1. The defendants in O. S. No. 3077 of 1964 on the file of the City Civil Court at Madras are the appellants herein. The suit was instituted by the respondent herein for recovery of a sum of Rs. 6,478/- made up of the principal of Rs. 5,400/- and interest of Rs.988/-. The respondent herein is the brother-in-law of one Ghulam Mohideen alias Mahboob Basha, who died in 1962. According to the respondent, during the period from 25-6-1958 to 15-9-1958 he advanced moneys amounting to Rs. 6,000 to the deceased, that the deceased had paid only a sum of Rs. 600/- on 24-2-1959 and that the balance remains outstanding. It is on the basis of this allegation the suit was instituted for the recovery of the amount mentioned above out of the assets of the deceased in the hands of the appellant herein, the first appellant being the widow of the deceased and appellants 3 to 4 being his children. The suit was instituted on 25-7-1964. Consequently, on the face of it, the suit was barred by limitation. In order to get over this bar of limitation, the respondent pleaded in his plaint that on 27-7-1961, by a post-card, the deceased had acknowledged his liability and that consequently, the suit was not barred by limitation. Subsequently, the respondent herein filed an application, namely, I. A. No. 10172 of 1964, for amendment of the plaint and the said application was ordered on 22-12-1964. In that application the respondent put forward the further contention that the post-card dated 27-7-1961 constituted an express promise to pay the prior debt coming within the scope of Section 25(3) of the Indian Contract Act. The appellants herein denied all knowledge of the borrowing by the deceased from the respondent and put the respondent to strict proof of the borrowing. They also contended that the post-card dated 27-7-1961 would not constitute an acknowledgment of the liability and the suit therefore was in any event barred by limitation. In addition, they put forward the contention that a sum of Rs. 1,000/- had also been paid by them towards the liability.
On the basis of these pleadings, the learned trial Judge framed the following issues:--
1. To what amount is the plaintiff entitled?
2. Has there been partial discharge by payment of Rs. 1,000/- ?
3. Is the suit barred?
4. Has there been a promise to pay the suit claim under letter dated 27-7-1961?
5. Are the defendants liable for interest?
The learned Seventh Assistant Judge, City Civil Court, Madras, who tried the suit answered all these issues against the appellants and decreed the suit as prayed for. Hence the present appeal by the defendants in the suit.
2. Since we are clearly of the opinion that the suit is barred by limitation, we are not dealing with any other controversy between the parties as to whether there was an actual borrowing and a partial discharge or not.
3. As we have pointed out already, even according to the respondent, the borrowing took place between 25-6-1958 and 15-9-1958. In the plaint itself, the respondent had given the details of the borrowing. He had also stated that on 24-2-1959 the deceased has paid a sum of Rs. 600/- towards the outstanding leaving a balance of Rs. 5,490/-. It is this amount with interest the respondent claimed in the present suit. In paragraph 5 of the plaint the respondent had stated that he had been calling upon the deceased for payment and that in response to one such letter, the deceased wrote a post-card dated 27-7-1961 wherein inter alia he had stated that he would pay whatever might be found due as owing by him to the respondent on taking accounts. He reiterated the same position in the said paragraph by stating that in the said letter dated 27-7-1961 the debtor had made an express promise to pay the plaintiff (the respondent herein) whatever might be found due on account taking within the meaning of Section 25 of the Indian Contract Act. But the case of the appellants was that the said post-card would not constitute either an acknowledgment coming within the scope of Section 18 of the Limitation Act, or an express promise to pay coming within the scope of Section 25 of the Indian Contract Act. Consequently, the only question for consideration is whether the post-card dated 27-7-1961, which has been marked as Ex. A-1 constitutes an acknowledgment of the liability to pay the debt as contemplated by Section 18 of the Limitation Act of 1963.
4. It is needless to point out that the onus of proving that a suit is saved from the bar of limitation on account of an acknowledgment of liability is on the plaintiff and the reason is that the onus of proving that a suit is within time is on the plaintiff and consequently the onus of proving that a suit which is on the face of it barred by limitation is saved from such bar on account of some exception to the statute is also on the plaintiff. In this case, as we pointed out already, the borrowing stopped with 15-9-1958 and the suit was instituted on 25-7-1964. Consequently, on the face of it, the suit is barred by limitation. Therefore, if the respondent contends that the virtue of Ex. A-1 the bar of limitation has been removed, it is for him to establish that Ex. A-1 constitutes an acknowledgment as provided for in section 18 of the Limitation Act. Ex. A-1 is a post-card written in Urdu and the translation of the contents of the post-card has been furnished by the respondent himself and it has been marked as Ex. A-2 in the proceedings. The relevant portion of Ex. A-2 which is necessary to be considered in this context, is as follows:--
'You had told me to come so that you may talk over the matter with me. I could not go over to you because I was unable to secure money. As you people will ask me I will pay your money accordingly. I would not specify by saying that I would pay so much. Please do as you would consider proper and desirable.'
It is this passage in Ex. A-2 which has been relied upon an constituting both an acknowledgment and an express promise to pay, which found favour with the trial court. But we are clearly of the opinion that this does not constitute either an acknowledgment, or an express promise to pay. In the first place, the above extract does not clearly show that the deceased was admitting, or acknowledging the existence of a jural relationship of debtor and creditor between him and the respondent herein. As a matter of fact, the expression 'as you people will ask me' will clearly indicate that it is not something referable to the borrowing by the deceased from the respondent herein. Again, the subsequent sentences. 'I would not specify by saying that I would pay so much. Please do as you would consider proper and desirable', clearly indicate that the reference in this context is to something by way of dispute between the parties and not with reference to an actual outstanding debt due by the deceased to the respondent herein. In this context, it may be relevant to note that the case of the appellants was that the respondent's wife and the deceased were sister and brother, that their father had already died and their mother died in May, 1951, and that there was some dispute as to the sharing of the properties of the deceased concerned and that Ex. A-2 referred to that controversy, We are inclined to accept this explanation in view of the language contained in the document, particularly the expression 'you people' and the statement 'I would not specify by saying that I would pay so much. Please do as you would consider proper and desirable'. It is also necessary to refer in this context to the fact that according to the respondent, Exs. A-13 and A-14 are the ledgers maintained by the deceased in which the amounts due by the deceased to the respondent had been entered. If so, it passes one's comprehension as to how the deceased could have written with reference to such an outstanding as 'I would not specify by saying that I would pay so much. Please do as you would consider proper and desirable'. If the reference was to the amounts due by the deceased to the respondent as contained in Exs. A-13 and A-14, the language would have been entirely different. For instance it would have been that the deceased would pay whatever was found due on taking of account. As a matter of fact, the respondent himself wanted to attribute such a meaning only to Ex. A-1 and that is the reason why in the plaint itself he stated that the deceased wrote Ex. A-1 stating that he would pay whatever might be found due as owing by him to the plaintiff on taking accounts. This statement contained in paragraph 5 of the plaint is clearly an embellishment put by the respondent on Ex. A-1, the language of which does not bear out or support any such construction. Consequently, we are of the opinion that Ex. A-1 cannot be construed as an acknowledgment of liability with reference to the alleged borrowing by the deceased to the alleged borrowing by the deceased from the respondent between 25-6-1958 to 15-9-1958.
5. Mr. Khaja Mohideen, learned counsel for the respondent, drew our attention to the decision of the Supreme Court in Shapoor Fredoom Mazda v. Durga Prosad Chamaria, : 1SCR140 . The relevant passage occurring in paragraph 6 of the judgment relied on by the learned counsel is as follows:--
'The statement on which a plea of acknowledgment is based must relate to a present substituting 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 infer 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 statements 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 though 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.'
Mr. Khaja Mohideen contended that the surrounding circumstances (may) well be looked into in this case for the purpose of coming to the conclusion that Ex. A-1 constitutes an acknowledgment of an existing liability and that there was jural relationship as that of debtor and creditor between the parties concerned. It is settled position that the question whether a document contains an acknowledgment of liability depends purely on the terms of the document and their construction by the court and that the decision relating to some other document cannot be of any value or assistance in construing the particular document in question except to the extent that such other decision lays down any general principle of construction. As far as the present case is concerned, we have already indicated that Ex. A-1 does not contain any words to show the existence of a jural relationship of creditor and debtor between the respondent and the deceased. This conclusion of ours derives further support form two other communications which the deceased admittedly wrote to the respondent, namely, Exs. A-5 and A-6, Ex. A-5 is a communication dated 22-11-1951 which is subsequent to Ex. A-1. This is addressed by the deceased to the respondent in which any reference to the respondent in which there is absolutely no mention of and any reference to the existing liability with regard to the debt in question. Equally, in Ex. A-6 dated 1-1-1962, also, the deceased had not made any reference whatever to the existence of an outstanding in the form of the debt by the deceased to the respondent covered by the present suit. Nor is there any reference either expressly or by implication to the existence of a jural relationship of creditor and debtor between the parties. This assumes considerable importance in view of the evidence of the respondent examined as P.W. 2.
6. He himself stated in his evidence that even subsequent to Ex. A-1, he has been making demands on the deceased for repayment of the money. If that were true, it is surprising that no reference whatever to the dame was made in Exs. A-5 and A-6. Taking all these circumstances together, we are clearly of the opinion that Ex. A-1 does not constitute an acknowledgment as contemplated by Section 18 of the Limitation Act so as to save the suit from the bar of limitation. If Ex. A-1 does not constitute an acknowledgment of liability, a fortiori it cannot constitute an express promise to pay coming within the scope of Section 25(3) of the Contract Act.
7. In view of this conclusion of ours, it is unnecessary to consider the other questions and therefore, we allow the appeal and dismiss the suit instituted by the respondent herein. Having regard to the relationship between the parties, we direct both parties to bear their respective costs both here as well as in the trial court.
8. Appeal allowed.