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PARTITION SUIT – SALE DEED NOT BINDING RELIEF – LIMITATION – EXPLAINED BY JUSTICE V. JAGANNATHAN


IN THE HIGH COURT OF KARNATAKA, IN A CASE OF  SUSHEELAMMA VS. SHIVAKUMAR AND ORS,   DECIDED ON NOV 19 2008, REPORTED IN 2010 (2) KARLJ 195,   JUDGEMENT BY JUSTICE V. JAGANNATHAN, J.

CASES CITED:  

Ningawwa v Byrappa Shiddappa Hireknrabar and Others, AIR 1968 SC 956
Ram Charan Das v Girja Nandini Devi and Others, AIR 1966 SC 323:
Ramaiah v N. Narayana Reddy (deceased) by L.Rs, 2004(6) Kar. L.J. 164 (SC);
Krishna Chandra Bose v Commissioner of Ranchi. AIR 1981 SC 707:
Ramachandra Jivaji Kanago and Another v Laxman Shrinivas Naik and Another, AIR 1945 PC 54 :
Appanna v Jami Venkatappadu, AIR 1953 Mad. 611 (DB);
K.S. Mariyappa and Others v K.T. Siddalinga Setty and Others, 1989(1) Kar. L.J. 150 (DB);
Kona Adinarayana v Dronavalli Venkata Subbayya, AIR 1937 Mad. 869;
Pillanna alias Thimmiah v Syed Nasurodeen Sab, 1921(27) MCCR 11;
Smt. Bismillah v Janeshwar Prasad and Others, AIR 1990 SC 540: (1990)1 SCC 207;
Thamma Venkata Subbamma (dead) by L.R. v Thamma Rattamma and Others, AIR 1987 SC 1775 :  

IMPORTANT COURT OBSERVATIONS OF CASE:- 30. The Trial Court had dismissed the suit as barred by limitation. But, the lower Appellate Court held it otherwise. The main argument of the learned Senior Counsel for the appellants is that the lower Appellate Court was totally in error in taking a contrary view as regards the limitation point is concerned. Since the facts are not in dispute, it is clear that the partition took place in the family in the year 1961 and thereafter, in respect of one of the items of the joint family i.e., the suit item, in the year 1969, there was a deed of relinquishment executed by the fourth defendant and the first defendant in favour of Patel Mallegowda and, by that deed, the suit property was relinquished in favour of Patel Mallegowda in view of Patel Mallegowda being shouldered with the responsibility of clearing the mortgage loan standing against the suit property.

31. Subsequent to the said event of 1961, there was also a partition within the family of the plaintiffs in the year 1982. At that point of time, the plaintiffs, being the younger brothers of fourth defendant- Rajashekhar, did not raise any questions regarding the relinquishment of the suit property in favour of Patel Mallegowda by the plaintiffs' eldest brother Rajashekar and first defendant-Shanthappa. The plaintiffs have contended before the Trial Court in their pleadings that the cause of action for the suit arose only about two months prior to the filing of the suit when the defendants tried to interfere with the plaintiffs' possession. The suit itself was filed on 18-11-1994. Therefore, from the date of relinquishment deed i.e., 13-3-1969, the suit was filed almost after 25 years and if the time is reckoned from the partition effected within the family of the plaintiffs i.e., in the year 1982, still the suit came to be filed almost after 12 years.

32. The first relief sought in the plaint is to declare the relinquishment deed dated 13-3-1969 as invalid (the word used m Kannada is "Asindhu"). The second relief sought is consequent to the first prayer being granted, the plaintiffs are entitled to their separate share and possession from out of the suit property, which is put at 1 acre and 33 guntas to each one of them, and also for mesne profits, therefore, it is clear that the plaintiffs getting their share depends upon declanng the relinquishment deed as invalid.

33. The period of limitation prescribed under Article 58 of the Limitation Act, 1963 to obtain any other declaration other than what is mentioned in Articles 56 and 57 is three years and the time starts to run when the right to sue first accrues. Therefore, it has to be found out as to when the right to sue first accrued to the plaintiffs.

34. Though in the plaint, at paragraph 12, it is stated that the plaintiffs came to know of the deed of relinquishment only two months prior to the filing of the suit and that, for two years prior to filing of the suit, the defendants have been trying to interfere with the plantitts possession of the suit property, the documents produced by the defendants viz., Exs, D. 1 to D. 10 and Ex. D.12 which is the relinquishment deed, indicated that the khatha stood m the name of the first defendant pursuant to the deed of relinquishment and the plaintiffs had not questioned the said khatha in the name of the first defendant before any forum.

35. Secondly, it has also come in the evidence of P.W. 1-Vinoda, that, at the time of the relinquishment deed i.e., in the year 1969 except the fourth plaintiff, all other plaintiffs were aged more than 18 years and the learned Judge of the Trial Court has also referred to the year in which each one of the plaintiffs attained majority and has observed in paragraph 18 of his judgment that all the plaintiffs had attained majority and the plaintiffs woke up to question the validity of the relinquishment deed after a lapse of more than three years from the date of their attaining majority. The learned Judge of the lower Appellate Court has not referred to this part of the reasoning of the Trial Court, in her judgment.

36 Further, the very same witness P.W. 1 has also admitted in the course of his evidence that on 13-3-1969, defendants 3 and 4 executed the relinquishment deed in favour of Patel Mallegowda and has also stated further that in the very year in which the relinquishment deed was executed, the khatha also stood transferred. The witness has also further stated in the course of his cross-examination that he and his brothers had a partition effected in the year 1982.

37 In the light of the aforesaid evidence on record, the learned Judge of the Trial Court, therefore, held that the suit of the plaintiffs was hopelessly barred by time. The lower Appellate Court did not take the trouble of examining the evidence properly and did not even refer to the reasons given by the Trial Court as regards the suit being barred by limitation is concerned.

38. The learned Counsel for the respondents-plaintiffs strongly contended that there is no concept of kartha of the joint family, relinquishing the joint family property in favour of any one and the alienation that is permitted is only either by sale or by mortgage and, as such, fourth defendant-Rajashekhar could not have relinquished the suit property in favour of Patel Mallegowda and it is also argued in the same vein that, at the most, the fourth defendant could have relinquished his interest in the suit property but not the interest of the plaintiffs as the said Rajashekar was not the guardian of the plaintiffs nor the kartha of the family. The decision that is referred to in this regard is the one reported in Thamma Venkata Subbamma. I have carefully gone through the said decision rendered by the Apex Court in the case of Thamma Venkata Subbamma. It has been held in the said case by the Apex Court that if a coparcener relinquishes his interest in favour of another, it enures for the benefit of the remaining coparceners also. Relying on the aforesaid observation, the learned Counsel for the respondents-plaintiffs contended that even if Rajashekar had relinquished his share in favour of Patel Mallegowda under the deed of relinquishment, the same would enure to the benefit of the other coparceners including the plaintiffs. But, at the same time, the interests of the other coparceners could not have been relinquished by Rajashekar.

39. The very same decision also gives an indication that the concept of relinquishing or renunciation is also not alien to Hindu Law. In fact, a passage from Mulla's Hindu Law (15th Edition) has also been excerpted and Article 264 at page 357 is as under:
"Article 264. (1) Renunciation or relinquishment of his share:- A coparcener may renounce his interest in the coparcenary property in favour of the other coparceners as a body but not in favour of one or more of them. If he renounces in favour of one or more of them the renunciation enures for the benefit of all other coparceners and not for coparceners in whose favour the renunciation is made. Such renunciation is not invalid even if the renouncing coparcener makes it a condition that he would be paid something towards maintenance. The renunciation or relinquishment must, of course, be genuine. If fictitious and not acted upon it would not be operative as between the parties and partition can be claimed".

40. Therefore, it is clear from the aforesaid observation that the argument of the learned Counsel for the respondents-plaintiffs that except sale and mortgage, there can be no other form of alienation, does not carry much conviction and the Apex Court in the very case under discussion has observed that though the transaction is ostensibly gift, but really the donor meant to relinquish his interest in the coparcenary in favour of the brother and his sons and such renunciation enures for the benefit of all other coparceners and, as such, the gift may be construed as renunciation or relinquishment. Hence, the aforesaid decision, in my view, instead of coming to the assistance of the learned Counsel for the respondents-plaintiffs, supports the case of the appellants.

41. The next contention that is put forward by the learned Counsel for the respondents-plaintiffs with much persuation is that the relinquishment deed Ex. D. 12 is a void document and, therefore, the plaintiffs can ignore the same and, as such, the question of the suit of the plaintiffs being barred by time from the date of the deed of relinquishment does not arise. Before answering the said contention of the learned Counsel for the respondents-plaintiffs, it is proper to refer to the law laid down by the Apex Court as well as by other High Courts in the decisions referred to by the learned Senior Counsel for the appellant, as a reference to the same would provide the answer to the aforesaid contention of the learned Counsel for the respondents-plaintiffs.

42. In the case of K.S. Mariyappa, a Division Bench of this Court has held that where a suit was filed as one for declaration that the preliminary and final decrees passed were nullity because they were tainted with fraud and coercion, if such a relief is granted, in effect, it would result in setting aside the preliminary and final decrees and the Court went on to observe that, in fact, without getting the preliminary and final decrees set aside or cancelled, the plaintiffs are not entitled to reopening of the partition because, their father was a party to the preliminary and final decrees passed in the previous suit. In the instant case also, the plaintiffs, by seeking the relief of partition and separate possession of their share in the suit property are, in effect, calling in question the deed of relinquishment of the year 1969, which is a registered document. Therefore, unless and until the said deed of relinquishment is set aside, the question of the plaintiffs staking a claim for share in the suit property will not arise.

43. In the case of Ramachandra Jivaji Kanago, it has been held that the fact that the transaction of gift was brought about by undue influence, does not necessarily mean that it was not made voluntarily within the meaning of Section 122 of the Transfer of Property Act, 1882 and is, therefore, void. Where the donor wished to make a gift and acted voluntarily in making it, but the transaction was induced by undue influence, the gift is only voidable and requires to be set aside before the property conveyed by it can be claimed by the donee or anyone claiming through him and Article 91 applies to such a case and when the donee was aware of the character of the transaction when he executed the deed, limitation for setting aside the deed of gift would run from the date of the gift because under Article 91 time runs from the date of the knowledge.
44. The next decision is the one in the case of Kona Adiruirciyana, and it was held in the said case that, where the eldest brother of a joint Hindu family as kartha entered into a contract of sale of an item of joint family property, wherein he signed it for himself and as representing the minor brother, the contention that the contract could not be said to have been entered into on behalf of the family and all the members of the family were not parties as the minor was separately represented by the kartha was negatived by the Court by holding that the kartha alone could represent the minor member and, in fact, he alone could represent by himself the entire family and, therefore, the kartha must be deemed to have represented the entire family and the other brother signing it is only by way of concurrence.

45. In the case of Appanna, it was held by a Division Bench of the Madras High Court that Article 91 presupposes that a suit is necessary under the law to set aside the instrument. But, where under the law, there is no duty cast on the person to get an instrument set aside, the Article does not impose any obligation on him and the fact that there is a prayer for declaration that a deed is void or that it should be set aside, does not affect the position and such prayers being ancillary to the substantive prayer for possession may be regarded as mere surplusage.

46. In the case on hand, the plaintiffs' main prayer is to declare the relinquishment deed is invalid and the subsequent prayer is to grant their share in the suit item. Therefore, it cannot be said that the prayer seeking the relinquishment deed to be declared as invalid is an ancillary prayer but, in my view, the said prayer is the substantive prayer in the present suit.

47. As far as the decision in the case of Ram Charan Das, is concerned, it has been held in the said case that the Courts give effect to a family settlement upon the broad and general ground that its object is to settle existing or future disputes regarding property amongst members of a family and in this context, the word "family" is not to be understood in a narrow sense of being a group of persons of which law recognises as having a right of succession by having a claim to a share in the disputed property. The consideration for a family settlement is the expectation that such a settlement will result in establishing or ensuring amity and goodwill amongst the relations. That consideration having passed by each of the disputants the settlement consisting of recognition of the right by each other cannot be permitted to be impeached thereafter. It was further observed in the said case that a party who had taken benefit under the transaction was not now entitled to turn round and say that the transaction was of a kind which the other lady party could not enter into and was therefore invalid.

48. This decision also applies to the case on hand inasmuch as it is an admitted fact that there was a mortgage loan hanging over the suit property and in order to clear the said loan which would ultimately benefit the whole family that the deed of relinquishment came into picture and Patel Mallegowda was entrusted with the responsibility of dealing the said loan.

49. In the case of Ramaiah, it has been held by the Apex Court that applicability of the relevant article of the Limitation Act, 1963 will have to be decided on the basis of the pleadings. But, by suppression of material facts and skillful pleading, the plaintiff cannot seek to avoid inconvenient article and, after observing thus, the Apex Court found in the case before it that the suit was filed by the appellant in 1984 without disclosing that admittedly he was ousted from the property in 1971 and, therefore, applying Article 64, the Apex Court found that the suit had been filed 13 years after dispossession and accordingly, it was held barred by limitation.

50. In the instant case also, from the evidence of P.W. 1, it has come out in clear terms that barring one plaintiff, the other had attained majority on the date of execution of the relinquishment deed in the year 1969 and one of the date of execution of the relinquishment deed in the year 1969 and one of the plaintiffs, who was a minor, also attained majority and the present suit is filed in the year 1984 long after the completion of three years period from the date of attaining of each one of the plaintiffs. Therefore, by skillfully mentioning in the pleadings that the plaintiffs came to know about the relinquishment deed only about two months prior to the filing of the suit, they cannot avoid the limitation period that is applicable to the case on hand having regard to the nature of the suit that is filed viz., suit for declaration of the relinquishment deed of the year 1969 as invalid.

51. Another decision referred to by the learned Senior Counsel for the appellants is the judgment of this Court in an unreported case in R.S.A. No. 745 of 1975, disposed of on 20-4-1983, and it was held in the said case in facts that where the father of the plaintiff had relinquished his share in favour of the defendant by executing the documents Exs. D.7 and D.8 and later, the defendant were in possession of the share of the plaintiff in the joint family properties, and when the evidence revealed that following the death of the plaintiff''s father in the year 1935, the plaintiff never raised his little finger to claim his share in the joint family properties till he filed the suit in the year 1965. That itself probabilises that the plaintiff did not take any action because he knew early that his father of the defendants as otherwise, as a man partition in the year 1948.

52. The facts, more or less, can be comparable to the facts of the case before us in the sense, even in the present case, defendants 3 and 4 relinquished the interest in the suit property in favour of Patel Mallegowda in 1969 and even according to P.W. 1, on the very day itself, khatha was also changed in the name of Patel Mallegowda and thereafter, the plaintiffs did not raise their little finger when there was partition in the plaintiffs'' family in the year 1982 and furthermore, even after attaining the age of majority and long after that, the plaintiffs slept over their right, if they had any, and did not file the suit to question the validity of the relinquishment deed within three years of attaining the age of their majority.

53. In the next decision in the case of Smt. Bismillah, the Apex Court was dealing with a case where the issue revolved on a plea of nullity of certain sale deeds and the High Court had held that the plaint averment which amounted to plea of nullity of the transactions was only a prayer which was simply illusory but the main relief was that of the relief of possession. The Apex Court, reversing the above finding of the High Court, held that in order to determine the precise nature of the action, the pleadings should be taken as a whole and the real substance of the case has to be gathered by construing the pleadings as a whole and then refer to the law laid down by it in earlier decisions which are to be found at paragraphs 10 and 15 as mentioned hereunder:

"10. Indeed in Gorakh Nath Dube v Hari Narain Singh and Others, (1973)2 SCC 535, this Court, dealing with the provisions of the Uttar Pradesh Consolidation of the Holdings Act, 1954 where the provision excluding the Civil Court's jurisdiction is even wider, has had occasion to observe: (SCR p. 342: SCC p. 538, para 5)
"... but, where there is a document the legal effect of which can only be taken away by setting it aside or its cancellation, it could be urged that the consolidation authorities have no power to cancel the deed, and, therefore, it must be held to be binding on them so long as it is not cancelled by a Court having the power to cancel it....".

15. This decision was referred to with approval by this Court in Ningawwa v Byrappa Shiddappa Hireknrabar and Others, AIR 1968 SC 956. It was observed: (SCR pp. 800-01) "It is well-established that a contract or other transaction induced or tainted by fraud is not void, but only voidable at the option of the party defrauded. Until it is avoided, the transaction is valid, so that third parties without notice of the fraud may in the mean time acquire rights and interests in the matter which they may enforce against the party defrauded".

This would be a voidable transaction. But the position was held to be different if the fraud or misrepresentation related to the character of the document. This Court held: (SCR p. 801)

"The legal position will be different if there is a fraudulent misrepresentation not merely as to the contents of the document but as to its character. The authorities make a clear distinction between fraudulent misrepresentation as to the character of the document and fraudulent misrepresentation as to the contents thereof. With reference to the former, it has been held that the transaction is void, while in the case of the latter, it is merely voidable".

However the House of Lords in Saunders v Anglia Building Society, 1971 AC 1004, reviewed the law and held that the essential features of the doctrine, as expressed by Byles, J. in Foster v Mackinnon, 1869 LR 4 CP 704, had been correctly stated. Lord Reid, however observed: (AC headnote at p. 1005)

"The plea of non est factum could not be available to any one who signed without taking the trouble to find out at least the general effect of the document. Nor could it be available to a person whose mistake was really a mistake as to the legal effect of the document. There must be a radical or fundamental difference between what he signed and what he thought he was signing"".

54. The last of the decisions is in the case of Pillanna alias Thimmiah. The Court was dealing with the expression "set aside" used in Article 91 of the Limitation Act, 1911 and posed to itself the question viz., can the plaintiff recover possession without cancelling the sale which is, in the eye of law, a reality, and answered it as under: "It is a fundamental principle of law that 'if a sale is a reality at all, it is a reality defeasible only in the way pointed out by law'', and 'anybody who desires relief inconsistent with it may and should pray to set it aside'. (See Malkarjun v Narhari, (1900)25 B. 337 (350, 352) (PC)). What then is the procedure prescribed by law to get rid of the effect of a voidable instrument?

In India, it is not expressly laid down in any statute that a person who comes in as plaintiff claiming relief against the effect of a deed voidable at his instance should have it judicially rescinded before or at the time of his getting the relief. Common Law of England has been followed in this country and will be a safe guide in determining this point. According to it, it is necessary 'to maintain an action or analogous proceedings for the purpose of having the contract or transaction declared void and rescinded by the Court, in which event it is deemed to have been void ab initio' (See Halsbury's Laws of England, Volume 20, para 1745).

According to the Indian Contract Act, Section 17(a), it is clear that the rescission of the contract unless accepted by the other party, must be by a judicial pronouncement. A mere unilateral repudiation in pais (e.g., effected by act out of Court) cannot constitute an effectual rescission of a contract. (See Bigelow on Fraud, pages 74 to 69). This view is confirmed by the provisions of Indian Contract Act and Section 35 of the Specific Relief Act, 1963. Articles 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 and 44 provides as shown above for suits to set aside the obstacles affecting adversely the interest of the plaintiff. Article 114 provides for the rescission of a contract. Thus by implication Indian Law requires judicial rescission. Sir H.H. Shephard says that Section 35 of the Specific Relief Act indicates that 'rescission imports a judicial decision, and that 'rescission by a person entitling to rescind means that he, having resolved not to persist in demanding performance is in a position to sue for rescission or to defend an action brought on the contract5. (See 24, Madras Law Journal 55 at page 59).

It follows therefore that the plaintiff has to sue for rescission in a Court of law, and if he omits to take such a step within the time fixed under Article 91, the instrument will operate as a bar for the relief claimed by her against the tenor of the instrument. There is no principle on which suits involving the issue of validity of an instrument should, if of a declaratory nature, be brought within one period of time, but if involving relief based on that declaration, may be brought within another period of time. The combination of several claims in a suit would not deprive each claim of its specific character and description".

55. As far as the contention put forward by the learned Counsel for the respondents-plaintiffs that the relinquishment deed is void ab initio is concerned, it has no merit in view of the very argument of the learned Counsel that to the extent of Rajashekar relinquishing his interest in the suit item in favour of Patel Mallegowda is concerned, the said act would enure to the benefit of the other coparceners also and the only grievance is that the interest of the plaintiffs could not have been relinquished by defendants 3 and 4 in favour of Patel Mallegowda. We have also seen from the very first relief that the claim in the suit that all that the plaintiffs seek in the form of declaration is to declare the relinquishment deed as invalid. Therefore, the question of the relinquishment deed being labelled as "void" does not arise and, in the instant case, it could be classified as a document which is voidable at the instance of the aggrieved persons.

56. Therefore, the distinction between void and voidable needs to be kept in view and, in this regard, it is appropriate to refer to the commentary of U.N. Mitra on Law of Limitation and Prescription (12th Edition - Volume 1) wherein, at page 1176, the learned author has drawn the distinction between Void' and 'voidable' very succinctly as under:

"3-A. Distinction between void and voidable:- The expression "void" has several facets. One type of void acts, transactions decrees are those which are wholly without jurisdiction, ab initio void and for avoiding the same no declaration is necessary and law does not take any notice of the same and it can be disregarded in collateral proceeding or otherwise. The other type of "void" act e.g. may be transaction against a minor without being represented by a next friend. Such a transaction is a good transaction against the whole World. So far as the minor is concerned, if he decides to avoid the same and succeeds m avoiding it by taking recourse to appropriate proceedings the transaction becomes void from the very beginning Another type of void act may be one which is not a nullity, but for avoiding the same a declaration has to be made. Voidable act is that which is good act unless avoided e.g. if a suit is filed for declaration that a document is fraudulent and/or foiled and fabricated it is voidable as the apparent state of affairs is the real state of affairs and a party who alleges otherwise is obliged to prove it. If it is proved that the document is foiled and fabricated and a declaration to that effect is given, the transaction becomes void from the very beginning. There may be voidable transactions which is required to be set aside and the same is avoided from the day it is so set aside and not any day Prior to cases, where legal effect of a document cannot be taken away without setting aside the same it cannot be treated to be void, but would be obviously voidable. The word Void' has a relative rather than absolute meaning. It only conveys the idea that the order is invalid or illegal. It can be avoided. There are degrees of invalidity depending upon the gravity of infirmity, as to whether it is fundamental or otherwise. The word "void" need not automatically indicate that any disposition should be ab initio void The legal implication of the word "void" need not necessarily be a stage of nullity in all contingencies".

Therefore the word Void' has a relative rather than absolute meaning and it only conveys the idea that the order is invalid or illegal and the word "void" need not automatically indicate that any disposition should be ab intitio void but the legal implication of the word ''void" need not necessarily be a stage of nullity in all contingencies.

57. The learned Counsel for the respondents-plaintiffs, in the course of his arguments, also had submitted that the plaintiffs were not seeking cancellation of the relinquishment deed, but their only prayer is to declare the said deed as invalid. The appropriate article applicable for seeking cancellation or setting aside an instrument or decree or for rescission of a contract is Article 59. But, where the prayer is to declare the deed of relinquishment as an invalid one, the article that is attracted will be Article 59. But, where the prayer is to declare the deed of relinquishment as an invalid one, the article that is attracted will be Article 58 and, therefore, if the said argument of the learned Counsel for the respondents-plaintiffs is to be taken note of viz., that the plaintiffs are not seeking for cancellation of the relinquishment deed, but only a declaration, then, Article 58 would come into play and the limitation period is three years from the time when right to sue first accrues.

58. Therefore looked from any angle, the suit filed by the plaintiffs has been rightly held to be barred by time by the learned Trial Judge But, the lower Appellate Court did not, as mentioned earlier, go into all the aspects of the matter and also did not consider the evidence in proper Perspective and, as such, the finding of the lower Appellate Court as regards the limitation issue cannot be sustained both on facts as well as in law. Accordingly, the first substantial questions of law stands answered.

59. As far as the second question of law is concerned, once the suit item was relinquished in favour of Patel Mallegowda by defendants 3 and 4 under Ex. D. 12, which is a registered document, the acquisition of the suit item by the aforesaid Patel Mallegowda, therefore, can be traced to the right which Patel Mallegowda got under the registered deed and, as such, the suit property continued to remain as joint family property does not arise. The second question of law, therefore, stands answered accordingly.

60. In the light of the foregoing reasons, the judgment of the lower Appellate Court cannot be sustained in law and that of the Trial Court needs to be restored and hence, I pass the following order: The appeal is allowed. The judgment of the lower Appellate Court is set aside and that of the Trial Court stands restored. No costs.


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