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S.R. Varadarajulu Naidu Vs. Papanasam Labour Union, Ambasamudram and ors. - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectLimitation
CourtChennai High Court
Decided On
Case NumberLetters Patent Appeal No. 9 of 1964
Judge
Reported inAIR1969Mad401; (1969)IILLJ427Mad
ActsLimitation Act, 1908 - Sections 10 - Schedule - Article 120
AppellantS.R. Varadarajulu Naidu
RespondentPapanasam Labour Union, Ambasamudram and ors.
Appellant AdvocateV.K. Thiruvenkatachari, Adv. for ;K.K. Venugopal, Adv.
Respondent AdvocateS.V. Gopalakrishna Iyer and ;P.N. Appuswami, Advs.
DispositionAppeal dismissed
Cases ReferredLakhmana v. Ramaswami
Excerpt:
.....the defendant but we find that paragraph 6 of the plaint has clearly taken the plea, and some of the receipts issued by the defendant are on record. we are also unable to accept the view that there was a failure of the purpose of the trust because the unregistered body came to an end with the application for registration by the union under the trade unions act......the labourers who gave the subscriptions. if this is the correct view as to the character of the trust, and article 120 is applicable, we are unable, with respect, to agree that in the circumstances of the case, the suit was instituted in time. this is a residuary article which will govern a suit for which no period of limitation is provided for elsewhere in the schedule to the limitation act 1908. the period of limitation prescribed by the article is six years and the time from which the period begins to run is when the right to sue accrues the time of accrual of the right to sue may depend on the particular facts relating to the nature of the right claimed, sought to be enforced or denied. the genesis of such right may not necessarily be always identical or contemporaneous with the.....
Judgment:

1. This is an appeal by the defendant under the Letters Patent against the judgment of Anantanarayanan J. as he then was. Agreeing with the Courts below him, he held that the suit was within time. The correctness of this view is the only question for consideration. There were other points in controversy which were decided at the earlier stages, but none of them now survives.

2. The appellant as President and Secretary of the Papanasam Labour Union, which was then unregistered, collected subscriptions between the middle of 1938 and April 1943 from the labourers In the Papanasam Mills and issued printed receipts, some of which were stated for the building fund. The suit out of which this appeal arises was for rendition of accounts and for recovery from the appellant of such amount as might be found due from him to the respondents. Respondents 2 to 5, who are among the labourers of the Madurai Mills at Ambasamudram before 16th October 1943, figured as plaintiffs 2 to 5, for themselves and as representing the other labourers, they having obtained leave under Order 1, Rule 8, Civil P. C. On 16th October 1943, the Papanasam Labour Union Vikramasingapuram, was registered under the Trade Unions Act 1926, and was the first plaintiff in the suit. It was claimed that the defendant had collected from the labourers during the period so much as Rs. 52,000 and that this amount was paid and received by him only as a trustee of the labourers who had subscribed and became vested in him for the specific purpose of being expended and utilised for all or any of the purposes contemplated by the Trade Unions Act 1926. The plaintiffs charged the defendant with breach of trust and misappropriation of the funds collected by him without expending the same for the benefit of the subscribing labourers. On a criminal complaint filed by one of the labourers on 19th July 1943, the Sub-Divisional Magistrate, Shermadevi, convicted the defendant of the offence of criminal breach of' trust and sentenced him to 18 months' R. I. and a fine of Rs. 1000 on 16th June 1944. The defendant's appeal against the conviction to the Sessions Court and a revision to this Court failed by 6th April 1945. On 11th May 1943, the complainant in the criminal case, who was one of the labourers and certain other labourers of the unregistered Union sent a notice to the defendant calling upon him to render accounts, but this notice was returned because the defendant refused to receive it. The envelope of the registered notice, it was said, briefly bore the contents of the notice enclosed within. On 1st April 1953, there was again a registered notice, but this time by a lawyer on behalf of the registered Union, the first plaintiff, to the defendant demanding him to render accounts The defendant in his reply dated 8th April 1953, denied his liability and stated that on 1st April 1943 the unregistered Labour Union in its General Body accepted the amount of Rs. 18,345 as representing the correct balance as on that date on accounts admitted or furnished by the defendant and that this resolution was ratified on 18th December 1949 by the General Body of the first plaintiff. The suit was instituted on 25th April 1953. The defendant resisted it on grounds contained in his reply notice dated 8th April 1953 and certain others including limitation.

3. While affirming the preliminary decree for accounts Anantanarayanan J. disagreed with the District Judge on appeal and was of opinion that Section 10 of the Indian Limitation Act did not apply but Article 120 did and that the suit Instituted within six years from 8th April 1953, the date of the defendant's reply notice repudiating his liability to account, was in time. He summed up his views in relation to Section 10 of the Limitation Act thus:

'.....(i) such funds expended withregard to their original objects in the hands of an office-bearer of a defunct association essentially comprise a resulting or constructive trust the beneficiaries being the ex-members who subscribed to such funds; (ii) they do not constitute an express trust, because such a trust must either be created by an Instrument in writing or by a provision of law, or by transfer of ownership in the funds to the trustee; and (iii) where there is no such trust created in writing, and there is equally no transfer of the ownership of the funds. Section 10 of the Limitation Act will not apply to save the suit from the bar of limitation.'

In applying Article 120 of the Limitation Act, to the facts and holding the suit to be in time, the learned Judge observed-

'Any other view would lead to the paradoxical result that here a man admits that he received subscriptions and retained them, and that he is liable to account for them (though the decree of the accounting might be restricted in this view) nevertheless time began to run under Article 120 against the beneficiaries, merely because upon earlier occasions he identified and declined to receive a registered notice or showed the assets at a particular figure with reference to some application for registration forwarded under the Trade Unions Act.'

On that view, he dismissed the second appeal and granted leave.

4. Upon a careful consideration, we are of opinion that the conclusion of the learned Judge that the suit was within time is unassailable, though our reasons for that view are somewhat different from his. We are inclined to think that this, is a case of an express trust to which Section 10 of the Limitation Act applies and not Article 120 but if that Article were the proper one to apply, the suit would be barred by time.

5. We shall first deal with Article 120. The application of this Article in the judgment in a second appeal is on the view that in the circumstances of the case there was no express trust but only a resulting trust, the beneficiaries being the labourers who gave the subscriptions. If this is the correct view as to the character of the trust, and Article 120 is applicable, we are unable, with respect, to agree that in the circumstances of the case, the suit was instituted in time. This is a residuary Article which will govern a suit for which no period of limitation is provided for elsewhere in the schedule to the Limitation Act 1908. The period of limitation prescribed by the Article is six years and the time from which the period begins to run is when the right to sue accrues The time of accrual of the right to sue may depend on the particular facts relating to the nature of the right claimed, sought to be enforced or denied. The genesis of such right may not necessarily be always identical or contemporaneous with the time of the accrual of the right to sue in respect of it.

To illustrate, in cases of co-ownership or joint ownership in which possession by one is by law regarded as possession on behalf of all joint or co-owners, the right of any of them to joint possession is not affected by non-participation in the joint act for any length of time but is jeopardised only by a denial of or ouster from his right. It is only then his right to sue accrues and time to enforce his right begins to run against him. If the suit is to recover money lent under an agreement that it shall be payable on demand, the right to sue accrues when the loan is made. But on the other hand, if it is to recover money deposited under an agreement that it shall be payable on demand including money of a customer in the hands of his banker so payable, time for it begins to run when the demand is made. If a suit is against a factor for an account, right to sue for purposes of limitation accrues when the account is, during the continuance of the agency demanded and refused or, where no such demand is made, when the agency terminates just as in the case of a suit by a principal against his agent for moveable property received by the latter and not accounted for.

Mst. Bolo v. Mst. Koklan related to a claim by a joint owner to recover her share in joint moveable properties. The right to such a share accrued six years prior to the institution of the suit, but the denial of that right was within the period. Differing from the Court of the Judicial Commissioner, the suit was held by the Judicial Committee to be within time under Article 120. Sir Binod Mitter who spoke for the Board made the following classical observation at p. 627 (of Mad LJ) = (at p. 272 of AIR):--

'There can be no 'right to sue' until there is an accrual of the right asserted in the suit and its infringement or at least a clear and unequivocal threat to infringe that right by the defendant against whom the suit is instituted.' How the principle of this observation of the Board was applied to the facts is seen from its following further observations: 'No doubt Mt. Koklan's right to the property arose on the death of Tarachand but in the circumstances of this case their Lordships are of the opinion that there was no infringement of, or any clear and unequivocal threat to, her rights till the year 1922, when the suit, as stated above, was instituted. Mst. Koklan was living as a member of a joint family, consisting of herself, her infant grandson, and daughter-in-law, and they constituted Kanhayalal's branch of the family of Sultan Singh. The grant of powers-of-attorney by Mts. Sarani and Bolo to a manager to manage the joint property, and the method in which the account books were kept, show the way in which the joint properties were managed. Such methods of management are not uncommon amongst Hindus, Their Lordships, therefore, hold that the suit is not barred by limitation.'

It is clear that in that case the question when the right to sue accrued depended on the general principles of law relating to co-ownership, namely, short of ouster or denial, possession of one is possession on behalf of all co-owners. In our opinion, the ratio of is inapplicable to the case before us which is not one of co-ownership. Annamalai v. Muthukaruppan is also a case of joint right of an assignee from one of the joint decree-holders to which the dictum of Sir Binod Mitter was applied with the following remark:--

'Counsel for the appellants admitted that he was unable to specify any date at which the claim to an account here in suit was denied by the appellants.'

O. RM. O. M. SP. Firm v. Nagappa Chettiar appears to be some what nearer to this case and applied Article 120 from a point of view different from . Certain moneys contributed by the plaintiff and his brother Subramaniam in a certain proportion which constituted a trust, stood invested with the defendant. On a certain date in 1920 the entire moneys due from the defendant to the trust were transferred to the credit of Subramaniam's account with him and his overdraft account was adjusted with the moneys so transferred. The plaintiff coming to know of this transaction in 1929 sued the defendant in 1933 to recover the trust property. It was contended before the Privy Council that assuming that Article 120 applied, the cause of action arose either in 1920 when the trust money was withdrawn or in 1924 when the banker's agent told the plaintiff that the money had been withdrawn from the Bank. Factually the plaintiff came to know only in 1929 that the money of the charities was set off against Subramaniam's personal debt to the defendant upon his overdraft. The Board held that limitation under Article 120 for the purposes of the suit began to run only from 1929 when the plaintiff came to have knowledge of the breach of trust. Sir George Rankin who delivered the judgment in that case, while noticing that the language of Article 120 makes no reference to the knowledge of the plaintiff in contrast with Articles 90. 91, 92, 95, 96 and 114, and also the dictum of Sir Binod Mitter in , referred to Basavayya v. Bapana Rao, AIR 1930 Mad 173 and certain other decisions and observed that the decisions in India had established a rule of limitation under Article 120 by which the plaintiff in the cases to which the rule applied, could not be debarred of his remedy unless with knowledge of his rights he had been guilty of delay. Apparently the Board would have been prepared to hold in that decision that the starting point of limitation under Article 120 in view of would be the date of the withdrawal of the money but for the fact that the decisions in India had established a rule of limitation based on knowledge from which the Board did not like to depart.

It seems to us that the relief in the present suit has been in effect founded on breach of trust committed by the defendant in respect of the moneys collected by him from the labourers. Though the relief sought for includes accounts, the suit is substantially to recover trust moneys. In our opinion, therefore, the right to sue under Article 120 accrues when the defendant in this case committed breach of trust to the knowledge of the plaintiffs. On this view, it is not the denial of the defendant to account on which the plaintiffs' right to sue accrued. The earliest point of time plaintiffs 2 to 5 could be said to have knowledge of the defendant's breach of trust was 11th May 1943, when one of the labourers sent a registered notice calling upon the defendant to account and in any case 19th July 1943 when a criminal complaint was preferred against the defendant for misappropriation of the trust funds. If Article 120 is the proper Article to apply in this case, we are clearly of opinion that the suit instituted in April 1953 would be far out of time.

6. But as we said, we think the suit is governed by Section 10 of the Limitation Act. That section contemplates a suit against a person in whom property is vested in trust for any specific purpose for the purpose of following in his hands such property or for an account of such property. Such a suit shall not be barred by any length of time. The specific purpose as pointed out by Lord Thankerton in must be-

'a purpose that is either actually and specifically defined in the terms of the will or the settlement itself, or a purpose which, from the specified terms, can be certainly affirmed,'

So long as the purpose specifically appears in writing, that will satisfy the requirement of Section 10. It is not necessary that the purpose should only find an express mention in a formal document. A further requisite of Section 10 is that the property should have become vested in the trustee for any specific purpose. Vesting in the context means that the trustee has absolute control over the trust property. It may also imply that the trustee as such is the legal owner of the property which he has to apply for purposes of the trust.

We are of opinion that both the requisites of Section 10 are satisfied in this case. The receipts issued under the signature of the defendant for subscriptions collected by him from the labourers themselves mentioned expressly the purpose, namely, they were to go into the building fund. These receipts were issued contemporaneously with the collection of funds from the labourers. There is also no doubt from the record that the defendant had absolute control over the funds he had collected and they were at his disposal. They were vested in him in trust as a building fund and for other purposes recognised by the Trade Unions Act. The labourers, who contributed to the funds, retained in themselves no right to get them back. In that sense, there was also a transfer to the defendant of the ownership of the funds but as a trustee. It has been suggested for the appellant that the plaintiffs have not specifically pleaded that there was an express trust based on the receipts issued by the defendant But we find that paragraph 6 of the plaint has clearly taken the plea, and some of the receipts issued by the defendant are on record. Further the question whether there is an express trust for a specific purpose within the meaning of Section 10 has been considered by the Courts below and in the second appeal. We are also unable to accept the view that there was a failure of the purpose of the trust because the Unregistered body came to an end with the application for registration by the Union under the Trade Unions Act. The registered Union is but a successor of the unregistered Union. In any case, the labourers of the unregistered body are still there and as we mentioned earlier, plaintiffs 2 to 5 have sued in a representative capacity. The prayer in the plaint is for a decree in favour of the plaintiffs. In our opinion, therefore, Lakhmana v. Ramaswami, AIR 1938 Mad 641 has no application to the facts of this case. Section 10 of the Limitation Act governs the suit and there is no question of its being instituted out of time.

7. The appeal fails and is dismissed with costs.


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