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South Madras Electric Supply Corporation, Ltd. Vs. T.L. Jagannatha Aiyar and ors. - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectCivil
CourtChennai High Court
Decided On
Case NumberA.A.O. Nos. 49 and 147 of 1958
Judge
Reported inAIR1960Mad374; (1959)2MLJ446
ActsIndian Electricity Act - Sections 12, 12(2), 12(3), 12(4), 12(5) and 51; Indian Telegraph Act - Sections 16 and 17
AppellantSouth Madras Electric Supply Corporation, Ltd.
RespondentT.L. Jagannatha Aiyar and ors.
Cases ReferredMary Margaret v. Premanadan
Excerpt:
.....of electricity act - held, civil court has ample jurisdiction to try suit. - - (5) the learned district munsif framed as many as eight issues and two additional issues as well. (6) the plaintiff took up the matter on appeal before the learned subordinate judge of sivaganga and the learned subordinate judge in a very well reasoned judgment has come to the contrary conclusion and has held that the suit was triable by a civil court and that the civil court had ample jurisdiction to try the case of the type before him. this sub-section clearly excludes the authority or the power of the licensee to do anything on any person's land without his consent, either it be the local authority or the private owner, or occupier concerned. 12 clearly lays down that the licensee is not..........the learned subordinate judge of sivaganga in a. s. no. 45 of 1957 reversing the decision of the learned district munsif of manamadurai in o. s. no. 210 of 1955. the learned district munsif had held that the suit did not lie in a civil court and that the proper forum was the district magistrate and therefore dismissed the suit on the preliminary issue. on appeal by the plaintiff the learned subordinate judge reversed the decision of the district munsiff and held that the civil court had jurisdiction to try the suit. the two defendants who are aggrieved by the order of the learned subordinate judge have preferred these two appeals.(2) as a matter of fact it has not been made clear as to what subsisting interest the first defendant has in the suit in so far as it has been made clear that.....
Judgment:

(1) These are two appeals filed against the decision of the learned Subordinate Judge of Sivaganga in A. S. No. 45 of 1957 reversing the decision of the learned District Munsif of Manamadurai in O. S. No. 210 of 1955. The learned District Munsif had held that the suit did not lie in a civil court and that the proper forum was the District Magistrate and therefore dismissed the suit on the preliminary issue. On appeal by the plaintiff the learned Subordinate Judge reversed the decision of the District Munsiff and held that the civil court had jurisdiction to try the suit. The two defendants who are aggrieved by the order of the learned Subordinate Judge have preferred these two appeals.

(2) As a matter of fact it has not been made clear as to what subsisting interest the first defendant has in the suit in so far as it has been made clear that the first defendant company was taken over by the State Government and the State Government is now managing the entire question of laying the supply lines and distributing the electric energy. However both the electric company which has gone out of existence and whose place has been taken up by the State Government, and the State Government who stepped into the shoes of the Electric company have preferred these appeals. C. M. A. Nos. 49 of 1958 is by the first defendant Electric company, and C. M. A. No. 147 of 1958 is by the second defendant, the State Government.

(3) The suit that has been preferred by the plaintiff Jagannatha Iyer is for a mandatory injunction directing the defendants to remove the High Tension lines and posts from the plaintiff's property and for recovery of Rs. 990 representing damages for the period from 1-1-1953 to 1-10-1955 at the rate of Rs. 360 per year, and for recovery of future damages at the same rate. The plaintiff's case is that he is the proprietor of Thattangulam village. With a view to supply electric current to Tiruppavanam town from Manalur, the first defendant company had laid high tension electric lines to a length of one mile across the plaintiff's lands and cocoanut topes in the said villages.

The planting of posts to support the lines began at the end of 1951. These operations were objected to by the plaintiff, and more especially when the laying of the high tension lines was commenced, but the first defendant's engineer wrote a letter to the plaintiff dated 12-10-1951, stating that the arrangement was only a temporary one and that the permanent lines will be laid in a different place without any hindrance to the plaintiff's land. Actually after this letter was written, nothing was done in order to shift the lines from the plaintiff's land.

The plaintiff would appear to have demanded the shifting of the lines as undertaken by the first defendant company. Seeing that the first defendant company did not comply with their undertaking, and the plaintiff having suffered damage to his property, a notice was sent on 12-8-1954, on behalf of the plaintiff to the first defendant to remove the lines and posts within 31-12-1954 or to pay damages by way of rent from 1-1-1953. The case of the plaintiff was that the action of the first defendant company was trespass against which the plaintiff was entitled to relief.

Therefore the plaintiff estimated his loss at Rs. 500 but he was content with claiming only Rs. 360 per year and filed the suit to recover this amount and also for a mandatory injunction against both the defendants to remove the High Tension lines and the posts etc.

(4) Both the defendants would appear to have contended that the high tension lines were finally fixed without any objection on the part of the plaintiff. They pleaded that the plaintiff actually required the line to be laid along the said route expressing that it would be easier for him to obtain energy for the pump sets he had proposed to erect in his cocoanut gardens. So the plea of estoppel was put forward against the plaint allegations. The further plea of the defendants was that the land had not been affected in any way, nor rendered uncultivable to any extent except at a few negligible points at which the high tension posts had been fixed up.

Therefore their contention was that the plaintiff had no cause of action. Their further plea was that the plaintiff's claim was obviously misconceived and not sustainable in law and that the civil court had no jurisdiction to entertain the suit, and the suit was barred under the provisions of the Indian Electricity Act and the Indian Telegraph Act. The question of limitation was also taken up. In any event, it was contended on behalf of the defendants that the plaintiff was not entitled to the relief of mandatory injunction and that the damages claimed were excessive. There was a further plea by the second defendant that the statutory notice had not been given when the second defendant was impleaded.

(5) The learned District Munsif framed as many as eight issues and two additional issues as well. The third issue among the ten issues was whether the civil court had jurisdiction to entertain the suit, and whether the suit as framed against the defendants was not sustainable. This issue was taken up for trial as a preliminary issue and the learned District Munsif after hearing the parties came to the conclusion that the suit was not maintainable in a civil court and that the remedy should have been sought before the District Magistrate.

Therefore the learned District Munsif dismissed the suit holding on issues 3 and 7 that the civil court had no jurisdiction and that the suit was barred by the provisions of the Indian Electricity Act and the Indian Telegraph Act. The learned District Munsif largely relied upon S. 12 of the Indian Electricity Act and the decisions in Dewa Singh v. Bazal Dad AIR 1928 Lah 562, Amar Singh v. Khattar E. E. G. Supply Co. AIR 1941 Pesh 73 and Secretary of State v. Kameshwar Singh : AIR1936Pat87 , which according to him supported the contention of the learned counsel for the defendants.

He also made reference to Ss. 16 and 17 of the Indian Telegraph Act which authorised the District and Sessions Judge to fix damages. These he referred to by way of analogy in coming to the conclusion that the civil court had no jurisdiction, and held that the provisions of the Indian Electricity Act and the Indian Telegraph Act were a bar to the institution of the suit in the civil court.

(6) The plaintiff took up the matter on appeal before the learned Subordinate Judge of Sivaganga and the learned Subordinate Judge in a very well reasoned judgment has come to the contrary conclusion and has held that the suit was triable by a civil court and that the civil court had ample jurisdiction to try the case of the type before him. He has adduced very cogent and convincing reasons for his decision. He therefore allowed the appeal and set aside the decree of the lower court and remanded the suit for fresh disposal in the light of his observations. Both the first and second defendants aggrieved by this reversal of the decree of the learned District Munsif have preferred these appeals.

(7) Mr. Parasaran appearing on behalf of the first defendant contended that the learned Subordinate Judge was wrong in holding that the suit was maintainable in the civil court. The learned Government Pleader also has contended very vigorously that the suit in question could not be tried by a civil court and that the only remedy open to the plaintiff was to go before the District Magistrate for compensation as provided for under S. 12 of the Electricity Act. I am afraid I cannot agree with the contention of either Mr. Parasaran for the first defendant or the learned Government Pleader on behalf of the State Government. Even a cursory glance of the averments in the plaint would show that the nature of the remedy the plaintiff has sought to enforce against the defendants does not fall within the ambit of S. 12 or any sub-section thereof.

If S. 12 is carefully considered it will be seen that the first sub-section of that section does not at all apply to the facts of the present case. That sub-section provides that a licensee may open, and break upon the soil and pavement of any street, railway or tramway. Obviously the plaintiff is not having any street, railway or tramway. It is his own private land on which he has grown the cocoanut tope. Even so, sub-clauses (b), (c), (d) and (e) of sub-s. (1) do not have any bearing on the facts of the present case. It is only sub-s. (2) of S. 12 that has been largely relied upon by the learned counsel for the first defendant and also by the learned Government Pleader.

Sub-section (2) of S. 12 is to the effect that nothing contained in sub-sec. (1) shall be deemed to authorise or empower a licensee, without the consent of the local authority or of the owner and occupier concerned, as the case may be, to lay down or place any electric supply line or other work, in, through or against any building, or on, over or under any land not dedicated to public use thereon, whereover or whereunder any electric supply line or work has not already been lawfully laid down or placed by such licencee. This sub-section clearly excludes the authority or the power of the licensee to do anything on any person's land without his consent, either it be the local authority or the private owner, or occupier concerned.

But then emphasis is laid on the first and second proviso of this sub-section. A close scrutiny of the language of these two provisos also does not lend support to the contentions raised on behalf of the defendants. Whereas the main part of sub-sec. (2) relates to the laying down or placing of any electric supply line or other work in, through or against any building, or on, over or under any land not dedicated to public use thereon, whereover or whereunder any electric supply line or work has not already been lawfully laid down or placed by such licensee, the first of the provisos relates only to the support of an aerial line or any stay or strut required for the sole purpose of securing in position any support of an aerial line, and if such support of an aerial line is to be resorted to it may be fixed on any building or land or having been so fixed, may be altered, notwithstanding the objection of the owner or occupier of such building or land, provided the District Magistrate or in a presidency town the Commissioner of Police, by order in writing so directs.

At this stage it must be made clear that in the instant case the licensee has not obtained any order from the District Magistrate or the Commissioner of Police as required by this proviso in order to enable the licensee to proceed with the fixing of the support of an aerial line or any stay or strut. Therefore two things are clear from a reading of this proviso; the first is that the proviso relates to only fixing of any support of an aerial line or any stay or strut for securing in position any support of an aerial line and the second is that if objection is taken the District Magistrate or the Commissioner as the case may be is authorised to give direction empowering or authorising the licensee to proceed with the fixing of the support, stay or strut.

These two things do not obtain in the present case. On the other hand, the case is in simpliciter a case for directing the removal of the posts that have already been fixed without the permission of the owner and without any authorisation from the District Magistrate or Commissioner of Police, and this is covered mostly by sub-sec. (2) the main part thereof. The first proviso has therefore no application to this case. It is only when support for aerial line or any stay or strut that has been fixed to secure the aerial line, the second proviso comes into operation and if any owner or occupier of a building or land of such support, stay or strut shows sufficient cause, the District Magistrate or in a presidency town the Commissioner of Police may by an order in writing direct any such support, stay or strut to be removed or altered.

Then comes sub-sec. (3) of S. 12. This gives power to the District Magistrate or Commissioner of Police as the case may be, when making an order under sub-s. (2), to fix the amount of compensation or of annual rent, or of both, which should in his opinion be paid by the licensee to the owner or occupier. In this case when the District Magistrate has not himself made any order under sub-sec. (2) and no reference having been made at any stage by the licensee or anybody else who has interest in the carrying on of the high tension lines over the plaintiff's property, the question of fixing of compensation does not arise.

When the order itself has not been made by the District Magistrate or the Commissioner the amount of compensation or annual rent is not called upon to be fixed by this authority. It is only after any such order fixing the compensation has been passed by the District Magistrate or the Police Commissioner that any revision will have to be made by the Provincial Government. That is covered by sub-sec. (4). Sub-sec. (5) of S. 12 is not relevant for the purposes of this case.

(8) It is contended therefore by the learned Government Pleader and the learned counsel for the first defendant that since the District Magistrate has been authorised to pass orders under sub-sec. (2) and under sub-sec. (3) to fix compensation, the remedy is before the District Magistrate and not before the civil court. True if the matter related to what is referred to in the two provisos there will be substance in the contention that the remedy is to be sought from the District Magistrate and not from the civil court. But what the plaintiff seeks to enforce is a violation of his right to enjoyment of his land without any interference or hindrance from any person and that is what is provided for by sub-sec. (2).

In so far as the licensee has not taken the owner's permission to carry the high tension lines over his land and across the cocoanut tope to a length of over one mile--on the other hand the evidence goes to show the licensee having assured the plaintiff that the carrying of the lines on his land is merely a temporary measure and that the permanent measure would be such as would not interfere with any rights to his land and this assurance not having been carried into effect, the remedy the plaintiff seeks to enforce against the defendants is one that was available to him at common law and this remedy has not been provided for by S. 12 in order to contend that the District Magistrate is the proper forum which should be approached for enforcing such right.

The supply of electric energy to institutions, companies or individuals stands on quite a different footing from the establishment of means of communication such as telegraph lines or the telephone lines. No question of urgency has been pleaded by the learned counsel for the first defendant in carrying the high tension lines on properties belonging to private individuals or local authorities. It cannot be said from the language employed in S. 12 that the rights of parties may be violated in view of the urgency of the high tension lines being carried through another man's property.

On the other hand, sub-sec. (2) of S. 12 clearly lays down that the licensee is not authorised, to carry high tension lines or lay down those lines either on the land or above the land of any private individual or any local authority without his consent and S. 12 does not authorise him to do so. The defendants therefore cannot rely upon the analogy of the power vested in the Telegraph Act to carry telegraphic or telephone lines on properties belonging to private owners. Reliance in this connection has been placed upon S. 51 of the Electricity Act which enables the State Government to confer upon the licensee power for the placing of appliances and apparatus for the transmission of energy, subject to such conditions and restrictions as the State Government may think fit to impose and subject to the provisions of the Indian Telegraph Act any of the powers which the Telegraph authority possesses under the Act, with respect to the placing of telegraph lines and posts for the purposes of a telegraph established or maintained by the Government or to be so established or maintained.

But this section again is not of any great assistance to the learned counsel for the defendants. The power that is sought to be conferred by the State Government under this is subject to the many limitations and restrictions contained in this section, the most important restriction being that the power could be only for the placing of appliances and apparatus for transmission of energy, and not for the purpose of carrying High Tension lines on any man's property, whereby considerable damage and hindrance is caused to the proper enjoyment of the land.

As has been pointed out by the learned counsel for the plaintiff-respondent the danger that would ensue by the telegraphic or telephonic lines is by no means on a par with the danger from High Tension lines for the supply of electric energy; and as could be noticed, lines for the telegraphic and telephonic communications are meagre and fewer whereas the lines for carrying the High tension lines for electric energy either for domestic or industrial purposes are far too many and they are always likely to cause danger to any person if carelessly handled.

That apart, whether the civil court has jurisdiction or not depends entirely on the remedy that is sought to be enforced by the plaintiff who has come to court. I do not find any substance in the contention of the learned counsel for the appellants, that the remedy that the plaintiff is seeking has been provided for by the statute and that S. 12 is self-contained for that purpose. As I have already observed the remedy that the plaintiff has sought to enforce against the defendants is not provided for by S. 12 or any of the sub-sections or provisos to that. Therefore in my opinion neither S. 12 nor S. 51 will be of any avail to the appellants in these cases.

(9) A further point has also been urged by the learned counsel for the appellants. There is no provision in the Act which expressly or by implication ousts the jurisdiction of the civil court in a case like the one under consideration. No doubt there is provision for reference to arbitration and also for decision by the District Judge in certain cases of claim for compensation. But a claim for the type that is contained in the plaint presented by the plaintiff in this case is not the one that is contemplated by these provisions. Section 52 for instance provides for arbitration.

Section 50 provides that no suit shall lie against any public officer for what he has done in the discharge of his duty. Therefore it is well-known and a well-established principle of law that unless there is express ouster of the jurisdiction of the civil court it must be presumed that ordinarily a civil court has jurisdiction and in this case the liability has not been excluded from the purview of the civil court and there is no provision of law contained in the Electricity Act for its adjudication. A complaint of trespass of the kind complained of in the present case and damages therefor is not provided for by any of the sections of the Electricity Act.

(10) The learned counsel for the appellants invited my attention to a series of decisions. Mr. Parasaran has invited my attention in particular to AIR 1941 Pesh 73, Viswanathasami Temple v. Asst. Engineer, Surveys, Electricity Dept., Trichinopoly, 1940 2 Mad LJ 254 : AIR 1940 Mad 900. The rulings in these two cases are unexceptionable but the question is how far these rulings would be applicable to the facts of the present case. In my view these rulings are of no assistance to the learned counsel. Even so the learned Government Pleader has cited the decision in : AIR1936Pat87 , Jairaj Behari v. U. P. Electric Supply Co., Ltd. : AIR1941All301 . With due respect these decisions are quite unexceptionable on the facts of the cases with which they dealt but so far as the facts in the present case are concerned these decisions have no application whatsoever.

Certain observations in these decisions are in fact contrary to the contention raised by the learned counsel for the appellants. The decisions in Jit Singh v. Gujranwala Electric Supply Co., Ltd. AIR 1929 Lah 226, Bashir Ahmed v. Crown AIR 1951 Punj 57, seem to be more apposite to the facts of the present case. On the question of jurisdiction Mr. Natesan invited my attention to the latest decision of a single Judge of the Andhra High Court in Mary Margaret v. Premanadan 1958 1 Andh WR 283. I am in entire agreement with that decision.

(11) Therefore on a consideration of the entire facts and the arguments of learned counsel I have come to the conclusion that in the present case the civil court has ample jurisdiction to try the suit and the conclusion to which the learned Subordinate Judge of Sivaganga has come is quite warranted and justified. That decision is upheld and these appeals are dismissed with costs in C. M. A. No. 147 of 1958.

(12) Leave is asked for and is refused.

(13) Appeals dismissed.


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