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The Secretary of State for India in Council Represented by the Collector of Anantapur Vs. Kalekhan and anr. - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectCivil
CourtChennai
Decided On
Judge
Reported in(1914)ILR37Mad113; 16Ind.Cas.947
AppellantThe Secretary of State for India in Council Represented by the Collector of Anantapur
RespondentKalekhan and anr.
Cases Referred and Sakharam Bhagawan Patil v. The Secretary of State
Excerpt:
civil procedure code (act v of 1908), section 80 [old code (act xiv of 1882), section 424] - notice of suit against secretary of state--notice not restricted to suits for damages for an act done. - - ' 4. then, as regards the question of hardship, if a suit against the public officer alone for an injunction could be brought without notice--a position on which i reserve my opinion--the fact that the plaintiff is prohibited from bringing a suit against the secretary of state for india in council without due notice cannot cause irrepairable injury to plaintiff, for he could sue the public officer alone for his threatened act and obtain a temporary injunction and this will effectively prevent the threatened injury......'no suit shall be instituted against the secretary of state for india in council, or against a public officer in respect of an act purporting to be done by him in his official capacity, until the expiration of two months next after notice in writing has been given, in the case of the secretary of state in council, delivered to, or left at the office of, a secretary to the local government or the collector of the district.' the contention before us is that the section applies only when the suit is in respect of an act 'purporting to be done' and this, it is said, does not include a suit for an injunction but only one for damages arising from the act done. the case for the respondent has been argued with great fullness and ability by the learned vakil who has appeared for him but he.....
Judgment:

Sundara Ayyar, J.

1. This second appeal must be disposed of on the objection taken by the defendant, the Secretary of State for India in Council, that the suit is not maintainable as no notice of it was given as required by Section 424 of the old Code corresponding to Section 80 of Act V of 1908. The plaint states that the Board of Revenue passed an illegal order that a certain sum of money not due by the plaintiff to Government should be collected from him and that 'on account of the said order the plaintiffs have lost peace of mind and are much troubled.' The plaintiffs ask for a decree granting an injunction restraining the first defendant, that is, the Secretary of State for India in Council or any of his servants, from collecting any amount from the plaintiff. The Subordinate Judge held that no notice was required under Section 424, Civil Procedure Code, in such a case. The view he took was that the section applied only to suits for damages. This position is in our opinion entirely untenable. Section 424 enacted 'no suit shall be instituted against the Secretary of State for India in Council, or against a public officer in respect of an act purporting to be done by him in his official capacity, until the expiration of two months next after notice in writing has been given, in the case of the Secretary of State in Council, delivered to, or left at the office of, a Secretary to the Local Government or the Collector of the District.' The contention before us is that the section applies only when the suit is in respect of an act 'purporting to be done' and this, it is said, does not include a suit for an injunction but only one for damages arising from the act done. The case for the respondent has been argued with great fullness and ability by the learned vakil who has appeared for him but he has been unable to persuade us that the view adopted in the decided eases, which is against him, is wrong. Two arguments have been urged on the meaning of the language of the section. It is contended that the words 'in respect of any act purporting to he done by him' justify both 'the Secretary of State for India in Council and public officer.' In the Government edition of the statute there is a comma after the word 'Council.' The object of the comma evidently was to show that the phrase 'purporting to be done' did not apply to 'Secretary of State for India in Council.' It is argued that punctuation cannot be taken note of in considering a statute. There is no doubt authority in English cases for this position but no Indian case has been cited to us, and it may be permissible to express a doubt whether the consideration which induced Judges in England to lay down such a rule would be equally applicable in the construction of statutes in this country. The question, however, does not depend on the punctuation alone. Now the expression 'Secretary of State for India in Council' is, as urged by Mr. Krishnaswami Ayyar himself for his own purposes, merely a name under which the Government is to be sued and does not denote either an individual or a Corporation. See Kinlock v. Secretary of State for India in Council (1880) 15 Ch. D 1. If that be so, to speak of an act being done by the 'Secretary of State for India in Council' understood in that sense seems to involve some straining of language although it is pointed out that in Secretary of State for India in Council v. Rajlucki Debi (1898) 25 Calc. 239. Maclean, C.J., was of opinion that an act done by a public officer who is subject to the authority of the Secretary of State for India in Council could be imputed to the latter. 'We may also note that the Secretary of State for India in Council has no other than an official capacity, assuming that he has any capacity at all and that the expression is not a mere name. This makes it unlikely that any distinction was intended to be made between the acts of the Secretary of State for India in Council in his official capacity and other acts of his. On all these grounds we entertain no doubt that the phrase 'purporting to be done' was intended to apply only to a public officer. Another argument of the respondent is that the section applies only to suits arising out of acts done by public officers, whether they be against the Secretary of State for India in Council or against a public officer, in other words, he contends that the section should be read thus: 'No suit shall be instituted in respect of any act purporting to be done by a public officer in his official capacity either against the Secretary of State for India in Council or against the public officer.' But if this were the meaning we think more appropriate language would be used to indicate it. The respondent's construction requires in effect the omission of the comma after the word 'Council' and the insertion of one after the word 'officer.' Besides there is reason to believe that the object of the statute was to give the Government time for reflection whenever a suit is threatened against it and this would apply whatever be the nature of the suit. No authority has been cited in support of this contention. Secretary of State for India in Council v. Rajlucki Debi (1898) 25 Calc. 239, Bachchu Singh v. The Secretary of State for India in Council (1903) 25 All. 187, Secretary of State v. Gajanan Krishnarao (1911) 35 Bom. 362 and Sahharam Bhagwan Patil v. The Secretary of State : (1912)14BOMLR353 are all in favour of the construction contended for by the appellant that notice is necessary in all suits of whatever description against the Secretary of State for India in Council and we agree with the opinion expressed in those judgments.

2. It is then contended that the section should not be applicable to suits for injunction restraining the Secretary of State for India from doing a certain act. If the construction we have adopted of the language be correct, then there is no room for excepting any class of suits from the operation of the section and we doubt whether it would be within the province of a Court of Justice to introduce an exception where the rule enacted by the Legislature is universal in its terms. The observations of Chandravarkar, J., in Secretary of State v. Gajanan Krishnarao (1911) 35 Bom. 362 and Sakharam Bhagwan Patil v. The Secretary of State : (1912)14BOMLR353 are no doubt calculated to show that the learned Judge was of opinion that, where in consequence of an immediate injury threatened by the Secretary of State for India in Council it would not be humanly possible for the plaintiff to give the prescribed two months' notice of action, the section should not be held to apply. It is not necessary to say whether even this narrow exception can be made in accordance with the language of the section. In the present case it is not alleged that any very immediate injury of a serious character was threatened. Revenue officers of Government would no doubt have power to arrest the plaintiff for the debt alleged to be due to the Government but it is not stated that any immediate arrest was threatened. On the other hand, the suit itself was not instituted until after the expiration of more than two months from the date on which the cause of action is alleged to have arisen. There is therefore no room for any contention that it was not possible to give two months' notice before the suit was launched. The result is that the suit must be held to be not maintainable on the ground that no notice was given of it as required by Section 424 of the Civil Procedure Code. The decree of the lower Appellate Court must be set aside and that of the District Munsif restored with costs both here and in the lower Appellate Court.

Sandasiva Ayyar, J.

3. I do not think I could usefully add any observations of my own as regards the construction of Section 424 of the Civil Procedure Code and I agree with what my learned brother has just now said and also with what Chandravarkar, J., has said in Secretary of State v. Gajanan Krishnarao (1911) 35 Bom. 362 and Sakharam Bhagwan Patil v. The Secretary of State : (1912)14BOMLR353 on this point. So far as the word 'him' in the old Section, 424 is concerned, the matter has been made very clear by the amended. Act in which Section 80 has substituted the word 'such public officer' for the word 'him.' I do not think the Legislature intended to make any alteration in the law but only to approve of those cases decided under the old Code which confine the grammatical relation of the 'him' to 'public officer' and do not extend it to 'The Secretary of State in Council.'

4. Then, as regards the question of hardship, if a suit against the public officer alone for an injunction could be brought without notice--a position on which I reserve my opinion--the fact that the plaintiff is prohibited from bringing a suit against the Secretary of State for India in Council without due notice cannot cause irrepairable injury to plaintiff, for he could sue the public officer alone for his threatened act and obtain a temporary injunction and this will effectively prevent the threatened injury. As regards suits against the Secretary of State for India in Council large classes of such suits involve questions as to the legality of the acts done by subordinate public officers in respect of acquisitions of land under the Land Acquisition Act, recovery of arrears of all kinds of revenue, of prevention and removal of encroachments and of the performance of similar public duties and most of them do involve reliefs in the nature of an injunction. The Legislature must be deemed to have been aware of this patent consideration and if they had intended to exclude suits against the Secretary of State for India claiming the relief of injunction from the necessity of notice, they would have put in an exception under the section itself, stating that in cases of injunction or in cases where irrepairable injury is likely to be caused if an injunction is not at once granted, the notice required by the first part of the section was unnecessary. I do not think that it is legitimate for the Courts to themselves graft on such exceptions to the section. As regards the English case--Flower v. Local Board of Low Leyton (1877) 5 Ch. D. 347, in which it was held that in a suit for an injunction against a threatened injury no notice need be given under the Public Health's Act of 1875 before the suit is brought against the local authority, I respectfully dissent from that case and also from the obiter dicta of Chandravarkar, J., in Secretary of State v. Gajanan Krishnarao (1911) 35 Bom. 362 and Sakharam Bhagawan Patil v. The Secretary of State : (1912)14BOMLR353 that a similar though more restricted exception could be grafted on to Section 424 by the decisions of Courts. If I do not put it too strongly I would say that such a course would be a fraud on the part of the judiciary against the powers of the Legislature, which powers, as my learned brother remarked in the course of the arguments in this case are practically omnipotent. It will also lead to this anomaly that where a plaintiff pays up a demand due to Government loyally and out of respect to the revenue authorities (but under protest) and then sues to recover the money so paid by him he ought to give two months' notice, but if he rushes to Court for an injunction against the Secretary of State acting through the Revenue officer who is given statutory powers to recover the money, he need not give such notice at all. I do not think that that could have been the intention of the Legislature. I might also add that if we give room for even a single exception of that kind, the ingenuity of litigants and of their legal advisers will be found to be quite equal to convert almost all suits against the Secretary of State into suits involving the relief for an injunction. I therefore agree that the lower Court's decree should be reversed and that the suit ought to be dismissed with costs.


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