1. This is a batch of civil revision petitions filed against the decrees and judgments of the learned Judge of the Court of Small Causes, Trichirapalli.
2. The facts are: the plaintiffs in this batch of small cause suits are retail dealers in grains, pulses etc., within the defendant Municipality. They have paid for and obtained from the defendant licences for their retail trade for the year 1944-45. According to the plaintiffs, the municipality had not clothed itself with the necessary ' powers, by means of a Gazette Notification, to levy licence fees as the provisions of Section 249 of the District Municipalities Act had not been complied with and which is not in dispute before me on account of the subsequent judgment of the High Court in CRP No. 251 of 1947 (Mad) (A). On the footing that the collection of the fees is illegal and that as the same is said to have been recovered under threat of prosecution, the payments were made under coercion and the defendant Municipality is bound in law to refund the amounts collected, the plaintiffs filed the small cause suits for the said relief. On the other hand the defendant Municipality contended that the plaintiffs were not entitled to refund as the payments were voluntary.
3. The short point for determination was and is whether the payments made by the plaintiffs were under coercion? The lower; court held that the payments were not made under coercion and dismissed the suits. Hence these civil revision petitions are filed by the defeated plaintiffs, retail dealers.
4. A contract which has been entered into as a result of coercion as defined in Section 15, Contract Act, is voidable at the option of the party coerced under Section 19 of that Act. In addition to this, under Section 72 of that Act, a person to whom money has been paid, or anything delivered by, mistake or coercion, must repay or return it. It is, however, well settled that the term 'coercion' in Section 72 is used in its general and ordinary sense, its meaning not being control led by the definition given in Section 15 of the Act; -- 'Kanhayalal v. National Bank of India Ltd., 40 Cal. 598 (PC) (B); -- 'Ah Choon v. T. Section Firm', AIR 1928 Rang 55 (C); -- 'Adhor Chan-dra v. Rameswar Manna', 65 Ind Cas 517 (Cal)] (D); -- 'Venkatadri Apparao Zamindar Garu v. Venkata Kutumbarao', AIR 1941 Mad 635 (E); -- 'Secy. Municipal Committee, Karanja v. New East India Press Co. Ltd., Bombay' . If it had been intended that the definition of the terms for the purpose of Section 72, should be found in Section 15, it might have been expected that the definition should find a place in Section 2, which is the interpretation clause, and Section 15 would not have contained the 12 words with which it concludes.
5. In order that a transaction may be avoided on account of duress and undue influence, it must appear that the consent of the party seeking to avoid the transaction was coerced, that is, that he was actually induced by the duress or undue influence to give his consent and would not have done so otherwise. Thus, the essential elements of duress are (1) coercion. (2) putting a person in such fear that he is bereft of the quality of mind essential to the making of a contract and (3) that the contract was thereby obtained: -- 'In re Nightingale Estate', (1898) ER 897 (SC). Duress may be exercised by (a) personal violence or a threat thereof, or (b) imprisonment, or threat of imprisonment except where the imprisonment brought about or threatened is for the enforcement of a civil claim, and is made in good faith in accordance with law, or (c) threats of physical injury, or of wrongful imprisonment or prosecution of a husband, wife, children or other near relative, or (d) threats of wrongfully destroying, injuring, seizing, or withholding land or other things, or (e) any wrongful acts, that compel a person to manifest apparent assent to a transaction, without his volition, or cause such fear as to preclude him from exercising free will and judgment in entering into a transaction. Whether any of these facts existed is a question of fact, and whether the facts alleged are sufficient to constitute duress is a question of law -- 'Mac-kenzi's Hague Co. v. Carbide etc. Corporation', 73P (2nd) 78 (CCA 8) .
6. The lower court on the facts was of the opinion that these facts did not exist in the instant case and that the only point urged before me is whether on the facts alleged they are sufficient to constitute coercion in law.
7. The point taken is concluded by authority. In similar circumstances when a Municipality erroneously believing itself justified in making a demand, makes a demand in common form requiring the assessee either to pay or show cause for non-payment and warning him that in case of default steps will be taken in distraint to enforce payment and that he has a right of appeal, the payment in pursuance of such notice is not sufficient to take it out of the category of voluntary payments. Payments so made without any expression of objection or unwillingness under the erroneous belief that it was unobjectionable cannot be recovered on the ground of its involuntary character: --'Municipal Council, Tuticorin v. Rally Bros.' : AIR1934Mad420 . This decision has been followed in the subsequent Bench decision in the -- 'Municipal Council, Rajahmundry v. Subba Rao', AIR 1937 Mad 559 (J).
8. These civil revision petitions have therefore got to be, and are hereby dismissed with costs. Advocate's fee Rs. 15 in each petition.