Skip to content


The State of Tamil Nadu, Represented by the District Collector Vs. the Union of India (Uoi), Represented by the General Manager, Southern Railway - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectConstitution
CourtChennai High Court
Decided On
Reported in(1980)2MLJ327
AppellantThe State of Tamil Nadu, Represented by the District Collector
RespondentThe Union of India (Uoi), Represented by the General Manager, Southern Railway
Cases ReferredState of Karnataka v. The Indian Union
Excerpt:
- - 1. an interesting question involving the interpretation of article 131 of the constitution of india arises in this civil revision petition. in answer to a claim made by the petitioner on 7th january, 1968, the respondent took up the position that the railway receipt was clear and unqualified about the loading and therefore, the alleged loss could not be made good. an objection was also raised by the respondent that the suit is bad for non-impleading of the madras port trust railway, which will be liable for the short delivery, if any. on the other hand, it is contended by the learned counsel for the respondent that the view taken by the court below is perfectly correct. the general manager, southern railway, madras [1977]1scr419 ,as laying down the proposition that in cases like..........disputed. equally, the respondent disputed the validity of the notice under section 78-b of the indian railways act and section 80 of the code of civil procedure. a further plea that the claim was also barred by limitation was raised by the respondent.3. the learned subordinate judge, tiruchirapalli framed two points for determination. the first related to the question whether, the suit will lie before the sub-court, tiruchirapalli and the second to the entitlement of relief by the petitioner. on the question whether the suit will lie before, the sub-court, tiruchirapalli, the learned subordinate judge, on the basis of article 131 of the constitution of india, held that since the dispute arose between the state government and the union government, the suit will not lie before the.....
Judgment:
ORDER

V. Ratnam, J.

1. An interesting question involving the interpretation of Article 131 of the Constitution of India arises in this civil revision petition. The suit, S.C.S. No. 75 of 1976, Sub-Court, Tiruchirapalli, was instituted by the petitioner, the State of Tamil Nadu, against the Union of India, represented by the General Manager, Southern Railway, Madras, for recovery of damages in a sum of Rs. 1,588.71. According to the case of the petitioner, the consignment of 585 bags of wheat weighing 506.03 quintals was sent by the Regional Director of Food Corporation of India in November, 1967 to Tiruchirapalli under railway receipt No. 870954 dated 7th November, 1967. A shortage of 10 full bags weighing 25.90 quintals was noticed at the time of unloading, which was brought to the notice of the respondent. In answer to a claim made by the petitioner on 7th January, 1968, the respondent took up the position that the railway receipt was clear and unqualified about the loading and therefore, the alleged loss could not be made good. Ultimately, the claim of the petitioner was rejected by the respondent. Thereafter the petitioner, claiming that the respondent had been negligent and had not performed its duties diligently and with caution and that the loss would not have occurred, if' proper steps had been taken by the respondent, sought to recover a sum of Rs. 1,588.71 against the respondent after issuing a notice under Section 80 of the Code of Civil Procedure.

2. The respondent herein resisted the suit contending that the petitioner is not entitled to recover any compensation. An objection was also raised by the respondent that the suit is bad for non-impleading of the Madras Port Trust Railway, which will be liable for the short delivery, if any. Inasmuch as the consignment was booked and despatched as bulk-load directly from the ship to wagon without the supervision of the railway staff, the alleged loss, if any, according to the respondent, was only on account of the short loading by the sender and therefore, the petitioner should seek its remedies only as against the sender. The respondent further stated that due care and caution had been exercised and that there was no negligence or misconduct on its part. The claim of the petitioner to recover the sum of Rs. 1,588.71 or any other sum was disputed. Equally, the respondent disputed the validity of the notice under Section 78-B of the Indian Railways Act and Section 80 of the Code of Civil Procedure. A further plea that the claim was also barred by limitation was raised by the respondent.

3. The learned Subordinate Judge, Tiruchirapalli framed two points for determination. The first related to the question whether, the suit will lie before the Sub-Court, Tiruchirapalli and the second to the entitlement of relief by the petitioner. On the question whether the suit will lie before, the Sub-Court, Tiruchirapalli, the learned Subordinate Judge, on the basis of Article 131 of the Constitution of India, held that since the dispute arose between the State Government and the Union Government, the suit will not lie before the Sub-Court, Tiruchirapalli. In view of that finding, the other question regarding the entitlement of the petitioner to obtain damages against the respondent herein was not gone into. On the finding on the first point, the learned Subordinate Judge directed the return of the plaint for presentation to the proper Court.

4. In this civil revision petition, the learned Counsel for the petitioner contends that the interpretation put upon Article 131 of the Constitution of India by the lower Court is not correct and that the suit being one for recovery of damages in relation to loss of goods entrusted to the respondent herein for carriage, the suit was properly laid before the Sub-Court, Tiruchirapalli. On the other hand, it is contended by the learned Counsel for the respondent that the view taken by the Court below is perfectly correct. Before proceeding to consider the merits of the rival contentions advanced it is necessary to refer to Article 131 of the Constitution of India. Article 131 of the Constitution of India reads thus:

131. Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, the Supreme Court, shall, to the exclusion of any other Court, have original jurisdiction in any dispute--

(a) between the Government of India and one or more States; or

(b) between the Government of India and any State or States on one side and one or more other States on the other; or

(c) between two or more States, if and in so far as the dispute involves any question (whether of law or fact) on which the existence of a legal right depends:

Provided that the said jurisdiction shall not extend to a dispute arising out of any treaty, agreement, covenant, engagement, sanad or other similar instrument which, having been entered into or executed before the commencement of this Constitution, continues in operation after such commencement, or which provides that the said jurisdiction shall not extend to such a dispute.

This provision is not new but has been modelled after its, forerunner viz., Section 204 of the Government of India Act, 1935. The genesis and scope of Article 131 of the Constitution of India has been exhaustively dealt with by the Supreme Court in the State of Bihar v. The Union of India and Anr. : [1970]2SCR522 . The suits with which the Supreme Court was concerned in that case were instituted by the State of Bihar for recovery of a specific sum of money in relation to short delivery of iron and steel materials. The Union of India figured as the first defendant in all the suits. In six of the suits, the Hindusthan Steel Limited was impleaded as the second defendant, while in three others, the Indian Iron and Steel Company Limited, was the second respondent. The claim made by the State of Bihar was that owing to the negligence of the servants of the defendants, there was a short delivery of iron and steel materials ordered by the State of Bihar to various sites. The Union of India was sought to be made liable as the owner of the railways and the second defendant in the suits as the consignor of the goods. One of the questions raised as a preliminary issue in those suits was whether the alleged cause or causes of action were within the scope of Article 131 of the Constitution of India. In dealing with this question, the Supreme Court examined the scope of Article 131 of the Constitution of India and laid down that disputes which fall within the ambit of Article 131 of the Constitution of India can only be determined in the forum mentioned therein viz., the Supreme Court of India, provided there has not been implead-ed in any such dispute any private party, be it a citizen or a firm or a corporation along with a State either jointly or in the alternative. A dispute in which such a private party is involved must be brought before a Court, other than this Court, having jurisdiction over the matter Referring to the scope of the disputes within Article 131 of the Constitution of India, the Supreme Court observed at page 1451 thus:

Although Article 131 does not define the scope of the disputes which this Court may be called upon to determine in the same way as Section 204 of the Government of India Act, and we do not find it necessary to do so, this much is certain that the legal right which is the subject of dispute must arise in the context of the Constitution and the Federalism it sets up.

Ultimately, the Supreme Court held that the suits were not within the scope of Article 131 and therefore, directed the return of the plaint for presentation to the proper Court. In the present case also a claim has been made by the petitioner against the respondent in respect of short delivery of goods consigned through the railways belonging to the respondent, and though the dispute is between the State Government on the one hand and the Union Government on the other, yet, no dispute arises in the suit in the context of the Constitution as pointed out by the Supreme Court in the passage referred to above. Applying the principles laid down by the Supreme Court referred to above, it must be held that the return of the plaint by the, learned Subordinate Judge for being presented to the proper Court is not correct.

5. In this case, the learned Subordinate Judge appears to have been persuaded to adopt the course he did on the basis of the judgment of the Supreme Court reported in State of Kerala v. The General Manager, Southern Railway, Madras : [1977]1SCR419 , Initially, the matter was dealt with by a Full Bench of the Kerala High Court in Kerala State, represented by Chief Secretary to Government, Trivandrum v. The General Manager, Southern Railway, Madras : AIR1965Ker277 . There again, the suit was one for recovery of damages for short delivery and the objection that was raised by the General Manager, Southern Railway, against whom the suit was instituted, was that the suit was not maintainable as the Union of India was not made a party to the suit and that the suit by a State against the Union of India could be instituted only in the Supreme Court of India under Article 131(a) of the Constitution of India. Issue No. 3 in that suit ran thus:

Will the suit lie in this Court Is the suit barred by the provisions of the Constitution of India

6. The trial Court found that Clause (a) of Article 131 of the Constitution of India had no application as the Union of India had not been made a party and that since the Union of India which was a necessary party was not impleaded, the suit was incompetent and consequently, the suit was dismissed. On appeal, the Kerala High Court concurred with the finding of the trial Court that the suit was not maintainable as the Union of India was not made a party to the suit. Before the High Court, the plaintiff-appellant had put in an application for impleading the Union of India as a party to the suit and that application was also dismissed. While doing so, the High Court observed that no useful purpose will be served by allowing the application and even if the application is allowed and the Union of India is made a party, the suit must be dismissed under Article 131 of the Constitution of India, as such a suit can lie only in the Supreme Court. It is thus evident that the Kerala High Court did not have occasion to consider any dispute as such between the State Government and the Union Government before it in relation to which the question of the applicability of Article 131(a) arose. Against the judgment of the High Court, the State of Kerala preferred an appeal to the Supreme Court in State of Kerala v. The General Manager, Southern Railway, Madras : [1977]1SCR419 . The only argument raised before the Supreme Court was that having regard to some of the provisions of the Indian Railways Act and the Indian Contract Act, a suit against the General Manager or a Railway only was competently laid. In dealing with the argument, the Supreme Court held that the provisions of the Railways Act do not make either the administration or its General Manager a legal entity or a corporate body or a juridical person who represents the railway administration as such in suits. A perusal of the judgment indicates that no question touching the applicability of Article 131 of the Constitution of India was either argued or decided. Under these circumstances, the reliance placed by the lower Court upon the judgment reported in The State of Kerala v. The General Manager, Southern Railway, Madras : [1977]1SCR419 , as laying down the proposition that in cases like the present one, the suit should be instituted be-fore the Supreme Court in accordance with Article 131 is not sustainable at all. In State of Karnataka v. Union of India and Anr. : [1978]2SCR1 , the Supreme Court had again an occasion to consider the scope of Article 131 of the Constitution of India. In dealing with the scope of that Article, Beg, C.J., observed at page 127 thus:

It has to be remembered that Article 131 is traceable to Section 204 of the Government of India Act. The jurisdiction conferred by it thus originated in what was part of the federal structure set up by the Government of India Act, 1935. It is a remnant of the Federalism found in that Act. It should, therefore, be widely and generously interpreted for that reason too so as to advance the intended remedy. It can be invoked, in my opinion, whenever a State and other States or the Union differ on a question of interpretation of the Constitution so that a decision of it will affect the scope or exercise of Governmental powers which are attributes of a State.

(Italics mine).

Dealing with the scope of Article 131, Chandrachud, J., at page 131 observed thus:

A proceeding under Article 131 stands in sharp contrast with an ordinary civil suit. The competition in such a proceeding is between two or more Governments, either the one or the other possesses the constitutional power to act. There is no third alternative as in a civil suit wherein the right claimed by the plaintiff may reside neither in him nor in the defendant, but in a stranger. A demarcation and definition of constitutional power between the rival claimants and restricted to them and them alone is what a proceeding under Article 131 necessarily involves.

Bhagwati, J., in the course of the judgment at page 146 has formulated the test to determine the applicability of Article 131 of the Constitution of India as under:

What has, therefore, to be seen in order to determine the applicability of Article 131 is! whether there is any relational legal matter involving a right, liberty, power or immunity qua the parties to the dispute. If there is, the suit would be maintainable, but not otherwise.

Applying the above principles laid down by the Supreme Court to the facts giving rise to the suit instituted by the petitioner, it is clear that Article 131 of the Constitution of India does not stand attracted at all. Under almost similar, circumstances, the Karnataka High Court in the State of Karnataka v. The Indian Union owning, South Central Railway and Ors. : AIR1977Kant168 , held that the claim to compensation which formed the subject-matter of the suit, as in the instant case, arose out of a contract between a carrier and the consignee not under the contemplation of Article 131 of the Constitution of India and therefore, the direction for the return of the plaint was unsustainable. I am in entire agreement with the view expressed by Venkataswami, J., therein. Under the aforesaid circumstances, it follows that the order of the lower Court directing the return of the plaint for presentation to the proper Court cannot, in any manner be sustained. Consequently, the civil revision petition is allowed. No costs.


Save Judgments// Add Notes // Store Search Result sets // Organizer Client Files //