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Chandra Sreenivasa Rao Vs. Korrapati Raja Rama Mohana Rao and anr. - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectCommercial;Contract
CourtChennai High Court
Decided On
Case NumberAppeal No. 724 of 1948
Judge
Reported inAIR1952Mad579; (1951)IIMLJ264
ActsContract Act, 1872 - Sections 23; Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929 - Sections 5 and 6
AppellantChandra Sreenivasa Rao
RespondentKorrapati Raja Rama Mohana Rao and anr.
Appellant AdvocateB. Manavala Chowdhury, Adv.
Respondent AdvocateK. Umamaheswaram and ;A.L. Narayana Rao, Advs.
DispositionAppeal dismissed
Cases ReferredRam Jash Agarwala v. Chand Mandal
Excerpt:
commercial - child marriage - section 23 of contract act, 1872 and sections 5 and 6 of child marriage restraint act, 1929 - lending of money to guardian to celebrate marriage of her child is for purpose of enabling her to commit act which is prohibited - such act amounted to offence - under section 23 purpose of borrowing in of such nature that if permitted would defeat provisions of act of 1929 for money was lent to enable guardian to celebrate marriage contrary to provisions of sections 5 and 6 - as purpose of borrowing unlawful so promissory note drawn in this regard not enforceable. - - 1. the question to this appeal is a simple but interesting one, namely, whether the amount advanced under a promissory note for the purpose of celebrating a marriage contrary to the provisions of..........a promissory note for the purpose of celebrating a marriage contrary to the provisions of the child marriage restraint act of 1929, hereinafter referred to as the act, is recoverable. the facts are simple and are not in dispute.2. the plaintiff is the brother-in-law of the first defendant, having married his sister. the second defendant is the mother of the first defendant. the second defendant borrowed a sum of es. 5000/- from the plaintiff for the purpose of celebrating the marriage of the first defendant and executed a promissory note, ex. a. 1, dated 29th may 1944 in his favour as guardian of her minor son. as the first defendant was described in the promissory note itself as a minor and as the plaintiff was the brother-in-law, it cannot be disputed that he had knowledge of the.....
Judgment:

Subba Rao, J.

1. The question to this appeal is a simple but interesting one, namely, whether the amount advanced under a promissory note for the purpose of celebrating a marriage contrary to the provisions of the Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929, hereinafter referred to as the Act, is recoverable. The facts are simple and are not in dispute.

2. The plaintiff is the brother-in-law of the first defendant, having married his sister. The second defendant is the mother of the first defendant. The second defendant borrowed a sum of Es. 5000/- from the plaintiff for the purpose of celebrating the marriage of the first defendant and executed a promissory note, Ex. A. 1, dated 29th May 1944 in his favour as guardian of her minor son. As the first defendant was described in the promissory note itself as a minor and as the plaintiff was the brother-in-law, it cannot be disputed that he had knowledge of the fact that the money was borrowed for celebrating the marriage in contravention of the provisions of the Act. Indeed, no attempt has been made either in the Court below or before me to contend that the plaintiff had no knowledge of the said facts. The plaintiff filed O. S. No. 29 of 1947 on the file of the Court of the Subordinate Judge, Masulipatam, to recover the sum of Rs. 5956-2-6 alleged to be the principal and interest under the aforesaid promissory note.

3. The learned Subordinate Judge held that the purpose of the borrowing was unlawful within the meaning of Section 23 of the Indian Contract Act; and therefore the suit promissory note was not enforceable. He also found that the promissory note was not executed for necessity and could not bind the estate of the minor. The above appeal was filed by the plaintiff against the said decree of the Subordinate Judge dismissing his suit.

4. Mr. Manawala Chowdhury contended that the marriage in contravention of the provisions of the Act is not invalid and therefore the purpose for which the suit promissory note was executed was not unlawful within the meaning of Section 23 of the Indian Contract Act.

5. The relevant provisions of the Indian Contract Act are as follows:

'Section 10. All agreements are contracts if they are made by the free consent of parties competent to contract, for a lawful consideration and with a lawful object and are not hereby expressly declared to be void. Section 23. The consideration or object of an agreement is lawful, unless it is forbidden by law; or is of such a nature that if permitted, it would defeat the provisions of any law; or is fraudulent; or involves or implies injury to the person or property of another; or the Court regards it as immoral, or opposed to public policy.

In each of these cases, the consideration or object of an agreement is said to be unlawful. Every agreement of which the object or consideration is unlawful is void.'

6. Under Section 10, an agreement becomes an enforceable contract, if it is made for a lawful consideration and with a lawful object. Section 23 declares what kinds of considerations and objects are not lawful. If the object or consideration is unlawful for one or the other of the reasons mentioned in Section 23 the agreement is void. It is not contended that the consideration for the agreement is unlawful. Therefore, two matters of enquiry present themselves: (1) What is the connotation of the word 'object' in the section as contradistinguished from the word 'consideration'? (2) Whether the object of the borrowing in the present case is unlawful?

7. The case law on the subject indicates that the word 'object' appears to be used in a very wide sense. The definition of that word is stated with clarity in 'Jaffar Meher Ali v. Budge Budge Jute Mills Co.', 33 Cal 702. The facts in that case are: One Kasim Karim assigned his interest under a contract to the plaintiff. The assignee sought to enforce his rights under the contract. The defendant company, the other party to the contract, contended 'inter alia' that the assignment was made with the object of defeating the creditors of the assignor, and therefore void against the defendant company, when it was contended on behalf of the plaintiff before the learned Judges that the words 'consideration' and 'object' used in Section 23 of the Contract Act did not mean two different things, but two different views of the same thing & that the object of the agreement was the same as the consideration, the learned Judges had no difficulty to reject the said contention. Sale, J. expressed his view on the meaning of the said term as follows:

'.....In my opinion the word 'object' in Section 23 of the Contract Act was not used in the same sense as 'consideration', but was used as distinguished from consideration and means 'purpose or design.' If then the purpose of the parties was to defeat the provisions of the Bankruptcy Law, there can be no doubt, I think, that the assignment or transfer would be inoperative under the provisions of Section 6 of the Transfer of Property Act.'

In appeal against the judgment of Sale J. a Full Bench of the Calcutta High Court confirmed his view. Vide 'Jaffar Meher Ali v. Budge Budge Jute Mills Company', 34 Cal 289. The Bombay High Court in 'Sabava Yellappa v. Yamanappa Sabu', A.I.R. 1933 Bom 209, accepted the view of the Calcutta High Court and applied it to a different set of facts. In that case the learned Judges held that a sale executed in consideration for past or future cohabitation is void under Section 6(h) of the Transfer of Property Act read with Section 23 of the Contract Act. At p. 212 Patkar J. observed:

'The word 'object' in Section 23 of the Contract Act is distinct from 'consideration' and means something aimed at, and has been held to mean 'purpose or design' in the decision in 'Jaffar Meher Ali v. Budge Budge Jute Mills Co.', 33 Cal 702. confirmed by the appellate Court in 'Jaffar Meher Ali v. Budge Budge Jute Mills Co.', 34 Cal 289. If the object of the transfer of the property is immoral, the transfer is void, and there cannot be any conveyance of any interest effected by the transfer. The object of the sale-deed in the present case was for future cohabitation and might also be said to be a reward for past cohabitation.'

The learned authors, Pollock and Mulla, in the Indian Contract Act (7th Edition) put the legal position in the same manner. They say at page 134:

'The word 'object' in this section was not used in the same sense as 'consideration', but was used as distinguished from 'consideration' and meant 'purpose or design.''

It follows that if the object or purpose of the borrowing in the present case is unlawful the promissory note would be entirely unenforceable.

8. What then is the object or the purpose of the borrowing under the aforesaid promissory note? The object is expressly mentioned in the promissory note itself. Ex. A. 1 is the promissory note dated 29th May 1944, Under the said document the second defendant, as the guardian of the first defendant, borrowed the money for the expenses of the marriage of her son, Korrapati Raja Rama Mohan Rao. He was below 18 years and therefore the marriage was hit by the provisions of the Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929 (Act XIX (19) of 1929). I shall now consider the relevant provisions of the Act to ascertain if the purpose or the object of the borrowing was unlawful under the provisions of that Act.

9. The heading of the Act is 'An Act to restrain the solemnisation of child marriages.' 'Child' has been defined to mean a person who, if a male, is under 18 years of age, and if a female, is under 15 years of age. 'Child marriage' is described as a marriage to which either of the contracting parties is a child. Sections 3 and 4 provide the penalty for a male above 18 years if he contracts a child marriage. Sections 5 and 6 which are the relevant sections read:

'Whoever performs, conducts or directs any child marriage shall be punishable with simple imprisonment which may extend to three months and shall also be liable to fine unless he proves that he had reason to believe that the marriage was not a child marriage.

Section 6(1): Where a minor contracts a child marriage, any person having charge of the minor, whether as parent or guardian or in any other capacity, lawful or unlawful, who does any act to promote the marriage or permits it to be solemnised, or negligently fails to prevent it from being solemnised, shall be punishable with simple imprisonment which may extend to three months and also liable to fine, provided that no woman shall be punishable with imprisonment. (2) For the purpose of this section, it shall be presumed, unless and until the contrary is proved, that when a minor has . contracted child marriage, the person haying charge of such minor has negligently failed to prevent the marriage being solemnised.'

10. Section 12 empowers a Court to issue an injunction against any of the persons mentioned in Sections 3, 4, 6 of the Act prohibiting such a marriage. It is manifest that the Child Marriage Act aims at the restriction of the solemnisation of the child marriages, though it does not affect the validity of the marriages contracted, notwithstanding the provisions of that Act. The object of the Act is to prohibit child marriages, and to carry out that object any act of a male spouse's beyond a particular age and any act or intentional omission of any other person, which will further the celebration of such marriages, is made an offence. If a guardian of a minor borrows money for the express purpose of celebrating such a marriage and performs it, he or she commits an offence under this Act and is liable to imprisonment and also to fine. The purpose therefore in such a case is to commit an offence. The fact that notwithstanding that offence the marriage, when celebrated, will be valid does not affect the real question to be decided.

11. I shall now consider the contentions of the learned counsel and the decisions cited by them. Mr. Manawala Chowdhury argued that the marriage contrary to the provisions of the Act is valid & therefore the object of the promissory note is not unlawful within the meaning of Section 23 of the Contract Act. Such a marriage is not void was held in 'Moti v. Beni : AIR1936All852 and 'Ram Baran v. Sital Pattack : AIR1939All340 and this legal position has not been questioned by the learned counsel for the respondents. The learned counsel also relied upon the following passage in Anson's Law of Contracts (19th Edn.), page 206:

'The effect in such a case depends on the proper construction of the particular statute. But where the words of the statute leave room for doubt as to its intention, it is material to ask whether the object of the Act imposing the penalty is merely to protect the revenue, or whether its object, or one of its objects, is to protect the general public or some class of the general public by requiring that the contract shall be accompanied by certain formalities or conditions as for example, the registration in the case of money-lenders. In the latter case, it is probable that the act for the doing of which the penalty is imposed, is impliedly prohibited by the statute and therefore illegal.'

12. The learned author also has given various tests to find out whether the particular act is prohibited by the statute. In this case there is no ambiguity in the expression of the legislative intention. The express purpose of the Act was to restrain the solemnization of child marriages. The fact that the marriage when solemnized is not void does not affect the question. We are only concerned with the purpose for which the amount was borrowed. The purpose for which the guardian borrowed the amount is to celebrate the marriage of a child, which is an offence under the Act.

13. The decision in 'Johnson v. Hudson', (1809) 10 R R 465, has no real bearing on the question to be decided in this case. There, a factor, who had not entered himself with the excise office as a dealer in tobacco, sold a parcel of prize manufactured tobacco. Lord Ellenborough C.J. held that the factor could maintain the action against the vendee for the value of the goods sold and delivered, as he committed only a breach of the revenue regulation, which was protected by a specific penalty. This case is based upon the principle enunciated in Anson's Law of Contracts that no absolute prohibition to sell could be gathered from the relevant provisions of the Act. In 'Hodgson v. Temple', (1813) 14 RR 738, it was held that a person who sold goods knowing that the purchaser intended to apply them in illegal trade, was nevertheless entitled to recover the price if he yields no other aid to the illegal transaction than selling the goods and obtaining permits for their delivery to the agent of the purchaser. Under Statute 26 Geo. III Clause 73, Section 54,

'No person licensed to sell brandy or other spirits by retail, or selling brandy or other spirits by retail, shall be proprietor or owner of any distillery or rectifying house, or have any part or share in any distillery or rectifying house, or be in a manner concerned in the trade, or business of a distillery, rectifier or compounder of spirits.'

and the section then proceeds to impose a penalty of 200 for the offence. The plaintiff in that case supplied goods to the defendant with knowledge that the defendant intended to use it for the trade prohibited by Section 54. Despite that knowledge, the learned Judges held that the plaintiff would be entitled to recover the price. The judgments of either Mansfield C.J. or Heath J. do not disclose the reason for their view. It appears to me that they held, as they did, on the ground that the plaintiff was not 'participes criminis' for Heath J. distinguished another case where the vendor also aided the purchaser in the breach of the revenue laws. In my view, that decision is not of any assistance to solve the problem raised, which really turns upon the construction of the express provision of the sections of the aforesaid two Acts. In 'Gremaire v. Le Clare Bois Valon', (1809) 170 E R 1110, a surgeon who had not been licensed under 3 Hon. VIII, Clause 11, filed a suit for a business done as a surgeon. Under the said Act no one shall practise as a surgeon in London or seven miles round without being licensed by the College of Surgeons under the penalty of 5 a month. It was argued in that case that there was no absolute prohibition of persons unlicensed acting as surgeons and that by paying a penalty of 5 a month the defect had been cured. The decision really turned upon the finding that the defendant did not prove that the plaintiff was not regularly licenced as a member of the College of Surgeons. This decision also is not of any real help in this case. I cannot, therefore, accept the argument of the learned counsel that there was no absolute prohibition in this Act against the guardian from celebrating the marriage of her son who was a 'child' at that time. When such an act is made an offence, it is very difficult to say that there fs no prohibition against the performance of the act. In 'Khalilur Rahman v. King Emperor', 11 Rang 213, Page C.J. though in a different context, states the law on the subject with his usual clarity as follows:

'..... As, however, it has strenuously been urged on behalf of the accused that an intention to give a child in marriage in contravention of Act XIX of 1929 is not 'unlawful purpose' within the exception to Section 361, we think it desirable that it should be understood that we have no doubt that such an intention is an 'unlawful purpose' within the exception upon the simple but sufficient ground that if the purpose is carried out, the person giving the child in marriage is liable to conviction and punishment for a criminal offence. It appears to us idle to contend that if a child is kidnapped for a purpose which is prohibited and punishable by law, the purpose for which the child was kidnapped was not an 'unlawful purpose' within the meaning of that term as used in the exception to Section 361.'

The same reasoning will apply with equal force to the present case. S. Vairva Nadar v. Pethikachala Nadar', 44 Mad L W 203 was a case in which a suit was filed to recover the amount due on a promissory note executed by the defendant and five others to the plaintiff and the promissory note recited that the amount was borrowed 'for our toddy shop business.' Beasley C.J. held that as the business was one forbidden by law to the knowledge of the plaintiff, the promissory note was not enforceable. In 'Ram Jash Agarwala v. Chand Mandal', ILR (1937) Cal 764,' Mukerjee J. noticed the opposing views, though he did not express his final opinion. There, a mortgage deed was executed by the brothers and the mother of a minor to defray the marriage expenses of the minor. The learned Judge held that borrowing moneys to celebrate the marriage of a minor is not a legal necessity justifying the alienation of his properties. But he also considered the argument based upon Section 23 of the Indian Contract Act. At page 767 the learned Judge says as follows:

'But the question is -- supposing a creditor advanced money to enable an infant to marry in violation of the Act, is the consideration rendered illegal under the provisions of Section 23 of the Indian Contract Act? Obviously, the creditor himself does not come within the mischief of Section 5 or Section 6 of the Child Marriage Restraint Act, which penalises those who perform, conduct or contract a child marriage or does any act to promote the marriage or permits it to be solemnised. It seems to me, therefore, that the advancing of the money by the creditor is not something which is 'per se' made punishable under the law. It may be said, however, that by advancing the money to the lawful guardian of the minor for the purpose of promoting the infant marriage, which the law disapproves of and for which penalty has been prescribed for the promoter and the guardian, the creditor was doing something which might directly enable the promoter to defeat the provisions of the law. I do not think it necessary for me to express any final opinion upon the subject.'

14. I agree with the opinion expressed by the learned Judge, viz., that the lending of money to a guardian to celebrate the marriage of her child is really for the puprose of enabling her to commit an act which is not only prohibited, but is made an offence under the Act. Now coming back to Section Child Marriage of the Indian Contract Act, it will be seen that the purpose of borrowing in this case is of such a nature that if permitted it would defeat the provisions of the Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929, for the money was lent to enable the guardian to celebrate the marriage contrary to the provisions of Sections 5 and 6 of the Act.

15. The borrowing is also opposed to public policy. Public policy is rather an elastic term and its connotation may vary with the social structure of a state. The limits and domain of the public policy are stated by Pollack and Mulla at page 155 in their book, Indian Contract Act, as follows:

'It is now understood that the doctrine of public policy will not be extended beyond the classes of cases already covered by it. (a) No Court can invent a new head of public policy, (b) it has even been stated in the House of Lords that public policy is always an unsafe and treacherous ground for legal decisions, (c) this does not affect the application of the doctrine of public policy to new cases within its recognised bounds; (d) but the test is always whether the enforcement of the impugned contract leads or is likely to lead to injurious action.'

The Hindu law did not, in express terms, sanction marriages of boys. The express rule in Manu,

'Let a man of 30 years marry an agreeable girl of 12 years or a man thrice eight years, a girl of eight years; one marrying earlier deviates from duty.'

has been whittled down by the commentators by explaining that Manu did not mean what he said but only recommended that the bridegroom should be older than the bride. The later usage also sanctioned such early marriages. But in the present century, enlightened opinion and results based upon experience changed the outlook of the public on the problem of early marriages. The Legislature which is the accredited representative of the public, recognising the strength of the feeling, enacted the Child Marriage Restraint Act. In the present social set up, I have no hesitation to hold that the act of a guardian or parent in celebrating the marriage of his minor or ward is against public policy. Therefore the object of the loan is also to enable the guardian to perform an act contrary to the public policy.

16. For the aforesaid reasons, I hold that the purpose of the borrowing is unlawful within the meaning of Section Child Marriage of the Contract Act, and, therefore, the promissory note is not enforceable.

17. In this view, it is unnecessary to consider the question whether the promissory note is supported by necessity.

18. In the result, the appeal is dismissed with costs.


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