1. The question referred to us by the Chief Controlling Revenue Authority, Board of Revenue, Madras 5, is as follows-
"Whether in the circumstances and facts of the case the document dated 30-6-1963 (document No. P-37/73 of District Registrar's Office, Nagarcoil) executed by V. Daniel in favour of the Society of Trustees of Indigenous Churches in India represented by Brother Bakth Singh Chabra styled as a 'release deed' should be termed as a 'conveyance' as denned under Section 2(10) of the Act attracting stamp duty under Article 23 of Schedule I of the Stamp Act."
2. By way of prefatory remarks, we make it clear that if the instrument in question which we are asked to interpret is to be understood as a conveyance, then it is not properly stamped, but if it is a release deed as it is styled and understood by the parties, then it has been so properly stamped.
3. For the purpose of establishing a church and incidentally to acquire properties, both moveable and immoveable for the 'benefit of the said Church, moneys belonging to a religious institution called the Society of Trustees, which at that time was not registered and which was not formed as a society registered under the Societies Registration Act or under any other law for the time being in force were entrusted to certain individuals who included one Daniel who is the executant of the instrument in question. Under this instrument, Daniel is releasing his interest in the said property in favour of the Society which was later registered and which provided the source of consideration for the purchase of the property which is the subject-matter of the instrument and which at all material times was intended for the benefit of that Society. It is common ground that the Society of Trustees which was not registered at or about the time when the property which was released under the instrument was acquired was later registered as 'the Society of Trustees of Indigenous Churches in India' and this Society is represented by its principal trustee Brother Bakht Singh Chabra who also functioned as one of the promoters, if such an expression could be adopted, for the purchase of property for the specific benefit of the Society to be then formed which in turn should hold the Church for whose benefit persons like Mr. Daniel and Brother Bakht Singh opted together as an inchoate congregation to secure such properties. The recitals as such in the instrument make it clear that it was the releasee, namely, the Society of Trustees of Indigenous Churches in India which supplied the releasor with the necessary consideration from the subscriptions secured by the quondam Society for the purpose of buying the properties in issue from time to time. Two properties are the subject-matter of the instrument, one which was the subject-matter of a gift deed dated 24-7-1967 by one Jayachandra in favour of Christian Assembly, Nagarcoil, represented amongst others by Mr, Daniel and Brother Bakht Singh. The second instrument is a sale deed executed by one Prabhakaran Pillai in favour of the same body of trustees functioning as Christian Assembly, In and by the recitals, it was made clear that by the two documents as above, the properties were acquired by the Christian Assembly or by the promoters for the benefit of the Society to be formed in order to ultimately benefit the Church which the Society had to hold. The instrument also recites that the Society which is the releasee was always understood as the accredited beneficial owner of the properties and that the Society requested Mr. Daniel who was representing the said inchoate Society to relinquish his interest and title, if any, over the properties; and the deed of release which is under consideration by us was the resultant of that mutual understanding as between the parties.
4. The Revenue doubted that by reason of the recitals therein and on a reference to the earlier documents which were the subject-matter of the treatment in the release deed under consideration whether the instrument in question could be treated as a bare release deed or a conveyance by Mr. Daniel in favour of the Society which was latterly registered in a manner known to law.
5. Mr. Venkataswami, the learned Additional Government Pleader, would rely upon the earlier deeds under which the documents were secured. He particularly makes a reference to the gift deed dated 24-6-1967 and the sale deed dated 5-3-1968, and would urge that there has been a vesting of title in a body known as Christian Assembly represented by four persons including Mr. Daniel and Brother Bakth Singh, that such title in that body could be divested only by a conveyance of that property by that body in whom the title vests and that, therefore, the present instrument cannot be accepted and interpreted as a bare release deed.
6. It is by now well-established that in order to interpret a document which is neither ambiguous nor incomplete, the recitals in the said document ought to be generally the safe and sole guide for such interpretation. Any reliance aliunde on instruments other than the instrument under consideration might lead to queries which are beyond the scope of an answer to the question posed by the Revenue in a reference made to civil courts under Section 58 of the Stamp Act. In a case like this where there are recitals which are clinching and even telling, in the sense, that there are assertions in it to the effect that the consideration for the purpose of the property was made by the Society which is the releasee under the instrument and that the gift was made earlier because of a voluntary effort on the part of the donor under that gift to the inchoate Assembly which had no legal status by then and which was functioning under the name and style of Christian Assembly, then it would be hazardous to indulge in an empty exercise, so as to invoke instruments other than the instrument in question for the purposes of interpretation. That this is one of the accepted methods of interpretation has been held by our court in a Full Bench decision in Board of Revenue v. Dr. Manjunatha Rai, . There, the learned Judges would categorically lay down the following proposition at p. 285 (of Mad LJ) : (At p. 15 of AIR Mad)-
"It is true that what name the parties choose to give to an instrument cannot be decisive, or even indicative of the true nature of the instrument for purposes of stamp duty. But this rule does not mean that the Revenue is empowered to go behind the recitals and terms of the document before it and hold that the object of the transaction was something different from what the document discloses and therefore the document should be deemed to be that which it is not. We do not think that the revenue authorities can ignore the terms of the document which is before them for adjudication and base their decision on the terms of some other collateral instrument........."
In the light of this and our own view expressed above, we are unable to agree with the learned Additional Government Pleader that the earlier instruments which were the basis for the acquisition of the properties dealt with under the instrument and the recitals therein could also be looked into for the purpose of understanding the true nature and content of the document dated 30-6-1973 executed by Mr. Daniel in favour of the Society of Trustees of Indigenous Churches of India.
7. Even viewing from one other angle which also deals with another well accepted canon of law, namely, that an instrument whereby a benamidar sustains and declares the interest of the real owner and puts such intention in writing and styles it as a release deed, it could only be interpreted and understood as release deed, pure and simple and cannot be a conveyance as it is popularly understood.
8. Here again, a Full Bench of our Court in Chief Controlling Bevenue Authority v. Hamid Sultan, , lays stress upon the
well-known proposition and observes that if in a given case it is proved that a transaction is a benami transaction and it satisfied the well-known tests which revolve round such transaction, it is a document whereby the benamidar concedes and accedes to the title of the real owner and it could attract duty only as a release deed and not as a conveyance,
9. In this case, we are not called upon to decide as suggested impliedly by the learned Government Pleader about rival claims. In fact, in answering the question posed by the Revenue under the Stamp Act, the civil court ought not to hazard such investigations.
10. Taking the recitals as a whole and accepting them as the sole guide for interpretation, we are of the view that the instrument has been correctly stamped as a release deed and it need not be stamped as a conveyance as defined in Section 2(10) of the Stamp Act. The question is answered accordingly against the Revenue.