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Gadepalli Seetharamaswami Vs. the Secretary of State for India in Council Represented by the Collector of Godavari District and ors. - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
CourtChennai
Decided On
Judge
Reported in91Ind.Cas.489
AppellantGadepalli Seetharamaswami
RespondentThe Secretary of State for India in Council Represented by the Collector of Godavari District and or
Cases ReferredFletcher v. Smith
Excerpt:
negligence - damage caused by wrongful act strengthened by natural causes--damages, calculation of, basis of--nominal damages, when to be awarded. - .....owners, the bund also being owned by them. the government has not made any attempt to extend the tank bund openly and as of right, but permitted the bed to drift for itself according to the whims and the caprices of the adjacent owners'. finally he says in para. 10 that the tank has been in the present extended condition for over thirty years at least. but from his earlier remarks, it is also clear that this expansion was neither proper nor authorised by government. he finds in para. 11 that the plaintiff cannot complain of the shifting of the bye wash. in para. 12 he then states: 'the only question that remains for consideration is whether the defendants have bunded up the bye-wash and the damage complained of was caused directly by such bunding up'. in the course of the paragraph, he.....
Judgment:

Ramesam, J.

1. This second appeal arises out of a suit by the plaintiff for injunction and for damages. The plaintiff is the owner of jiroyti land No. 784 in Peddapuram. This land was situated south of a tank called Venkatapathiraju tank. The plaintiffs complained that the defendants extended the tank towards, the east, shifted the bye-wash of the tank form northwest to the north-east and in the year 1916 bunded the bye-wash so as to enlarge the water-spread of the tank and cause submersion to plaintiff's land, namely, 8. No. 784. Plaintiff claimed Rs. 1,000 as damages.

2. The first defendant is the Secretary of State for India and defendants Nos. 2 to 6 are the ryotwari tenants under Government, whose lands are irrigated by the tank and whose lands would be benefited by an increase of the water-spread of the tank. The District Munsif found that the tank proper should be confined to S.No. 775 and did not extend to S.No. 760 as contended by the defendants Nos. 2 to 6, that it was not possible to say when the bye-wash was changed from the west to east, but that the western outlet was closed as the result of the opening up of a road and that the eastern outlet was bunded up by the defendants causing damage to the plaintiff. He also found that defendants Nos. 2 to 6 were responsible for the opening up of the eastern outlet and that the first defendant was also responsible inasmuch as he attempted to support the action of defendants Nos. 2 to 6 through his officers, that the plaintiff sustained damage to the extent of one thousand rupees and accordingly gave a decree.

3. On appeal, the Subordinate Judge finds in para. 9: 'All that Ave see from the records maintained by the Government is that Survey No. 775 is the tank bed.... The Government says that its tank is only in Survey No. 775. The bed of the tank and the bund must necessarily be confined to that number; but, as a matter of fact, we see that the tank extends some hundreds of feet beyond its eastern limits and all' this length is covered by fields of private owners, the bund also being owned by them. The Government has not made any attempt to extend the tank bund openly and as of right, but permitted the bed to drift for itself according to the whims and the caprices of the adjacent owners'. Finally he says in para. 10 that the tank has been in the present extended condition for over thirty years at least. But from his earlier remarks, it is also clear that this expansion was neither proper nor authorised by Government. He finds in para. 11 that the plaintiff cannot complain of the shifting of the bye wash. In para. 12 he then states: 'The only question that remains for consideration is whether the defendants have bunded up the bye-wash and the damage complained of was caused directly by such bunding up'. In the course of the paragraph, he first refers to the plaintiff's arzi dated the 30th October 1916 (Ex. T). Then, after referring to a stream of arsis showing the anxiety of the plaintiff, he refers to the kavnam's, report Ex. T(I) dated the 30th October 1916 which shows that a bund was really put up but was removed. Exhibit T(I) says: 'On inspection I found at that place, stakes, a yard high, were set with small palmyrah and date trees, etc, laid across, for preventing the escape of water'.... 'On account of the said bund, the lands bordering on the interior of the tank are being submerged and crops damaged'. The Subordinate Judge then refers to Ex U (2; dated the 9th November 1916, a report to the Minor Irrigation Overseer which also confirms the fact of the existence of the bund across the bye-wash. The Subordinate Judge then states that the Minor Irrigation Overseer found that the band which was still in existence at the time of the inspection was 6 inchas higher than the full tank level of the tank. His inspection was on the 6th of November. The Subordinate Judge then states: 'Thus the higher level of the bund by 6 inches. continued from 30th October to the 6th of November'. Lower down he refers to a large number of arzis upto July 1917. Then he states: 'But it does not appear that the bund was raised beyond the 4 inches mentioned in Ex. A-3 until July 1917.' He then refers to the report of the Overseer on the plaintiff's petition of the 29th July. This report stated that the existing natural bye-wash was bunded up to a height of one foot. The Subordinate Judge then states: 'what this F.T.L. was it is difficult to see. Presumably it had the effect of not allowing more than I foot of water over 784-A'. He then concluded 'From the mass of evidence all that I have been able to gather is that the bye-wash was originally bunded up in October 1916 to the extent of one yard by the owners of the adjacent fields but the bund was immediately removed by the village officers that the remnant of the bund removed was still 6 inches high when the Minor Irrigation Overseer went and saw it in the beginning of November 1916, that subsequently there was a report again in the end of November 1916 and when the Overseer again inspected it he found 4 inches of the bund above the F.T.L., that he got the excess removed but under the orders of the Deputy Collector he had to put it up again, that in July 1917 there was again a bund put up which was reported by the plaintiff and on which under the orders of the Tahsildar act of Was taken by the Overseer and the bund, was removed so as to have only one foot of water on the beneficial submsersion land of 784-A.' He then says: 'We have to see what damages the plaintiff sustained mainly by reason of the bund put up and removed from time to lime'. It is clear from his findings just quoted and also from the statement in para, 16 of the judgment where he says: 'The plaintiff cannot be compelled to be in perpetual fear of submersion and damage, and a duly is cast upon the first defendant to keep his tank in such a position as not to cause any damage to the plaintiff the adjacent owner. A mandatory injunction will, therefore, be necessary to have the F.T.L. fixed and the outlet constructed by raising a masonry weir which would discharge the water accumulating beyond the permitted water spread.' The Subordinate Judge is of the opinion that there is a wrongful act on the part of the defendants which furnished a cause of action to the plaintiffs suit and which has caused him damage. The Subordinate Judge discusses the question of damages in paras. 13 to 15. At the end of para. 13 he says: 'It is not possible to say what damage was caused by which of these agencies. In the absence of positive data, I cannot fix the entire liability upon the defendants'. The agencies he refers to in the sentence just quoted are other natural agencies, such as heavy rain, overflowing of a feeder channel, etc. In para. 14 he says: 'But because of the abnormal rains which had direct access to the plaintiff's fields and the plaintiff not having been able to show that the damage was mainly due to the overflow of the tank water and as there has been no wrongful act committed by the Government their attempts having always been to avert damages, I must exonerate the first defendant from liability'. In para. 15 he says: 'With regard to the second portion, defendants Nos. 2 to 6 are certainly wrong in hayiug persisted in bunding up the tank first to a height of one yard then to a height of 6 inches and afterwards to a height of one foot. The damage caused by the rise of one yard would have been considerable, but it was immediately averted on the very day. The water of 6 inches depth was allowed to continue for more than a week and water of 4 inches was allowed to continue for some months. The immediate cause of the whole damage does not appear to be this slight rise in level, but the plaintiff is entitled to claim damages to some extent,' From all the above sentences quoted by me, the Subordinate Judge seems to be of the opinion that the plaintiff has certainly sustained damages in the year 1916 but that the damage could not have been wholly caused by the wrongful act of the defendants in opening up the bye-wash but that other natural causes must have combined with the wrongful act of the defendants in producing the damage.

4. Accepting these findings of the Subordinate Judge the question arises, whether the Subordinate Judge is right in giving nominal damages. In para. 15 he says: 'For the reasons discussed above in fixing the damages, I do not think that the plaintiff would be entitled to much more than nominal damages'. His 'reasons discussed above' were not for fixing the damage, but for finding out the causes of the damage. Nominal damages are intended only where the plaintiff has sustained damnum sine injuria, that is, where a right of his has been infringed but not so as to cause any sensible damage. In the present case, the plaintiff has sustained damage. A perusal of the whole record in the case beginning from Ex. T dated 30th October 1916 and ending with Ex. GGG. of 25th August 1917 along with oral evidence including most of the defendants' witnesses, leads only to one conclusion, namely, that the plaintiff has sustained damage by reason of the defendants' wrongful act. It may be the wrongful act would not have caused damage to the plaintiff if it were not strengthened by natural causes such as heavy rainfall in that year and the Subordinate Judge himself, as I have shown from sentences quoted from his judgment, practically means to find out the defendants' acts strengthened by other natural causes, did cause real damage to the plaintiff: (See Ex.VV). In such a case, I do not think that nominal damges is the proper relief to be awarded to the plaintiff.

5. Mr. Lakshmanna relied on Mayne on Damages, page 572: 'Where, however, the plaintiff had evidently sustained some damage, but the Jury, being unable to ascertain the amount, found a verdict for the defendant, the Court, permitted the plaintiff to enter a verdict for nominal damages.' The case cited viz., Feize v. Thompson 127 E.R. 778, has nothing to do with the present case. That was a case in which an action was brought to recover general average upon a policy of goods shipped on account of the plaintiff from Amsterdam to London. The plaintiff proved a sum of 600 guilders to have been paid for a boat which was to be apportioned as general average but he did not make it sufficiently appear to what amount the defendant was liable to contribute. The Jury could not ascertain any given sum to be the proportion due to the plaintiff. On the other hand, two cases are relied on by the appellant which are, I think, more relevant. In Municipal Corporation of the City of Bombay v. Vasudeo 6 Bom. L.R. 899, the defendant was the Municipal Corporation of Bombay. It was there found that the Corporation erected some embankments and bridges but in carrying out the works had not taken sufficient care to avoid causing of damage to the plaintiff. The lower Appellate Court held that the work was negligently done in relation to adjoining and neighbouring lands. In the year 1897 there were heavy Hoods, the floods were no doubt in the nature of a vis major but the First Court below held that the vis major was the sole or approximate cause of the damage. The lower Appellate Court found that the floods of 1896 were so exceptional and unusual as to be classed under the category of vis major but not so exceptional such as by any reasonable man cannot be anticipated. In the present case also, there was a rainfall in 1916 in Peddapuram slightly heavier than the preceding five or six years but not of such an exceptional character as could not be anticipated by a reasonable man. Such years of heavy rainfall occasionally occur once in five or ten years. A glance at the plan shows that the contour of the extended tank is the contour of 10018 marked in green line on the plan. It submerged not only special rate land 784-A but also a portion of land 784B. It is true as remarked by Sidgwick (Vide Vol. Ill of Sedgiwick on Damages. Section 942, page 1948) 'Where it was shown that the Land would have been flooded by natural causes, but the defendant's act increased the loss, the measure of damages was the increase of loss'. But in the present case the Subordinate Judge has not found that some definite portion of the damages sustained by the plaintiff would have been caused by the heavy rains at that year and other natural causes even if the defendants' wrongful act had never existed. I understand his findings to mean that the damage sustained by the plaintiff was caused by all the causes put together, namely, the natural causes and the defendants' wrongful act but that no definite portion of it can be assigned to any one cause if it existed alone. To such a case the principle of Municipal Corporation' of the City of Bombay v. Vasudeo 6 Bom. L.R. 899, which itself rests on Fletcher v. Smith 26 W.R. 83, applies. In the case before the House of Lords defendant diverted a natural water-course which ran across and over his mine. The diverted water-course was insufficiently constructed and on occasions of certain heavy rainfalls, the water flowed over the walls of the artificial water-course and flooded the plaintiff's mine. It was found that the defendant knew that the water-course was not as efficient as the old one, nor did he construct in such a manner that it would be capable of conveying all the water that might flow into it from all such floods and rainfalls as might reasonably be anticipated to happen in that locality. The Jury's answer was the rainfall was exceptional but the new channel was insufficient. The insufficient condition was an insufficiency to cope with rainwater not exceptional or in other words rainfall such as might reasonably be anticipated. On these findings of the Jury, the plaintiff got a verdict which was affirmed by the Court of Appeal and the House of Lords refused to interfere in the decision. I think the principle of that decision applies to the present case. I cannot, therefore, accept the conclusion of the Subordinate Judge that this is a case in which nominal damages only should be awarded to the plaintiff.

6. It remains to be found, what are the damages sustained by the plaintiff. If the Subordinate Judge has given a finding on the amount of damages sustained by the plaintiff, but which I was unable to accept, I should call for fresh findings from the lower Court; but, as I have already pointed out, the Subordinate Judge; has never addressed himself to the question of the amount, of damages sustained by the plaintiff. What he said was that this is a case in which nominal damages only should be awarded. I, therefore, think, it is open to me either to find the amount of damages myself or to call for a fresh finding. Both the learned Vakils for the parties are willing that I should find the amount of damages and thus avoid delay in the disposal of the case. The Munsif has not referred to the evidence in detail. It seems to me, his decree for Rs. 1,000 is excessive, as he practically accepted the plaintiff's figure without any discussion. A batavia garden, belonging to the plaintiff is beyond the green line, to which I have referred to already. I do not think the plaintiff is entitled to any damage for the loss of the batavia trees. The plaintiff says: 'The paddy crop was about to be fit to be harvested and water gradually rose and crop that might be a garce was hopelessly lost, before it was quite ripe. Two other garces of paddy could have been harvested from the rest of the land but the harvesting was not possible as all that also came to be fully under water. The batavia and lemon and plantain and chillies plants all died, decaying in the water. Redgram to the extent of about 2 or 3 putties was thus lost; horsegram to the extent of about 2, 3 putties; chillies to the extent of 4, 5 putties.' Taking the smaller figures, given by the plaintiff, it seems to me that the plaintiff is entitled to damages to the extent of Rs. 562. I my add that one sentence in para. 13 of the Subordinate Judge's judgment is unintelligible to me: 'The plaintiff raised, a small bund in his field 784-A so as to conserve water in that field.' This bund is a small bund and cannot operate where the general level of the water rises beyond its level. It can come into operation only when the water goes below the level of the bund. To say that this bund has anything to do with the Hooding of plaintiff's land and the damage caused to it seems to be a piece of special pleading. The Subordinate Judge refers to it as one of the possible causies that had caused the plaintiff damage, but at the same time he was unwilling to Kay that all the damage is caused wholly by it.

7. In the result, I partly allow the appeal and modify the lower Court's decree by awarding damages to the extent of Rs. 562 against defendants Nos. 2 to 6 only. It has been stated before me that the plaintiff and the first defendant had compromised the matter and that first defendant had issued orders about the maintenance of the tank to the satisfaction, of the plaintiff; and I need not deal with that portion of the appeal, relating to the first defendant. Plaintiff will get proportionate costs throughout from-defendants Nos. 2 to 6 on the amount he has succeeded. Defendants will bear their own costs throughout.

8. The memorandum of objections is dismissed but without costs.


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