IN THE HIGH COURT OF BOMBAY
Short Cause Suit No. 890 of 1978
Decided On: 08.02.1979
Nagin Mansukhlal Dagli
Haribhai Manibhai Patel
Hon’ble Judges/Coram: Balkrishna Narhar Deshmukh, C.J. and D.P. Madon, J.
Citation: AIR 1980 Bombay 123.
1. The question with respect to this Court’s jurisdiction to entertain and try this suit filed on the Original Side has been referred to a Division Bench by a learned single Judge of this High Court and now comes before us for our determination.
2. The Plaintiff is the monthly tenant of a flat on the ground floor of a building belonging to Ashok Nagar Cooperative Housing Society Limited situate at 10th North-South Road, Juhu-Vile Parle Development Scheme, Bombay-400056. By an agreement dated June 20, 1968 the Plaintiff granted to the Defendant leave and licence to occupy the said flat upon terms and conditions contained in the said agreement. The said licence was for a period of all months commencing from June 15, 1968, and the licence fee mentioned therein was a sum of Rs. 400 per month. By clause 14 of the said agreement the Defendant covenanted that , on the termination of the said licence he would remove himself quietly and peacefully along with his family members and his servants and agents and their furniture and fixtures and would give vacant possession of the said premises to the Plaintiff. On the expiry of the period of the said agreement a fresh agreement was arrived at between the Plaintiff and the Defendant on July 4, 1969 under which the said licence was renewed for a further period of 11 months from July 1, 1969 upon the same terms and conditions, except that the monthly licence fee was reduced to Rs. 375. The said second agreement expired by efflux of time on May 31, 1970.
3. On April 14, 1978 the Plaintiff through his advocates called upon the Defendant to remove himself from the said flat. By his advocates’ reply dated May 17, 1978 the Defendant alleged that before the expiry of the said second agreement in or about January 1970 an oral agreement was arrived at between the Plaintiff and the Defendant under which it was agreed that the Defendant would continue as a licensee for so long as he desired and that the said licensee was subsisting on February 1, 1973, on which date by reason of the amendment of the Bombay Rents, Hotel and Lodging House Rates Control Act, 1947, by Mah. Act XVII of 1973, the Defendant became a protected licensee within the meaning of the said Act.
4. The Plaintiff thereupon filed the present Suit. After setting out the said two agreements the Plaintiff averred as follows:
“The Plaintiff says and submits that leave and licence granted to the Defendant came to an end by efflux of time as stated hereinabove. The Plaintiff, therefore, says and submits that the Defendant’s occupation of the said premises since then has been and is wrongful and illegal, and is that of a trespasser. The Plaintiff says and submits that he is entitled to recover vacant possession of the said fiat from the Defendant as the Defendant has ne right of any nature whatsoever to remain in use and occupation of the same.”
Prayer (a) of the Plaint is for a declaration that the Defendant was a trespasser upon and in respect of the said flat and that he has no right, title or interest to remain or continue to remain in use and occupation or possession thereof. Prayer (b) of the Plaint is for a mandatory injunction to direct the Defendant to forthwith remove himself, his servants and agents, together with his belongings, from the said flat and to hand over vacant and peaceful possession of the said flat to the Plaintiff. Prayer (c) of the Plaint is for a sum of Rs. 35,625 claimed by way of damages from June 1, 1970 till the date of the filing of the Suit at the rate of Rs. 375 per month. Prayer (d) of the Plaint is for a sum of Rs. 375 per month or such other sum as the Court may think fit by way of future mesne profits or damages or compensation for wrongful use and occupation of the said fiat from the date of the filing of the Suit till vacant and peaceful possession of the said flat is handed over to the Plaintiff.
5. After the filing of the Suit, the Plaintiff took out a notice of motion, being Notice of Motion No. 711 of 1978, for the appointment of an interim receiver and for an interim injunction. In his affidavit in reply to the said Notice of Motion the Defendant inter alia contended that by reason of Section 41 of the Presidency Small Cause Courts Act. 1882, as substituted by the Presidency Small Cause Courts (Maharashtra Amendment) Act, 1975 (Mah. Act XIX of 1976), the Presidency Small Cause Court at Bombay had been conferred exclusive jurisdiction to try suits between a licensor and licensee relating to the possession of an immovable property situate in Greater Bombay, and, therefore, this Court had no jurisdiction to entertain or try this Suit. In view of the provisions of Section 9-A inserted in the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 by Mah. Act XXV of 1970, Bharucha, J., before whom this Notice of Motion reached hearing, decided to try this question as a preliminary issue. Subsequently he referred this question to a Division Bench for determination. When this matter came before, us, we accordingly framed the necessary issue with respect to this question and tried it as a preliminary issue. This issue is:
“Whether by reason of the provisions of Section 41 of the Presidency Small Cause Courts Act, 1882, as substituted by the Presidency Small Cause Courts (Maharashtra Amendment) Act, 1975 (Mah. Act XIX of 1976), this Court has jurisdiction to entertain and try the Suit?”
6. By the said Presidency Small Cause Courts (Maharashtra Amendment) Act, 1975 (Mah. Act XIX of 1976), Chapter VII of the Presidency Small Cause Courts Act, 1882, was substituted by a new Chapter consisting of Sections 41 to 46. We are concerned in this matter with Section 41 as so substituted. The said Section 41 provides as follows:
“41. Suits or Proceedings between licensors and licensees or landlords and tenants for recovery of possession of immovable property and licence fees or rent, except to those to which other Act apply to lis in Small Cause Court
(1) Notwithstanding anything contained elsewhere in this Act or in any other law for the time being in force, but subject to the provisions of Sub-section (2), the Court of Small Causes shall have jurisdiction to entertain and try all suits and proceedings between a licensor and licensee, or a landlord and tenant, relating to the recovery of possession of any immovable property situated in Greater Bombay, or relating to the recovery of the licence fee or charges or rent therefore ,irrespective of the value of the subject matter of such suits or proceedings.
(2) Nothing contained in Sub-section (1) shall apply to suits or proceedings for the recovery of possession of any immovable property, or of licence fee or charges or rent thereof, to which the provisions of the Bombay Rents, Hotel and Lodging House Rates Control Act, 1947, the Bombay Government Premises (Eviction) Act, 1955, the Bombay Municipal Corporation Act, the Bombay Housing Board Act, 1948 or any other law for the time being in force, applies.” The said Amending Act came into force on July 1, 1677.
7. In support of the plaintiff’s case that this Court has jurisdiction to entertain and try the Suit, Mr. Sanghavi, learned Counsel for the plaintiff, submitted that Section 41 of the Presidency Small Cause Courts Act as substituted by Maharashtra Amendment Act XIX of 1976 confers concurrent jurisdiction upon the Presidency Small Cause Court at Bombay to try suits of the nature specified in the said section and does not take away the jurisdiction which this High Court on its Original Side or the Bombay City Civil Court possessed prior to the coming into force of the said Amending Act. In other words, according to Mr. Sanghavi, after the said Act came into force, a person who has granted a licence to another to use and occupy his immovable property has on the determination by efflux of time or termination of such licence a choice of forum and he could either file the suit in the Presidency Small Cause Court or in the alternative in the High Court or the Bombay City Civil Court depending upon the valuation of the subject-matter of the suit. Mr. Sanghavi submitted that Section 41 as so substituted did not contain any words excluding the jurisdiction which the Civil Courts till then possessed. He argued that the section did not provide that the Presidency Small Cause Court at Bombay alone would have jurisdiction or that no other Court would have jurisdiction to try suits of the nature specified in the said section. He sought support for his arguments from the language of Section 28 of the Bombay Rents, Hotel and Lodging House Rates Control Act, 1947, which provides at the end of Sub-section (1) thereof, “no other court shall have jurisdiction to entertain any such suit, proceeding or application or to deal with such claim or question.” In Mr. Sanghavi’s submission the absence of a clause like the one in Section 28 of the Bombay Rent Act set out above clearly indicated that this High Court and the Bombay City Civil Court continue to have concurrent jurisdiction in respect of all suits of the nature specified in the said Section 41. The arguments of Mr. Sanghavi, however, overlook two very important statutory provisions, namely, the amendment to clause 12 of the Letters Patent of this High Court and Section 3 of the Bombay City Civil Court Act, 1948. The extent and limits of the Ordinary Original Civil Jurisdiction of this High Court are prescribed by the said Clause 12. As originally enacted, the said clause 12 empowered this High Court in the exercise of its Ordinary Original Civil Jurisdiction to receive, try and determine suits of every description if the conditions prescribed by the said clause 12 were satisfied. There was an exception in the said clause 12 to the suits which the High Court on its Original Side could entertain and try. That exception was in the following words:
“except that the said High Court shall not have such original jurisdiction in cases falling within the jurisdiction of the Small Cause Court at Bombay, in which the debt or damage, or value of the Property sued for, does not exceed one hundred rupees.”
By the Bombay High Court Letters Patents Amendment Act, 1948 (Bombay Act XLI of 1948), the said clause 12 was amended with respect to the aforesaid exception to the High Court’s power to entertain and try suits. After such amendment the said exception reads as follows:
“except that the said High Court shall not have such original jurisdiction in cases falling within the jurisdiction of the Small Cause Court at Bombay or the Bombay City Civil Court.”
The reason for this amendment was that the Government of Bombay had decided to set up a City Civil Court for Greater Bombay. Accordingly, on May 10, 1948 the Bombay City Civil Court Act, 1948 (Bombay Act XL of 1848), was passed. The jurisdiction of the new Court was described in the following terms by Section 3 of the said Act:
“Notwithstanding anything contained in any law, such court shall have jurisdiction to receive, try and dispose of all suits and other proceedings of a civil nature not exceeding ten thousand rupees in value, and arising within the Greater Bombay…..”
There are certain exceptions provided in the said section. These exceptions are suits and proceedings cognizable by the High Court in its Admiralty, Vice-Admiralty, testamentary, intestate, matrimonial and insolvency jurisdictions and under any special law other than the Letters Patents and suits and proceedings cognizable by the Small Cause Court. Thus, by Section 3 of the Bombay City Civil Court Act, the jurisdiction of the City Civil Court to entertain and try any suit or proceeding cognizable by the Small Cause Court is expressly barred even though such suit or proceeding may be within the pecuniary jurisdiction of the City Civil Court. In order to obviate any argument that even after the setting up of the City Civil Court the High Court continued to have jurisdiction in respect of civil suits cognizable by the Bombay City Civil Court, the Legislature of the Province of Bombay enacted the said Bombay High Court Letters Patents (Amendment) Act, 1948 (Bombay Act XLI of 1948), making the amendment set out earlier to clause 12 of the Letters Patent. At the same time the Legislature took the opportunity by this amendment to abolish the concurrent jurisdiction which this High Court possessed in suits of which the subject-matter exceeded one hundred rupees in value and which were triable by the Bombay Presidency Small Cause Court. The Bombay City Civil Court Act, 1948, and the Bombay High Court Letters Patents Act, 1948, were both brought into force simultaneously on August 16, 1948 by notifications dated August 14, 1948. Thus, after the amendment to clause 12 of the Letters Patent this High Court had no jurisdiction to entertain and try or, to use the language of clause 12, “to receive, try and determine” any suit which is cognizable either by the Presidency Small Cause Court at Bombay or the Bombay City Civil Court. It is significant to note that the language of the new Section 41 is strikingly similar to the language of Section 3 of the Bombay City Civil Court Act. It now becomes clear why the Legislature thought it necessary to introduce in Section 28 of the Rent Act a specific provision that no other Court will have jurisdiction to entertain any suit, proceeding or application or to deal with any claim or question provided for by the said Section 28. It was because at the date when the Bombay Rent Act was enacted, clause 12 of the Letters Patent had not been amended, and the only exception to the High Court’s jurisdiction with respect to suits triable by the Court of Small Cause at Bombay was with respect to suits falling within the jurisdiction of the Small Cause Court in which the debt or damage or value of the property sued for did not exceed rupees one hundred. In view of the amendment to clause 12 of the Letters Patent, it is now not open to any party to contend that where the suit is cognizable either by the Bombay City Civil Court or the Bombay Presidency Small Cause Court, this High Court would have concurrent jurisdiction to try such suit.
8. The next point urged before us by Mr. Sanghavi was that Section 41 in terms applies to a licensor and a licensee and does not refer to the case of persons who once held the relationship of licensor and licensee but such relationship had come to an end either by the period of the licence expiring by efflux of time or by the termination of the licence. With respect to this submission the first point to be noted is that the section applies not only to suits between licensors and licensees but also between landlords and tenants in cases where the Rent Act does not apply. Further, the section does not refer to only one category of suits but to several categories. These categories are:
(1) suits between a licensor and licensee relating to the possession of any immovable property situated in Greater Bombay,
(2) Suits between a landlord and tenant relating to the possession of any immovable property situated in Greater Bombay,
(3) suits relating to the recovery of the licence fee or charges in respect of such immovable property, and
(4) suits relating to the recovery of rent in respect of such property.
Now, a suit for the recovery of licence fee or charges may lie either when a licence subsists or after it has come to an end, and similarly a suit for the recovery of rent may lie either when the tenancy subsists or after it has come to an end, but it is difficult to envisage a case where during the subsistence of a licence a licensor can file a suit for the recovery of immovable property from the licensee or where during the subsistence of a tenancy a landlord can file a suit against his tenant for the recovery of immovable property given on tenancy to his tenant. If a licensor or a landlord wants to recover possession of the property, his right to do so arises only on the termination of the licence or the tenancy, as the case may be, or upon the licence or the tenancy determining by efflux of time subject to the provisions of the Bombay Rent Act. Mr. Sanghvi, however, submitted that so far as licensors and licensees were concerned, a suit for the recovery of possession could be filed by a licensor even during the subsistence of the licence where the licence was revocable at will and had not been determined by a prior notice given by the licensor to the licensee, in which case, in Mr. Sanghavi’s submission, the filing of the plaint would operate as a determination of the licence. The fallacy in this argument lies in this that since the very act of filing the suit would be a termination of the licence, the suit cannot be said to be a suit between a licensor and licensee between whom such relationship is subsisting. Further to put such a construction upon Section 41 and to confine it only to suits of this one particular class would be to render the section meaningless so far as suits between landlords and tenants for the recovery of possession provided for in the said section are concerned, because under the law a tenancy cannot be determined in the manner in which a licence can be determined where there is no period provided for the licence and the licence is revocable at will. The use of the words “a licensor and licensee” and “a landlord and tenant” in the said Section 41 has no such particular significance or effect as canvassed for by Mr. Sanghavi. These words have been used in accordance with a very well-settled and normal Legislative drafting practice. In various statutes dealing with rights and obligations arising out of jural or contractual relationship and enforcement of such rights and obligations the parties are described by the legal character they bear. Thus, Section 108 of the Transfer of Property Act, 1882, which deals with the rights and liabilities of lessor and lessee, by Clause (h) provides that “the lessee may even after the determination of the lease remove, at any time whilst he is in possession of the property leased but not afterwards, all things which he has attached to the earth…..”. Clause (i) of the said Section 108 provides that “when a lease of uncertain duration determines by any means except the fault of the lessee, he or his legal representative is entitled to all the crops planted or sown by the lessee and growing upon the property when the lease determines, and to free ingress and egress to gather and carry them.” Clauses (h) and (i) use the word ‘lessee’ in connection with the rights of a lessee even after the determination of the lease, because these rights which the lessee possesses in his character as a lessee and which came, into being by reason of the lease given to him. Certain rights he had during the continuance of the lease. Certain rights accrued to him on the determination of the lease. Rather than use the word ‘lessee’ while the lease subsists and a clumsy terminology or a circumlocution to describe the same person after the lease has determined, following the well-settled legislative drafting practice, clauses (h) and (i) of Section 108 refer to that person in both eventualities by the word ‘lessee’. Similarly, in various Matrimonial Acts when dealing with the grant of permanent alimony to a wife after divorce, these Acts provide that the Court may grant such alimony to the wife either at the time of the passing of the decree for divorce or on a subsequent application made to it for that purpose. The words used in the sections of the Matrimonial Acts are ‘husband’ and ‘wife’, even though after divorce the relationship of husband and wife between the divorced parties does not subsist. Examples of this will be found in Section 37 of the Special Marriage Act, 1954; Section 25 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955; Section 37 of the Indian Divorce Act, 1869; and Section 40 of the Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act, 1936. Words which describe a person’s legal character — the character which he either holds or has once held — are used in statutes as a means of identification or a label to point out the particular rights and obligations which arise out of such relationship either during its subsistence or after its termination, that is, either are existing relationship or are erstwhile relationship. In the case of a lease, except where a tenant is a protected tenant under the Rent Act, there is an obligation upon the lessee to hand over possession of the property to the lessor on the expiry of the lease by efflux of time or its determination. Similarly, in the case of a licence there is an obligation upon a licensee to remove himself from the immovable property, in respect of which he has been given the licence, and to hand over possession of such property to his licensor. These are obligations which are imposed both upon the lessee and the licensee by law, irrespective of whether such obligations are stipulated for in the indenture of lease or the agreement of licence or not. In the particular case before us Clause (14) of both the agreements of licence the first agreement dated June 20, 1968 and the second agreement dated July 4, 1969 — provide that on the determination of the licence, the licensee, that is, the defendant, will give vacant possession of the licensed premises to the licensor, that is, the plaintiff. Even the absence of such a clause would have, however, made no difference, for the position in law would have been the same. There is thus equally no substance in the second point urged before us by Mr. Sanghavi.
9. Mr. Sanghavi next argued that the relief claimed by him in the suit was not a decree for possession but was a declaration that the defendant was trespasser upon or in respect of the said flat and that he had no right, title or interest to remain or continue to remain in use and occupation or possession thereof, and for a mandatory injunction against the defendant forthwith to remove himself, his servants and agents, together with his belongings, from the said flat and to hand over vacant and peaceful possession of the said flat to the plaintiff. In Mr. Sanghavi’s submission this was thus a suit for a declaration and an injunction, and by reason of cls. (i) and (s) of Section 19 of the Presidency Small Cause Courts Act, 1882, the Small Cause Court had no jurisdiction to entertain such a suit or to grant such reliefs. The material provisions of the said Section 19 are as follows:
“19. Suits in which Court has no jurisdiction.
The Small Cause Court shall have no jurisdiction in –
x x x x
(i) Suits to obtain an injunction;
x x x x
(s) Suits for declaratory decrees;”
The first question which arises is whether this is really in substance a suit for a declaratory decree or an injunction, or a suit for recovery of possession of immovable property camouflaged in the guise of a suit for a declaration and injunction. The words which Clause (s) of Section 19 uses are “suits for declaratory decrees.” Suits for declaratory decrees are governed by Chap. VI of the Specific Relief Act, 1963. When declarations can be granted is provided for by Section 34 of that Act, which occurs in that Chapter. Under the said Section 34 “Any person entitled to any legal character, or to any right as to any property, may institute a suit against any person denying, or interested to deny, his title to such character or right “Now, here at no stage has the defendant denied or been interested in denying the plaintiff’s title to the said flat. On the contrary, his case as set put in his said affidavit in reply and in the correspondence proceedings the suit is that while the second agreement of licence was still subsisting, it was orally agreed between the parties that the license would continue as long as the defendant desired. He is thus accepting the title of the plaintiff to the said flat as also the plaintiff’s right to give the licence in respect thereof to him in the plaintiff’s legal character as licensor. The plaintiff has contended in the plaint that on the licence coming to an end the defendant is a trespasser upon the said premises. Whether the defendant has become a trespasser or not is an issue which has to be tried in the suit. What the plaintiff really wants by the declaration prayed for in prayer (a) of the plaint is a declaratory decree with respect to the answer in his favour to that issue. Such a declaration would stand on the same footing were a plaintiff in a suit for damages for breach of contract to ask for a declaration to the effect that the defendant has committed a breach of contract. It is the determination of the issue whether the licence has come to an end or not which would give the right to the plaintiff to obtain the relief of possession. The declaration ‘sought for does not change the real nature of the suit. Section 34 of the Specific Relief Act has no application to the case, and this suit cannot be described as a suit for a declaratory decree.
10. Prayer (b) of the plaint, in the guise of a prayer for a mandatory in junction against the defendant to remove himself from the said flat, is in substance no other than a prayer for the recovery of possession of the said flat. Realizing full well that the pro per relief to pray for would be a decree or order for possession but at the same time being desirous of bringing the suit in this Court and simultaneously not wishing the suit to suffer from a technical defect, the draftsman of the plaint has in the said prayer sought to protect the plaintiff by using the phraseology “that the defendant be ordered and decreed by a mandatory order or injunction…..” Thus, really, what is prayed for is decree for possession. “It is now well settled that when we have to determine the nature of the suit what we are to look at is the real substance of the suit and not legal ingenuity in drafting the plaint. The plaint read as a whole and the real substance of the suit leave no doubt that this is a suit between persons who hold the character of a licensor and licensee, which relationship having come to an end according to the plaintiff, the plaintiff has become entitled both in law and under the agreement of licence to recover possession of the property from the defendant, his licensee.
11. Mr. Sanghavi also submitted that in the plaint the plaintiff has claimed a sum of Rs. 35,625 by way of damages for trespass for the period June 1, 1970 till the date of the suit, that is, till April 1978, at the rate of Rs. 375 per month and for a sum of Rs. 375 per month from the date of the suit till possession of the said flat is handed over to the plaintiff either by way of future mesne profits or damages or compensation for wrongful use and occupation of the said flat. Mr. Sanghavi argued that Section 41 of the Presidency Small Cause Courts Act did not in terms include a suit for damages for trespass or for compensation for wrongful use and occupation or for mesne profits. In his submission, the section only related to recovery of licence fee or charges and that the licence having been determined, all that the plaintiff could recover from the defendant was either damages for trespass or compensation for wrongful use and occupation of the property or mesne profits. This argument by Mr. Sanghavi overlooks the language used in the said Section 41. The said Section 41 speaks of “all suits and proceedings between a licensor and licensee, or a landlord and tenant, relating to the recovery of possession of any immovable property situated in Greater Bombay”. It is significant that the words used in the said Section 41 are “suits relating to the recovery of possession” and not “suits for possession”. Rule 12 of Order 20 of the Civil P. C., 1908, provides as to how a Court is to proceed “Where a suit is for the recovery of possession of immovable property and for rent or mesne profits.” The contrast between the language used in Order 20, Rule 12 and the said Section 41 immediately strikes one. The phrase “relating to the possession of any immovable property” is wider than the phrase “for the recovery of possession of any Immovable property.” The words “relating to” are intentionally and designedly used in the said Section 41 not to confine the section only to a suit for the recovery of possession of immovable property situate in Greater Bombay but also to permit to be included within the ambit of such a suit all other reliefs which the plaintiff can claim in a suit for the recovery of possession of immovable property on the termination of a licence or a tenancy.
12. For the reasons set out above, we hold that this Court has no jurisdiction to entertain and try the plaintiffs suit, and we answer the issue framed by us in the negative.
13. In the result, under Rule 269-A of the Rules and Forms of the Bombay High Court (on the Original Side), 1957, we order the plaint to be returned to the plaintiff to be presented to the Presidency Small Cause Court at Bombay.
14. The costs of the suit and heaping in this High Court, fixed at Rs. 300, shall be costs in the suit which the Plaintiff may file in the Bombay Presidency Small Cause Court.
15. Order accordingly.