(1) These petitions, which ask for a rule or prohibition restraining the second respondent, the Motor Vehicles Accidents Claims Tribunal, Coimbatore from proceeding with the enquiry into certain claims preferred by the first respondent in each of these petitions, raise a point of jurisdiction of that Tribunal. The motor accident occurred on 6-1-1961, in which the bus belonging to the first of the petitioners and a motor car owned by the first respondent in one of these petitions were involved. The accident resulted in personal injuries to the claimants before the Tribunal. Section 110(1) of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1939 provides for a constitution by the Government, by notification in the Official Gazette of Motor Accidents Claims Tribunals, for specified areas, for adjudicating upon claims for compensation, in respect of accidents involving death or bodily injury to persons arising out of the use of motor vehicles. By a notification dated 12-7-1961, the District and Sessions Judge, Coimbatore, was constituted as Tribunal for such a purpose. Before then such claims were adjudicated on suits in civil courts. The procedure to be followed by applicants before the Tribunal is prescribed by S. 110-A, which includes a provision as to limitation for applications. The application should be filed before the Tribunal within 60 days of the occurrence of the accident. To sub-section (3) of S. 110-A, which provides for this, is attached a proviso, the effect of which is that delays may be condoned by the Tribunal if it is satisfied that the applicant was prevented by sufficient cause from making the application in time. The effect of constitution of such a Tribunal upon the jurisdiction of civil courts is to be found in S. 110-F. That section expressly states that where a Claims Tribunal has been constituted for any area, no civil court shall have jurisdiction to entertain any question relating to any claim for compensation which may be adjudicated upon by the Tribunal for the particular area. Apparently, in view of this bar, and the provision as to limitation and the fact that the accident here took place prior to the date of the notification constituting the tribunal, its jurisdiction to entertain the claims would appear to have been questioned by the petitioners. But the Tribunal did not accept this objection, with the result that the petitioners have moved this court for the relief I have mentioned.
(2) Section 110-F, as I said, expressly takes away the jurisdiction of the civil court to entertain such claims from the date a claims tribunal has been constituted for any area. But it is argued that this bar to civil court's jurisdiction will apply only to cases of accidents which occurred subsequent to the date of the constitution of the Tribunal and not to accidents happening earlier to that date. The basis for this argument is that sub-section (3) of Section 110-A provides for a narrower period of limitation for an application for claims than for a suit under the Limitation Act and that a claimant has therefore a vested right to ask for his remedy within the larger period of limitation. Since this vested right is affected, so is the argument, by Section 110-F it should not be read as retroactive in its effect upon civil court's jurisdiction to entertain suits involving causes of action arising anterior to the date of constitution of a Tribunal. In support of this contention reliance is placed on a judgment of Jagadisan J. in Chandrasekara Pillai v. Narayanaswami, C. R. P. No. 1520 of 1962 dated 7-2-1963 a short note of it is reported in 76 MLW 44, I shall presently refer to this decision.
(3) I take it as irrefutable law that no litigant has, or can have, vested right in a particular forum. He cannot say as a matter of right that his suit or application should be tried by this or that forum which existed on the date his cause of action arose. Forum belongs to the realm of procedure and does not constitute substantive right of a party or a litigant. It should also be borne in mind that cause of action is not to be confused with a forum, and a cause of action, whatever vested rights it may carry with it, does not include a right to insist upon a particular court or Tribunal or Judge or any other. It follows, therefore, that any statutory law which changes a forum, may not raise a question of retrospective operation, unless, of course, in exceptional cases, it is inseparably intertwined with vested rights.
(4) It is equally a well-settled principle of construction that exclusion of civil court's jurisdiction will not be taken for granted, in the absence of express words or necessary intendment of the statutory provision to that effect. Exclusion of civil court's jurisdiction will however be assumed where a statute prescribes a special forum for adjudicating particular classes of causes of action. This is on the principle that the special excludes the general. On other principles, again well settled, is that a statute which may affect vested rights will not be read or understood as having retrospective effect unless the statute contains words or is capable of necessary intendment that retrospective effect is meant. Though a few cases at the Bar were referred to, which bear on these principles. I do not think it necessary to refer to them.
(5) If, in the light of the principles above mentioned, the provisions of Ss. 110, 110-A and 110-F are examined, it appears to my mind that no question of retrospective operation arises at all in relation to the jurisdiction of the civil court. As I said, whether it is the civil court or the Tribunal that should adjudicate an accident claim, is not a matter involving a vested right in the claimant or the objector. When S. 110-F states that upon constitution of a Tribunal, for an area, no civil court shall have jurisdiction, it is not conceivable that nevertheless the civil court will continue to have jurisdiction to adjudicate upon accident claims in respect of any class of cases. What is brought about by a notification under S. 110(1) is only a change of the forum, a change from the civil court to the Tribunal. The language of S. 110-F is so clear that it does not admit of a constriction that after the constitution of a Tribunal the civil court could possibly have jurisdiction over the accident claims of any kind arising out of personal injuries. That S. 110-F and the notification under S. 110(1) do not raise any question of retrospective operation, will appear to be clear if sub-section (3) of S. 110-A was not there. If there was no narrower period of limitation prescribed for an application for compensation, there would then be no room to contend that S. 110-F will not bar the civil court's jurisdiction even in respect of claims arising prior to the date of the constitution of the Tribunal.
(6) The question then is, whether sub-section (3) of S. 110-A will make any difference? In my opinion it does not. I think the proper way of understanding sub-section (3) of the section is that in the context neither the body of sub-section (3) nor the proviso will have any application to claims arising anterior to the date of the notification under S. 110(1) and constitution of a Tribunal for any area. The sub-section, for its application, contemplates the existence of a Tribunal. Time cannot run for an application which, because the Tribunal has not been constituted, cannot be filed. The only effect then would be that claims arising before the constitution of a Tribunal will not be governed by sub-section (3) of S. 110-A. If that be the case, as I think it is, the very basis of the argument for the petitioners will disappear.
(7) Even if it is regarded that an application to a tribunal in respect of a claim arising prior to the date of the constitution of the Tribunal, will be governed by sub-section (3) of S. 110-A, the result of it is not necessarily that, for that reason, S. 110-F is only prospective in effect. In that case all that will follow is that the Tribunal may be entitled to take the limitation which the claimant would have under the Limitation Act for purposes of applying the proviso and condoning the delay. The prescription by S. 110-A of a lesser period of limitation than the Limitation Act does not mean and does not necessarily carry the implication, in my opinion, that the claimant's right to resort to the civil court is still left intact. I am unable to read S. 110-A to have that effect. Limitations one thing and forum is quite another. If by reason of the claim having arisen before the constitution of a Tribunal, the claimant has a larger period of limitation, he can go before the Tribunal and claim exclusion of time on that basis. Viewed that way, his vested right, if any, in limitation is not affected.
(8) But it seems to me that the right way to regard the matter is that limitation is not a vested right. A litigant cannot say, where the legislature abolishes a forum, that he can wait until the last date of limitation as a matter of right and that therefore the court should be retained, for his purposes, though abolished for other purposes. To illustrate, supposing instead of saying that no civil court will have jurisdiction to entertain an accident claim involving personal injury from the date of the constitution of the Tribunal, the statute had said that the civil court having jurisdiction over such claims is abolished and instead the Tribunal will have jurisdiction over such claims. Would it be reasonable to construe the statute in that case that nevertheless in respect of anterior claims the court continues to exist? In my opinion, such a construction will neither be reasonable nor sound.
(9) No doubt Jagadisan J. in the case I referred to considered that S. 110-F was not retrospective. This is on the view that to construe the section in any other way would mean that the vested right of the litigant to a larger period of limitation to institute a suit in a civil court will be affected. For that reason the learned Judge thought that the section should not be read as having retrospective effect. That was a case of not an application before a Tribunal but a suit instituted in a civil court in respect of a claim that had arisen before the constitution of the Tribunal, the suit itself having been instituted after the date of the constitution of the Tribunal. the learned Judge observed:
'The erection of the Tribunal in substitution of the civil court is not merely procedural and the shortening of the period of limitation to sixty days impinges on the right itself.'
He therefore thought that S. 110-F was only prospective in its effect. In taking that view, he followed Mulak Raj v. Northern India Goods Transport Corporation Ltd., which, on facts, was a case more or less similar to that before Jagadisan J. Neither in the Punjab case nor before Jagadisan J. it would appear to have been argued that no litigant could have a vested right in a particular forum. Nor would it appear to have been urged before them that on a proper construction of S. 110-A (3), it would not apply to claims arising anterior to the constitution of the Tribunal. If that sub-section is out of the way, the very basis for holding S. 110-F as having only prospective effect will be lacking. In any case, I am not called upon to consider in these petitions whether a suit instituted in the civil court claiming compensation in respect of an accident occurring before the constitution of the Tribunal will be competent.
(10) The view I am inclined to take, I find, seems to receive support from Hazari Tewari v. Mt. Maktula, : AIR1932All30 . In the Allahabad case, by reason of the Agra Tenancy Act 1926, the jurisdiction of the civil court was taken away to try certain classes of suits and revenue courts were constituted for deciding such cases. While bringing about that change of forum, the Act provided for a lesser period of limitation for applications to be filed before the Revenue court. The argument before Sulaiman Ag. C. J. and Smith J. which they repelled, was that the larger period of limitation was a vested right and that the Agra Tenancy Act should not be read as retrospective so as to affect that vested right. This is what the learned Judges observed:
'Great point had been made of the fear that the period of limitation would be cut down if the new Act were made applicable. No doubt S. 230 makes the period of limitation prescribed for suits by tenants applicable to suits by thekadars, and in that way a period of six months may be applicable to a suit under S 212 also. This is however not a point which arises directly in this case, but it may be pointed out that possibly it cannot be said that there is a vested right in a litigant to wait for a particular period of limitation before instituting his suit.......... Again if there were really a vested right in the period of limitation it may not follow that right has necessarily been taken away. It is also possible that he may succeed in satisfying the revenue court that he is entitled to the exclusion of the period taken up in the civil suit under S. 14 of the Limitation Act.
(11) In ILR 39 Mad 645: AIR 1916 Mad 912 also a Division Bench of this court was inclined to think that in a similar situation, the applicant may be entitled to take advantage of the larger period of limitation and ask for exclusion of time in order to bring the application before the Special Tribunal in time. No doubt, in the Madras case, the learned judges would appear to have proceeded on the basis that the litigant would be entitled to the benefit of the larger period. But at the same time they were not inclined to consider, for that reason, that S. 211 of the Madras Estates Land Act, which excluded the operation of S. 7 of the Limitation Act, should not be construed retrospectively so as to destroy or practically destroy the rights of action which existed when the Act came into force.
(12) In my opinion, therefore, the Tribunal has jurisdiction to entertain and decide the claims in question. The petitions are dismissed with costs of the first respondent in each of them. Counsel's fee Rs. 100 in each of them.
(13) Petitions dismissed.