1. This batch of second appeals arises out of a number of suits filed by the appellants, Under Section 55, Madras Estates Land Act, for the grant of pattas. There were two groups of defendants; one, the respondents, described as landholders who, they say, were sharers of the village in which the appellants' lands lay; the other group are persons who claim to have been let into possession by the landholders and whom the plaintiffs regard merely as lessees or ijaradars. These two groups of persons will be referred to throughout this order as landholders and lessees; but the use of these expressions must not be interpreted as indicating that I have arrived at any conclusion as to their status or rights. Various preliminary issues were raised. The suits wore dismissed on two grounds: firstly, that the plaintiffs were barred from bringing the suits by res judicata; because the same question was raised in prior litigations, in which it was held that since the questions raised could be determined only by civil Courts and not by revenue Courts, the revenue Court had no jurisdiction. The other round on which the suits were dismissed was precisely that on which the former suits had boon dismissed. On appeal, the District Judge arrived at the same conclusion.
2. The earlier decisions which are said to preclude consideration of the plaintiff's claim wore filed by the lessees. They imp leaded the landholders, who said in their written statement that they were owners of both warams, that their land was not inam, that the lands in question were private lands, and that the revenue Courts could not entertain suits which involved such questions. Many other pleas were raised with which we are not now concerned. The present plaintiffs got themselves imp leaded as defendants 2 to 15. In some respects, their case was very much the same as the lessees but on the question of jurisdiction they agreed with the landholder. It is no doubt true that the grounds put forward by the landholder for ousting the jurisdiction of the revenue Court were not all the same as those put forward by defendants 2 to 15; but the only question discussed in the judgments in the prior suits was whether the various questions rained could or should be decided by a revenue Court. On that matter the landholders and the present plaintiffs agreed. The Deputy Co doctor gave three main grounds for holding that he had no jurisdiction. One was that the matter was not a simple one and that the legal relationship between the plaintiffs and defendant 1 and again between defendants 2 to 15 and defendant 1 was shrouded in mystery, that it was doubtful whether the land was an estate, and that these questions could not be gone into by a revenue Court. The second ground was that the property was very valuable and that if the suit had been filed in a civil Court, a considerable amount of court-fee would have been paid to Government, and that it was not therefore open to the parties to come to a revenue Court where the remedy was so much cheaper. The third ground was that there was a large mass of oral and documentary evidence, an examination of which would lead, to a waste of judicial time and energy. In appeal, the learned District Judge seemed careful to avoid saying that the revenue Court had no jurisdiction. He set out the grounds on which the trial Court considered that it ought not to try the case, and said that having regard to the special facts and circumstances, he was unable to hold that the lower Court was not justified in referring the parties to a civil Court. He therefore dismissed the appeals. It is therefore seen that the Courts did not dispose of the suit on a matter on which there was any dispute between defendant 1 on the one hand and defendants 2 to 15 on the other. Since it is only the landholders and not the lessees who now put forward the plea of res judicata, the present suit will not be barred by res judicata. The learned District Judge seemed to be of opinion early in his judgment that for the above and other reasons he could not dismiss the suit on the ground of res judicata. After discussing the question of jurisdiction, he however added:
The previous decisions of this Court and the lower Court also clearly constitute res judicata, since they are between the same parties, and are of a binding character. It has not been proved that they are in any manner opposed to law.
3. I am satisfied that his earlier opinion was the correct one. On the question of jurisdiction, the learned District Judge seemed to be of opinion that a suit Under Section 55, Madras Estates Land Act, is of a summary nature and that complicated and difficult questions would be foreign to it. Such questions, he seemed to think, could be decided only by civil Courts. He said:
These are suits in which there are admittedly preliminary matters for decision, by no means of an easy or simple character.
and then went on to say that a suit Under Section 55 was limited to cases in which the relationship of landholder and ryot was admitted. The wording of Section 55 does not suggest that suits for pattas are maintainable only when the relationship of landholder and ryot is admitted. It says:
When a landholder, for three months after demand, fails to grant a patta in such terms as the ryot is entitled to receive, it shall be lawful for the ryot to sue for such a patta before the Collector.
4. It would seem to follow that if the defendant contended that he was not a landholder or that the plaintiff was not a ryot, the Court would be bound to consider whether the defendant's allegations were correct or not. If it were otherwise, then a ryot could always be non-suited by a landholder's putting forward false or technical pleas which, according to the learned District Judge would effectively prevent a revenue Court from even considering the ryot's claim. Section 57 seems to make it clear that the Court cannot refuse to go into the questions raised in the suit. It says:
In adjudicating suits Under Sections 55 and 56 the Collector shall proceed as-herein mentioned. If he finds that the defendant is not bound to grant or accept a patta he shall dismiss the suit. If he finds that the defendant is bound to grant or accept a patta he shall decide whether the patta demanded or tendered is a proper one..
5. This indicates that the Court must consider whether the defendant is bound to grant a patta or not, there being no qualifying clause to suggest that if the issue whether the defendant is bound to grant the patta or not involves difficult and complicated questions of fact and law, it can avoid making the decision which Section 57 says it is bound to make. The arguments which seemed to find favour in the lower Courts and in the previous litigation seem to assume that revenue Courts are in some way or other inferior to civil Courts and that it is only the latter Courts that are capable of deciding difficult and complicated questions. The true principle seems to be that if a question of jurisdiction arises in any Court, that Court must decide whether or no it has jurisdiction and cannot dismiss the suit without enquiry unless it definitely finds that it has no jurisdiction. The scope of a suit Under Section 55 was considered by this Court in Raja Rajeswara Sethupati v. Muthudayan A.I.R. 1928 Mad. 1122 where it seems also to have been argued that a revenue Court should not go into difficult and complicated matters. Phillips J. said:
If in the present case the decision as to the occupancy right of the plaintiff can be deemed to be on an incidental matter, I entirely agree that it would not constitute res judicata in subsequent civil proceedings. I am, however, of opinion that it is not a decision on a mere incidental matter but a decision on a matter falling within the exclusive jurisdiction of the revenue Court. Under Section 57, 'In adjudicating suits under Sections 55 and 56 the Collector shall first inquire whether the party sued is bound to grant or accept a patta and unless this be proved the suit shall be dismissed.' A suit for the grant of a patta lies within the jurisdiction of the revenue Courts and cannot be brought in a civil Court Under Section 189 (1), Estates Land Act.
6. The suggestion of the learned District Judge and of the lower Courts here and in the other litigation was that the parties might go to a civil Court, get their claims adjudicated on, and then, armed with a declaration from the civil Court, return to the revenue Court, and ask for a patta. That is not possible. If a ryot wont to a civil Court and asked for a declaration of his rights, the suit would not be maintainable unless he asked for the consequential relief, namely the issue of a patta, the only consequential relief he wants. As the civil Court clearly cannot grant that relief, and as a suit for a bare declaration would not lie, no suit at all would lie in the civil Court. Phillips J. puts the matter in this way:
If the land is ryoti land, the ryot is bound to accept patta and execute a muchilika. If therefore he brought a suit in a civil Court for a declaration of his right of occupancy, he would be entitled to the further relief of the grant of patta. If he asks for this further relief he would have to be referred to a revenue Court and if he failed to ask for such relief, the Court would not grant a bare declaration.
7. Revenue Courts cannot therefore burke questions raised by the parties with regard to jurisdiction in the way the lower Courts have. However difficult the questions may be that arise for determination in deciding whether the defendant is bound to grant the patta or no, they must be considered and determined by the revenue Courts. The appeals are therefore allowed and the suits remanded to the Deputy Collector of Pattukottai for disposal according to law. The appellants will be entitled to their costs in this Court. A consolidated advocate's fee of Rs. 150 will be paid by Mr. O.A. Narayanaswami Aiyer, who is the only representative of the landholders who has opposed the appeal.