1. This is a creditor's petition for adjudicating the respondent-debtor as an insolvent under the provisions of the Presidency Towns Insolvency Act. It is alleged in the petition, that the respondent, who will hereinafter be referred to as the debtor, executed two promissory notes in favour of one RM. Shunmugham of Athikkadu Thekkur,Ramanathapuram Dt. and borrowed two sums of money,Rs. 5000 and Rs. 7500. The first promissory note forRs. 5000 is dated 6-9-1960 and the second promissory note for Rs. 7500 is dated 5-7-1960. The petitioner, who will hereafter be referred as the petitioning creditor,claims to be the assignee of these two promissory notes from RM. Shanmugham for valid consideration. The act of insolvency relied upon by the petitioning creditor is that the property of the debtor remained under attachment in execution of a money decree for 21 days prior to the filing of this petition. Though the petition contains allegations' of other acts of insolvency said to have beencommitted by the debtor, the petitioning creditor is unable to substantiate them. The debtor resists the application on the ground that there is no debt due and owing by him to the petitioning creditor, as the promissory notes assigned by RM. Shunmugham in favour of this petitioning creditor became discharged and satisfied byreason of his having executed a consolidated promissory note in favour of one Sivalinga Chettiar. The debtor also savers that he has not committed any act of insolvency, and that the attachment of his property relied upon as an act of insolvency will not any longer avail as the execution petition of the decreeholder, who attached the property, has itself been dismissed.
2. The petition came on for hearing before Kailasam J. The learned Judge recorded evidence and heard the parties. He reached the conclusion that the plea of the debtor that the promissory notes were assigned over in favour of the petitioning creditor by RM. Shanmugham were discharged was not acceptable. He found that the promissory note debts were due by the debtor, and that the petitioning creditor could therefore maintain the petition. On the question of the subsistence of an act of Insolvency, the learned Judge referred to two decisions of this Court, one in Venkatakrishnayya v. Malakondayya : AIR1942Mad306 and the otheran unreported decision in O. S. A. 38 of 1960. The learned Judge took the view that the decision of a Bench of this Court in Appavu Mudaliar v. T. K. Ratna Mudaliar, O.S.A. No. 38 of 1960 is not in conformity with the Bench decision in : AIR1942Mad306 . He directed that the papers be placed before the learned Chief Justice for being placed before a Division Bench in view of the conflict of judicial opinion in the matter. By order of the learned Chief Justice, the matter has now been placed before us.
3. The liability of the debtor under the two promissory notes, which have been marked as Exs. P. 2 and P.3 in the case, is beyond question, particularly in view of the definite finding of the learned Judge, Kaiiasam J. It is not open to us to go into that question at this stage, and we must mention that the learned counsel for the debtor quite properly did not seek to canvass that finding before us. The only question that has been debated before us centred on the availability of an act of insolvency due to the attachment of the debtor's properties in execution of a money decree in O. S. No. 1703 of 1961 on the file of the City Civil Court, Madras.
4. It will now be convenient to refer to the variousproceedings in the suit O. S. No. 1703 of 1961, City CivilCourt, Madras. That suit was filed by one Meyyappaagainst the debtor for recovery of a substantial amountdue to him. On 10-8-1961, Meyyappa filed an application, I.A. No. 1174 of 1961 praying for attachment Before judgment of three items of properties belonging tothe debtor in the city of Madras. The Court granted aninterim attachment, and when that application came onfor final disposal on 21-9-1961, the debtor consented tothe attachment and accordingly the interim order ofattachment was made absolute. On that date (21-9-1961)the suit itself was decreed as the debtor had no defenceto the suit. Meyyappa, the decreeholder, filed an execution petition E.P. No. 1664 of 1961 on 24-11-1961 praying for the sale of the attached properties. On that date,the Court, overlooking the subsistence of the attachmentbefore judgment, passed a fresh order of attachment tobe effected on or before 8-12-1961. When the executionpetition came on for orders on 8-12-1961, the attentionof the executing Court was drawn to the fact of thepre-existing attachment, and the Court thereupon passedthe following order:
'It is reported that the property has already been in attachment before judgment; and made absolute. For sale papers 3-1-1962'.
For some reason, which is not quite apparent, the decree-holder, Meyyappa, had the Execution petition E. P. No. 1664 of 1961 advanced on 23-12-1961 and intimated to the Court that he was not pressing the execution petition. The Court then passed the following order:
'The execution petition was advanced. No sale papers as this execution petition is dismissed as withdrawn.'
One thing, however, is clear that the execution petition was not withdrawn because of any discharge of the decree. We find from the execution records in the suit that the decreeholder filed another execution petition, E. P. No. 1887 of 1961, on 11-12-1961 praying for the arrest and detention in civil prison of the debtor. We are not concerned with the subsequent course of the execution proceedings in that suit. The fact remains that the execution petition for sale of the attached properties stood dismissed on 23-12-1961.
5. We shall now refer to the salient provisions of the Presidency Towns Insolvency Act. Section 9 reads :
'A debtor commits an act of insolvency in each of the following cases, namely:--.......... (e) if any of hisproperty has been sold or attached for a period of not less than 21 days in execution of the decree of any Court for the payment of money.'
Section 21 of the Act is as follows :
'21 (1) Where, in the opinion of the Court, a debtor ought not to have been adjudged insolvent, or where it is proved to the satisfaction of the Court that the debts of the insolvent are paid in full, the Court shall, on the application of any person interested, by order, annul the adjudication and the Court may, of its own motion or on application made by the Official Assignee or any creditor, annul any adjudication made on the petition of a debtor who was, by reason of the provisions of Sub-section (2) of Section 14, not entitled to present such petition.'
The section in the Provincial Insolvency Act corresponding to Section 9(e) is Section 6(e). That reads:
'A debtor commits an act of insolvency In each of the following cases, namely, (e) if any of his property has been sold in execution of the decree of any court for the payment of money.'
It is only under the Presidency Towns Insolvency Act that the subsistence of attachment in execution of a money decree for a period not less than 21 days, is an act of insolvency. The Provincial Insolvency Act does mot contain any such provision. The reason for this difference between the two Acts is not readily discernible, Mullah in his 'Law of Insolvency' states that 'it was thought that illusive attachments in favour of the debtor's friends or relatives with a view to take the property out of the reach of creditors were not so common in the mofussil as in the Presidency towns.' Under both the enactments, a Court sale in execution of a decree for payment of money, is an act of insolvency.
6. The language of Section 9(e) of the Presidency Act would seem to indicate that what all is necessary to constitute an act of insolvency is a de facto sale or an attachment for 21 days. It is open to the construction that once the sale is held by the property being knocked down to the highest bidder or if the attachment subsists for 21 days, the act of insolvency is complete and indefeasible. But we do not think that this is the true meaning of the section. Of course, there must be a factual sale or the continuance of attachment for the prescribed period. That would not be enough to comply with the section. In our opinion, the sale or attachment must also be valid in law. If the sale is set aside or the attachment is cancelled in due course of judicial proceedings on the ground that the sale ought not to have been held or the attachment ought not to have been ordered, those acts of sale or attachment as the case may be, must be deemed to have had no judicial existence. They must be treated as 'non est' in law nO rights can flow from them and accrued rights, if any, on foot of them must also cease. The act of insolvency grounded on a sale or attachment in execution of a money decree loses its foundation, the moment such sale or attachment is wiped out as a result of judicial adjudication.
7. The only act of insolvency relied upon to sustain the petition for adjudication is the attachment of the debtor's property in the suit O. S. No. 1703 of 1961. That there has been an attachment in execution of amoney decree for 21 days within three months before the presentation of the petition, cannot be disputed. It is true that at the inception the attachment was one before judgment. It was first effected on 10-8-1981 and was made absolute by consent of the parties on 21-9-1961. It however became an attachment in execution of a decree on the passing of the decree and the presentation of the execution petition, E.P. No. 1664 of 1961, for effecting sale of the attached property. Order 38 Rule 11 C.P.C. provides that an attachment before judgment can be treated as an attachment in execution after passing of the decree. That provision states:
'Where property is under attachment by virtue of the provisions of this Order and a decree is subsequently passed in favour of the plaintiff, it shall not be necessary upon an application for execution of such decrea to apply for a re-attachment of the property:'
Construing this provision, there is a sufficient volume of judicial precedents upholding the view that the attachment pre-existing the judgment would enure and continue in the course of execution proceedings--See Meyyappa Chettiar v. Chindambaram Chettiar, ILR 47 Mad 483 : AIR 1924 Mad 494, Dalayya v. Sundara Narayana, ILR 59 Mad 303 : AIR 1936 Mad 91. Varadachariar J. stated the principle thus in ILR 59 Mad 303 : AIR 1936 Mad 91.
'As a question of principle, if an attachment before Judgment can be treated as an attachment for purposes of execution at all, it is difficult to see what necessity there is for an order of Court. The more reasonable view seems to us to be to hold that, from the time the decree-holder applies for execution, he elects to avail himself of the attachment before judgment and from that moment the attachment before judgment becomes an attachment available for purposes of execution.'
8. In Chidambara Mudaliar v. Ranganatham, : AIR1942Mad512 , we have a direct authority for the position that an attachment before judgment automatically becomes an attachment in execution of the decree, when the decreeholder applies for an order of the Court directing the sale of the property attached and that the subsistence of such an attachment for more than 21 days after the application for sale has been made by the decreeholder can be relied upon as an act of insolvency under Section 9(e) of the Presidency Towns Insolvency Act.
9. In the present case, the execution petition E.P. No. 1664 of 1961, was filed on 24-11-1961, praying for sale of the attached property. When this petition for adjudication was filed on 19-12-1961, it was grounded well on the subsistence of attachment for 21 days previously. So far the ground is clear and free from controversy. The execution petition was however dismissed on 23-12-1961. It cannot be pretended that the attachment survived the dismissal and continued. Indeed that is not the standpoint of the petitioning creditor. The execution petition was dismissed as the decreeholder withdrew it. Now, Order 21 Rule 57 of the Code of Civil Procedure, as framed by this Court reads:
'Where any property has been attached in execution of a decree and the Court hearing the 'execution application either dismisses it or adjourns the proceeding to a future date, it shall state whether the attachment continues or ceases; Provided that when the Court dismisses such an application by reason of the decree, holder's default the order shall state that the attachment do cease.'
Where the execution petition is dismissed, due to the act of the decreeholder placing the Court in such a position as to prevent it from proceeding with the execution, either by not paying the process fee, or by not filing the sale papers or by abandoning or withdrawing the petition, the dismissal is, surely, one for default. In such cases, the attachment ceases and it is the duty of the executing Court to record the cessation of attachment The clear terms of Order 21 Rule 57 C..P.C. are imperative in this behalf and the tendency on the part of the subordinate Courts to ignore it is to be deeply regretted.
10. What follows from the cessor of attachment or the withdrawal of the execution petition on 23-12-1931 is the real debating ground between the contestants in this case. The contention of the petitioning creditor is two fold: (1) the withdrawal of the execution petition only put an end to the attachment on the date of the withdrawal and the termination of the attacnment cannot be projected back and given a retrospective operation so as to vacate altogether its pre-existence; (2) the debtor cannot plead and rely upon an event subsequent to the filing of the petition. The debtor contends that the effect of withdrawal of the execution petition was as if the execution petition had not been filed at all and that the parties should be placed back in their respective positions which they occupied prior to the filing of the execution petition. If this contention is accepted, there would not be any attachment in execution of a money decree. According to the debtor, subsequent events after the filing of the petition ought to be taken into account as otherwise the adjudication, if made, would rest on an unreal state of affairs.
11. We shall first dispose of the contention relating to the propriety of the adjudicating Court, taking note of events subsequent to the filing of the insolvency petition. Broadly and generally stated the rule is that the rights of parties have to be determined and pronounced upon as on the date of the commencement of the 'lis' before the Court. This is not, however, a stubborn or inflexible rule and it has to give way in instances where, unless the subsequent events are considered and taken into account, grave injustice would result or the decision of the Court would become a mockery. A spouse applies for restitution of conjugal rights. During the pendency of the proceeding, the marriage is dissolved by a decree of competent Court. The Court dealing with the restitution application is bound to have regard to the alternative circumstances. A landlord sues to evict his tenant on the ground of forfeiture of lease. Before the suit is tried, the terms of the lease expires. The Court can take note of this circumstance and grant relief. It would be pedantry to multiply instances. The discretion of the Court, under its inherent powers, to adjust the rights of parties on the basis of events happening atter the starting of the action, is well recognised and accepted as a rule of justice, equity and good conscience, in some cases, it is almost the duty of the Court to advert to the subsequent events brought to its notice lest it should fail to do substantial justice between the parties.
The substratum of an insolvency petition is the act of insolvency. If what was visibly an act of insolvency on the date of the, petition cannot be attributed that character when the petition comes on for orders, because of subsequent events, it is legitimate and proper that the Court should take stock of the actual situation as onthe date of the disposal, instead of relying upon the past state of affairs which has ceased to exist. Any adjudication that may be made, leaving out of account the change of circumstances affecting the act of insolvency, would be futile, as it would be annulled under Section 21 of the Act. It is possible to view the question from another angle. There must be proof of an act of insolvency having been committed within three months of the presentation of the petition. Otherwise, the creditor's petition would fail. The debtor resisting the application is not prevented from letting in evidence of facts and circumstances to show that there was no act of insolvency. Such facts and circumstances are not inadmissible in evidence on the ground of their stemming from events subsequent to the petition. Strictly speaking, evidence relating to the act of insolvency in the shape of subsequent events, if let in, does not offend the general rule of the right of parties being confined and restricted to. the date of institution of the proceedings. But, even otherwise, in our opinion, this is a fit case in which the Court can and should look into the after-events as well.
12. The point that has now to be considered, which is indeed the most crucial in the case, is the effect of the withdrawal of the execution petition on 23-12-1961. The attachment of the property did certainly terminate on that date. This is common ground between, the petitioning creditor and the debtor. Did the cessor of the attachment have the effect of deeming no attachment at all between the date of filing the execution petition ana its dismissal for default? The answer of the petitioning creditor is in the negative, but the debtor's answer is in the affirmative. In our opinion, the attachment ceased as the decreeholder did not choose to pursue the execution, and when it ceased, the cessor did not relate back to the date of the execution petition. It is nobody's case that attachment was set aside on the ground of its having been illegally or improperly obtained or that the attachment ought never to have been allowed to continue after the date of the decree. We find no support for this doctrine of relation bach, or retrospective cessor, either on principle or authority. Our view is that, on the facts of the present case, there was a valid attachment in execution of money decree for 21 days prior to the filing of the insolvency petition, and the validity of that attachment was in no way shaken or affected by the dismissal of the execution petition for default.
13. Learned counsel for the petitioning creditor contends that, even if it were to be held that the attachment was not operative and subsisting by reason of the dismissal of the execution petition on 23-12-1961 that would not take away the de facto existence of the attachment for the requisite period or would avail to defeat the petitioning creditor, preventing him from relying upon it as an act of insolvency. The decision in : AIR1942Mad306 has been relied upon by the learned counsel in support of this contention. We shall refer to this decision in some detail as Kailasam J. has pointed out that this is in conflict with the decision of a later Division Bench of this Court in O.S.A. no. 38 of 1960. In that case, the debtor was adjudicated as insolvent on the ground that there was an act of insolvency by reason of the debtor's property having been sold away in Court auction in execution of a money decree. There was an adjudication order passed by the Courts below, and a civil revision petition has been preferred against that order. During the pendency of the civil revision petition, the execution sale relied upon as anact of insolvency, had been set aside under the provisions of Order 21 Rule 89 C.P.C.
The contention urged on behalf of the debtor in this Court was that, the sale itself having been set aside, there was no longer an act of insolvency available and that therefore the adjudication order should be set aside. This contention was, however, repelled by this Court. The learned Judges took the view that the words 'property has been sold in execution of a decree' refer not to an indefeasible sale, but a sale which has been actually held and which may be set aside as a result ot subsequent proceedings. The reasoning of Wadsworth J. who delivered the judgment of the Bench, is as tollows:
'The enumeration of the various acts of insolvency in Section 6 seems to contemplate those acts which in the public eye shake the credit of a debtor and are likely to cause a scramble amongst the creditors for his assets. The man may actually be solvent, but may still commit an act of insolvency by suffering something to be done which shakes his apparent credit, as when he disappears from his normal dwelling house or hides himself from his creditors, or, under the corresponding provision of the Presidency Towns Insolvency Act, suffers some attachment of his property in execution of a decree to subsist for 21 days. All these are outward and visible signs that a man's credit has been shaken and they are circumstances which are likely to cause a panic amongst his creditors. Consequently, they justify any creditor in asking the Court to step in and see that there is a fair distribution of the debtor's assets.
Having these considerations in mind, it is but natural that the Legislature should lay down as, one of the criteriafor judging whether a man's ostensible credit has been shaken, the fact of a sale in Court of his assets in execution of a decree. The question whether the sale iseventually set aside for some irregularity or whether the debtor eventually finds it to his interest to deposit the amount of the particular decree is not really material.'
14. With great respect to the learned Judge, we areunable to agree with his view on the matter. In our opinion, the conception underlying this view is the presumption that Court sales are properly and fairly held at the instance of honest decreeholders, and that the judgment debtors suffering Court sales are generally on the verge or insolvency. We are unable to subscribe to this view,which stated generally, is difficult of acceptance and which examined in the light of experience, cannot besupported. The, Court should also take note of the fact that there are decreeholders, who dishonestly execute the decree even after its discharge, that Court sales are not infrequently held in a manner which is shockingly unconscionable and that even judgment-debtors who have assets more than liabilities have very often to face execution sales due to the pressure of the decreeholder. The test should, therefore, be not whether there was in fact a sale, but whether there was a valid indefeasible sale in conformity with the provisions of the law. The learned Judge has, in our opinion, entirely overlooked the crucial thing, namely, that when once a sale is set aside by a competent order of Court, it cannot be relied upon for any purpose whatsoever, as that would be in the teeth of the order, annulling the same.
We must also point out that the learned Judge himself was inclined to take the view that the setting aside of the sale would constitute a ground for annulling the order of adjudication made on the basis of the sale. Atp. 40 (of Mad LJ): (at p. 307 of AIR), the learned Judge observed thus:
'We do not wish to say anything which will be reaa as deciding that an insolvency petition could or could not be maintained on the strength of a said which had been set aside before the insolvency petition was presented, nor do we wish to prejudice any application to annul the adjudication which might be preferred on the basis that the setting aside of the sale is a sufficient reason for the annulment of the insolvency.'
if the order of adjudication can be annulled in consequence of the setting aside of the sale which formed the foundation for adjudication, we do not see why the petition for adjudication itself should not be resisted successfully on that ground. With great respect to the learned Judges of the Division Bench, we find ourselves unable to agree with their view and we express our respectful dissent from it. In our opinion, the decision in : AIR1942Mad306 is not correctly decided.
15. In O. S. A. No. 38 of 1950 the facts were as follows: One Appavu Mudaliar was adjudged as insolvent. The only act of insolvency relied upon by the petitioning creditor was that the debtor's properties remained under attachment for more than three weeks. The attachment was made by the City Civil Court in E.P. No. 913 of 1958 on 11-12-1959. That order was the subject-matter of an appeal to this Court in C. M. A. No. 101 of 1959. When the insolvency petition came on for hearing, the appeal against the order of attachment had not been disposed of. Ganapatia Pillai J. adjudicated Appavu Mudaljar as an insolvent, holding that there has been a valid attachment of his properties by the requisite period and that would constitute an act of insolvency under Section 9(e) of the Presidency Towns Insolvency Act. Subsequently C. M. A. No. 101 of 1959 was allowed. The order of attachment was set aside and the execution petition was remanded to the executing Court for fresh consideration. The controversy between the decree-holder and the judgment-debtor in C. M. A. No. 101 of 19b9 was whether there was a pre-decretal arrangement between them.
The order of adjudication made by Ganapatia Pillai J. was taken up on appeal in O. S. A. No. 38 of 1930, which was heard by the learned Chief Justice and Rama Krishnan J. It was then contended before the appellate Court on behalf of the insolvent that there was no avail able act of insolvency, as the attachment relied upon by the petitioning creditor had itself been set aside in C. M. A. No. 101 of 1959. The learned Judges held that there was no act of insolvency proved or established, and set aside the order of adjudication. The learned Chief Justice observes thus in his order :
'It cannot be deemed that on these facts, the appellant will be entitled to have his adjudication annulled. But even otherwise, we are of opinion that it will be competent for this Court, sitting in appeal against the order of adjudication, to take note of the subsequent events and grant the appellant the relief that he is entitled to. We are of opinion that the adjudication made by the learned Judge cannot be sustained in view ot the fact that legally there is no order of attachment over the properties of the respondent.'
16. The decision referred to above, upholds the principle that the setting aside of an attachment on we ground that it was not legal or proper, so completely nullifies it that it cannot be said to have been in valid existence at any time, and that, if it had no such existence, it cannot be relied upon as an act of insolvency. We agree, with respect, with this principle of law.
17. As stated already, in the present case, there has been no setting aside of the order of attachment. This case will not fall within the principle of the decision of the Division Bench in O. S. A. No. 33 of 1950. There was only a termination of the attachment on 23-12-1961 and that termination did not have the effect of destroying the subsistence of the attachment during the period prior to the institution of the insolvency petition.
18. Mr. V.P. Raman, learned counsel tor the debtor, contends that the debtor had no knowledge of the attachment proceedings at all and that it would be inequitable and unjust to adjudicate him as insolvent, because the decree-holder surreptitiously, behind his back, obtained an order of attachment and that attachment continued for a period of 21 days. The learned counsel contends that the insolvency Court has got a discretion in the matter of adjudication, which affects the status of a citizen, and that, in the present case, having regard to the peculiar circumstances, the debtor ought not to be adjudged insolvent. We are not willing to accept the contention of the learned counsel that the debtor was completely in ignorance of the execution proceedings in the city civil Court suit, O. S. No. 1703 of 1961. The debtor himself consented to the attachment before judgment being made absolute on 21-9-1961. The decree was passed in his presence on that date. He must have been aware of the legal position that the attachment before judgment would continue to enure and subsist in favour of the decree-holder in the course of further execution proceedings which the decree-holder Wight take by bringing the properties to sale.
It is true that the Court has got a discretion in the matter of adjudication, as the language used in Section 13(5) of the Presidency Towns Insolvency Act is that 'the Court may make an order of adjudication it it is satisfied xxxxxxxxxxxx'. But the discretion should be judicially exercised and should, of course, be not arbitrary, or capricious. If a creditor establishes the fact that he has got to receive moneys from the debtor, of an amount more than Rs. 500 and that the debtor is guilty of an act of insolvency within a period of three months prior to the filing of the petition, the Court should normally exercise its discretion by directing an adjudication.' Otherwise, it would be unjust to the creditor filing the petition and also to the general body of creditors, to whom the debtor might be indebted. The debtor might secrete the properties and defeat the creditors and the creditors themselves may get into a scramble for realisation of their respective debts. The object of the insolvency law is to promote and help a fair distribution of the debtor's assets between the creditors. In our opinion, there is no circumstance in this case which would induce us to dismiss the petition for adjudication though all the statutory conditions for passing an order in favour of the petitioning creditor, are present and have been established.
19. We have expressed our opinion in the reference. The papers will be placed before the learned Chief Justice for further direction in the matter.
(After the expression of the opinion of the Full Bench, this case came on for hearing before Kailasam J. on 24-9-1962, who delivered the following Judgment):
20. In view of the decision at the Full Bench, adjudication should follow. The debtor is adjudicated insolvent. The advocates' fee for the petition is fixed at Rs. 250.