CHANDRABHAN (DECEASED) THROUGH LRS. & ORS. Versus SARASWATI & ORS

CHANDRABHAN (DECEASED) THROUGH LRS. & ORS. Versus SARASWATI & ORS

Landmark Cases of India / सुप्रीम कोर्ट के ऐतिहासिक फैसले



REPORTABLE
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION
CIVIL APPEAL NO. OF 2022
[ARISING OUT OF S.L.P.(C) NO.8736 OF 2016]
CHANDRABHAN (DECEASED) THROUGH
LRS. & ORS. ....Appellant (s)
Versus
SARASWATI & ORS. .…Respondent (s)
J U D G M E N T
Indira Banerjee, J.
Leave granted.
2. This appeal filed by the Original Plaintiff, Chandrabhan, (since
deceased, represented by his legal representatives), is against a final
judgment and order dated 11th January 2016 passed by the Aurangabad
Bench of the High Court of Judicature at Bombay, allowing Second Appeal
No. 45 of 1995 filed by the Respondents, reversing the judgment and
order dated 10th November 1994 passed by the Additional District Judge,
Beed, in Regular Civil Appeal No.361 of 1984 and dismissing Regular Civil
1
Suit No. 198 of 1979 filed by the Original Plaintiff praying for the relief of
declaration of ownership and perpetual injunction in respect of the suit
property.
3. Sambhaji, grandfather of the Original Plaintiff, Chandrabhan had two
sons, Baliram and Rambhau. Baliram was the elder of the two sons of
Sambhaji. The Original Defendant No.1 Yamunabai, was the wife of
Baliram.
4. Baliram and Yamunabai (Original Defendant No.1) were childless,
Rambhau, younger brother of Baliram however had two sons, Digamber
and Chandrabhan (Original Plaintiff).
5. Since Baliram and Yamunabai were childless, Baliram decided to
adopt his nephew, Chandrabhan (Original Plaintiff). Chandrabhan
(Original Plaintiff) was Baliram’s younger brother Rambhau’s son, as noted
above. It is stated that Baliram and Rambhau had mutually agreed that
Baliram would adopt Rambhau’s son, Chandrabhan (Original Plaintiff).
6. In the plaint, it was pleaded that the Original Plaintiff, Chandrabhan
was adopted by his uncle Baliram, in accordance with the rites and
customs of the community, in a ceremony attended by relatives,
neighbours and friends. According to the Appellants, the Original Plaintiff
Chandrabhan was about 14 years of age at the time of his adoption by his
paternal uncle Baliram, who became his adoptive father.
7. Baliram died intestate, in 1951, about six months after he adopted
the Original Plaintiff. After the death of his adoptive father Baliram, the
2
Original Plaintiff Chandrabhan shifted to a nearby village, from where he
managed the properties left by Baliram. The Original Defendant No.2
Champabai is the first wife of the Original Plaintiff, Chandrabhan. In 1979,
the Original Defendant No. 1, Yamunabai, wife of Baliram purportedly
gifted the suit properties to the Original Defendant No. 2 Champabai, wife
of the Original Plaintiff.
8. On 8th May 1979, the Original Plaintiff filed Regular Civil Suit No. 198
of 1979, in the Court of the Civil Judge, Senior Division, at Beed,
Maharashtra against the Original Defendant No.1 being Yamunabai, the
wife of Baliram and the Original Defendant No.2 being Champabai, his
own first wife praying for declaration of ownership of the suit properties,
perpetual injunction and other reliefs. The Original Defendants filed their
written statements in the suit contending that the Original Plaintiff had not
been adopted by Baliram.
9. The Respondent Nos. 1 to 4 being the Original Defendant Nos. 3 to 6
in the suit, filed their written statement in the suit supporting the stand of
the Original Defendant Nos. 1 and 2.
10. The Original Plaintiff examined himself as well as five other
witnesses, including Prabhu Yogiraj Swami, the priest who conducted the
rituals at the time of adoption, to prove that he had been adopted by
Baliram. The Original Plaintiff also examined Shahurao Tulsiram Dhas to
prove that he had the possession and cultivation of the suit lands. The
Respondents, on the other hand, examined Original Defendant No.2,
3
Champabai and several others to establish that the Original Plaintiff had
not been legally and/or validly adopted by Baliram.
11. The Civil Judge, Junior Division, Beed, Maharashtra being the Trial
Court dismissed the Regular Civil Suit No. 198 of 1979, by a judgment and
order dated 31st July 1984.
12. On 5th November 1984, the Original Plaintiff filed an appeal being
Regular Civil Appeal No.361 of 1984 in the Court of the Additional District
Judge, Beed, Maharashtra being the First Appellate Court. By a judgment
and order dated 10th November 1994, the First Appellate Court allowed the
Regular Civil Appeal No.361 of 1984 and set aside the judgment and order
dated 31st July 1984 of the Trial Court whereby Regular Civil Suit No.198 of
1979 had been dismissed.
13. The First Appellate Court, after considering the evidence on record,
concluded that the Original Plaintiff had been adopted by Baliram and
thus entitled to succeed the property of Baliram after his death.
14. The Respondent Nos.1 to 4, being the Original Defendant Nos. 3 to
6, in the suit, who were purchasers pendente lite of the suit property filed
a Second Appeal No.45 of 1995 in the High Court of Judicature at Bombay
(Aurangabad Bench). The Original Defendant No.1 and the Original
Defendant No.2 did not challenge the order passed by the First Appellate
Court.
4
15. The High Court admitted the Second Appeal, which was heard at
length and allowed by a judgment and order dated 11th January 2016,
which is impugned in this appeal before us.
16. The High Court considered the following questions.
“(I) Whether the first appellate Court has committed error in not
considering the circumstance that other transactions of sale made by
the defendant No.1 in respect of three agricultural lands like Survey
Nos.86/1, 100/3 and 109/2 which were left behind by Baliram are not
challenged by the plaintiff in the suit?
(II) Whether the first appellate Court has committed error in not
considering the circumstance that after the death of Baliram name of
defendant No.1 only was mutated in the revenue record as successor
of Baliram and the name of the plaintiff was not entered as successor
of Baliram?
(III) Whether the first appellate Court has committed error in not
considering the circumstance that the cooperative credit society could
not have given loan to the plaintiff on the lands left behind by Baliram
as plaintiff was not shown as owner in the revenue record and further
there is the circumstance that it is defendant No.1 who had repaid the
loan?
(IV) Whether the first appellate Court has committed error in not
giving due weight to the circumstance like plaintiff never used name of
Baliram as his father anywhere and he continued to use the name of
his natural father Rambhau?
(V) Whether due to absence of specific pleadings with regard to
particulars of adoption and due to inconsistencies in the evidence of
the witnesses it can be said that there is sufficient evidence to prove
the factum of adoption?”
17. We find there were no questions of law before the High Court, not to
speak of substantial questions of law.
18. Admittedly, evidence was adduced at the trial. The Original Plaintiff
examined himself as witness and examined five other witnesses. The
Original Plaintiff gave evidence of adoption. The second witness
Trivenibai, wife of Digamber, the brother of the Original Plaintiff,
5
Chandrabhan stated that there was an adoption ceremony held at the
residence of Rambhau. She also stated that the Original Plaintiff
Chandrabhan had performed the last rites of Baliram as his adopted son.
The other witnesses also deposed that they had attended the ceremony at
which the Original Plaintiff Chandrabhan had been given in adoption to
Baliram. The Trial Court rejected the contention of the Plaintiff on the
ground of contradiction and inconsistencies in the evidence.
19. The Trial Court also found that the performance of the essential
requisites of adoption, such as giving in adoption and taking in adoption
had not been established.
20. The First Appellate Court re-analysed the evidence and found that
some discrepancies and inconsistencies were natural since the adoption
had taken place in 1950 and evidence was taken in 1984, about 34 years
later. Thereby, some inconsistencies were only natural.
21. The finding of the First Appellate Court that the Original Plaintiff,
Chandrabhan was the adopted son of Baliram was based on :-
(i) The evidence of Trivenibai (PW-2), wife of the Original Plaintiff,
Chandrabhan’s elder brother Digambar,
(ii) The evidence of the priest, Prabhu Yogiraj Swami who
conducted the ceremony of adoption. (PW-6).
(iii) The admission that PW-6 was the family priest who performed
rituals of the community to which the parties belonged.
(iv) Evidence that the Original Plaintiff, Chandrabhan had been
residing in the house of Baliram.
(v) The Original Plaintiff Chandrabhan’s name shown as
Chandrabhan Baliram in registers and documents dating back
1960-61.
6
(vi) The fact that Champabai, the first wife of the Original Plaintiff
was residing with Original Defendant No.1, Yamunabhai.
(vii) The properties of Rambhau were inherited by Digamber alone–
the Original Plaintiff did not get any share in the properties.
(viii) Evidence of PW-7, Bansi Hajare who had been Secretary of the
Ghargaon society for the period from 1961 to 1963,
mentioned that there was a crop loan account of Chandrabhan
Baliram by Sl. No.35 in his register. The register shows that
Chandrabhan Baliram repaid loan of Rs.150/- by 31st July 1961.
22. The Original Plaintiff re-married one Shivganga while Champabai the
first wife continued to reside with the Original Plaintiff as stated in her
evidence. Champabai had stated that the Original Plaintiff, Shivganga
and her were residing together. The use of the middle name, which is the
father’s name, as Baliram instead of Rambhau after Chandrabhan, gave
rise to inference of adoption of Chandrabhan by Baliram.
23. It is well settled that a Second Appeal under Section 100 of the Civil
Procedure Code, 1908 (CPC) can only be entertained on a substantial
question of law. In H.P. Pyarejan v. Dasappa (Dead) by LRs. and
Others
1
, this Court held:-
“16. In our opinion, therefore, the judgment of the High Court
suffers from serious infirmities. It suffers from the vice of exercise of
jurisdiction which did not vest in the High Court under the law. Under
Section 100 of the Code (as amended in 1976) the jurisdiction of the
High Court to interfere with the judgments of the courts below is
confined to hearing on substantial questions of law. Interference
with finding of fact by the High Court is not warranted if it involves
reappreciation of evidence (see Panchugopal Barua v. Umesh
Chandra Goswami [(1997) 4 SCC 713] and Kshitish Chandra
Purkait v. Santosh Kumar Purkait [(1997) 5 SCC 438] ). The High
Court has not even discussed any evidence. No basic finding of fact
recorded by the courts below has been reversed much less any
reason assigned for taking a view contrary to that taken by the
courts below. The finding on the question of readiness and
1 (2006) 2 SCC 496
7
willingness to perform the contract which is a mixed question of law
and fact has been upset. It is statutorily provided by Section 16(1)(c)
of the Act that to succeed in a suit for specific performance of a
contract the plaintiff shall aver and prove that he has performed and
has always been ready and willing to perform the essential terms of
the contract which were to be performed by him other than the
terms the performance of which has been prevented or waived by
the defendant.”
24. In Ram Prasad Rajak v. Nand Kumar & Bros. and
Another
2
, this Court held that, “Once the proceeding in the High
Court is treated as a Second Appeal under Section 100 CPC, the
restrictions prescribed in the said Section would come into play. The
High Court could and ought to have dealt with the matter as a Second
Appeal and found out whether a substantial question of law arose for
consideration. Unless there was a substantial question of law, the
High Court had no jurisdiction to entertain the Second Appeal and
consider the merits.”
25. In Kshitish Chandra Purkait v. Santosh Kumar Purkait
and Others
3
, this Court held that existence of substantial question
of law was the sine qua non for the exercise of jurisdiction under
Section 100 of the CPC.
26. In Kshitish Chandra Purkait (supra), this Court held:-
“10. We would only add that (a) it is the duty cast upon the High
Court to formulate the substantial question of law involved in the
case even at the initial stage; and (b) that in (exceptional) cases, at
a later point of time, when the Court exercises its jurisdiction under
the proviso to sub-section (5) of Section 100 CPC in formulating the
substantial question of law, the opposite party should be put on
notice thereon and should be given a fair or proper opportunity to
meet the point. Proceeding to hear the appeal without formulating
the substantial question of law involved in the appeal is illegal and is
2 (1998) 6 SCC 748
3 (1997) 5 SCC 438
8
an abnegation or abdication of the duty cast on court; and even
after the formulation of the substantial question of law, if a fair or
proper opportunity is not afforded to the opposite side, it will
amount to denial of natural justice. The above parameters within
which the High Court has to exercise its jurisdiction under Section
100 CPC should always be borne in mind. We are sorry to state that
the above aspects are seldom borne in mind in many cases and
second appeals are entertained and/or disposed of, without
conforming to the above discipline.”
27. The guidelines to determine what is a substantial question of
law within the meaning of Section 100 CPC has been laid down by this
Court in Sir Chunnilal V. Lal Mehta & Sons v. Century Spinning
and Manufacturing Co. Ltd.
4

28. In Sir Chunilal V. Mehta and Sons (supra), this Court agreed with
and approved a Full Bench judgment of the Madras High Court in
Rimmalapudi Subba Rao v. Noony Veeraju and Ors.
5
 which laid down
the principles for deciding when a question of law becomes a substantial
question of law.
29. In Hero Vinoth v. Seshammal
6
, this Court followed Sir Chunilal
v. Mehta & Sons (supra) and other judgments and summarized the tests
to find out whether a given set of questions of law were mere questions of
law or substantial questions of law.
30. The relevant paragraphs of the judgment of this Court in Hero
Vinoth (supra) are set out herein below:
“21. The phrase “substantial question of law”, as occurring in the
amended Section 100 CPC is not defined in the Code. The word
substantial, as qualifying “question of law”, means of having
substance, essential, real, of sound worth, important or
4 AIR 1962 SC 1314
5 AIR 1951 Mad 969
6 (2006) 5 SCC 545
9
considerable. It is to be understood as something in
contradistinction with technical, of no substance or consequence, or
academic merely. However, it is clear that the legislature has
chosen not to qualify the scope of “substantial question of law” by
suffixing the words “of general importance” as has been done in
many other provisions such as Section 109 of the Code or Article
133(1)(a) of the Constitution. The substantial question of law on
which a second appeal shall be heard need not necessarily be a
substantial question of law of general importance. In Guran Ditta v.
Ram Ditta 55IA 235 : AIR 1928 PC 172] the phrase "substantial
question of law" as it was employed in the last clause of the then
existing Section 100 CPC (since omitted by the Amendment Act,
1973) came up for consideration and their Lordships held that it did
not mean a substantial question of general importance but a
substantial question of law which was involved in the case. In Sir
Chunilal case [1962 Supp (3) SCR 549 : AIR 1962 SC 1314] the
Constitution Bench expressed agreement with the following view
taken by a Full Bench of the Madras High Court in Rimmalapudi
Subba Rao v. Noony Veeraju [AIR 1951 Mad 969 : (1951) 2 MLJ 222
(FB)] : (Sir Chunilal case [1962 Supp (3) SCR 549 : AIR 1962 SC
1314] , SCR p. 557)
“[W]hen a question of law is fairly arguable, where there is
room for difference of opinion on it or where the Court thought
it necessary to deal with that question at some length and
discuss alternative views, then the question would be a
substantial question of law. On the other hand if the question
was practically covered by the decision of the highest court or
if the general principles to be applied in determining the
question are well settled and the only question was of applying
those principles to the particular fact of the case it would not
be a substantial question of law.”
31. The proper test for determining whether a question of law raised in
the case is substantial would be, whether it is of general public
importance or whether it directly and substantially affects the rights of the
parties and if so, whether it is either an open question in the sense that it
is not finally settled by this Court. If the question is settled by the highest
court or the general principles to be applied in determining the question
are well settled and there is a mere question of applying those principles
or the question raised is palpably absurd, the question would not be a
substantial question of law.
10
32. To be ‘substantial’, a question of law must be debatable, not
previously settled by law of the land or a binding precedent, and must
have a material bearing on the decision of the case, if answered either
way, insofar as the rights of the parties before it are concerned. To be a
question of law "involving in the case" there must be first, a foundation for
it laid in the pleadings and the question should emerge from the
sustainable findings of fact arrived at by court of facts and it must be
necessary to decide that question of law for a just and proper decision of
the case. An entirely new point raised for the first time before the High
Court is not a question involved in the case unless it goes to the root of
the matter. It will, therefore, depend on the facts and circumstance of
each case whether a question of law is a substantial one and involved in
the case or not, the paramount overall consideration being the need for
striking a judicious balance between the indispensable obligation to do
justice at all stages and impelling necessity of avoiding prolongation in the
life of any lis. (See Santosh Hazari v. Purushottam Tiwari
7
).
33. The principles relating to Section 100 of the CPC relevant for this
case may be summarised thus:
(i) An inference of fact from the recitals or contents of a
document is a question of fact. But the legal effect of the terms of a
document is a question of law. Construction of a document involving
the application of any principle of law, is also a question of law.
Therefore, when there is misconstruction of a document or wrong
7 (2001) 3 SCC 179
11
application of a principle of law in construing a document, it gives rise
to a question of law.
(ii) The High Court should be satisfied that the case involves a
substantial question of law, and not a mere question of law. A
question of law having a material bearing on the decision of the case
(that is, a question, answer to which affects the rights of parties to
the suit) will be a substantial question of law, if it is not covered by
any specific provisions of law or settled legal principle emerging from
binding precedents and involves a debatable legal issue. A
substantial question of law will also arise in a contrary situation,
where the legal position is clear, either on account of express
provisions of law or binding precedents, but the court below has
decided the matter, either ignoring or acting contrary to such legal
principle. In the second type of cases, the substantial question of law
arises not because the law is still debatable, but because the decision
rendered on a material question, violates the settled position of law.
(iii) The general rule is that the High Court will not interfere with
findings of facts arrived at by the courts below. But it is not an
absolute rule. Some of the well-recognised exceptions are where (i)
the courts below have ignored material evidence or acted on no
evidence; (ii) the courts have drawn wrong inferences from proved
facts by applying the law erroneously; or (iii) the courts have wrongly
cast the burden of proof. When we refer to "decision based on no
evidence", it not only refers to cases where there is a total dearth of
12
evidence, but also refers to any case, where the evidence, taken as a
whole, is not reasonably capable of supporting the finding.
34. In this case, it cannot be said that the First Appellate Court acted on
no evidence. The Respondents in their Second Appeal before the High
Court did not advert to any material evidence that had been ignored by
the First Appellate Court. The Respondents also could not show that any
wrong inference had been drawn by the First Appellate Court from proved
facts by applying the law erroneously.
35. In this case, as observed above, evidence had been adduced on
behalf of the Original Plaintiff as well as the Defendants. The First
Appellate Court analysed the evidence carefully and in effect found that
the Trial Court had erred in its analysis of evidence and given undue
importance to discrepancies and inconsistencies, which were not really
material, overlooking the time gap of 34 years that had elapsed since the
date of the adoption. There was no such infirmity in the reasoning of the
First Appellate Court which called for interference.
36. Right of appeal is not automatic. Right of appeal is conferred by
statute. When statute confers a limited right of appeal restricted only to
cases which involve substantial questions of law, it is not open to this
Court to sit in appeal over the factual findings arrived at by the First
Appellate Court.
37. The questions raised in High Court, did not meet the tests laid down
by this Court for holding that the questions are substantial questions of
13
law. We are constrained to hold that there was no question of law, let
alone any substantial question of law, involved in the Second Appeal.
38. The appeal is, for the reasons, as discussed above, allowed. The
impugned judgment and order is set aside and the judgment and
order/decree of the First Appellate Court in Regular Civil Appeal No.361 of
1984 is restored.
 .……..............................J.
 [ INDIRA BANERJEE ]
 …..................................J.
 [ J.K. MAHESHWARI ]
NEW DELHI
SEPTEMBER 22, 2022
14

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