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T. Linga Gowder Vs. State of Madras, Represented by the District Forest Officer Ootacamund and ors. - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectCommercial
CourtChennai High Court
Decided On
Reported in(1970)1MLJ503
AppellantT. Linga Gowder
RespondentState of Madras, Represented by the District Forest Officer Ootacamund and ors.
Cases ReferredThe State of Madras v. Govindaraja Chettiar Appeal No.
Excerpt:
- .....appeal raises an interesting question in the law of contracts on 8th december, 1958, the district forest officer, ootacamund division, held an auction sale of the right to cultivate potatoe and vegetable crops along with blue-gum or wattle, in four plots of land each plot measuring about 5 acres. the plaintiff in the suit out of which the second appeal arises, the appellant herein, was the highest bidder in the auction for the said four plots of land he had to pay under the terms of his bid for the four plots, rs. 725, rs. 775, rs. 775 and rs. 800 respectively per year as lease amount. the lease was for a period of three years from 1st january, i959 or from the date of the agreement to be executed in accordance with the conditions of the auction, whichever was earlier. the auction sale.....
Judgment:

M. Natesan, J.

1. This Second Appeal raises an interesting question in the law of contracts On 8th December, 1958, the District Forest Officer, Ootacamund Division, held an auction sale of the right to cultivate potatoe and vegetable crops along with blue-gum or wattle, in four plots of land each plot measuring about 5 acres. The plaintiff in the suit out of which the Second Appeal arises, the appellant herein, was the highest bidder in the auction for the said four plots of land He had to pay under the terms of his bid for the four plots, Rs. 725, Rs. 775, Rs. 775 and Rs. 800 respectively per year as lease amount. The lease was for a period of three years from 1st January, I959 or from the date of the agreement to be executed in Accordance with the conditions of the auction, whichever was earlier. The auction sale notice containing 36 conditions is exhibited as Exhibit B-1. Conditions 9 and 11 deal with the deposit of earnest money by an intending bidder He has to make an earnest deposit of Rs. 100 before the commencement of the sale and he has also to sign the auction notice in token of acceptance of all the conditions. The earnest money deposited by unsuccessful bidders is returnable at the close of the auction sale and that of the highest bidder will be retained towards part of the lease amount. The highest bidder of each field should pay an earnest deposit of Rs. 100 before he is a lowed to bid for another field. The plaintiff who has been the highest bidder in respect of the four plots, has deposited earnest money of Rs. 100 for each plot of land. Condition 15 lays down, that within ten days from the date of the receipt of the order confirming the sale, the successful bidder shall pay 1/4 of the sale amount less earnest deposit in the District Forest Officer or in the Range Office concerned. The balance of the sale amount, namely, | of the sale amount, should be paid in one instalment on or before 1st June, 1959. In case of default, the lessee would be given time upto a maximum of one month with interest at 6 1/4 per cent. from the date on which the instalment fell due. The District Forest Officer would evict the lessee, if there was default in the payment for more than one month and all the amounts paid by the lessee would be forfeited to the Government. Condition 15 (a) states that, if the last day for the payment of lease amount is a holiday or series of holidays, the lease amount shall be paid on the previous working day and the agreement should also be executed on the same day. There is a day and the agreement should also extension or voida will be granted, if the execution of the agreement is delayed by the contractor Also unless and until the security deposit is furnished and the agreement executed, no permission will be granted to commence work in the area relating to his contract. Condition 15 (c) stipulates that , if the lessee fails to execute an agreement in the prescribed form at the time of the payment of the lease amount, the earnest money deposit will be forfeited to the Government, the lease-hold right resold at his risk, and the lessee will be liable to make good the loss to the Government. In cases where resales are effected the defaulting bidder will not be permitted to bid at the resale. Condition 30 relating to the confirmation of the sale is important. The sale is subject to confirmation by the District Forest Officer or the Conservator of Forests, Coimbatore Circle, as the case may be, who reserve to themselves the right to accept or reject the bid without assigning any reasons therefor. Under condition 32, all the money due by the successful bidder or contractor, as the case may be, under the terms of the sale notice or the agreement executed by him shall, if not paid by him, be recoverable from him under Section 66 of the Madras Forest Act (V of 1882) as amended by Forest Act (I of 1934) by the attachment and sale of his property under Madras Act II of 1864 and any statutory modification thereof.

2. Admittedly, the auction sale in this case was held by the District Forest Officer, the 2nd defendant in the case. On the 19th of January, 1959, before the receipt of any order from the District Forest Officer confirming the sale of the leasehold right, the plaintiff, complaining that he had received no information in the matter and that the cultivation season had also passed, withdrew his bids and asked for the refund of the earnest deposit of Rs. 400. There was no response to this letter of the plaintiff withdrawing his bid, and without reference to the same, by proceedings dated 30th January, 1959 and 31st January, 1959, the District Forest Officer proceeded to confirm the plaintiff's bids and called upon him to execute agreements in the prescribed form. There is a separate confirmation order for each one of the four plots. Each order refers to the bid amount and requires the plaintiff to pay the balance due less the earnest deposit within 10 days of the receipt of the order in accordance with the conditions of the sale. The plaintiff refused to comply with the demands and the District Forest Officer proceeded to re-sell by public auction the leasehold right with regard to the four plots. By his letter, dated 3rd September, 1959, he intimated the plaintiff that the plots have been re-auctioned and that the plaintiff should pay a sum of Rs. 4,025, the loss sustained by the Government as a result of the re-sale, giving credit for the earnest deposit of Rs. 400. He initiated proceedings to recover the aforesaid amount under the Revenue Recovery Act through the Collector of Nilgiris. The plaintiff, thereupon, issued the necessary notice under Section 80, Civil Procedure Code, and commenced action for a declaration that the proceedings of the State of Madras represented by the District Forest Officer, Coimbatore, and the coercive action initiated under the Revenue Recovery Act are illegal and unsustainable in law and for refund of the earnest money deposit of Rs. 400. The plaintiff took the stand that there was no completed contract in the case, and that, before due acceptance of his highest bid by confirmation in accordance with the conditions of the sale, he had withdrawn his bid. The learned Subordinate Judge, Nilgiris, upheld the plaintiff's contention that there was no concluded contract and granted him the declaration as prayed for and decree for the refund of the earnest deposit. On appeal, the learned District Judge, Coimbatore, took the view that there was a definite acceptance of the plaintiffs bid at the auction and the sale was confirmed by the authority concerned. On that view, he reversed the decree of the trial Court and dismissed the suit.

3. The argument of Mr. A. K. Sreeraman is to the following effect; There was no immediate acceptance by the District Forest Officer of the plaintiff's highest bid at the auction. Under the conditions of the auction sale the District Forest Officer or the Conservator of Forests, as the case may be, reserved to themselves the right to accept or reject the bid without assigning any reason and the sale is subject to confirmation. It was not signified in any manner at the time of the auction that the plaintiff's highest bid was accepted. There was, therefore, no concluded contract, and, before there was confirmation by the District Forest Officer, the plaintiff withdrew his bid. Even if in the circumstances the acceptance of the plaintiff's bid could he spelled out by implication. Article 229 (1) of the Constitution rules out implied contract with the Government. While reversing the decree of the trial Court, the learned District Judge says:

The auction was held by the 2nd defendant....At that auction, plaintiff's bid which was the highest was accepted. Under condition No. 30 the sale was subject to confirmation by the District Forest Officer or by the Conservator of Forests, Coimbatore. On 30th January, 1959 the plaintiff was informed that the sale of the right to' cultivate the plots with potato and vegetables was confirmed and the plaintiff was required to pay the balance of the lease amount.

The reference to the acceptance of the plaintiff's bid at the auction sale in the judgment of the lower appellate Court is clearly an inference from the circumstances, because it is nobody's case, either on the evidence or pleadings, that the District Forest Officer intimated the plaintiff that his bid was accepted. The- substantial defence is found in para. 10 of the written statement in the following words:

The terms of the contract are complete and there has been a completed contract by the plaintiff accepting the terms of the conditions of sale, paying the earnest money and signing the bidder's list. No further choice is left in the plaintiff to rescind or resile from the obligations set out more fully in the terms and conditions of the lease auction.

The State wholly relies upon the fact of the plaintiff having accepted the conditions of sale and signed the bidder's list. According to the State, having taken part in the auction sale subject to the conditions, the plaintiff was precluded from rescinding the contract. Here, when the District Forest Officer put up in auction the leasehold right, he invited offers and every bid was an offer. It would bind both the parties only when the offer was accepted. Quite often, the auctioneer reserves a right as part of the conditions of sale that even though the bid is the highest one, at his discretion he may not accept it. Before final acceptance of the bid or falling of the hammer, it is always open to the bidder to withdraw his bid. It is also well established that a condition stipulating that a bid shall not be retracted, has no force unless it is supported by consideration or is founded on statutory authority--see Somasundaram Pillai v. Provincial Government of Madras : AIR1947Mad366 . The short question for consideration is whether there has been acceptance of the plaintiff's bid before withdrawal of the same, to constitute a contract in this case.

4. The auction sale notice in this case states that the auction sale would be by the District Forest Officer or by an Officer authorised by him. Condition 30 of the sale notice provides that the sale would be subject to confirmation by the District Forest Officer or the Conservator of Forests, as the case may be, who reserve to themselves the right to accept or reject the bid without assigning any reason. Does this condition mean that, when the auction sale is held by the District Forest Officer, there must be confirmation of the sale by the Conservator of Forests or when the auction sale is held by an officer authorised by the District Forest Officer, there must be confirmation of the sale by the District Forest Officer? This question was not mooted in the Courts below and the position was not made clear. No rules or administrative instructions when the sale should be confirmed by the Conservator of Forests, have been placed on record. The case proceeded in the Courts below and before me on the assumption that the District Forest Officer was competent to accept and confirm a bid. Having regard to the defence set out above, it seems to me that the District Forest Officer, even if he conducts the auction sale himself is not bound to accept the bid then and there. The offer could be accepted subsequently by an order of confirmation. He may deliberate whether the highest offer could be accepted. He may suspect that, in a particular case, there was a ring formed by bidders in combination to keep down the bid. Whatever may be the reason behind the reservation there is a specific condition in the auction sale notice that the sale is subject to confirmation. Manifestly, there is no absolute acceptance when the highest bid is reached and the auction is closed. The auction sale is finalised only by issuing an order of confirmation. Can it be said that both the parties are bound by the contract pending the order of confirmation? Under one of the conditions in the auction sale notice, within 10 days of the receipt of the confirmation order an agreement has to be executed and part of the lease amount paid. Can it be said in law that, before confirmation of sale, the obligation of the plaintiff to make deposit of the lease amount arose? Is there anything in the subsequent conduct of the concerned authority prior to the confirmation order that the highest bid was accepted? Can it be contended, in the face of condition 30, that the Government cannot withdraw and refuse to confirm the highest bid? In my opinion, it could not be. If that is the position, where is the concluded contract? Even if the District Forest Officer made up his mind to accept the bid, that is not sufficient to bring about contractual relationship between the plaintiff and the Government. The acceptance must be communicated in some perceptible form. There is here no evidence of any hammer falling down signifying acceptance.

5. In Bhagwandas v. Girdharlal & Co. : [1966]1SCR656 , it is observed:

A contract unlike a tort is not unilateral. If there be no ' meeting of minds' no contract may result. There should, therefore, be an offer by one party, express or implied, and acceptance of that offer by the other in the same sense in which it was made by the other. But an agreement does not result from a mere state of mind : intent to accept an offer or even a mental resolve to accept an offer does not give rise to contract. There must be intent to accept and some external manifestations of the intent by speech, writing or other act, and acceptance must be communicated to the offeror, unless he has waived such intimation or the course of negotiations implies an agreement to the contrary.

A mere resolve on the part of the offeree to accept an offer, when there is no external manifestation of the intention to do so, cannot result in an enforceable contract.

6. The decision in Rajanagaram Village Co-operative Society v. Veeraswami Mudaly : AIR1951Mad322 , relied upon by the learned District Judge in this case, has been considered at length by me in the Municipal Council, Karur v. Pasupathi Muthu Raja : (1969)1MLJ394 , where I have pointed out that it does not run counter to the statement of law in Pollock and Mulla's Indian Contract Act, and that, if acceptance is conditional, the offeror can withdraw it at any moment until absolute acceptance has taken place. I have stated therein:

Only a concluded contract can bind both the parties and for such a contract to come into existence, the offer and related acceptance must be absolute and not qualified or conditional.

As I observed there, there can be no two views about it, that conditional acceptance, if by that is meant some condition to be fulfilled for the acceptance of the contract to be binding, is not an acceptance that would turn an offer into a contract. The offer then is still under consideration awaiting acceptance that would bring about a contract. In Pollock and Mulla's Indian Contract, 8th edition, at page 45, the authors express the position thus:

An acceptance is either absolute or conditional. There is no halfway house between the two, if an acceptance is conditional, the offeror can withdraw it at any moment until an absolute acceptance has taken place.

In Somasundaram Pillai v. Provincial Government of Madras : AIR1947Mad355 , the Division Bench observed:

To have an enforceable contract there must be an offer and an unconditional acceptance. A person who makes an offer has the right of withdrawing it before acceptance, in the absence of a condition to the contrary supported by consideration. Does the fact that there has been a provisional acceptance, make any difference? We can see no reason why it should. A provisional acceptance cannot in itself make a binding contract. There must be a definite acceptance or the fulfilment of the condition on which a provisional acceptance is based.

That is no doubt, a case of auction sale of liquor shop licence where the officer who conducted the auction had no authority to accept the bid. But the Division Bench was concerned with the principles of law of contract in this area. The learned Judges, in the course of their reasoning, referred to the decision in Cooke v. Oxley (1790) 3 T.R. 653, where a tobacco merchant offered to sell a quantity of tobacco to the plaintiff at a certain price. The plaintiff asked the tobacco merchant for time in which to decide whether he should buy the goods or not. The time for consideration was granted; but before it expired, the tobacco merchant sold the goods to a third party. In a suit for damages by the plaintiff, it was held that the action did not lie, as at the time of entering into the contract the engagement was all on one side. No consideration had passed to bind the seller by his promise to give time and consequently he was entitled to ignore it. In the present case, when the District Forest Officer had taken time to consider whether he should confirm the plaintiff's highest bid, no consideration passed for the contract. Nor did the conditions in the sale notice, by the plaintiff signing the same, bring about a precedent contract between the parties. In fact, there is no such condition in the terms of the sale notice. Even if there was such one, it would be invalid as having no legal force, as pointed out in Somasundaram Pillai v. Provincial Government of Madras : AIR1947Mad366 . The position may be different, if, as noticed in Secretary of State v. Baskar Krishnaji A.I.R. 1926 Bom. 685, there is a statutory rule having force of law precluding withdrawal of a bid before its acceptance or refusal is communicated to the bidder. The observations in Agra Bank v Hamlin I.L.R.(1891)Mad. 235, holding that it was competent for a bidder at a Court auction to withdraw his bid, are relevant in this context. In that case two estates were put up for sale by Court auction on 20th January, 1890, and the plaintiff on whose behalf the bids were made for the two estates, intimated his wish to withdraw the bids to the Nazir on 21st January, and to the Subordinate Judge, on the 22nd January. Muttusami Ayyar, J., observed that, until the lot was knocked down, the Court had a locus penitentiae and it followed that, in the absence of some specific provision to the contrary, the bidders were intended to be placed in a similar position. Best, J., said:

An offer to buy or sell may be retracted at any time before it is unconditionally and completely accepted, by words or conduct; and a bidding at an auction is mere offer which may be retracted before the hammer is down.

7. This is not a contingent contract as defined in Section 31 of the Contract Act. Nor is the condition as to confirmation a condition subsequent where at that inception itself the duty of the offeree is perfect and obligatory, and only provision is made for latter events to absolve him from performance wholly or in part. It appears to me that, on the facts of this case, there is no legal objection to the bid being withdrawn. Until an offer is accepted unconditionally, it creates no legal right and the bid can be withdrawn at any time.

8. Learned Counsel for the appellant referred me to the decision of the Supreme Court in K. P. Chowdhry v. State of Madhya Pradesh : [1966]3SCR919 . That was a case relating to auction of certain forests by the Divisional Forest Officer. Having regard to the amount of the contract money, the Divisional Forest Officer could not accept the bid and the matter was referred to the Chief Conservator of Forests who had the necessary authority to accept such bid. Before acceptance by the Chief Conservator of Forests, the bidder raised a dispute and resiled from the bid. The contract was re-auctioned and the deficiency was sought to be enforced against him as arrears of land revenue. Thereupon, he had recourse to the proceedings under Article 226 of the Constitution which finally came up before the Supreme Court. In that case, it was admitted that the contract in writing was not signed by the Chief Conservator of Forests, though the appellant had signed the contract forms after he became the successful bidder, as required under the rules. The Supreme Court had to consider the question whether there was a contract between the appellant and the Government before the bid at the auction or there was any contract between him and the Government after the auction was over as required by Article 299 (1) of the Constitution. The Full Bench of the Madhya Pradesh High Court held that there was an implied contract which would not hit Article 299 (1) of the Constitution, resulting from the appellant accepting the conditions of the auction sale. The Supreme Court held that, in view of Article 299 (1), there can be no implied contract between the Government and another person, the reason being that if such implied contracts between the Government and another person were allowed, they would in effect make Article 299 (1) useless. The Supreme Court also held that, if the contract between the Government and another person is not in full compliance with Article 299 (1), it would be no contract at all and could not be enforced either by the Government or by the other person as a contract. The fact that the appellant in that case bid at the auction and signed the bid-sheet at the close thereof or signed the declaration forms necessary before he could bid at the auction, it was held, would not amount to a contract between him and the Government satisfying all the conditions of Article 299 (1). It was further held in that case that, in the absence of a contract, recovery of the deficiency could not be made under Madhya Pradesh Land Revenue Code which provided for recovery of all moneys falling due to the State Government under any grant, lease or contract as arrears of land revenue. In the instant case, it is not suggested that, apart from the order of confirmation, there is anything in writing accepting the bid. For an enforceable contract, there must be intent to accept and some external manifestations of it by speech, writing or other act. For complying with the requirements of Article 299 (1) the acceptance of a contract between the Government and a party must be in writing. True, there is no need for execution of any formal document. It is sufficient, as held in Union of India v. A. L. Rallia Ram : [1964]3SCR164 , if the acceptance in terms of the requirements of the Article is clear from the correspondence between them.

9. Reference was made by learned Counsel for the Government to the decision of the Supreme Court in Chatturbhuj Vithaldas v. Moreshwar Parashram : [1954]1SCR817 , and to an unreported decision of this Court in The State of Madras v. Govindaraja Chettiar Appeal No. 377 of 1962. These decisions cannot be of any help to the Government in this case. Decisions to the effect, that even if a contract between the Government and a party is invalid for non-compliance with the requirements of Article 299 (1), it could be ratified by the Government if it was for its benefit, or that Section 70 of the Contract Act would enable the party to maintain his claim for compensation if the party performs his part of the contract and the Government receives the benefit of the same cannot advance the case of the respondents here. In the present case, the Government is not seeking to reimburse any benefit it has conferred. This is an action by the plaintiff to recover the earnest money which the Government, in law, cannot retain and for restraining the Government from taking coercive measures against him for recovery of the deficiency. When it is found that there is no valid contract between the plaintiff and the Government the claim for deficiency put forward by the Government cannot stand. Equally the Government cannot claim to retain the earnest money deposited by the plaintiff.

10. Once it is held that there is no completed contract between the plaintiff and the Government, no further question can arise. Section 66 of the Madras Forest Act enables the Government to recover money due to the Government as if it were arrear of land revenue. Under this section, all money, other than fines, payable to the Government under the Act, or any rule made thereunder or on account of timber or forest produce, or of expenses incurred in the execution of the Act in respect of timber or forest produce, or under any contract relating to timber or forest, including any sum recoverable thereunder for the breach thereof or in consequence of its cancellation or under the terms of a notice relating to the sale of timber or forest produce by auction or by invitation of tenders, issued by or under the authority of a District Forest Officer and all compensation awarded to Government under the Act may, if not paid when due, can be so recovered. Here the money claimed by the Government does not fall under any of the heads provided for under Section 66. To start with, there is no enforceable contract for a breach to occur. Secondly, my attention has not been drawn to any statutory rule under the Act whereunder the money could be claimed by the Government, the conditions of the auction sale having no statutory force. It is not claimed that any statutory rules having the force of law have been made in this regard. Under Section 52 of the Revenue Recovery Act all sums due to the Government, including compensation for any loss or damage sustained by them in consequence of a breach of contract, may be recovered in the same manner as arrears of land revenue under the provisions of the Act, unless recovery thereof has otherwise been specially provided for. To start with, the amount in dispute is not for any loss or damages sustained by the Government in consequence of breach of a contract, as there is no enforceable contract at all between the plaintiff and the Government. The result may be unfortunate that in many cases bidders may withdraw their bids before the official routine is completed. The remedy lies in the hands of the Government. Rules having statutory force could be made to prohibit withdrawal of bids for a reasonable period specified, before acceptance or rejection of the same.

11. The Second Appeal is allowed with costs throughout. The decree and judgment of the lower appellate Court are set aside and those of the trial Court are restored.

12. Leave granted.


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