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inder Kumar JaIn Vs. Osra Bottling Co. (P) Ltd. and ors. - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectCompany
CourtDelhi High Court
Decided On
Case NumberCompany Appeal No. 46 of 1969 and 75 of 1975
Judge
Reported in[1977]47CompCas194(Delhi); ILR1975Delhi115b
ActsCompanies Act, 1956 - Sections 397; Companies Court Rules, 1959 - Rule 6; Code of Civil Procedure (CPC), 1908 - Order 6, Rule 17
Appellantinder Kumar Jain
RespondentOsra Bottling Co. (P) Ltd. and ors.
Advocates: G.N. Aggarwal and; Satish Chander, Advs
Cases Referred and Jawahar Singh Bikrum Singh Pvt. Ltd. v. Smt. Sharda Talwar
Excerpt:
.....be assumed to have been prima facie so satisfied, this cannot debar the respondents from disputing the facts or otherwise showing that the requirements of that section are not met. to overcome the criticism directed against the main petition in just referred, it was argued that the objections were of a kind as could properly be raised only by moving a separate application either for dismissal of the petition or for setting aside the admitting order. (11) now, it is well settled that leave to amend is always granted unless the court be satisfied that the party applying is acting mala fide, or that by his blunder he has caused injury to his opponent which cannot be compensated by an order for costs. all such amendments shall be made as may be necessary turn the purpose of determining the..........to proceedings under the companies act and, thereforee, the court h.a.d no power to grant leave to amend a pleading. to my mind this argument is wholly untenable. by section 643(b) of the companies act the supreme court is empowered, after consulting the high courts, to make rules for various purposes mentioned therein 'consistent with the code of civil procedure 1908'. in exercise of that power the companies (court) rules 1959 have been framed, and rule 6 provides : 'save as provided by the act or by these rules, the practice and procedure of the court .a,nd the provisions of the code so far as applicable, shall apply to all proceedings under the act and these rules .......'rule2(4) defines 'code' to mean 'the code of civil procedure 1908'. in the face of rule 6, i would have.....
Judgment:

T.P.S. Chawla, J.

(1) On 5th November 1969, Inder Kumar Jam filed a petition in this court under Sections 397 and 398 of the Companies Act, 1956 alleging that the affairs of the company known as Osra Bottling Company Private Limited were being carried on in a manner oppressive to some of its members, including the petitioner, and seeking certain directions regarding its management. The company and certain persons associated with it, in one way or other, were made respondents. A reply to the petition was filed only on behalf of Ashok Sarwant, respondent No. 5. It is dated 16th February, 1970 and was filed in court on 24th July, 1970. Thereafter the case proceeded to trial and came on for final hearing before me on 24th January, 1975. Before arguments were re-com- menced on an adjourned date, 5th February, 1975, counsel for res- pondent No. 5 raised the preliminary objection that the petitioner did not fulfill any of the requirements of Section 399 of the Companies Act, and hence the petition was not maintainable at his instance. I heard the objection in a preliminary way, and it was soon discovered that no such point had been taken in the reply filed on behalf of respondent No. 5. Counsel for this respondent conceded this, and prayed for time to move an application for amending the reply so as to raise such an objection. Time was granted, and C.A. No. 75 of 1975 was moved, and has subsequently been heard by me. This order is concerned with that application.

(2) For the petitioner it was contended that the Civil Procedure Code was not applicable to proceedings under the Companies Act and, thereforee, the court h.a.d no power to grant leave to amend a pleading. To my mind this argument is wholly untenable. By section 643(b) of the Companies Act the Supreme Court is empowered, after consulting the High Courts, to make rules for various purposes mentioned therein 'consistent with the Code of Civil Procedure 1908'. In exercise of that power the Companies (Court) Rules 1959 have been framed, and Rule 6 provides :

'SAVE as provided by the Act or by these Rules, the practice and procedure of the Court .a,nd the provisions of the Code so far as applicable, shall apply to all proceedings under the Act and these Rules .......'

RULE2(4) defines 'Code' to mean 'the Code of Civil Procedure 1908'. In the face of Rule 6, I would have thought that it is not possible to argue that the Code does not apply to proceedings under the Companies Act. Such an argument would render nugatory the words 'the provisions of the Code so far as applicable, shall apply to all proceedings under the Act and these Rules' which are so clear.

(3) However, counsel for the petitioner referred to Aluminium Corporation of India Ltd. v. Lakshmi Ratan Cotton Mills Co. Ltd.. 1969 Comp cas 23, and Rabinder Nath Maira and others v. Steelsons P. Ltd. and others, 1974 Comp Cas 538, in support of his contention. These cases seem to hold that the rules in the Civil Procedure Code are not directly applicable to proceedings under the Companies Act. But, in neither of them does it appear that Rule 6 was referred to. That apart, both contin observations which imply that the principles embodied in those rules are applicable. Even from this it must follow that the court has power to grant leave to amend pleadings on the analogy of Order 6 rule 17 of the Code. An exact authority for this proposition is Bastar Transport and Trading Co., Jagdalpur and another v. Court of Wards, Bastar and anoher, Air 1955 Nag 780, in which it is said that-

'AN application for amendment of a petition for winding up can, thereforee, be decided on the principles governing amendment of pleadings under 0. 6, R. 17, Civil Procedure Code .'

Thus, whether that rule can be directly invoked in proceedings under the Companies Act (a point which I need not finally decide), or whether leave to amend can be granted by the court in such proceedings on the same principles, assuredly the court has power to deal with an application seeking leave to amend a pleading. The opposite conclusion would lead to astonishing result that in a proceeding under the Companies Act a pleading could never be amended.

(4) Then it was argued, that the objection sought to be agitated by amendment could not be taken after the petition had been admitted, nor could it be raised as a defense to the petition on merits. According to counsel for the petitioner, the correct procedure in respect of such an objection was to file an application for having the petition dismissed or the order admitting it set aside. In support of these submissions he relied on Bengal Luxmi Cotton Mills Ltd. 1965 Comp Cas 187. There, an application was filed for the appointment of an administrator and for certain other interim reliefs whilst a petition under Sections 397 and 398 of the Companies Act was pending. The judgment deals with the former applic,ation, namely, the one for interim reliefs. In opposition to that application, it was contended, that the main petition was defective in many respects, and since it was not maintainable the application for interim reliefs ought to be rejected simply on that ground. It was held that the alleged defects in the main petition were not so patent nor of such obvious validity as to lead to the conclusion that the application for interim reliefs must be disallowed. In the passage dealing with this argument, on page 200 of the report, the following sentence occurs :

But once the petition is admitted the question of maintainability of the petition cannot be raised by way of defense to an application for ad interim relief.

On this, counsel for the petitioner sought to construct the edifice of this argument. As I understand that observation, it only means, in the context, that if a petition has been admitted, it must, prima fucic. be assumed to be maintainable when disposing of an application, for interlocutory reliefs. No similar situation has arisen here. The arguments I heard in part were on the main petition itself, and the only question is whether respondent No. 5 is now to be permitted to raise an objection as to its maintainability by obtaining leave to amend.

(5) Sections 397 and 398 of the Companies Act give to members of the company the right to move under those sections for appropriate orders 'provided such members have a right so to apply in virtue of Section 399.' Clearly, unless this condition be fulfillled the petition cannot be maintained by the petitioning members. It is a matter which goes to the jurisdiction of the court to entertain it. I cannot accept the proposition that once a petition has been admitted, in the sense that notices have issued to the respondents or it has been advertised, then the court is powedles to enquire whether the requirements of Section 399 are fulfillled. Although the petitioning members in most cases state facts necessary to establish that they are qualified under section 399 and by admitting the petition the court may be assumed to have been prima facie so satisfied, this cannot debar the respondents from disputing the facts or otherwise showing that the requirements of that section are not met. By the very nature of the thing, the admission of a petition to a, hearing does not involve a final adjudication on any point, whether on merits or otherwise. Considering that the very same proviso is found in section 397 and 398, it is only fair to infer that the legislature, attached great importance to the fulfillment of the conditions stated in section 399. Presumably the object was to prevent vaxatious applications being filed by a smaller number of members than prescribed in that section. It could not, on any rational principle, have been intended that the respondent should be precluded from relying on that section after the petition had been admitted. Rules 96 of the Companies (Court) Rules suggests no such conclusion.

(6) Nor do I agree with the suggestion that the plea proposed to be raised by the amendment can only be tried on an application to have the petition dismissed or the admitting order set aside. To overcome the criticism directed against the main petition in just referred, it was argued that the objections were of a kind as could properly be raised only by moving a separate application either for dismissal of the petition or for setting aside the admitting order. In support of this argument some cases were cited which are noticed on page 198 of the report. Those cases hold that the question whether an action has been brought by the authority of the named plaintiff ought to be tried by an application to strike out his name, and not as a defense to the action on merits. Such a question usually arises when the plaintiff is a corporate body. The nature of the objection sought to be raised in the case before me is altogether different. It is not disputed that the petition has been instituted by the petitioner named. What is sought to be questioned is his right to apply, and on the ground that he does not fulfill any of the requirements of section 399 of the Companies Act, This does not involve determination of the question whether the petitioner named in the petition is actually before the court, or whether the institution of the petition has been authorised by him. Hence the ratio of those cases docs not , The case reported as National Conduits (P) Ltd. v. S. S. Arora, 1967 Comp Cas 786, was also cited on behalf of the petitioner, but I am unable to see what relevance it has to the point. It only holds that even after a, petition for winding up of a company is admitted, the court is not bound forthwith to order that it be advertised.

(7) After these submissions, it was argued that respondent No. 5 should be refused leave to amend because he had been guilty of suppressioveri, in that, the facts now sought to be relied upon in support of the objection, subject of the amendment, had not been disclosed earlier in his reply. I was referred to National Firs and General Insurance Co. Ltd. v. Mool Singh Gurdev Singh 1951 P&H; 227. That case does seem to endorse the proposition that the discretion to grant leave to amend should not be exercised in favor of a party guilty of suppressioveri. But, I do not think that on a fair reading of the reply by respondent No. 5 it can justly be said that be suppressed material facts, or, at any rate, facts which could at that time be thought to be material. In paragraph 3 of the petition under sections 397 and 398 of the Companies Act the petitioner said that the nominal capital of the company was Rs. 2,00,000.00 divided into 200 shares of Rs. 1,000.00 each, and that the paid up capital was Rs. 40,000.00 . In his answer respondent No. 5 admitted the allegations regarding nominal capital and the value of the shares, but said 'the extent of paid up capital is denied'. This, it was contended, amounted to suppressing the true facts because the respondent had not gone on to state what was the extent of the paid up capital according to him.

(8) Having regard to the controversy as it then existed, I do not think one can reasonably come to the conclusion that there was a deliberate concealment of any facts. Counsel for the petitioner conceded that though now the amount of the paid up capital had become extremely significant in view of the objection sought to be raised by respondent No. 5, it had no relevance , all to any of the questions in controversy between the parties on the pleadings as they stand. In the pleadings it was admitted that the petitioner held ten shares of Rs. 1.000.00 each. One of the alternative conditions stated in section 399 which the member or members applying under sections 397 and 398 may fulfill is the holding of 'not less than one tenth of the issued share capital'. That is the qualification which the petitioner now claims to have and which respondent No. 5 disputes. All now depends on what is the paid up capital. Not having sensed the point earlier, I suppose respondent No. 5 did not bother to state what according to him was the paid up capital, whilst generally denying the allegation of the petitioner. The fact that in paragraph No. 6 of the petition a ground of mismanagement alleged was that the respondents had dishonestly issued shares to various persons who had not in fact subscribed or paid for them is beside the point.

(9) I think, the objection which respondent No. 5 now wishes to take did not previously dawn on him or his advisers, whatever the reasons may have been. If, in those circumstances, facts relevant to such an objection were not stated there could be no suppressioveri. It was not suggested that respondent respondent No. 5 was aware of the objection and had deliberately withheld it. I am not persuaded that leave to amend should be refused on any such ground.

(10) It was said that in the course of these proceedings respondent No. 5 had been convicted for contempt of court for not having shown account books to a commissioner appointed by this court and that in a, separate proceeding started with the object of prosecuting him for making false statements in court he had tendered an unqualified apology. It was also mentioned that respondent No. 5 had not appeared as his own witness in the case, and that on one occasion he had agreed that the petitioner may take copies of some documents but had later resoled. All this, .it was said, showed that the petitioner had not come to court with 'clean hands'. In my judgment all these matters are irrelevant in deciding whether leave to amend should be granted. In any case, they are far too remote. They seem to me to be collateral matters which possibly go to the merits of the controversy between the parties, but ought not to be allowed to influence the decision on the question presently in hand.

(11) Now, it is well settled that leave to amend is always granted unless the court be satisfied that the party applying is acting mala fide, or that by his blunder he has caused injury to his opponent which cannot be compensated by an order for costs. And, further, leave is granted however negligent or careless the first omission may have been, and however late the proposed amendment, provided it can be given without injustice to the other side: see Jai Jai Ram Manohar Lal v. National Building Material Supply, Gurgaon, : [1970]1SCR22 . It has also been said that courts do not exist for punishing the parties and that rules of procedure are not framed to defeat justice: see Pathikonda Gopala Rao v. Nagir Pedda Kitamma, : AIR1955AP138 . Keeping these guiding principles in mind I have to decide whether leave to amend should be granted.

The later part of Order 6 rule 17 Civil Procedure Code ., provides that: all such amendments shall be made as may be necessary turn the purpose of determining the real questions in controversy between the parties'.

I think, it can be legitimately said that the objection which is sought to be raised by amendment is necessary for determining the real questions in controversy between the parties because the very words of sections 397 and 398 of the Companies Act necessitate that the court should be satisfied as to the right to apply. If that be right, then, the words of that part of Order 6 rule 17 which I have quoted being mandatory, there is no discretion left to the court and the application has to be allowed.

(12) Assuming, however, that it is a matter of discretion, still, in my opinion the application ought to be allowed. Counsel for the petitioner cited Syed Mahomed Ali v. R. Sundaramoorthy and others, A.I.R. 1958 Mad 587, and Jawahar Singh Bikrum Singh Pvt. Ltd. v. Smt. Sharda Talwar 1974 Comp Cas 552, and urged me to remember that the interests of the company are of paramount importance, and that the proceedings should not be treated as a mere dispute between individuals. The observations in those cases have been made in the context of orders sought under sections 397 and 398 and not on applications for leave to amend. But even if one has regard only to the interests of the company, surely it is conducive to those interests that the question whether the petitioner has the right under section 399 to apply ought to be determined.

(13) Lastly, it was urged that this was a case in which the petitioner could not be compensated for the prejudice caused to him by costs. It is no doubt true that more than four and a half years have gone by since respondent No. 5 filed his reply, and the objection has been sought to be raised at the closing stage of the case. It is also true that if the amendment is .allowed perhaps some limited questions of fact will have to be tried, and there may be some more delay. Nevertheless. these are forms of prejudice for which costs have always been treated as adequate recompense. I can also see that if the objection had been raised by respondent No. 5 when he first filed his reply the petitioner may possibly have reconsidered the matter, and might have chosen to petition for winding up the company. On the other hand it was conceded that there is no period of limitation prescribed for such a petition, and it was open to the petitioner to move it even now. Again, the prejudice, if any, is merely the delay.

(14) Balancing these various considerations my conclusion is that leave to amend ought to be granted; but having regard to the very great delay after which the amendment is sought the leave should be conditional and subject to the payment of Rs. 500 as costs. I order accordingly and allow the application on these terms.


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