1. This is a revision sought to be preferred against the order made by the learned District Judge of East Tanjore in O.S. No. 13 of 1956.
2. The facts are:-The plaintiff V. K. S. Mohammad Noordin filed a suit for partition and separate possession of his half share in the suit joint family properties described in Schedules A to F of the plaint and to direct the defendant to render accounts for the rents and profits with regard to the plaintiff's half share and for costs. The defendant V.K.S. Mohamed Yassin Rowthar has raised the objection that the suit has been filed on the foot of joint possession, whereas in reality there has been no joint possession and therefore the relief of partition on the foot of joint possession cannot be asked for but that the suit should be one for recovery of possession for which ad valorem court-fee will have to be paid. In other words, even though the suit is filed on the footing of joint possession to be converted into separate possession, the defendant wants this very controversy to be adjudicated upon as a preliminary issue on the ground that he is entitled to ask for such an adjudication under Section 12 of the new Madras Court-fees Act of 1955. The learned District Judge has rejected this contention of the defendant on the ground that it was conceded by both sides that on the allegations contained in the plaint, as they now stand, the court-fee paid is correct and in the guise of determining the computation of the court-fee, there cannot be a trial of a suit within a suit or a rehearsal of the same in such proceedings. This Revision is against that order to proceed with the trial of the suit.
3. The short point for determination is whether the newly enacted Section 12 of the Court-fees Act of 1955 necessitates the course which the defendant in the lower Court wanted it to adopt.
4. Sub-sections (2) and (3) of Section 12, as pointed out in the invaluable and up-to-date guide to the Law of Court-fees, Fourth Edition (1955) compiled by Messrs. K. Krishnamurthi and R. Mathrubutham (M.L.J. Publication) at page 10, give a new statutory right to defendant to raise objections to the adequacy of court-fee paid by the plaintiff. In fact even before this enactment, there was a widespread practice, especially in the mofussil Courts, on defendant raising such objection being heard on such objection, though there was no legal sanction for it under the old law as laid down by the decisions of the Madras and other High Courts. It was then the settled law that the allegations in the plaint were alone to be considered and not the statements made by the defendant in the written statement.
5. This has been set out in Basu's Court-fees Act (Seventh Edition) at pages 93-94, as follows:
The valuation generally, is the valuation by the plaintiff; the plaint only is to be taken into consideration and not the statements by the defendant in the written statement.
The Court has got to look at and see in each particular case what is the nature of the relief claimed and, for that purpose it must look at the allegations that are contained in the plaint. Bagala Sundari v. Prasanna (1917) 21 C.W.N. 375 Manghammal v. Tolaram (1912) 16 I.C.773 For the purposes of stamp duty the cause of action which is stated in the plaint, and that only must be looked at, Areekastonath v. Kalleani : AIR1943Mad474 Mohendro v. Ashutosh ILR(1893) Cal. 762 Rajabala v. Radhika (1924) 40 C.L.J.150 Zinnatunnessa v. Girindra ILR(1903) Cal. 788 Tulsi Bibi v. Farrakh Bibi : AIR1935Cal273 . The question as to what the proper court-fee ought to be on the plaint depends on the allegations in the plaint. Tulsi Bibi v. Farrakh Bibi : AIR1935Cal273 see also Safdar v. Achcham Nand Kishor v. Achambit ILR(1937) Pat. 491 Suryanarayanacharyulu v. Marasimhaswami : AIR1939Mad360 Daroga v. Mohar I.L.R. (1938) All. 470 Kailash v. Gopi Math I.L.R. (1937) All. 259 Ram Main v. Ram Dhari 1943 A.L.W. 348 Durga v. Ambika ILR(1937) Luck. 76 Ishwar Dayal v. Amba Prasad : AIR1935All667 . Even where there is room for some suspicion that a plaint has been so drafted as to avoid inconvenient facts and make it appear that it is not necessary to pay a higher court-fee, such a suspicion will not justify the departure from the principle mentioned above Karia Machi v. Allapichai : (1937)1MLJ572 .
6. See also Karuppanna v. Angammal : AIR1926Mad678 where it has been held that for the purpose of ascertaining the court-fee payable, the Court must have regard to the allegations in the plaint. It is not material whether these have been denied or not in the written statement. See also Sankaran v. Gopal ILR(1906) Mad. Venkata Ramani v. Marayanasami 1925 M.W.N. 276 and Deoki v. Ramsevak (1939) 182 I.C.178. The fact that the defendant sets up a different title cannot alter the nature of the plaintiff's claim (1939) 182 I.C.178. If the facts are found to be as pleaded by the defendant, the proper course is to dismiss the suit and not to convert the suit into another of a different character (1939) 182 I.C.178. The amount of court-fees leviable is to be determined on the construction of the laint alone, Ishwari Prasad v. Rai Hari Prasad : AIR1924Pat640 . See discussion at page 60 of Krishnamurthi and Mathrubutham Guide to the Law of Court-fees at page 62 citing Ramaswami Aiyangar v. Rangachariar : AIR1940Mad118 Asha Ram v. Jagan Math ILR(1934) Lah. 531 Ganesh Gopal v. Moreswar Marayan : AIR1951Bom352 and Nemi Ghand v. Edward Mills Co. Ltd. : 4SCR197 p>
7. But even then the Courts were entitled to look into all the materials available to determine the substance of the claim as distinguished from the form in which the reliefs have been cast and see that the plaintiff did not fix arbitrarily the value of the relief claimed by him or adopt a fictitious value or by making vague and indefinite statements of fact in the plaint. But this revision of the valuation was not undertaken by embarking into what would practically be a rehearsal of the suit or trying a suit within a suit [This via media course is apparently what the learned authors Messrs. Krishnamurthi and Mathrubutham had in mind in drafting the footnote to page 148 which is a thoughtful one and deserves careful study, viz., that the Court should be guided not only by the allegations in the valuation paragraph of the plaint made solely for the purpose of court-fee. It does not mean however that on the pretext of assessing the court-fee the suit itself should be disposed of prematurely. It is here namely in deciding the betwixt and between that judicial discretion comes into play as in the case of deciding whether suits should be allowed to be filed in the pauper form having due regard to the various grounds enumerated in Order 33, Rule 5, Civil Procedure Code (Madras Amendment) and especially whether the plaint allegations show a cause of action.] but on prima facie grounds available at that stage and with such aid as was indispensable like the appointment of a Commissioner. See Onkar Mal v. Ram Sarup : AIR1954All722 See also Subodh Gopal v. Iswar Sridhar Thakur Jew A.I.R. 1949 Cal. 659 Thirupathaiah v. Mangapathi Rao (1948) 1 M.L. 269 B.V. Viswanatha Iyer--The Law of Court-Fees (Fourth Edn.) M.L.J., page 77 ; Satyamurthi Iyer--The Court Fees and the Suits Valuation Acts (Third Edn.), page 56; Obhrai--The Law Regulating Court-Fees and Jurisdiction (1934), Section 55, page 71.
8. This did not mean that Courts were helpless to prevent the known proclivities to evade the payment of proper court-fee because even then when in the course of the trial it appeared that the intention of the plaintiff was to interpret his plaint in one way for purposes of court-fee and in another way during the trial, the Court was held justified in returning the plaint for amendment so that the plaintiff should be tied down to one specific case both for the purpose of court-fee and for trial. (Unreported decision in C.R.P. No. 137 of 1947 dated 13th January, 1948). (See also the exhaustive and instructive discussion in A.I.R. Commentraies. The Court-Fees Act, 1870 and the Suits Valuation Act, 1887, Second Edn. Section 7 N.B. and especially at page 64 and foil.).
9. Sub-sections (2) and (3) of Section 12 give now a new statutory right to the defendant to raise objections to the adequacy of court-fee paid by the plaintiff.
10. Under the old Act, it has been held that the question of court-fee should ,be decided by the Court at the inception before the plaint is taken on file, that it is incumbent upon the Court to apply its mind to the question before the plaint (or appeal) is admitted and decide the question finally, and that it is not necessary that notice should go to the Government or to the defendant for the purpose Venkatasubba Rao v. Venkata Rao (1951) 1 M.L.J. 73 : I.L.R. (1951) Mad. 367. Now under the new Act, specific provision is made for a tentative decision at the time of registration of plaint and for a definite decision after notice to defendant and after hearing both the parties: See Section 12(1) and (2). (Krishnamurthi and Mathrubutham's Guide to the Law of Court-fees in Madras (M.L.J.) Fourth Edn., page 241.). But this does not mean that he can challenge the plaintiff to have the whole suit adjudicated upon in the guise of an issue regarding the sufficiency of the court-fee paid. It has to be borne in mind that the defendants are not interested in the collection of proper court-fee and are interested only in the obstruction to the prosecution of the suit by such objections if possible. The question of court-fee is a matter primarily between the Government and the party liable to pay the court-fee, Mahasay Ganesh Prasad Ray v. Narendra Nath Sen : 1SCR747 . But the defendants may, however, justifiably be interested in some cases where he is not sure of success, in contending that the plaintiff has overvalued his suit and paid excess court-fee and that in any event he should not be liable for such excess by way of costs. The question of court-fee may also affect the question of jurisdiction in which the defendants would be vitally interested and which would not arise in this case because the District Judge has got unlimited pecuniary jurisdiction. In other words, the reason behind the Sub-section seems to be that a decision on the question of valuation may not only affect court-fee but also jurisdiction of Court in which the defendant is obviously interested. (Vide Krishnamurthi and Mathrubutham's Guide at page 10). The Sub-sections have certainly not been enacted on account of any distrust in the alertness of the Court machinery, or in roving Court-fee Examiners or the Government Pleader to ensure that proper court-fees are collected.
11. The several ways in which the court-fee may be deficient on plaint can be grouped under two heads, viz., the relief may be under-valued and the deficiency in Court fee may be the result of under-valuation, or the relief may be properly valued but the plaint may be written on paper insufficiently stamped. Under-valuation again may be of two kinds, the value of the property which is the subject of the suit may be under-estimated or the relief may be valued under a wrong provision of the Act, while according to the correct provision applicable to the case the value may be higher. These objections which can be raised by a defendant will fall under three heads, viz., that the plaint has been written on paper insufficiently stamped ; or that the value of the property which is the subject of the suit has been under-estimated ; or the relief has been valued under a wrong provision of the Court-fees Act. In practice the objections will naturally be confined to under valuation of the subject of the suit and valuation under a wrong provision of the Act, since the office will naturally check the plaint and under the Civil Rules of Practice the Head Ministerial Officer of the Court has been made responsible for seeing that plaints are written on proper and sufficiently stamped paper.
12. In regard to under-valuation of the subject of the suit, the Court can derive all help it can from the materials made available by both parties to satisfy itself that there is no under-valuation. In fact even before the enactment of this new provision, it was settled law that in case of under-valuation it was improper for the Court to hold up the decision on the question of Court-fee until the end of the suit or incorporate an order in the decree which is perfectly a useless course. Once the Court found that the market-value of the property was different from that alleged in the plaint, the plaintiff was at once called upon to make up the proper Court-fee determined before the trial of the suit took place and on his failure to do so, the suit was being dismissed under the old Section 10(now Section 12(2) of the new Act), the Court taking the assistance of a Commissioner if need be: Sis Ram v. Sohan Lal A.I.R. 1938 Lah. 311.
13. On the determination of this question of valuation the Court if it found that its jurisdiction was exceeded, directed the return of the plaint for presentation to proper Court unless the plaintiff as he was entitled to do gave up portion of the claim so as to bring the suit within the jurisdiction of that Court and re-presented the plaint in the same Court : Kannuswami Pillai v. Jagathambal : (1918)35MLJ27 Varada Pillai v. Thillai Govindaraja Pillai : AIR1931Mad8 Bethaswami Naicken v. Nagammal : 4SCR197 .
14. In regard to the correct provision of the Act under which the relief should be valued, it practically resolves itself into a question, under which category of suits the plaint should fall. As regards the correct classification, there is no difference between the old procedure and the new procedure and the Court always took the help of the materials furnished by the defendant to correctly classify the suit before its disposal, since most often it had a vital bearing on the question of jurisdiction.
15. The net result of this analysis is that though the new Sub-sections (2) and (3) of Section 12 give a statutory right to the defendant to raise objections to the adequacy of the Court-fee paid by the plaintiff, in practice, so far as mofussil Courts are concerned, there has been no startling departure and in fact what was being done in practice has been placed on a statutory basis now. It follows that the field of investigation in regard to Court-fees is confined practically to the determination of two points, viz., under-estimation of the subject of suit and the category under which it should fall for the purpose of Court-fee and cannot be larger than what it was before. In other words, under the pretext of proper computation of Court-fee there cannot be a trial of a suit within a suit and this stage of the proceeding cannot be made the rehearsal of the suit--a course fraught with grave complications to both sides including the real danger that the preliminary decision though it may not technically operate as res judicata. See Narasimhulu Chetty v. China Ramayya Naidu : AIR1942Mad502 Sundaram Aiyar In re : AIR1943Mad655 Nemi Chand v. The Edward Mills Co. Ltd. : 4SCR197 is bound to seriously prejudice the ultimate and final decision.
16. This Revision is dismissed.