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Chikkam Ammiraju and ors. Vs. Chikkam Seshamma and anr. - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectContract
CourtChennai
Decided On
Reported inAIR1918Mad414; 34Ind.Cas.578; (1917)32MLJ494
AppellantChikkam Ammiraju and ors.
RespondentChikkam Seshamma and anr.
Cases ReferredIn Ranganayakamma v. Alwar Setti I.L.R.
Excerpt:
- - 344 relying on the well known books of shephard and pollock on the contract act......act, section 15) as 'committing, or threatening to commit, any act forbidden by the indian penal code, or the unlawful detaining, or threatening to detain any property to the prejudice of any person whatever, with the intention of causing any person to enter into an agreement'. i think the words 'any person whatever' have been advisedly used by the legislature to indicate that the act need not be to the prejudice of the person entering into the contract. i think also that the words ' to the prejudice of any person whatever,' which are separated by a comma from the previous word 'property' relate both to the committing or threatening to commit an act forbidden by the penal code and to the unlawful detaining or threatening to detain property. it means the same thing whether, when a.....
Judgment:

Sadasiva Aiyar, J.

1. The defendants are the appellants. The only question in this case is whether the release-dead Ex. A. was executed by the plaintiffs with their free consent or whether it was obtained from the two plaintiffs (mother and son) through the exercise of coercion or undue influence or both, brought to bear upon them by the defendants (the younger brothers of the 1st plaintiff's husband) and their father Doraiyya through the 1st plaintiff's husband Swami who threatened to commit suicide unless the plaintiffs executed the release deed (Ex-A) in respect of their reversionary rights in certain lands which the 1st plaintiff's mother had sold without necessity to the defendant's father's vendor.

2. The lower Courts found (a) that the 1st plaintiff's husband (the 2nd plaintiff's, father) did threaten to commit suicide if the plaintiffs would not execute the release deed and that it was on account of that threat working on their minds that the plaintiffs executed the deed; (b) that such a threat was 'coercion' and a deed brought about by such a threat is not a deed executed with free consent and (c) that though the threat was not made by the defendants (the parties to the deed) but by their brother, the document was voidable as 'coercion' Used by a person who is not a party to the deed also negatived free consent. On these findings the plaintiffs suit for cancellation of the deed was decreed.

3. The material contentions in second appeal are found in the grounds 3 and 4 of the memorandum as follows:

3. The facts relied upon by the Courts below do not in law constitute coercion or undue influence.

4. The Courts below ought to have held that any persuasion on the part of the 1st plaintiff's husband who is no party to Ex. A, even if proved, cannot invalidate the document,' Coercion is defined (Contract Act, Section 15) as 'committing, or threatening to commit, any act forbidden by the Indian Penal Code, or the unlawful detaining, or threatening to detain any property to the prejudice of any person whatever, with the intention of causing any person to enter into an agreement'. I think the words 'any person whatever' have been advisedly used by the legislature to indicate that the act need not be to the prejudice of the person entering into the Contract. I think also that the words ' to the prejudice of any person whatever,' which are separated by a comma from the previous word 'property' relate both to the committing or threatening to commit an act forbidden by the Penal Code and to the unlawful detaining or threatening to detain property. It means the same thing whether, when a man kills himself, it is called an act of suicide or a successfully accomplished attempt to commit suicide; and an attempt to commit suicide is punishable under the Penal Code. Hence suicide and an attempt to commit suicide are acts forbidden by the Penal Code though the former cannot be punished under the code as a dead man cannot be punished. Provided the threat of the forbidden act does have the intended effect of bringing about the consent to the agreement, it does not matter who made the threat or to whose prejudice it was made. Mr. Patanjali Sastriar for the appellants argued that the 'prejudice' to the feelings or to the supposed spiritual welfare of the wife and son of Swami by the carrying out of Swami's threat was not the sort of prejudice contemplated by Section 15 and that the 'prejudice' to Swami's own life by the threatened act was immaterial as ho was not a party to the deed. It is unnecessary to go into the question whether prejudice or injury to sentiments, feelings or supposed spiritual welfare is also contemplated in the definition of coercion in the Contract Act. (See, however. Sections 298, 499, 508 etc., of the Indian Penal Code showing that the Criminal law does recognize also acts causing some of such sentimantal injuries as punishable). I agree with the lower Courts that the prejudice to Swami's own life is sufficient to bring his threat within the definition of 'coercion,' provided it was intended by the person using the threat to bring about the agreement thereby. Mr. Sastriar put the following question in support of his contention : 'Suppose A threatens to blow up the Taj Mahal unless B gives C a pronote for Rs. 10,000 and suppose B is a man of such fine artistic feelings that to save the noble structure, he gives the pronote, is the note voidable for coercion?' I see no difficulty in answering the question in the affirmative, provided the court is able to arrive at the conclusion that the threat (which was to do an act of mischief or vandalism prohibited by the Penal Code to the prejudice of Government) was in-tended to bring about the execution of the pronote and did have that effect (I need not say that the mere use of the threat will not render the agreement voidable unless the agreement was not only intended to be but was actually 'caused' by it. See Section 19 of the Contract Act and the explanation thoreto.) That the threat need not proceed from the party to the agreement has been held in Askari Mirza v. Jai Kishori (1992) 16 I.C. 344 relying on the well known books of Shephard and Pollock on the Contract Act. It is unnecessary to consider in detail the question whether the release deed was caused by undue influence. The line between coercion (Section 15 of the Contract Act) and undue influence (Section 16 of the Act) is sometimes thin and it is possible to conceive of cases where the Act might fall under both beads. In Ranganayakamma v. Alwar Setti I.L.R. (1889) Mad. 214 a widow executed a deed of adoption, as her relations (not the adopted boy) obstructed the removal of her husband's corpse by her or her guardian to the cremation ground unless she executed the deed. Collins, C.J. and Muthuswami Aiyar, J., held that the act of the defendants was an unlawful act covered by Section 15 or Section 16 of the Contract Act (see at page 221). I think that when a man uses a threat of suicide to his wife and his son and they owing to the distress of mind caused by the strength of that threat execute a document, they are persons 'whose mental capacity' which, I take it, includes volitional freedom and strength) 'is temporarily affected by reason of mental distress' within the meaning of that expression in Clause 2(b) of Section 16 of the Contract Act.

4. I would therefore dismiss the second appeal with costs.

Moore, J.

5. I regret that I have the misfortune to differ from my learned brother.

6. The findings of the Lower Courts which we must accept are that, under a, threat of suicide by Swami, his wife the 1st plaintiff, and his son the 2nd plaintiff executed the release deed. There is evidence that the 1st plaintiff was greatly distressed owing to her son having run away from home in order to avoid having to execute this document, and that owing to the pressure brought to bear upon her by her husband, coupled with his threat to commit suicide, she was induced to join in the execution of the document. I have found considerable difficulty in deciding the question whether the husband's threat to commit suicide amounts to (sic) as defined in Section 15 of the Contract Act. The difficulty lies in the records 'to the prejudice of any person' which occurs in the section and which must I think be read with both branches of the section. The lower courts have not dealt with the question in a satisfactory manner. The Subordinate Judge says, 'The degrading position to which a respectable Hindu wife would be reduced in case Swami had given effect to his threat should have considerably contributed in (sic) inducing the plaintiff to sign Exhibit A.' The District Judge observes that 'there is no doubt that a threat to commit suicide constitutes coercion within the meaning of Section 15 of the ' Contract Act. The words of the section are very wide and the coercion invalidating the contract need not proceed from a party to that contract or be immediately directed against the party whom it is intended to coerce to enter into the contract or affect his property, or be specifically to his prejudice.

7. The words (act forbidden by the Penal Code) make it clear that the court must decide whether the alleged act of coercion is such as to amount to an offence.

8. Suicide is I take it (an act forbidden by the Penal Code) as the abetment of suicide is punishable (Section 304, Indian Penal code).

9. I am unable to accept as correct the view taken by the lower court that the prejudice to Swami's own life was sufficient to bring the threat within the definition of ''coercion' (assuming that Swami intended by the threat to induce his wife and son to execute the release deed). In Ranganayakamma v. Alwar Setti I.L.R. (1889) Mad. 214 it was held that an adoption by a Hindu widow 13 years of age was not binding on her, it having been found that the relations of the adopted boy obstructed the removal of the corpse of her husband from her house until she consented to the adoption. The decision proceeded on the ground that the widow's consent to the adoption was not free. the court seems to have thought that the obstructing the removal of the corpse by the deceased's widow was within Section 15 of the Contract Act as being forbidden by the Penal Code, the section applicable being presumably Section 297, Indian Penal Code. In the 13 Madras case however there would have been no difficulty in finding that the widow's consent was obtained by 'undue influence,' within the meaning of Section 16 of the Contract Act. As regards the question whether the release deed was brought about by 'undue influence,' it may be that Swami was in a position to dominate his wife's will but he was not a party to the contract and Section 16(2)(b) of the Contract Act consequently does not, I think, apply.

10. The Subordinate Judge's finding (paragraph 12 of the Judgment) is that Exhibit A, was executed under coercion though not under undue influence in the strict legal sense (whatever that may mean). The conclusion I have arrived at though with considerable hesitation, is that the facts relied on by the lower' courts do not in law constitute 'coercion' or 'undue influence,' so as to invalidate the release deed executed by the plaintiffs, I would, therefore allow the appeal.

11. Court :- Under Section 98 of the Code of Civil Procedure, the decree of the Lower Appellate Court is confirmed with costs

12. Against this an appeal was preferred under Clause 15 of the Letters Patent.


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