the petitioner and also his verified claim on the basis of an application dated the 13th of January 1953 made by Bhan Singh to the said Commissioner. He then proceeded to rely on the verified claim of. Kartar Singh, brother of the applicant, and then on the verified claim of one Gurbaksh Singh. In fact, the instance of Gur-baksh Singh is really the basis of the decision. The applicant has stated on oath that he did not know Gurbaksh Singh and that he was not given any opportunity to explain the facts relating to this case.

'In reply the respondents merely asserted in the written statement that full opportunity was given to the applicant to put his case before Shri Vaish. To this the applicant replied in replication that the answer was vague. In these circumstances the question arises whether Jaswant Singh Uppal did get adequate hearing before Shri Vaish or not. From the proceedings it appears that the claimant produced his own affidavit and affidavits of certain other persons and also decisions on certain claims. Shri R.K. Vaish then issued certain interrogatories. No question was put to the applicant regarding Gurbaksh Singh in these interrogatories. The applicant is a responsible officer serving under the Punjab Government and there is no reason to doubt his statement that he did not know Gurbaksh Singh, nor when he states that the decision on his claim was not brought to the notice of the applicant particularly when the specific allegation supported by the oath is not denied by the respondents. In fact, the decision given in Gurbaksh Singh's case has not been produced in these proceedings. I therefore hold that Jaswant Singh Uppal was not given any opportunity to explain the instance of Gurhaksh Singh.

13. As the decision of Shri R.K. Vaish is based, in my opinion, mostly on this instance, it appears to me that the omission complained of amounts to denial of hearing to the applicant and it violates the principles of natural justice as well as it is contrary to the provisions of Section 5(3) of the 1954 Act. This defect, in my opinion, cannot be considered to he a formal or technical error and it cannot be said that it has not caused substantial injustice to the applicant in the present case.

14. In this connection I may refer to a decision of the House of Lords given in Board of Education v. Rice, 1911 AC 179 (C). Lord Lorcburn L. C. observed as follows:

'In such cases the Board of Education will haveto ascertain the law and also to ascertain the facts.I need not add that in doing either they must actin good faith and fairly listen to both sides, for thatis a duty lying upon every one who decides anything. But I do not think they are hound to treatsuch a question as though it were a trial. They haveno power to administer, an Oath, and need not examine witnesses. They can obtain information inany way they think best, always giving a fair opportunity to those who are parties In the controversyfor correcting or contradicting any relevant statement prejudicial to their view * * *

If the Court is satisfied either that the Board havenot acted judicially in the way I have described, orhave not determined the question which they are required by the Act to determine, then there is a remedy by mandamus.and-certiorari.''

Thesa observations fully apply to the present case. This matter was again adverted to in Rex v. Westminster Assessment Committee, (1940) 4 All ER 132 (D). In this case the Assessment Committee had to assess the annual value of the property belonging to Grosvenor House (Park Lane), Ltd. In that case the Assessment Committee were hearing an objection by. Governor House (Park Lane) Ltd., to a provisional valuation list. The Assessment Committee acting on a general report byan expert surveyor appointed by them in exercise of the powers conferred upon them by the Act did not disclose this report to either party who had therefore no opportunity of correcting or contradicting it, Scott, L. J., in his judgment observed:

'It docs seem to me inconsistent with what I can only call a sense of natural fairness that, although it may be really relevant, either because it supports or because it controverts the ratepayer's objection, the assessment committee should not disclose it to the ratepayer's adviser and give him a chance of dealing with it. On the whole, I think that, in such, a case, it should resume the hearing after due notice. It is because nothing was said or done on these lines in the present case that I take the view that the assessment committee did not give an adequate 'hearing'. It was its duty to hear', and I do not think that it did 'hear'. The order of certiorari was, therefore, right.'

In the same judgment Du Praqe L.J., observed:

'In our opinion, the fact that the committee is entitled to obtain a report for its guidance does not relieve it of the duty of communicating any relevant part of that report to the persons seeking a determination. Indeed, unless a statute expressly provided that such a report should not be communicated to those appearing before the tribunal, we think that we should assume an intention on the part of the legislature that such communication should be made. It makes no difference, in our opinion, whether the report was obtained before or after the commencement of the hearing, or that it was of a general, and not of a specific, character. The material question is whether or not it contained matters relevant to the inquiry and was considered by the committee in relation to the inquiry. If it did certain such matters and was so considered, then it is ground for complaint that the objectors never had an opportunity of dealing with it. It is as if the representatives of the rating authority and objectors had been requested to leave the room and Eve had then been called in to give evidence in their absence.'

It will be noticed that this judgment' relates to valuation of property and, therefore, particularly Opposite to the present case. A similar view was taken in B. Johnson & Co. (Builders), Ltd. V. Minister of Health, (1947) 2 All ER 395 (E), wherein it was laid down that if the authority decides to act on a report obtained from an expert it would be its quasi-judicial duty to disclose that report to the parties and give' them an opportunity of commenting on it, though on facts it was held that the principle was not applicable in that case.

15. the learned counsel also argued that the decisions verifying the claims of Bhan Singh and Kartar Singh and the alleged application dated the 13th! of January 1953 made by Bhan Singh in his own cast were not brought to the notice of the petitioner and in any case were entirely misread. There is no specific allegation in the present petition alleging that the decision in the case of Kartar Singh and the application .dated the 13th of. January 1953 made by Bhan Singh were not brought to the notice of the applicant before his case was decided and, therefore, I must ignore this contention. As regards the misreading of the evidence it appears to me rather difficult to reconcile the valuation of Rs. 400/- per marla with the figure allowed to Kartar Singh for various plots, but it is not the duty of this Court to review the finding of fact given by Mr. R.K. Vaish, or to scrutinise the appreciation of evidence made by him in his order dated the 19th of May 1955. I have no jurisdiction to do so under Article 226 of the Constitution.

16. For all these reasons I am of the opinion that the applicant has made out a case for the issue of a writ of certiorari to quash the decision of Mr. R.K. Vaish dated the 19th of May 1955 and for the issue of a writ of mandamus that the Settlement Commissioner shall decide the proceedings started under Section 5(1)(b) of the 1954 Act in accordance with law and I order accordingly. The applicant is entitled to his costs. Counsel's fee Rs. 150/-.


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