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Hindustan Materials Vs. Railway Rates Tribunal and ors. - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectCivil
CourtChennai High Court
Decided On
Reported in(1957)2MLJ363
AppellantHindustan Materials
RespondentRailway Rates Tribunal and ors.
Cases ReferredSouthern Railway v. Railway Rates Tribunal
Excerpt:
.....the engineering supplies and co. the engineering supplies company complained there were station-to-station rates available between bhadravathi to bombay, a distance longer than that between bhadravathi to ambarnath and kalyan, while there was no such favourable rate available to them when their goods moved between bhadravathi and ambarnath. it is therefore necessary to consider the previous judgment of this court in some detail and determine precisely the exact point decided by this court. in our opinion, the order of the tribunal can well become effective from the date of the complaint. we fail to see how this circumstance can prevent the application of the general rule that the final-order or judgment in a case should relate back to the date of the filing of the plaint or complaint. in..........bombay, call in question by these petitions the legality of certain orders passed by the railway rates tribunal, madras. there has been some antecedent history preceding these petitions, which it is necessary to state, in order to understand in its proper perspective the questions raised in these petitions.2. the hindustan materials, bombay, as well as another firm, ,the engineering supplies and co., bombay, were engaged in' the purchase and transport of cast iron pipes from bhadravathi to ambarnath and kalyan during the yeais 1951 to 1953. the transport between these stations involved the carrying of the goods both by the southern railway and the central railway. the engineering supplies company complained there were station-to-station rates available between bhadravathi to bombay, a.....
Judgment:
ORDER

Rajagopala Ayyangar, J.

1. The Hindustan Materials, Bombay, call in question by these petitions the legality of certain orders passed by the Railway Rates Tribunal, Madras. There has been some antecedent history preceding these petitions, which it is necessary to state, in order to understand in its proper perspective the questions raised in these petitions.

2. The Hindustan Materials, Bombay, as well as another firm, ,the Engineering Supplies and Co., Bombay, were engaged in' the purchase and transport of cast iron pipes from Bhadravathi to Ambarnath and Kalyan during the yeais 1951 to 1953. The transport between these stations involved the carrying of the goods both by the Southern Railway and the Central Railway. The Engineering Supplies Company complained there were station-to-station rates available between Bhadravathi to Bombay, a distance longer than that between Bhadravathi to Ambarnath and Kalyan, while there was no such favourable rate available to them when their goods moved between Bhadravathi and Ambarnath. On this ground an application was made to the concerned Railways for the fixation of station-to-station rates fiom Bhadravathi to Ambarnath and Kalyan. The Railways concerned declined this request, and thereupon the Engineering Supplies Company preferred a complaint to the Railway Rates Tribunal under Section 41(1) of the Indian Railways Act, claiming that station-to-station rates should be directed to be quoted from Bhadravathi to Ambarnath and Kalyan on a proper basis. This was registered as Complaint No. 2 of 1952 and was filed on 15th February, 1952. The prayers in this complaint included not merely' the issue of a direction to the Railways concerned to quote proper station-to-station rates but also for a refund of the excess charges collected from the Engineering Supplies Company from January, 1951. On receipt of this complaint, the Tribunal treated the proceeding as one in which others were interested within Rule 17(1) of the Railways Rates Tribunal Rules and a public notice was given of this complaint. In response to this notice, the Hindustan Materials, Bombay, filed an application on 2nd June, 1953, for leave to intervene in the proceedings on the side of the complainant. The leave applied for was granted on 4th June, 1953, and the interveners filed their pleadings on 17th June, 1953. The relevant prayers contained in the interveners' pleadings were similar to those in the original complaint. With this array of parties the enquiry before the Tribunal proceeded. The Tribunal rendered their decision on 9th October, 1953. The decretal portion of their order ran in these terms:

We declare that from January, 1951, the station-to-station rates for the transport of cast iron pipes in wagon loads (RR : W/300 B.G., W. 240 M.G., W/180 N.G.) ex. Bhadravathi to Ambarnath and Kalyan should have been the then prevailing station-to-station rate ex. Bhadravathi to Bombay plus the usual rebooking charges to Ambarnath and Kalyan respectively at the prevailing tariff rate, and we order that future station-to-station rates for cast iron papes ex. Bhadravathi to Ambarnath and Kalyan from the date of the filing of the complaint should be quoted on the same basis. The applicant's claim for other reliefs is rejected.

It will be seen that this order fell into three parts. (1) a declaration that from January, 1951, the station-to-station rates should have been on the basis laid down in the order; (2) future station-to-station rates should be quoted by the Railways from the date of the filing of the complaint on the same basis as in the first sentence of the order; (3) the claim of the applicants for other reliefs, which included a claim for the refund of the excess charge collected would be rejected We may mention that the date January, 1951, mentioned in the first sentence of the order was the date when the Engineering Supplies Company, Bombay, applied to the Railways to quote special station-to-station rates.

3. The legality of this order of the Tribunal was challenged in this Court both by the complainants and the Railways, the former in W.P. No. 1007 of 1953 and the latter in W.P. No. 961 of 1953. The objection of the complainants was that the Tribunal had improperly declined jurisdiction to grant them the relief of refund of the excess charges paid by them from 15th October, 1949 onwards. In the proceedings initiated by the complainants in W.P. No. 1007 of 1953, this Court held that the interpretation by the Tribunal of the relevant provisions of the Indian Railways Act was correct and that the Tribunal had no jurisdiction to pass a decree in favour of the complainants for the refund of the excess freight collected. This decision has become final, and the point is no longer in controversy. It is the order passed by this Court in Southern Railway v. Railway Rates Tribunal (1956) 1 M.L.J. 395, which was filed by the Railways, that has given rise to the controversy leading up to the petitions now before us.

4. In the application, Southern Railway v. Railway Rates Tribunal (1956) 1 M.L.J. 395, filed to this Court under Article 226 of the Constitution, the Railways did not challenge the correctness of the decision regarding the directions as to the proper station-to-station rates as determined by the Tribunal and in fact issued a notification (Special Rate Circulars, No. 6 of 1953 of the Central Railway and No. 15 of 1953 of the Southern Railway) quoting station-to-station rates as directed by the Tribunal to be effective from 9th October, 1953. The only matters which the Railways raised were (1) the legality of the declaration as regards the propriety of the rates to be charged by the Railways between January, 1951, till the date of the complaint that is 15th February, 1952 and (2) the legality of the direction to the Railways to quote station-to-station rates from 15th February, 1952, the date of the complaint, till 9th October, 1953, the date of the order. The contentions urged before this Court and set forth in the affidavit in support of the petition for the issue of a writ were, that the Tribunal had jurisdiction only to make an order to be operative from the date on which it was passed and that therefore the order could not be given any efficacy or operation before that date. In view of the controversy that has now arisen we consider it convenient to set out the contentions raised by the Railways by extracting the relevant passages from the affidavit on behalf of the Railways of the Southern Railway v. Railway Rates Tribunal (1956) 1 M.LJ. 395.

The contentions of the petitioners (The Railways) before the Tribunal and the submissions now are that any order of the Tribunal is to take effect and be operative only from the date of the order that is 9th October, 1953, in this case. As stated above the order falls into separate parts and the respectful submissions of the petitioners with respect to the two parts are as follows:

It is submitted that the Tribunal having held that it had no jurisdiction to order a refund has no jurisdiction to make a declaration as in the first part of the order, dated 9th October, 1953. With respect to the order in the 2nd part of the order, dated gth October, 1953, fixing the rate from 15th February, 1952, the date of complaint, to 9th October, 1953, the date of the order, I respectfully submit that the same considerations as set out above will apply. It is submitted that such fixing of rates should be from the date of the order and the jurisdiction of the Tribunal is limited to making such an order only. In both cases the orders would involve claims by other parties with respect to general rates. It is respectfully submitted that the magnitude of work and the problems involved in such retrospective re-adjustment are almost incalculable..It is therefore submitted that the order of the Tribunal in so far as the first part granting a declaration and the second part in so far as it relates to fixing of rates prior to the date of the order (9th October, 1953) should be quashed as being without or in excess of jurisdiction.

W.P. No. 961 of 1953 was allowed in part and the decretal order as drafted in consequence of this decision may now be set out:

That the writ nisi issued in pursuance of the order made herein...be and hereby is partially made absolute as hereinafter mentioned.

That the order of the Railway Rates Tribunal, Madras, dated 9th October, 1953, in so far as it made any declaration for a period before the date of the filing of the complaint that is from January, 1951, upto the date of the filing of the complaint, that is 15thFebruary, 1952, be and hereby is quashed.

That in other respects the order of the said Tribunal do stand.

This order is clear and unambiguous, and if this were read into the order of the Tribunal which it varied, that order would read:

We declare that from 15th February, 1952, the station-to-station rates should have been the then prevailing station-to-station rates...and we order that future station-to-station rates...from the date of the filing of the complaint should be quoted on the same basis.

We have already referred to the fact that the Railways quoted station-to-station rates and charged the relevant traffic on that basis from 9th October, 1953 onwards. They however declined to give effect to the order of the Tribunal in so far as it directed them to quote these rates as and from 15th February, 1952. The result of such a quotation would naturally be a refund of the excess charges or rates collected from persons availing themselves of transport facilities in the matter of conveying cast iron pipes from Bhadravathi to Ambarnatb and Kalyan. So far as it is known, there does not appear to have been any other person than the Engineering Supplies Company, Bombay, and the present petitioners, the Hindustan Materials, Bombay, who would have become entitled to the benefits of such quotation in that period. These two firms accordingly filed an application before the Rates Tribunal, in which they contended that the Railway administration was bound by law to give effect to the direction to quote station-to-station rates between the relevant stations from 15th February, 1952 onwards, and that if this were done, they would be entitled to a refund of the excess charges paid. On this basis they prayed that the refund due to them might be calculated and the decree transmitted to the City Civil Court, Bombay, under Section 46-B of the Indian Railways, Act, for the realisation of the amount. The Tribunal upheld the claim of the original complainants, i.e., the Engineering Supplies Company, Bombay, to the refund of the excess charge paid by them but denied the claim of the present petitioners who were the interveners in the original Complaint No. 2 of 1952. In the case of the petitioners, the contention raised by the Railways was that the petitioners were entitled to claim that they should be charged the new and reduced station-to-station rates only from the date on which they intervened in the proceedings, that is from 17th June, 1953 and that as admittedly no cast iron pipes had been carried over the concerned Railways between Bhadravathi to Ambarnath and Kalyan from 17th June, 1953 to 9th October, 1953, they were entitled to no sum by way of refund. It was also a matter of admission that the petitioners had paid at the previously existing rates between 15th February, 1952 and 17th June, 1953; and the dispute before the Tribunal and now before us is whether in regard to these consignments they are entitled to the benefit of the Tribunal's order, dated gth October, 1953.

There was also one other matter that was raised by the complainants and the interveners, that is as to whether the rates as fixed by the Railways in their Special Rate Circulars give full effect to the Tribunal's order. The Tribunal decided this point in favour of the Railways, and this forms one of the points raised by the petitioners in these present writ petitions.

5. Before discussing these two points raised by learned Counsel for the petitioners we might mention that learned Counsel for the Railways submitted before us that, regard being had to the Railways being owned by the Central Government, there was absolutely no necessity for the transmission of the order for execution to the City Civil Court, Bombay, under Section 46-B of the Indian Railways Act as prayed for by the petitioners, and that if this Court clarified the position and determined the rights of the parties, the Railways would themselves give effect to our decision. That this is the correct legal position would be clear from the very terms of Section 39 of the Indian Railways Act.

6. We do not consider that there are any merits in the second point that the station rates of Rs. 1-6-8 per maund for transport from Bhadravathi to Kalyan and Rs. 1-6-11 between Bhadravathi to Ambarnath do not give effect to the order of the Tribunal. The break-up of this rate submitted by the Railways-shows that this figure is compounded of four items : (1) station-to-station rates from Bhadravathi to Bombay; (2) tariff rate based upon the mileage from Bombay to Kalyan; (3) a short distance charge of Rs. 0-0-6 per maund and (4) a terminal charge of Rs. 0-1-0. There is no dispute as regards the correctness of the first three items and the dispute only centres round the terminal charge. In the order of the Tribunal, dated 9th October, 1953, the formula adopted by the Tribunal included in addition ' the ususal re-booking charges '. The contention raised by the petitioners is that this expression would include only conveyance charge at the. prevailing rates but would not include the terminal charge. The Tribunal have referred to Rule 48 of the General Rules in the Indian Railways Conference Associations' Goods Tariff No. 29 and have pointed out that re-booking charges would include terminal charges. We are in entire agreement with the Tribunal in holding that the Railways were justified in adding the terminal charges as part of the ' usual re-booking charges '.

7. It is the other question that has given us considerable difficulty in deciding. We have set out the order of the Tribunal as it would read after giving effect to the modification in the operative portion of the order of this Court in W.P. No. 961 of 1953- If that stood without modification, there could be no room for the argument that it drew any distinction between the Hindustan Materials, Bombay, the present petitioners and the Engineering Supplies Company (the original petitioners in Complaint No. 2 of 1952); in the course of the judgment of this Court, however, (reported in Southern Railway v. Railway Rates Tribunal (1956) 1 M.L.J. 395 , which was delivered by the learned Chief Justice, and to which one of us was a party, there are some passages which undoubtedly drew such a distinction between the particular complainants (the Engineering Supplies Company) and other users of the Railways. It is therefore necessary to consider the previous judgment of this Court in some detail and determine precisely the exact point decided by this Court.

8. After setting out the proceedings which preceded the filing of the writ petitions and the order of the Tribunal, it was there stated:

In W.P. No. 961 of 1953 filed by the Southern Railway and the Central Railway they seek to have the said order of the Tribunal quashed in so far as they granted a dceclaration from January, 1951, and directed the charge of rates fixed by them from a period prior to gth October, 1953, that is, the date of the order...the main contention of the learned Advocate-General is that any order of the Tribunal passed on a complaint can take effect and be operative only from the date of such order. They (the Rail-ways) take objection to the order in so far as it refers to dates earlier than the date of the order, namely, January, 1951, and the date of the complaint, i.e., 15th February, 1952. A further contention is that the Tribunal having held by a majority that they had no jurisdiction to order a refund of any excess freight which might have been collected by the railways, had no jurisdiction to make an order declaring that prior to the date of the order a certain rate should have been charged. Such a kind of declaration would, it was submitted, lead to further claims based on it. The learned Advocate-General, apart from relying on the provisions of the Act, also mentioned the complications and problems which might result by a retrospective readjustment of rates if the order of the Tribunal were to take effect during and relate to a period anterior to the date of the order. We do not think it however, proper to take these factors into considration in deciding what, after all, is a pure question of law depending on the construction of the material provisions of the Act.

This analysis of the arguments focusses attention upon two points raised (1) as regards the declaration as to the propriety of a rate charged prior to the date of the complaint and (2) the operative portion of the Tribunal's order which directed the Railways to quote a rate from the date of the complaint, though that dlate was anterior to the date of the Tribunal's order. After setting out the relevant provisions of the Railway Act, the Judgment proceeded:

The question raised by the learned Advocate-General on behalf of the Railways as to the competency of the Tribunal to make any declarations or grant any relief in respect of a period anterior to their final order has to be decided entirely on the implications of the language of the material provisions of the Act.

The judgment then proceeded to point out that these provisions including the tense used in Section 41 made it clear:

that though the railway administration might have contravened the provisions of Section 28 or charged or levied unreasonable rates or charges, during some period before the complaint, yet if on the date of the complaint they have ceased to do so, no complaint can be made under Section 41(1) The question then is whether in a case in which there has been a charging of unreason able rates from a time, long or short, before the date of the complaint and such charging has continued upto the date of the complaint, the Tribunal can grant a declaration relating to a period before the date of its order in our opinion, this circumstance itself rather goes to show that it could not have been contemplated that the Tribunal can grant declarations of the unreason ableness of any rate in respect of periods, in any event, before the date of the filing of the complaint He (the learned Advocate-General) submitted that it cannot be said that the Railway administration had been charging rates unlawfully or without due authority. It is only when the Tribunal found a particular rate is unreasonable or that a particular rate contravenes the provisions of Section 28 that the railway administration is obliged to refrain from charging such a rate, t ill then, there is no legal impediment to the charging of such rates. We see considerable force in thi argument of the learned Advocate-General.

The judgment continued.

We however do not agree with him on one point namely that the order of the Tribunal can only operate in future that is from and after the date of the order. In our opinion, the order of the Tribunal can well become effective from the date of the complaint.

If the relevant portion of the judgment had stopped with the sentence, the result would be (1) that the declaration contained in the first part of the order that the rates charged by the Railways from January, 1951, upto the date of the complaint were unreasonable was beyond the jurisdiction of the Tribunal and (2) that the order of the Tribunal comprised in its second part directing the Railways to quote a rate from 15th February, 1952, would have been within their jurisdiction and proper. The judgment of this Court did not stop with that sentence and proceeded to give reasons why it was being held that the Tribunal had jurisdiction to direct a rate to be quoted from the date of the complaint. That reasoning is to be found in the following passage:

The finding of the Tribunal, if it is in favour of the complainant, would mean that the complainant was entitled to relief on the day on which he made the complaint. The fact that for reasons beyond the complaint's control, the Tribunal takes time to hear and decide the complainant and pass final, orders thereon, should not adversely affect him. The learned Advocate-General described to us some inconvenient consequences of this view. He said that the Railways may have to refund the excess over and above the rates fixed by the Tribunal. We are not now dealing with the question whether the Tribunal itself can order such a refund, or whether 2 refund becomes incumbent in any other manner. We fail to see how this circumstance can prevent the application of the general rule that the final-order or judgment in a case should relate back to the date of the filing of the plaint or complaint.

Even this passage would not be sufficient to support an argument that this Court had expressly decided that the order of the Tribunal would have effect as and from the date of the complaint only in the case of the complainant, but that it would be effective only from the date of the order in the case of other users of the Railways. We take leave to doubt whether even the Tribunal would have the right to give any such general direction for in our opinion that would be a contravention of Section 28 of the Railways Act, which prohibits undue preference or discrimination between the users of Railways, and which forms one of the matters on which a complaint can be lodged before the Tribunal under Section 41(1) of the Act. It is the sentences which follow the passage last extracted that have given rise to the controversy in the present proceedings. That passage runs as follows:

In practice, we can well imagine the Tribunal making an interim order that the railways may continue to charge the rates in force, subject to an undertaking to refund to the complainant the excess, if any, which might be collected from him after the final determination by the Tribunal. All this, of course, would only arise with reference to the particular complainant. So far as others are concerned, the order of the Tribunal would only operate from the date of the order. This is because under Section 39 it is the duty of the Central Government or State Government to carry out any obligation imposed by any order of the Tribunal.

Possibly this passage is susceptible of more than one interpretation. So far as the present case is concerned, there was no interim order of the Tribunal of the kind envisaged in the above extract and so far as the final order of Tribunal was concerned, it was perfectly general and applied to every user of the Railways. That final order which directed the Railways to quote the reduced station-to-station rates from 15th February, 1952, was upheld to be within their jurisdiction by this Court in W.P. No. 961 of 1953. In our opinion, the sentence

So far as others are concerned, the order of the Tribunal would only operate from the date Of the order

refers to cases where the operative order is so framed, though by reason of interim under-takings by Railways or directions to them the complainants are given the benefit of a reduced rate even before the date, when, according to the order of the Tribunal, it comes into operation. The case now before us is far removed from this category. As we (have already pointed out more than once, the operative order of the Tribunal, in so far as it directed the Railways to quote station-to-station rates from 15th February, 1952 onwards, was held to be a proper order and within the jurisdiction of the Tribunal, and if this were conceded, the contention that a distinction could be drawn between the particular complainant and the other users of the Railways should be held to be without substance. We are satisfied that this situation was not contemplated by the sentence we have extracted above which refers to cases where special interim orders are passed, and the present is not such a one.

9. Mr. Venkatasubramania Ayyar, learned Counsel for the petitioners, urged before us that as the complaint was treated as a public proceeding within Rule 17 of the Railway Rates Tribunal Rules, and as every user of the Railways would be bound by the order passed by such Tribunal, it would follow that the petitioners would also be entitled to be treated as if it were a party to the proceeding from the date of the plaint or at least from the date of the order of the Tribunal treating the complaint as a public proceeding, so that it would be entitled to the benefit of the order as a constructive party to the proceedings. In view of the conclusion we have reached in favour of the petitioners on what we might term the merits of the case, we do not find it necessary to deal with this argument.

10. The result is that the rule issued in W.P. No. 503 of 1955 is made absolute to this extent, namely, that the rate directed to be fixed by the Tribunal in their order dated 9th October, 1953, would apply as much to the petitioners, Hindustan Materials, Bombay, and that they would have the benefit of that rate in regard to goods-transported by them from 15th February, 1952, onwards. In view of our order in W.P. No. 503, no orders are necessary in W.P. No. 504 of 1955 which will be formally dismissed. There will be no order as to costs in either W.P.


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