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Kizhakke Meladathi Vidvan Kombi Achan Styled Sekhari Varma Valia Raja Avergal of Palghat (Deceased) and anr. Vs. Kannanpara Nair Veetil Karnavan Raman Unni Alias Tharuvayur Pada Nair and ors. - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
Decided On
Reported in(1917)33MLJ26
AppellantKizhakke Meladathi Vidvan Kombi Achan Styled Sekhari Varma Valia Raja Avergal of Palghat (Deceased)
RespondentKannanpara Nair Veetil Karnavan Raman Unni Alias Tharuvayur Pada Nair and ors.
Cases ReferredGnanasambanda Pandara Sannadhi v. Velu Pandaram I.L.R.
- - 271. there is also a strong current of authority in this court on the present question. he is clearly wrong in this view. it is true that like the widow he holds his property for life;.....refused to deal with him in that capacity, exhibit d. then followed some correspondence with the rajahs. exhibits xii, c and f show that the collector treated the successors of the first rajah as the proper trustees. exhibit f. is an extract from the inam register showing that the then rajah was the trustee. by exhibits ix and x, the 3rd rajah constituted the defendants' ancestor, the manager of the devaswom. this was in 1851. there is no evidence whether from the date of exhibit a, the defendants' ancestor had possession of the temple properties. the above documents make it abundantly clear that the government transferred the right of management to the holder of the raj as such. the practice followed in this case has been the recognised mode of dealing with devastanams by the.....

Wallis, C.J.

1. In 1842 the Government of Madras by Exhibit A put the Rajah of Palghat in possession and management of the suit devaswom which is stated to have belonged to two persons whose family had become extinct. This is the grant relied on by the plaintiff and its validity had not been called in question. The Palghat Raj is a Malabar stanom, the succession to which is in the senior male member for the time being of a large number of families who are presumably descended from a common ancestress. The grant of this and the other devaswoms included in Ex. A was made in pursuance of the policy adopted by the East India Company about this time of divesting itself of the direct management of religious institutions, and was intended in our opinion to confer the office of trustee of these various endowments on the Rajah and his successors in the stanom as a hereditary office descendible in the same manner as the stanom. This is not now contested for the respondents, and the only question before us is whether the suit to recover possession of the kanom properties is barred by limitation under Article 124 of the Limitation Act as held by the Subordinate Judge. After the very full arguments we have heard I am of opinion that this is the article applicable and that the suit is barred under it if it was not already barred under the Regulation and the previous Limitation Acts. According to the finding of the Subordinate Judge which had not seriously been disputed before us, the defendants' family have been in possession since 1843 when the then Rajah purported to assign the devaswom to them under Ex. 1, Article 124 fixes the period of limitation at 12 years from the date ' when the defendant takes possession of the office adversely to the plaintiff,' and Mr. Ramachandra Aiyar's main argument was that the previous holders of the stanom were not persons 'from or through whom the plaintiff derived his right to sue' and so do not come within the definition of plaintiff in Section 2 of the Limitation Act. According to him each successive holder of the stanom who brings a suit falling under Article 124 or 144 can only be barred under these articles if there is possession adverse to himself for the requisite period, as possession adverse to his predecessors cannot be taken into account not being possession adverse to the plaintiff within the meaning of the Act. I am wholly unable to accept this contention. A stanom according. to the customary law of Malabar is descendible from one stanom holder to another in a peculiar line of succession, and it appears to me each successive holder is in the same position as an ordinary heir succeeding on intestacy. In either case it is the law of the land and not any act of the previous holder or owner that confers title on the successor. The fact that the law of the land confers limited powers of disposition in one case and unlimited powers in the other case can make no difference. In both cases it seems to me that for the purposes of the definition of plaintiff in the Limitation Act, which is intended to include predecessors in title of whom the successor is the representative, the heir must be considered to derive his title from and through the purchaser and the intermediate holders or owners who have taken by inheritance. It would defeat the whole scheme of the Limitation Act to hold that adverse possession against the predecessors of an owner taking by inheritance was of no avail against such owner unless it could be shown that the owner derived title from him otherwise than by inheritance, and I think as I have already said that the succession to mutts, stanom, etc., stands in the same footing. As regards cases of ordinary succession I am not aware that this has ever been questioned, but if authority be wanted) it is to be found in the decision of the Privy Council on this very Article 124, in Gnanasambanda Pandara Sannadhi v. Velu Pandaram I.L.R. (1899) M. 271. There is also a strong current of authority in this Court on the present question. Subrahmania Aiyar, J., in his reference to the Full Bench in Chiruvolu Punnamma v. Chiruvolu Perrazu I.L.R. (1906) M. 390, refers to the decisions in which succeeding trustees, Mahants and Malabar Stanis have been treated as claiming through or under their predecessors, and these decisions are approved in the opinion of the Full Bench at page 409, subject no doubt to the observation which was unnecessary for the decision, that they did not in strictness so claim from or through the predecessors. Gnanasambanda Pandara Sannadhi v. Vein Pandaram I.L.R. (1899) M. 271, deals with the case of trustees, Sankaran v. Krishna I.L.R. (1893) M. 456 oceeds upon the same view in the case of stanis, as though Article 124 was not considered to apply--why is not apparent. It was held that the suit might be governed by Article 144 which equally raises the present question. See also Pydigantam Jagannadha Row v. Rama Doss Patnaik I.L.R. (1904) M. 197. Ambalavana Pandara Sannadhi v. Sree Minakshi Devastanam (1914) 28 M.L.J. 217. Mr. Eamachandra Aiyar relied on a dictum of the Privy Council in Runchordas v. Parvatibai I.L.R. (1889) B. 725, that the plaintiff who sued as next reversioner after the death of the widows of the last male owner did not derive his title from or through the widows and the extinguishments of their right could not extinguish his. In my opinion this means at most that under the existing and recent Limitation Acts which give the reversioner a fresh starting point from the death of the widow under Article 141, a reversioner cannot be treated as claiming from or through the widow. Prior to the introduction of Article 141 the next reversioner was held to claim from or through the widow, Amritolal Bose v. Rajoneekant Mitter (1875) 15 Beng. L.R. 10 and Sambasiva v. Bagava I.L.R. (1890) M. 512. However this may be, this dictum which was not in any way the ground of their Lordships' judgment must in my opinion be strictly confined to the case of widows and is no authority for the position that other persons such as ordinary heirs, stanom-holders, Mahants on whom property devolves by operation of law do not derive their title to sue from or through their immediate predecessors within the meaning of Section 2 of the Indian Limitation Act. In the event the suit is dismissed with costs of the 1st respondent.

Seshagiri Aiyar, J.

2. I agree. The short point for consideration is whether the plaintiff, the Rajah of Palghat, or the defendants' tarwad is entitled to the hereditary trusteeship of the plaint Devaswom. Till 1843, the Government managed it under Regulation VII of 1817. In that year, they transferred the management to the then Palghat Rajah (Vide Exhibit A) presumably under Section 13 of the Regulation. The Subordinate Judge considers that the transfer was to the then Rajah, as an individual, and that the succeeding Rajahs were not entitled to the management. He is clearly wrong in this view. Mr. Ananthakrishna Aiyar, a learned Vakil for the 1st respondent, did not endeavour to support him on this point. The first Rajah executed Exhibit I to the ancestors of the deft. What it exactly conveyed has been the subject of controversy. Acting on Exhibit I the defendants' ancestor asked the Collector of Malabar to recognise him as the Uralan of the Devaswom. The Collector refused to deal with him in that capacity, Exhibit D. Then followed some correspondence with the Rajahs. Exhibits XII, C and F show that the Collector treated the successors of the first Rajah as the proper trustees. Exhibit F. is an extract from the Inam register showing that the then Rajah was the trustee. By Exhibits IX and X, the 3rd Rajah constituted the defendants' ancestor, the manager of the Devaswom. This was in 1851. There is no evidence whether from the date of Exhibit A, the defendants' ancestor had possession of the temple properties. The above documents make it abundantly clear that the Government transferred the right of management to the holder of the Raj as such. The practice followed in this case has been the recognised mode of dealing with Devastanams by the Government in the years 1842 and 1843. The cases of the Mahants of Tripathi and of the Jeers of the Ahobilam mutt, show that the Government in divesting themselves of their responsibility assigned their rights to persons holding particular positions who were expected to transmit those rights to their successors in office.

3. Further, Exhibit I leaves very little room for doubt that the right was intended to be vested in the Rajah for the time being. The Rajah was asked to ' manage the affairs of the Devastanams in the same way as he managed the affairs of his own temples.' This shows that the management was to be by the Rajah for the time being. I have no hesitation therefore, in holding that Ex. A was a grant to the Rajahs of Palghat, and that the Plaintiff is entitled to manage the affairs, if he has not lost the right by prescription or has not been barred by limitation.

4. Mr. Ramachandra Aiyar, for the appellant, contended that the Government created a succession of life estates by Exhibit A. The learned Vakil's argument is that the document, was intended to operate as a fresh grant of trusteeship in the case of each succeeding Rajah. Gulabdas Jugjivandas v. The Collector of Swat, I.L.R. (1878) B. 186 and Marium Begum v. Mirza I.L.R. (1889) C. 231 show that the creation of successive life estates is within the competence of the Government, although the Tagore case holds that private individuals should not create a line of succession unknown to the law applicable to them. But, there is nothing in the language of Exhibit A to warrant the construction that a fresh grant in the case of each of the Rajahs was in the contemplation of the Government. It seems to me that the Government were content to leave the devolution of the right to be regulated in the same way as succession to the Raj or to the management of the family Devaswom was done.

5. The claim of the defendants is based both on prescription and on limitation. The grant to their ancestor (Exhibit I) seems to convey the absolute right of management. Exhibits IX and X also are to the same effect. But it is clear that such an alienation is invalid. This is settled law. Vide Rajah Varman Valia v. Ravi Varmah Mutha . It is conceded, however, that the defendants and their ancestors have been managing the Devaswom for over 60 years.

6. The main argument of Mr. Ramachandra Aiyar was that the cause of action accrued to the plaintiff when he became the Rajah and that as the suit was within 12 years of his succession, his right was not barred. On the question of prescription, his answer was that adverse enjoyment against the previous rajahs could only deprive them of their rights but was ineffective to affect the rights of his client who claimed in his own right and not as heir to the late Rajah.

7. A very learned argument was addressed to us on the legal position and right of Malabar Stanis. It has been stated by the highest authority that their position is analogous to that of Hindu widows. Venkateswara Iyan v. Shekhari Varma I.L.R. (1881) M. 384. I took the same view in Patinharkara Vallabhan Chattan Raja v. Rama Varma (1914) 25 M.L.J. 669. It does not follow from these decisions that the Stani is bound by the same limitation as a widow is. It is true that like the widow he holds his property for life; but beyond this, the analogy does not go. There is no one who corresponds to the reversioner. The next in succession is his own heir. The fact that in Sthanams, the strict rule of Marumakkathayam succession is not followed is no reason for saying that the successor is not the heir of the last Sthani. Most of the important Sthanams have secondary Sthanams. On the death of the first Sthani, the person at the head of the next Sthanam succeeds.

8. The important pre-requisite in all these cases is that the first and the other Sthanams should all be held by the members of the same family. I do not think that this customary rule of succession offers any ground for the suggestion that each succeeding Sthani is not the heir of his predecessor in office. In the East Coast Mutts, the successor is nominated. In the case of the Mahants, priority of discipleship regulates the succession. It is not correct to argue that in observing these customary rules of devolution of right, the successor does not become the heir of the previous holder of the office. The position of a Sthani approximates more to that of an owner of an impartible estate under the Act than to that of a widow.

9. There can be no question that the article of limitation applicable to the suit is 124. It was contended by Mr. Ramachandra Aiyar that even if the article applied, the suit was not barred by limitation. His argument was that the office could not be said to have been taken adversely to the plaintiff, until the plaintiff succeeded to the Raj. There is great force in this contention. The effect to be given to it depends upon the meaning to be attached to the word plaintiff in Article 124. The definition in Section 2 Clause (8) of the Limitation Act is not exhaustive. The use of the word ' includes ' shows that. Apart from this reservation, I am unable to hold that the present plaintiff did not derive his title from his predecessors. The holders of the Palghat Raj may be aptly described in respect of the Devaswoms as forming a chain of trustees. That is the only locus standi they have to claim to manage the trust. In that view it is clear that the plaintiff and his predecessors continuously represented the trust property. This was enunciated by the Judicial Committee in Prosunno Kumari Debya v. Golab Ghani Baboo (1875) 23 W. R 253 it was stated ' It appears to be right and reasonable that judgments obtained against a former shebait in respect of debts so incurred should be binding upon succeeding shebaits, who, in fact, form a continuing representation of the idol's property.' In Gnanasambanda Pandara Sannadhi v. Velu Pandaram I.L.R. (1899) M. 271 : 10 M.L.J. 29 the Privy Council did not accept the theory that each trustee became entitled to the management per formam doni. Reviewing all the previous decisions, Banerjee and Gordon, JJ. say in Nilmony Singh v. Jagabandhu Boy I.L.R. (1896) C. 536. ' But that does not show that each succeeding manager gets a fresh start as far as the question of limitation is concerned, upon the ground of his not deriving title from any previous manager. The succeeding shebaits as was observed in the case just referred to, formed a continuing representation of the idol's property. If we were to hold otherwise, it would lead to a most anomalous result; for then it would follow that, although after any alienation of the idol's property, ten successive shebaits may not take any steps to recover the idol's property, the 11th shebait, it may be after a hundred years or mores would still be in time to institute a suit fot recovery of possession. Such a result the Legislature could not have contemplated.' These observations are exactly in point. Veerabhadra Varaprasada Row v. Vellanki Venkatadri (1899) 10 M.L.J. 114, Sankaran v. Krishna I.L.R. (1893) M. 456, Pydigantam Jagannadha Row v. Rama Doss Patnaik I.L.R. (1904) M. 197 and Chiruvolu Punnamma v. Chiruvolu Perrazu I.L.R. (1906) M. 390 lay down the same principle.

10. As against this chain of authorities, the learned vakil relied upon some decisions of the Judicial Committee and on Prasanna Kumar Mookerjee v. Srikantha Bout I.L.R. (1912) C. 178 and on Pathinharkara Vallabhan Chattan Bajah v. Bama Varma (1914) 28 M.L.J. 669. The decision in Bahadur Singh v. Mohar Singh I.L.R. (1901) A. 94 that one reversioner does not claim through another has no bearing on the present case. Until the widow dies, it cannot be predicated of any one of them that he would be the heir, consequently, they may not be said to claim title through each other. Moreover, the position of a Sthani is not analogous to that of a reversioner. Nor does Runchordas v. Parvatibai I.L.R. (1899) B. 725 help the appellant. It was held in that case that a reversioner does not derive title through the widow in possession. The position of successive trustees is not the same as that of a widow and a reversioner. In Prasanna Kumar Mookerjee v. Srikantha Rout I.L.R. (1912) C. 173 the properties in the possession of the previous ghatwal were apparently resumed and regranted to the new ghatwal. See however Radhahai aad Ramachandra Konher v. Anantrav Bhagvant Dehpande I.L.R. (1895) B. 198. Consequently, there can he no question of claiming through or from the previous owner. Patinharkara Vallabham Chattan Raja v. Rama Varma (1914) 28 M.L.J. 669, to which. I was a party related to a different state of affair I.L.R. (1912) M. 570 altogether. That was a case in which the right to the Sthanam itself was in dispute and not to any property or office which, appertained to the Sthanam. It was argued in that case that a person who might at some future time succeed to one of the Sthanams should have sued for a declaration that a person in one of the higher Sthanams was a trespasser. I held that such a suit was not obligatory on the plaintiff, as he may never live to succeed to the Sthanam and that his cause of action arose only when succession opened to him. I followed Veerayya v. Gangamma I.L.R. (1912) M. 570 and other cases. It is open to argument whether those decisions are any longer law, having regard to the character which the Judicial Committee are now clothing a reversioner with. However that may be, my judgment in Patinliarhara Vallabhan Chattan Raja v. Rama, Varma I.L.R. (1910) C. 885 related to a different question and involved very difficult consideration from what are we now dealing with. On the other hand, the decision in Damodar Das v. Lakhan Das I.L.R. (1910) C. 885 seems to re-affirm the view taken by the Judicial Committee in Gnanasambanda Pandara Sannadhi v. Velu Pandaram I.L.R. (1890) M. 271.

11. I am, therefore, of opinion that limitation commenced to run against the plaintiff when the management was assumed by the defendants as against the previous Rajahs who were trustees of the Devaswom, and that consequently, the suit is barred by limitation.

12. For the same reason, I think the defendants acquired a title by prescription to the office.

13. In the view I have taken, it is not necessary to consider the question raised by Mr. Ananthakrishna Aiyar that the right to sue having been barred under the Limitation Act of 1859 was not revived by the Act of 1871 or 1877.

14. The decision of the Subordinate Judge is right and this appeal must be dismissed with costs.

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