1. The plaintiff in O.S. No. 39 of 1964 on the file of the court of the Subordinate Judge of Nagarcoil is the appellant before this court. The appellant and respondent are brothers and admittedly the respondent executed the suit promissory note, namely, Ex. A. 1 dated 9th December 1959 in favour of the appellant for Rs. 4,000 repayable with interest at 9 per cent. per annum from the date of the promissory note. Equally admittedly the promissory note was executed by the respondent in consideration of the share of the business he obtained under Ex. A. 2 dated 23-4-1135 (M. E.), a copy of the partition deed entered into between the respondent and the appellant. The suit itself was instituted on 10th October 1964 With reference to the date of promissory note, namely, 9th December 1959.certainly on 10th October 1964 the suit was barred by limitation. In order to escape from this bar of limitation, the appellant relied on the deposition of the respondent in O.S. No. 153 of 1961 on the file of the Court of the District Munsif, Nagarcoil, dated 24th July 1962, as constituting the acknowledgment of his liability under the suit promissory note. A copy of this deposition of the respondent has been marked as Ex. A 3. The learned Subordinate judge, who tried the suit, accepted the case of the appellant and held that the statement contained in Ex. A 3 constituted an acknowledgment of liability on the part of the respondent herein and therefore the suit was in time and not barred by limitation. He accordingly decreed the suit. Against this judgment and decree, the respondent preferred an appeal to the learned District Judge of Kanyakumari at Nagarcoil, who, on 22nd June 1966 in AS. No. 63 of 1965 on his file, reversed the conclusion of the learned Subordinate Judge in this behalf and dismissed the suit. Hence the present second appeal by the plaintiff in the suit.
2. From the facts stated by me above, it will be clear that this appeals within a very narrow compass, the only question for decision being whether the statement relied on in the deposition of the respondent as contained in Ex. A. 3 can be said to constitute an acknowledgment under Section 19 of the Limitation Act, 1908.
3. O.S. No. 153 of 1961 on the file of the Court of the District Munsif at Nagarcoil itself was a suit instituted by the appellant's daughter against the respondent for recovery of certain sums of money. In that suit, the respondent herein who figured as the defendant gave evidence and the sentences in the deposition of the respondent on which reliance has been placed are the following two only:--
'I executed a promissory note to my brother towards the value of his share which I purchased..................................... Ex. A. 5 is the promissory note by me to my brother.'
Before me, the learned counsel for the appellant solely relied on these two sentences as constituting an acknowledgment under Section 19 of the Limitation Act. I am clearly of the view that these statements cannot constitute an acknowledgment of liability on the part of the respondent herein. Section 19(1) of the Limitation Act, 1908, provides:--
'Where, before the expiration of the period prescribed for a suit or application in respect of any property or right, an acknowledgment of liability in respect of such property or right has been made in writing signed by the party against whom such property or right is clamed, or by some person through whom her derives title or liability, a fresh period of limitation shall be computed from the time when the acknowledgment was so signed.'
The section itself in express language contemplates an acknowledgment of liability. Therefore, it is prima facie clear that what the section contemplates and requires is definite and conscious acknowledgment of liability. The document alleged to contain an acknowledgment must clearly contain the meaning that the party acknowledges execution of an instrument but denies his liability thereunder, or contends that the liability which he has undertaken under the document has been already fulfilled or discharged. A mere acknowledgment of the execution of a document need not necessarily mean an acknowledgment of liability thereunder. An acknowledgment of execution of a document may constitute only a statement of fact as to what had happened in the past, without in any way indicating the admission of a subsisting liability thereunder. Even though an acknowledgment of execution of a document need not necessarily imply an acknowledgment of a subsisting liability thereunder, it may happen, in a particular case that in view of the surrounding circumstances, ac acknowledgment of liability itself can be inferred form the acknowledgment of execution of the document. As far as the present case is concerned, the only evidence available before the courts was the oral evidence of the appellant, the promissory note itself, Ex. A.1; a copy of the partition deed, Ex. A.2; and a copy of the deposition of the respondent in O.S. 153 of 1961 on the file of the court of the District Munsif of Nagarcoil. Ex. A.3. Ex. A.4 is the postal receipt for the notice sent to the respondent by the appellant and Ex. A.5 is the notice sent to the respondent and returned refused. Exs. A.4 and A.5 and dated 1-10-1964 cannot throw any light on the nature of the acknowledgment contained in Ex. A. 3. Equally Exs. A. 1 and A. 2 also cannot throw any light on the nature of the acknowledgment contained in Ex. A.3. Thus, in this case, there was no evidence of any surrounding circumstance with reference to which an acknowledgment of subsisting liability can be implied or inferred from the acknowledgment of execution of Ex. A.1.
4. The learned counsel for the appellant very strongly relied on a decision of this court in Swaminatha Odayar v. Subbarama Iyer, AIR 1927 Mad 219 = ILR 56 Mad 548. In that case, it was held that an acknowledgment of liability under Section 19 need not be express but may be implied from the circumstances under which the statement was made. As I have pointed out already, in the present case except relying upon the two sentences in Ex. A-3 and the partition deed, Ex. A-2, no other surrounding circumstance has been placed before the Courts below from which an irresistible inference of admission of a subsisting liability under Ex. A-3 can be drawn. I repeat that a mere acknowledgment of execution of a document without anything more, as a statement of historical fact, cannot lead to an inference of admission of subsisting liability. In view of one decision of the Supreme Court in Shapoor Freedom Mazda v. Durga Prosad Chamaria, : 1SCR140 , it is unnecessary to pursue the matter further. With reference to the effect of Section 19 of the Limitation Act, 1908, the Supreme Court in that case stated as follows:--
'It is mere acknowledgment of the liability in respect of the right in question; it need not be accompanied by a promise to pay either expressly or even by implication. The statement on which a plea of acknowledgment is based must relate to a present subsisting liability though the exact nature or the specific character of the said liability may not be indicated in words. Words used in the acknowledgment must, however, indicate the existence of jural relationship between the parties such as that of debtor and creditor, and it must appear that the statement is made with the intention to admit such jural relationship. Such intention can be inferred by implication from the nature of the admission, and need not be expressed in words. If the statement is fairly clear then the intention to admit jural relationship may be implied from it. The admission in question need not be express but must be made in circumstances and in words from which the court can reasonably in fer that the person making the admission intended to refer to a subsisting liability as at the date of the statement. In construing words used in the statement made in writing on which a plea of acknowledgment rests oral evidence has been expressly excluded but surrounding circumstances can always be considered. Stated Generally courts lean in favour of a liberal construction of such statements thought it does not mean that where no admission is made one should be inferred, or where a statement was made clearly without intending to admit the existence of jural relationship such intention could be fastened on the maker of the statement by an involved or far-fetched process of reasoning.'
5. With reference to this statement of law enunciated by the Supreme Court, it cannot be said, against the background of the facts of this case, that there was any admission of a subsisting liability under the promissory note, Ex. A.1., made by the respondent in Ex. A.3.
6. A Bench of this court had occasion to consider this question in Sivakasi match Exporting Co., Sivakasi v. Romanlal Mohanlal Bros : AIR1963Mad403 and in that case this court pointed out:
'An acknowledgment need not contain a promise to pay either in express terms or even in an implied way; what is necessary is that there should be an admission of the subsisting liability. (Italics are mine). Even if such admission is accompanied by a refusal to pay, its character as an acknowledgment will not be altered. But such a case has got to be distinguished from a case of repudiation of liability. For example an acknowledgment of part liability with a plea of discharge (though false) will not amount to an acknowledgment of liability for the obvious reason that there is no acknowledgment of a subsisting liability....................... In all such cases, the test is whether there is, on the terms of the acknowledgment, either an express or implied statement indicating an intention to continue the pre-existing jural relationship until that is lawfully determined.'
If that test is applied, certainly in the present case, from the two sentences which I have extracted above, no intention top continue the pre-existing jural relationship or an intention to admit a subsisting liability can be inferred.
7. The learned counsel for the appellant wanted to rely upon certain other decisions to support his contention. However, the Supreme Court in : 1SCR140 already referred to, has stated--
'The effect of the words used in a particular document must inevitably depend upon the context in which the words are used and would always be conditioned by the tenor of the said document, and so unless words used in a given document are identical with words used in a document judicially considered it would not serve any useful purpose to refer to judicial precedents, in the matter.'
As far as the present case is concerned, as I have pointed out already, the learned Subordinate Judge accepted the case of the appellant. While doing so, the learned Subordinate Judge committed an error, because he was of the view that the respondent having admitted the execution of Ex. A.1 in the deposition given by him, it was for him subsequently to plead discharge or want of consideration. In so stating the learned subordinate Judge failed to note that the deposition was in some other suit and the acknowledgment of the execution of the document was not in the present suit itself. Even then, the acknowledgment of the execution of the document in itself will not throw the burden on the executant, because on the face of the document, with reference to the date on which the suit was instituted, the suit was barred by limitation. The burden was undoubtedly on the appellant, who wanted to rely upon Ex. A.3 for saving limitation, to establish that statement of the respondent in Ex. A. 3 constituted an acknowledgment of liability under Ex. A. 1, as contemplated by Section 19 of the Limitation Act. It is this mistake committed by the learned Subordinate Judge that was pointed out by the learned District Judge and he came to the conclusion that the statement of the respondent contained in Ex. A. 3 cannot constitute an admission of subsisting liability.
8. The learned Subordinate Judge further assumed that since at the time when the respondent gave evidence in O.S. No. 153 of 1961 on the file of the Court of the District Munsif of Nagarcoil, the promissory note was not barred by limitation and the respondent had not stated in his evidence that he was denying his liability or pleading discharge, he must be deemed to have admitted the liability. I am of the view that this assumption also is unwarranted. The respondent was answering questions put to him during his examination as a witness and what answers he gave and should have given naturally depended upon the questions put to him. So long as he was asked to state only about the fact of execution of the promissory note, he gave the answers referred to already. If only he had been asked anything about the discharge of liability under the promissory note, the further question of the respondent denying it or pleading discharge would have arisen. Hence, there is no warrant for any assumption that simply because the respondent had acknowledged the execution of the promissory note and had not denied his liability under it, he must be deemed to have admitted the subsisting liability under the same. For the reasons I have already indicated, the conclusion of the learned District Judge is correct and does not call for any interference. Hence, the second appeal fails and the same is dismissed. There will be no order as to costs. No leave.
9. Appeal dismissed.