IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION
CIVIL APPEAL No. 678 of 2013
(Arising out of SLP (Civil) 31559 of 2012)
Mohd. Mehtab Khan & Ors. ... Appellant(s)
Khushnuma Ibrahim & Ors. ... Respondent(s)
J U D G M E N T
RANJAN GOGOI, J.
2. Aggrieved by the grant of interim relief by an Appellate Bench of the
Bombay High Court in a suit under Section 6 of the Specific Relief Act,
1963 (hereinafter for short the “SR Act”), the present appeal has been
filed by the defendants 5, 10 and 11 in the suit. More specifically, by
the impugned order dated 09.10.2012 the Receiver of the suit properties
appointed by the learned Single Judge has been directed to remain in
possession and hand over the same to the respondent Nos.1 and 2
(plaintiffs) who are to be in possession as agents of the Receiver.
3. Before embarking upon the necessary discussion of the factual matrix
of the case, an identification of the contesting parties in the manner
indicated below would be necessary.
|Name |Relationship |Status in the Trial |
| | |Court |
|Khunshnuma Ibrahim |Wife of Deceased |Plaintiff No.1 |
|Khan |Ibrahim Khan | |
|Raghib Ibrahim Khan |Son of Deceased |Plaintiff No.2 |
| |Ibrahim Khan | |
|Shri Asadullah Khan @ |Younger Brother of |Defendant No. 1 |
|Sameer Khan |Deceased Ibrahim Khan | |
|Shri Najmuzzaman Khan |Elder Brother of |Defendant No.2 |
| |Deceased Ibrahim Khan | |
|Smt. Tara Begum |Wife of Defendant No.2|Defendant No.3 |
|Shri Sheheryaar Khan |Son-in-law of |Defendant No.4 |
| |Defendant Nos. 2 & 3 | |
|Mohd.Mehtab Khan |Son from 1st wife of |Defendant No.5 |
| |deceased | |
|Mohd. Ilyas Khan |Brother of Defendant |Defendant No.6 |
| |No.3 | |
|Mohd. Dayan Khan |Unrelated |Defendant No.7 |
|Smt. Shehzadi |Wife of Defendant |Defendant No.8 |
| |No.12 | |
|Miss Rani |Unrelated |Defendant No.9 |
|Tabish Ebrahim Khan |Son from 2nd wife of |Defendant No.10 |
| |Deceased | |
|Kamran Khan |Son from 1st wife of |Defendant No.11 |
| |Deceased | |
|Zakarullah Khan |Son from 1st wife of |Defendant No.12 |
| |Deceased | |
4. The plaintiff No. 1 claims to be the 3rd wife of one Ibrahim Khan
whereas the plaintiff No. 2 is the son of the first plaintiff and Ibrahim
According to the plaintiffs, Ibrahim Khan and the first plaintiff
were married in the year 1993 and out of the said wedlock the plaintiff No.
2 was born some time in the year 1996.
The plaintiffs claim that they
alongwith Ibrahim Khan were residing in flat No. A-505, Noor-e-Jahan
Complex, Pipe Road, Kurla (West), Mumbai and that they were also in
occupation of an office being 201/202, 2nd floor in the Big 3 Building, 88,
Anandilal Poddar Marg, Marine Lines, Mumbai from where the first plaintiff
was carrying on her profession of advocate and solicitors in the name of
M/s. K.K. Associates.
It is the case of the plaintiffs that both the
aforesaid properties were the self-acquired properties of Ibrahim Khan and
that the suit flat was gifted in favour of the first plaintiff whereas a
general power of attorney was executed in favour of the first plaintiff
insofar as the suit office is concerned.
5. The further case of the plaintiffs is that Ibrahim Khan had gone to
Delhi on 28.11.2011 to attend a wedding. On 1.12.2011 the first plaintiff
could come to know that Ibrahim Khan had suffered a brain hemorrhage and
was admitted in the hospital.
According to the plaintiffs, they took an
early morning flight to Delhi on the very next day. However, at about
9.30/10.00 O’Clock in the morning, Ibrahim Khan died.
Thereafter, at the
insistence of the first defendant (brother of the deceased) the body of the
deceased was taken to Bhagalpur, Bihar which was the native place of
The plaintiffs accompanied the body of the deceased to
Bhagalpur and the last rites were performed at the said place in the
afternoon of 4.12.2011.
On 5.12.2011 the plaintiff No. 1 received a call
from her next door neighbour, one Nadeem, that the lock of the suit flat
was broken and a new lock had been placed by some unknown persons.
According to the plaintiffs, the first plaintiff called her house help
Niranjan who informed her that the defendants 2, 3 and 4 had forcibly taken
possession of the suit flat.
It is also the case of the plaintiffs that
when she had contacted her office she was informed that the defendant No. 4
had gone to the suit office and had snatched the keys from the office staff
and had locked up the premises.
6. According to the plaintiffs, they reached Mumbai on 6.12.2011 and on
going to the suit flat they found that new locks had been put thereon.
They, thereafter, lodged a complaint to the police on 6.12.2011 and
thereafter on 12.12.2011 instituted Suit No. 27 of 2012 under Section 6 of
the SR Act.
On 14.12.2011, when the matter was taken up by the Court, the
defendant Nos. 1 to 4 informed the Court that they are not in possession of
the suit flat but it is the defendants 5, 11 and 12 who are in possession.
The Court by order dated 14.12.2011 appointed a Receiver and directed him
to make an inspection of the suit flat and suit office and report back to
Such inspection was made by the Court appointed Receiver on
16.12.2011. The report of inspection was submitted to the Court to the
effect that the defendant Nos. 5 to 9 were found to be in possession of the
Formal possession thereof was taken over by the Court Receiver
in terms of the order dated 14.12.2011.
In the report of the Court
Receiver, it was further mentioned that the defendant No. 10 had produced
the keys of the suit office.
However, the Court Receiver did not succeed in
opening the doors of the office premises as there were further locks fixed
thereon and inquiries did not indicate as to who was in possession of the
Accordingly, the Court Receiver informed the Court that formal
possession of the suit office could not be taken. In the aforesaid
circumstances, at the instance of the plaintiffs, defendants 5 to 12 were
impleaded in the suit.
7. At this stage the specific case of the defendants as advanced before
the learned Trial Judge, may be taken note of.
The fact that the first
plaintiff was the 3rd wife of Ibrahim Khan and the second plaintiff was the
son born out of the said marriage is not disputed by the defendants.
death of Ibrahim Khan in the circumstances stated in the plaint is also not
According to the defendants, the appellants were residing in
the suit premises with the deceased Ibrahim Khan till the middle of the
year 2009 when the first plaintiff separated from the deceased.
Thereafter, according to the defendants, the plaintiffs were not in
possession of the suit flat and, instead, were staying in the house of the
father of the first plaintiff at Mira Road.
The second plaintiff was
studying in a school located on Mira Road. It is the specific case of the
defendants that the deceased, at the relevant time, was residing in the
suit flat alongwith his son from the first wife (defendant No. 5) and
the defendants had inherited the suit flat on the death of Ibrahim Khan.
Insofar as the suit office is concerned, it is the specific case of the
defendants that the plaintiff No. 1 was not in possession of the said
premises and that the said plaintiff No. 1 had been functioning from an
office located at another place, i.e., shop No. 32/33 Ashoka Centre, 2nd
floor, L.T. Marg, Mumbai.
8. Alongwith the respective pleadings of the parties elaborate documents
had been laid before the learned Trial Judge on the basis of which
contentions were advanced by the respective parties each claiming to be in
possession of the suit flat and suit office on the relevant date in order
to justify the reliefs that the respective parties were seeking from the
As would be evident from the order of the Appellate Bench of the
High Court, insofar as the suit flat is concerned, the plaintiffs had
produced as many as 50 documents details of which has been catalogued in a
chronological order in the order dated 9.10.2012.
Insofar as suit office
is concerned, similarly, the plaintiffs had relied on as many as 31
documents to show their claim of possession.
Likewise, the defendants had
also relied on an equally long and elaborate list of documents to show that
the plaintiffs were not in possession of the suit flat and suit office at
the relevant point of time, as claimed.
As the details of the said
documents have been minutely taken note of by both the Benches of the High
Court it is not necessary for this Court to traverse the said aspect of
the case once again.
Instead, we may briefly notice the reasons which had
weighed with the learned Trial Judge to refuse interim relief to the
plaintiffs and those that had prevailed upon the Appellate Bench to reverse
the said order of the learned Trial Judge.
9. Both the learned Trial Judge as well as the Appellate Court
considered the very same documents brought on record by the contesting
parties to arrive at their respective conclusions with regard to the
entitlement of the plaintiffs.
Specifically, the learned Trial Judge had
discussed the narration of the events of dispossession pleaded by the plaintiffs and held the same to be somewhat unreliable and inconsistent in view of the fact that the defendant No. 1 (son of the deceased Ibrahim Khan) who is alleged to have been instrumental in dispossessing the plaintiffs was at the relevant point of time in Bhagalpur in connection
with the cremation of the deceased, Ibrahim Khan.
In this regard the claim
of defendants 2 to 4 that they were also in Bhagalpur at the relevant time
was considered by the learned Trial Judge.
The versions of the occurrence
allegedly narrated to the plaintiff No. 1 by her neighbours and her
domestic aid were also found to be somewhat contradictory.
Trial Judge took into account the fact that the plaintiffs’ version with
regard to prosecution of studies by the second plaintiff in the school at
Mira Road and his residing with the parents of the plaintiff No. 1 at Mira
Road was brought on record in the rejoinder and did not constitute the part
of the plaint case.
In coming to his conclusions in the matter the learned
Trial Judge also took into account the fact that the visiting card of the
plaintiff No. 1 showed an address other than of the suit office and also
the fact that the communication conveying the temporary membership of the
plaintiff No. 1 in the Bombay Bar Association sent to the suit flat address
was returned with the remarks “shifted”.
The fact that the visiting card
of the plaintiff showing the office address at Ashoka Centre contained the
same telephone numbers of the plaintiff that were mentioned in certain
communications of the bank were duly taken note of by the learned Trial
In the above context the claim of the plaintiff No.1 that the said
visiting card is a forged and fabricated document was held to be an issue
fit for decision in the trial of the suit.
The learned Trial Judge took
into account the passports of both the plaintiffs issued in the year 2009
showing the address of the suit premises as well as the vouchers/memos
showing payment by the plaintiff No.1 for the household and electronic
goods which were found in the suit flat.
On an overall consideration of
the aforesaid facts and the documents laid in support thereof, the learned
Trial Judge was of the view that there were inconsistencies and
improbabilities in the case of the plaintiffs which needed to be
established in the trial of the suit.
Accordingly, the interim relief of
direction to be put back in possession, as claimed by the plaintiffs, was
10. The Appellate Court understood the very same documents considered by
the learned Trial Judge in a wholly different manner.
Specifically, it was
held that the various household and electronic goods found in the suit flat
during the inspection carried out by the Receiver on 16.12.2011 were
proved to have been purchased by the plaintiffs on the basis of a
invoice/voucher dated 22.8.2008 and the said fact pointed to the possession
of the suit flat by the plaintiffs and, in fact, demolished the case of the
defendants that the first plaintiff and the deceased had separated some
time in the middle of the calendar year 2009.
The passports issued to the
plaintiffs in 2009 recording the address of the suit flat; the HDFC bank
statement of plaintiff No. 1; the ICICI bank Credit Card Statement of
plaintiff No. 1 during the relevant time, all indicating the address of the
suit flat were duly relied upon by the Appellate Court in coming to its
The Appellate Court also relied on an application form
submitted (before the Appellate Court) by the second plaintiff on 11.8.2011
for admission in the 11th standard in H.R. College of Commerce and
Economics at Dinshaw Vachcha Road, Church Gate, Mumbai which was signed by
the deceased Ibrahim Khan himself giving the address of the suit office and
the suit flat.
The version of the plaintiffs that the visiting card
showing her office at Ashoka Centre was a forged document and also the
claim that the plaintiff had used the said premises temporarily as the suit
office was under renovation was accepted by the learned Appellate Court as
sufficient explanation to counter the stand taken by the defendants.
the aforesaid basis the order of the learned Trial Judge was found fit for
reversal and refusal of interim relief to the plaintiffs was held to be
Accordingly, interim relief(s) was granted in the appeal.
11. We have heard Mr. V. Krishnamurthy, Senior Advocate for the
appellants and Mr. Shyam Divan, Senior Advocate for respondents No. 1 and
12. A proceeding under Section 6 of the Specific Relief Act, 1963 is
intended to be a summary proceeding the object of which is to afford an
immediate remedy to an aggrieved party to reclaim possession of which he
may have been unjustly denied by an illegal act of dispossession.
Questions of title or better rights of possession does not arise for
adjudication in a suit under Section 6 where the only issue required to be
decided is as to whether the plaintiff was in possession at any time six
months prior to the date of filing of the suit.
The legislative concern
underlying Section 6 of the SR Act is to provide a quick remedy in cases of
illegal dispossession so as to discourage litigants from seeking remedies
outside the arena of law.
The same is evident from the provisions of
Section 6(3) which bars the remedy of an appeal or even a review against a
decree passed in such a suit.
13. While the bar under Section 6(3) of the SR Act may not apply to the
instant case in view of the initial forum in which the suit was filed and
the appeal arising from the interim order being under the Letters Patent
issued to the Bombay High Court, as held by a Constitution Bench of this
Court P.S. Sathappan (Dead) by Lrs. v. Andhra Bank Ltd. & Ors., what is
ironical is that the correctness of the order passed in respect of the
interim entitlement of the parties has reached this Court under Article 136
of the Constitution.
Ordinarily and in the normal course, by this time,
the suit itself should have been disposed of. Tragically, the logical
conclusion to the suit is no where in sight and it is on account of the
proverbial delays that have plagued the system that interim matters are
being contested to the last court with the greatest of vehemence and
Given the ground realities of the situation it is neither feasible
nor practical to take the view that interim matters, even though they may
be inextricably connected with the merits of the main suit, should always
be answered by maintaining a strict neutrality, namely, by a refusal to
Such a stance by the courts is neither feasible nor
practicable. Courts, therefore, will have to venture to decide interim
matters on consideration of issues that are best left for adjudication in
the full trial of the suit. In view of the inherent risk in performing such
an exercise which is bound to become delicate in most cases the principles
that the courts must follow in this regard are required to be stated in
some detail though it must be made clear that such principles cannot be
entrapped within any straitjacket formula or any precise laid down norms.
Courts must endeavour to find out if interim relief can be granted on
consideration of issues other than those involved in the main suit and also
whether partial interim relief would satisfy the ends of justice till final
disposal of the matter.
The consequences of grant of injunction on the
defendant if the plaintiff is to lose the suit alongwith the consequences
on the plaintiff where injunction is refused but eventually the suit is
decreed has to be carefully weighed and balanced by the Court in every
given case. Interim reliefs which amount to pre-trial decrees must be
avoided wherever possible.
Though experience has shown that observations
and clarifications to the effect that the findings recorded are prima facie
and tentative, meant or intended only for deciding the interim entitlement
of the parties have not worked well and interim findings on issues
concerning the main suit has had a telling effect in the process of final
adjudication it is here that strict exercise of judicial discipline will be
of considerable help and assistance.
The power of self-correction and
comprehension of the orders of superior forums in the proper perspective
will go a long way in resolving the dangers inherent in deciding an interim
matter on issues that may have a close connection with those arising in the
14. There is yet another dimension to the issues arising in the present
The interim relief granted to the plaintiffs by the Appellate
Bench of the High Court in the present case is a mandatory direction to
handover possession to the plaintiffs.
Grant of mandatory interim relief
requires the highest degree of satisfaction of the Court; much higher than
a case involving grant of prohibitory injunction.
It is, indeed, a rare
power, the governing principles whereof would hardly require a reiteration
inasmuch as the same which had been evolved by this Court in Dorab Cawasji
Warden vs. Coomi Sorab Warden and Others has come to be firmly embedded
in our jurisprudence. Paras 16 and 17 of the judgment in Dorab Cawasji
Warden (supra), extracted below, may be usefully remembered in this regard:
“16. The relief of interlocutory mandatory injunctions are thus
granted generally to preserve or restore the status quo of the last
non-contested status which preceded the pending controversy until
the final hearing when full relief may be granted or to compel the
undoing of those acts that have been illegally done or the
restoration of that which was wrongfully taken from the party
complaining. But since the granting of such an injunction to a
party who fails or would fail to establish his right at the trial
may cause great injustice or irreparable harm to the party against
whom it was granted or alternatively not granting of it to a party
who succeeds or would succeed may equally cause great injustice or
irreparable harm, courts have evolved certain guidelines. Generally
stated these guidelines are:
(1) The plaintiff has a strong case for trial. That is,
it shall be of a higher standard than a prima facie case that
is normally required for a prohibitory injunction.
(2) It is necessary to prevent irreparable or serious
injury which normally cannot be compensated in terms of
(3) The balance of convenience is in favour of the one
seeking such relief.
17. Being essentially an equitable relief the grant or refusal of
an interlocutory mandatory injunction shall ultimately rest in the
sound judicial discretion of the court to be exercised in the light
of the facts and circumstances in each case. Though the above
guidelines are neither exhaustive nor complete or absolute rules,
and there may be exceptional circumstances needing action, applying
them as prerequisite for the grant or refusal of such injunctions
would be a sound exercise of a judicial discretion.”
15. In a situation where the learned Trial Court on a consideration of
the respective cases of the parties and the documents laid before it was of
the view that the entitlement of the plaintiffs to an order of interim
mandatory injunction was in serious doubt, the Appellate Court could not
have interfered with the exercise of discretion by the learned Trial Judge
unless such exercise was found to be palpably incorrect or untenable. The
reasons that weighed with the learned Trial Judge, as already noticed,
according to us, do not indicate that the view taken is not a possible
view. The Appellate Court, therefore, should not have substituted its views
in the matter merely on the ground that in its opinion the facts of the
case call for a different conclusion. Such an exercise is not the correct
parameter for exercise of jurisdiction while hearing an appeal against a
discretionary order. While we must not be understood to have said that the
Appellate Court was wrong in its conclusions what is sought to be
emphasized is that as long as the view of the Trial Court was a possible
view the Appellate Court should not have interfered with the same following
the virtually settled principles of law in this regard as laid down by this
Court in Wander Ltd. v. Antox India (P) Ltd. Para 14 of the aforesaid
judgment which is extracted below would amply sum up the situation:
“14. The appeals before the Division Bench were against the exercise
of discretion by the Single Judge. In such appeals,
court will not interfere with the exercise of discretion of the
court of first instance and substitute its own discretion
where the discretion has been shown to have been exercised
arbitrarily, or capriciously or perversely or where the court had
ignored the settled principles of law regulating grant or refusal of
An appeal against exercise of discretion
is said to be an appeal on principle. Appellate court will not
reassess the material and seek to reach a conclusion different from
the one reached by the court below if the one reached by that court
was reasonably possible on the material.
The appellate court would
normally not be justified in interfering with the exercise of
discretion under appeal solely on the ground that if it had
considered the matter at the trial stage it would have come to a
If the discretion has been exercised by the
trial court reasonably and in a judicial manner the fact that the
appellate court would have taken a different view may not justify
interference with the trial court's exercise of discretion.
referring to these principles Gajendragadkar, J.
in Printers (Mysore) Private Ltd. v. Pothan Joseph: (SCR 721)
“... These principles are well established, but as has been
observed by Viscount Simon in Charles Osenton & Co. v. Jhanaton
‘...the law as to the reversal by a court of appeal of an order
made by a judge below in the exercise of his discretion is well
established, and any difficulty that arises is due only to the
application of well settled principles in an individual case’.”
The appellate judgment does not seem to defer to this
16. Though the above discussions would lead us to the conclusion that the
learned Appellate Bench of the High Court was not correct in interfering
with the order passed by the learned Trial Judge we wish to make it clear
that our aforesaid conclusion is not an expression of our opinion on the
merits of the controversy between the parties.
Our disagreement with the
view of the Division Bench is purely on the ground that the manner of
exercise of the appellate power is not consistent with the law laid down by
this Court in the case of Wander Ltd. (supra).
Accordingly, we set aside
the order dated 09.10.2012 passed by the Appellate Bench of the Bombay
High Court and while restoring the order dated 13.04.2012 of the learned
Trial Judge we request the learned Trial Judge, or such other court to
which the case may, in the mean time, have been transferred to dispose of
the main suit as expeditiously as its calendar would permit with the
expectation that the same will be possible within a period of six months
from the date of receipt of this order.
The appeal shall stand disposed of
in terms of the above.
January 24, 2013.
 (2004) 11 SCC 672
 (1990) 2 SCC 117
 1990 (Supp) SCC 727