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His Holiness Sri Vanamamalai Ramanuja Jeeyar Swamigal, Head of the Vanamamalai Mutt (Deceased) and anr. Vs. the Board of Commissioners for the Hindu Religious Endowments and anr. - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectTrusts and Societies
CourtChennai
Decided On
Reported inAIR1935Mad621; (1935)69MLJ14
AppellantHis Holiness Sri Vanamamalai Ramanuja Jeeyar Swamigal, Head of the Vanamamalai Mutt (Deceased) and a
RespondentThe Board of Commissioners for the Hindu Religious Endowments and anr.
Cases ReferredMartin v. Mackonochie
Excerpt:
- - the claim in the suit clearly is for a restoration to the plaintiff of the honours and the precedence formerly enjoyed by him. and we are far from saying that the appellant has even thinly disguised his real claim because the apparent and the real claim seem to-us to be clearly identical......with an office and also that the honours claimed could not be the subject of a claim in a civil suit. it is further alleged in the plaint that certain persons who claimed to be the worshippers of the temple applied to the first defendants to declare the right to honours and precedence of some other sanyasis in the plaint temple during the annual vaikasi festival, that is to say, they claimed precedence to the plaintiff to the honours in question. the first defendants held an enquiry and on the 12th may, 1927 passed orders giving the honours and precedents to these latter claimants and negativing the rights of the plaintiff except on special days of the year. it is claimed in the plaint as before stated that the high court in appeal and in revision has declared the right of the.....
Judgment:

Horace Owen Compton Beasley, Kt., C.J.

1. This is an appeal from a judgment of Anantakrishna Aiyar, J., dismissing the plaintiff's suit in limine. The plaintiff is, it is alleged in the plaint, the head of an ancient and important religious mutt known as the 'Vanamatnalai Mutt' at Nanguneri, and entitled to certain special honours, privileges and emoluments in the Athinatha Alwar temple at Alwarthirunagari in preference to other persons in the temple entitled to receive similar honours. It is alleged in the plaint that the High Court has in a former litigation held that the first thirtham is to be given after the Archakas to the plaintiff, the Sanyasi Jeeyar of Vanamamalai Mutt, whenever he attends during the Vaikasi festival, etc., and that the plaintiff and his predecessors have been enjoying these honours from time immemorial in accordance with the ancient usage of the institution and in particular during the last three days of the Vaikasi festival with the 'Aravanai' honours of the previous night and similar honours. The first defendants are the Board of Commissioners for Hindu Religious Endowments, Madras. It is conceded by the plaintiff-appellant that the honours in question are not connected with an office and also that the honours claimed could not be the subject of a claim in a civil suit. It is further alleged in the plaint that certain persons who claimed to be the worshippers of the temple applied to the first defendants to declare the right to honours and precedence of some other Sanyasis in the plaint temple during the annual Vaikasi festival, that is to say, they claimed precedence to the plaintiff to the honours in question. The first defendants held an enquiry and on the 12th May, 1927 passed orders giving the honours and precedents to these latter claimants and negativing the rights of the plaintiff except on special days of the year. It is claimed in the plaint as before stated that the High Court in appeal and in revision has declared the right of the present plaintiff to be shown the honours in question. Whether the effect of these decisions of the High Court is as they are claimed to be by the appellant it is not necessary in this appeal to decide in view of the fact that we are in entire agreement with the judgment of Anantakrishna Aiyar, J., holding that this suit must be dismissed in limine. The reliefs claimed in the plaint are (1) a declaration that the proceedings of the first defendants, dated 12th May, 1927, are ultra vires and otherwise null and void and not binding on the plaintiff and cannot affect any right of his to the honours and (2) a permanent injunction restraining all the defendants from enforcing the first defendants' said order. Anantakrishna Aiyar, J., framed three preliminary issues of which it is only necessary to refer to issue No. 2 which is 'whether the plaintiff is entitled to sue for the above declarations (Prayer No. 1 already referred to) having regard to the allegations in paragraph 10, 11 and 12 of the first defendants' written statement'. Those paragraphs raise the contentions that the plaintiff has no cause of action to sustain the suit against the Defendant Board, that the plaintiff's claim does not relate to any civil or legal right and is therefore not cognisable by the Court and that the plaintiff has no legal right or claim to property in respect whereof the Court can give any declaration and therefore the suit for declaration and consequential relief is not sustainable. The learned trial Judge upon this issue held that the suit must be dismissed because the claim in it was in respect of a right not within Section 9 of the Code of Civil Procedure. Section 9 of the Code of Civil Procedure reads as follows:

The Court shall (subject to the provisions herein contained) have jurisdiction to try all suits of a civil nature excepting suits of which their cognizance is either expressly or impliedly barred.

Explanation: - A suit in which the right to property or to an office is contested is a suit of a civil nature, notwithstanding that such right may depend entirely on the decision of questions as to religious rites or ceremonies.

2. As before-stated, the plaintiff concedes that he could not claim the honour or honours in question in a Civil Suit but he argues that this suit does not make such a claim but merely asks for a declaration that what the first defendants have done is ultra vires as being entirely without jurisdiction and that he is entitled to come to a Civil Court for a decision upon that question. This contention seems to us to be open to the objection that, if all that is asked for, is a declaration, it is not a relief which a Civil Court can give him unless some consequential relief is also prayed for. We do not propose to refer to the numerous authorities in support of this objection which were relied upon and followed by the learned trial Judge in his judgment. It will be sufficient to refer to only one of them, viz., Deokali Koer v. Kedar Nath I.L.R. (1912) 39 Cal. 704 a decision of Sir Lawrence Jenkins, C.J., and Chatterjee, J., which states the law as to declaratory decrees under Section 42 of the Specific Relief Act which provides that

any person entitled to any legal character, or to any right as to any property, may institute a suit against any person denying or interested to deny, his title to such character or right, and the Court may in its discretion make therein a declaration that he is entitled, and the plaintiff need not in such a suit ask for any further relief : Provided that no Court shall make any such declaration where the plaintiff, being able to seek further relief than a mere declaration of title, omits to do so.

3. Sir Lawrence Jenkins, C.J. says at page 709:

The section does not sanction every form of declaration, but only a declaration that the plaintiff is 'entitled to any legal character or to any right as to any property;' it is the disregard of this that accounts for the multiform and, at times, eccentric declarations which find a place in Indian plaints.

4. The essentials of that section are that the plaintiff must be entitled to a legal character or to a right as to some property; and it is conceded that the plaintiff here possesses neither of these things; and it is this that distinguishes this case from Robert Fischer v. The Secretary of State for India in Council . In that case, as the learned trial Judge points out, the right claimed was a right to property and something necessarily connected with property. It was a legal right enforceable in Courts and upon its infringement a suit would lie. We agree with Anantakrishna Ayyar, J. that that case is of no assistance to the appellant here who admittedly could not enforce his right to the honours claimed by a suit in the Civil Courts. We may refer also to Nixon v. The Attorney-General (1930) 1 Ch. D. 566 not cited in the trial Court but the appellants' claim goes further than a prayer for a mere declaration that the 1st defendants' proceedings are ultra vires because he asks that they should be declared (1) null and void, (2) not binding on him and (3) not to affect any right of his to the honours. Presumably the appellant intends to use the declaration in some way or to enforce it. What does the appellant therefore claim? He has, according to him, been deprived of the right to honours and precedence by the 1st defendants' proceedings. Those proceedings he asks the Court to declare null and void. The result of such a declaration would be to leave him in the position in which he was before the 1st defendants' proceedings, namely, it restores to him the right to the first honours and precedence. A declaration that the 1st defendants' proceedings are not binding on him and cannot affect any right of his to> the honours brings about the same result. The claim in the suit clearly is for a restoration to the plaintiff of the honours and the precedence formerly enjoyed by him. The appellant cannot wrap up or disguise his real claim by alleging that he is entitled to seek a decision in the Civil Courts that the 1st defendants acted without jurisdiction. Such a claim as that without anything more would lead him nowhere; and we are far from saying that the appellant has even thinly disguised his real claim because the apparent and the real claim seem to-us to be clearly identical. The appellant has nevertheless relied upon some English decisions in support of this appeal. One of these is Martin v. Mackonochie (1877-78) 3 Q.B. 730. In that case the Civil Court, the Court of Queen's Bench, issued a writ of prohibition to the official Principal of the Arches Court of Canterbury and another prohibiting them from publishing proceedings with, or enforcing a decree of suspension ab officio el beneficio made against a clerk in orders on the ground that that Court acted beyond its jurisdiction. The Court of Arches was an Ecclesiastical Court with a certain ecclesiastical jurisdiction. Acting within its jurisdiction its decisions could only be questioned by appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. The Ecclesiastical Court alone could deal with matters properly coming within its jurisdiction but, when it did act beyond its jurisdiction, the 'extraordinary jurisdiction' of the Civil Court as it is described by Mellor, J., on page 744 would be exercised. I emphasise the words 'extraordinary jurisdiction'. There he says:

Had the proceeding been simply irregular, that would have afforded no ground for the exercise of our extraordinary jurisdiction, as irregularity by a Court having general jurisdiction is no ground of prohibition, but of appeal.

5. This case is of no assistance to the appellants because there the Civil or Temporal Court was exercising its extraordinary jurisdiction to interfere by prohibition. That case is no-authority for the contention that Civil Courts can decide by way of suit questions of the exercise of jurisdiction by Courts-of a particular jurisdiction such as the Ecclesiastical Court in England and the Hindu Religious Endowment Commissioners here. That is certainly not the remedy. There may be a remedy by way of certiorari though as to this we do not express any definite opinion. We entirely agree with the view taken of this matter by Anantakrishna Aiyar, J. and the result is that this appeal must be dismissed with costs of Respondents 1 and 2. Two sets.


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