1. Smt. Sudesh Kumari had Savings Bank Account No. 5602 with the State Bank of India, Ghaziabad Branch, where she had a locker also. She died on 28th of May, 1977, leaving behind Neelam and Indu, two minor daughters and Sat Dev Sharma, husband. On the 14th of Oct., 1977, the two minor daughters filed a suit at Amritsar, through their maternal grandfather, against the (i) State Bank of India, Ghaziabad, (ii) State Bank of India having its Head Office at New Delhi, and (iii) Sat Dev Sharma, their father, for a mandatory injunction directing the State Bank to allow the plaintiffs or their agent to open and operate Locker No. 101 and Savings Bank Account No. 5602, standing in the name of their mother Smt, Sudesh Kumari, by providing keys of the locker and all kinds of facilities etc. It was also alleged that their father is giving out that their mother had executed a will in his favour with regard to the said locker, which is a false and frivolous document.
2. The State Bank opposed the suit and raised a preliminary objection that the Civil Court at Amritsar had no jurisdiction to try the suit on which following issue No. 5 was framed:--
5. Whether this Court has jurisdiction to try the suit ?
This issue was tried as a preliminary issue and the trial Court, by order dated 7th of Dec. 1978, held that the Court at Amritsar has jurisdiction to try the suit, Against the aforesaid order, the State Bank has come to this Court in revision.
3-4. Shri R. K. Chhibbar, appearing for the State Bank of India has urged that the Court below was in error in passing the Impugned order inasmuch as the explanation to S. 20 of Civil P. C. (hereinafter referred to as the Code), was not kept in view by it. In order to appreciate the argument, it will be useful to reproduce S, 20 of the Code--
'20. Other suits to be instituted where defendants reside or cause of action arises.--
Subject to the limitations aforesaid, every suit shall be instituted in a Court within the local limits of whose jurisdiction--
(a) the defendant, or each of the defendants where there are more than one, at the time of the commencement of the suit, actually and voluntarily resides; or carries on business, or personally works for gain; or
(b) any of the defendants, where there are more than one, at the time of the commencement of the suit, actually and voluntarily resides, or carries on business, or personally works for gain, provided that in such case either the leave of the Court is given, or the defendants who do not reside, or carry on business, or personally work for gain, as aforesaid, acquiesce in such institution, or
(c) the cause of action, wholly or in., part, arises.
Explanation,--A Corporation shall be deemed to carry on business at its sole or principal office in India or, in respect of any cause of action arising at any place where it has also a sub-ordinate office, at such place.'
A reading of the aforesaid provision shows that under sub-s. ***** the suit could be filed against the state Bank of India only where it carries on business and according to the explanation it shall be deemed to be carrying on business either at its sole or principal office in India or at a subordinate office provided some part of cause of action arises at such place, meaning thereby that even without any cause of action arising at the place of principal office a suit can be brought against the State Bank of India where its principal office is situate, but a suit can be brought against a subordinate office of the State Banks of India only if any cause of action has arisen at such place.
5. Sub-section (b) of S. 20 of the Code is not applicable to this case as the plaintiffs neither applied for leave of the Court nor the State Bank of India acquiesced in such institution of the suit at Amritsar. Sub-section (c) would be applicable but again the suit would be competent only in that court with in whose jurisdiction cause of action wholly or in part has arisen.
6. From a reading of the aforesaid provision, the only conclusion on the facts of this case is that since the locker and the account of the deceased ere with. the State Bank of India Ghaziabad, U. P., it will be the Ghaziabad Court alone which will be competent to entertain a suit with regard to the account and the locker within whose jurisdiction the Branch Office of the State Bank of India, Ghaziabad; is situate. Consequently, the Amritsar Court will have no jurisdiction.
7. Neither the trial Court has mentioned anything in the order nor the counsel for the plaintiffs-respondent has been able to show that any part of the cause of action arose at Amritsar to give jurisdiction to that Court under sub-s, (c). Accordingly, I held that neither under S. 20(a) nor under S. 20(c) of the Code, the Amritsar Court has jurisdiction to entertain the suit against the State Bank of India.
8. It is not disputed that the State Bank of India has its principal office at Bombay (designated as the Central Office under S. 16(1) of the State Bank Act (No. 23 of 1955)). Section 16(1) is as follows:--
'16(1). Unless otherwise provided by the Central Government, by notification in the Official Gazette, the Central Office of the State Ban shall be at Bombay.'
According to S. 20 (a) and (b), the banker should deliver the contents State Bank of India shall be deemed of the locker to the successor of the to be carrying on business only at its principal office that is, the Central at Bombay alone, but it is by virtue of the explanation to S. 20 that it shall be deemed to be carrying on business even at such place where its subordinate office is situate provide any cause of action has arisen at that place. Therefore, since the plaintiffs respondents failed to show that any part of the cause of action has arise at Amritsar, the Amritsar Court ha no Jurisdiction and it will be either the Bombay Court or the Ghaziabad Court which will have jurisdiction to try the suit against the State Bank of India.
9. Shri Inderjit Malhotra, appearing for the plaintiffs-respondents has urged: that the State Bank of India was mad party so that the Ghaziabad Branch may not allow the father of the plaintiffs to operate the Saving Bank Account of their mother or to remove the goods lying in her locker, to which they are entitled and not their father, as no valid will has been left by their mother in favour of their father. This apprehension of the plaintiffs does not seem to be correct in view of what has been urged by Mr. Chhibbar on behalf of the State Bank of India. Mr. Chhibbar has brought to my notice certain books on Banking Law and has relied upon the following passages therefrom:--
'Banking Law & Practice by P, N, Varshney, Eighth Edition p. 3,225.
The procedure followed as regards safe deposit vault transactions is as follows:--
(1) A locker may be hired by anybody, but banks insist that the intending hirer must have a savings bank account with it wherein a minimum balance, say Rs, 100/- is always maintained.
(2) The person intending to hire a locker is required to execute a Lease Agreement which contains all the term and conditions on which the locker is hired. In fact, the relationship between the banker and the customer (hirer of a locker) is that of a lessor and a lessee. The lessee promises to pay the annual rental charges in advance and authorises the banker to debit the saving account with such rental charges.
* * * *
(7) If the lessee of a locker dies, the banker should deliver the contents of the locker to the successor of the deceased only when he secures a legal representation from the Court. The banker may permit such a person, at his own request, to have inventory of the contents in the presence of his own lawyer and the bank's lawyer.
Banking Law & Practice in India by M. L. Tannan, 1977 Edition at pp. 497, 498, 499 and 503.
P-497--Each locker is rented to the customer and has separate number and is fitted with a double key-lock which cannot be opened except with the two keys one of which is kept by the customer and the other by the bank.
498--Some useful points relating to Safe Deposit Vaults--
(1) The bank is not bound or concerned to know the contents of a locker, unless required by special circumstances stated in (2) below,
(2) The bank is concerned with the contents of a locker in the following cases:--
(a) When a renter having a locker in his single name dies and a person requests the bank to allow him to take an inventory of its contents to enable him to apply for legal representation;
(b) * * * *
499(c) * * * *
(3) In case of 2 (a) above, the person making the request should be properly identified as one entitled to apply for a grant of legal representation; such identification by a lawyer acting for the person should normally be sufficient. The inventory should be allowed to be taken in the presence of the lawyer or other credible, preferably independent, witness, and should be signed by all present. The contents can be delivered only on the production of a proper grant of legal representation.
503. Delivery on Death of Depositor--In case of the death of the party depositing the valuables the banker may deliver them to the personal representatives of the deceased on their producing probate or letters of administration and obtain receipt from them. But when the will along with other valuables or documents, happens to be in the box lodged for safe custody, the banker may open it in the presence of a near relative of the deceased and hand over the will only to the executors, against their receipt, The remaining contents of the box should not be delivered to them, pending production of the probate or the letters of administration.
Sheldon's Practice and Law of Banking, Tenth Edition at page 212,
Death of customer--
Executors are not entitled to remove articles left in the banker's charge by a deceased customer until they produce probate of the will, and where there is more than one executor, it is the practice to obtain the authority of all before the articles are released. In practice a customer's will is often deposited in a box left with the banker for safe custody, and it is necessary to allow one or more of the interested parties to inspect the contents of the box. This should be done under the strict supervision of the bank, and while an inventory may be made, only the will if found should be removed. The will should be handed to the solicitors acting for the estate or to the parties named as executors against their receipt.'
A reading of the aforesaid clearly shows that the apprehension. of the plaintiffs is not well-founded as the State Bank of India will not allow the operation of the Saving Bank Account and the locker to any person including the father of the plaintiffs unless he secures finally probate/letters of administration/succession certificate from a Court of competent jurisdiction.
10. Mr. Chhibbar in fairness has further stated on behalf of the Bank that the Bank will not permit the father of the plaintiffs to operate the disputed items until it makes sure that the probate/letters of administration/ succession certificate has been obtained by the father of the plaintiffs after making the present plaintiffs as his opposite party through their maternal grandfather and in his absence through some other relation from their maternal side and that too if no appeal is filed within the period of limitation and if an appeal is filed, after the decision of the same finally.
11. After the aforesaid statement was made by the counsel for the Bank, Shri Inderjit Malhotra, counsel for the plaintiffs urged that under the circumstances the plaintiffs are not interested in keeping the State Bank as a defendant and prayed that the State Bank of India, as defendants Nos. 1 and 2, lie struck off from the array of the parties in the plaint. Accordingly, I direct that the trial Court shall strike off defendants Nos. 1 and 2 from the array of defendants and now the suit will proceed only against defendant No. 3, that is the father of the plaintiffs as the sole defendant for the reliefs sought against him.
12. For the reasons recorded above, I allow this revision, set aside the order of the Court below dated 7th of Dec., 1978, and direct that it shall proceed with the suit only against defendant No. 3, after striking off the name of defendants Nos. 1 and 2, in accordance with law. The plaintiffs through their counsel are directed to appear in the trial Court on 8th of Oct., 1979.
13. Revision allowed.