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Friday, May 26, 2017

whether the High Court had the jurisdiction to decide the second appeal when the appellant and 2 respondents had expired during the pendency of appeal and their legal representatives were not brought on record?whether the impugned judgment/order is a nullity because it was passed by the High Court in favour of and also against the dead persons. In our considered opinion, it is a nullity. =Such objection, in our opinion, could be raised in appeal or even in execution proceedings arising out of such decree. In our view, the objection, therefore, deserves to be upheld. It is, accordingly, upheld.

        REPORTABLE
                        IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

                        CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION

                       CIVIL APPEAL No.  5671  OF 2017
                   (ARISING OUT OF SLP (C) No.26798/2011)

Gurnam Singh(D) Thr. Lrs. & Ors.       ...Appellant(s)

                             VERSUS

Gurbachan Kaur(D) By Lrs.
& Ors.                                      …Respondent(s)



                               J U D G M E N T
Abhay Manohar Sapre, J.
1)    Leave granted.
2)    This appeal is filed by the legal representatives of defendant Nos.  2
and 4 against the final judgment and order dated 18.05.2012  passed  by  the
High Court of Punjab and Haryana  at  Chandigarh  in  Civil  Regular  Second
Appeal No. 1148 of 1985 whereby  the  High  Court  allowed  the  plaintiff’s
appeal, set aside the concurrent findings of the Trial Court and  the  First
Appellate Court and decreed the plaintiff’s suit  for  specific  performance
of contract against the defendants in relation to the suit land.
3)    The facts of the case lie in a narrow compass so also the  controversy
involved in the appeal is short. However, only relevant facts to  appreciate
the question involved are mentioned infra.
4)    One Surjan Singh(defendant No.1) was the original owner  of  the  suit
land bearing Khasra Nos. 1806, 1807, 1808 and  1809  (new  numbers  91R/2/3,
12, 9, 10, 11, 90R/6 and 15)  measuring  43  Kanals  4  Marlas  situated  in
village Rasulpur, Tahsil/District Amritsar (hereinafter referred to as  "the
suit land”).
5)    On 06.05.1974, Surjan Singh entered into a contract to sell  the  suit
land to one Gurbachan Kaur(plaintiff) for Rs.10,000/- per Killa.   In  terms
of the contract, the sale deed of the  suit  land  was  to  be  executed  by
Surjan Singh in favour of Gurbachan Kaur on or before 28.01.1975.
6)    On 03.09.1974, Surjan Singh sold the  suit  land  to  Joginder  Singh,
Mehal Singh and Gurnam Singh. This led  to  filing  of  the  civil  suit  by
Gurbachan  Kaur  against  Surjan  Singh(defendant   No.1)   and   subsequent
purchasers, namely, Joginder Singh(defendant  No.2),  Mehal  Singh(defendant
No.3)  and  Gurnam  Singh(defendant  No.4).   The  suit  was  for   specific
performance of contract dated 06.05.1974 filed  by  Gurbachan  Kaur  against
the  aforementioned  4  defendants  in  relation  to  the  suit  land.   The
defendants contested the suit. Parties went on trial.
7)    By judgment/decree dated 29.08.1980, the  Trial  Court  dismissed  the
suit insofar as it pertained to grant of relief of specific performance   of
contract was concerned but decreed the suit by  granting  money  decree  for
Rs.7000/- in plaintiff's favour. In this way, the suit  was  partly  decreed
and partly dismissed.
8)    Felt aggrieved, the plaintiff-Gurbachan Kaur  alone  filed  the  first
appeal in the Court of  District  Judge.   So  far  as  the  defendants  are
concerned, they did not file any appeal against the  money  decree  suffered
by them. By judgment/decree dated  06.11.1984,  the  first  Appellate  Court
dismissed  the  appeal   filed   by   the   plaintiff   and   affirmed   the
judgment/decree of the Trial Court.
9)    Felt aggrieved, the  plaintiff-  Gurbachan  Kaur  carried  the  matter
further and filed Second Appeal  before  the  High  Court.  The  appeal  was
admitted for final hearing on substantial questions of  law  framed  by  the
High Court.
10)     During   pendency   of   the   second   appeal,   Gurbachan    Kaur-
appellant(plaintiff)  died   on   10.05.1994.   Likewise,   Joginder   Singh
(respondent-  defendant  No.2)  died  on  06.12.2000   and   lastly   Gurnam
Singh(respondent-defendant No.4) also died on 19.04.2002.  Despite  bringing
to the notice of the High Court about the death of  the  appellant  and  the
two respondents, no  steps  were  taken  by  anyone  to  bring  their  legal
representatives on record to enable them to prosecute the  lis  involved  in
the appeal.
11)   On 18.05.2010, the High Court allowed the  second  appeal,  set  aside
the judgment/decree of the two Courts  below  and  decreed  the  plaintiff's
suit for specific performance of the  contract  against  the  defendants  in
relation to the suit land.
12)    It  is  against  this  judgment  of  the  High   Court,   the   legal
representatives  of  defendant  No.2(Late  Joginder  Singh)  and   defendant
No.4(Late Gurnam Singh) filed the present appeal by  way  of  special  leave
petition  and sought permission to question its legality and correctness.
13)   Heard Mr. Basava Prabhu S.  Patil,  learned  senior  counsel  for  the
appellants and Mr. Subhasish Bhowmick, learned counsel for the  respondents.

14)   The short question, which arises for consideration in this appeal,  is
whether the  impugned  order  allowing  the  plaintiff’s  second  appeal  is
legally sustainable in law?  In other words, the  question  is  whether  the
High Court had the  jurisdiction  to  decide  the  second  appeal  when  the
appellant and 2 respondents had expired during the pendency  of  appeal  and
their legal representatives were not brought on record?
15)   In a leading case of this Court in Kiran Singh  &  Others  vs.  Chaman
Paswan & Others (AIR 1954 SC  340),  the  learned  Judge  Venkatarama  Ayyar
speaking for the Bench in his distinctive style of  writing  laid  down  the
following principle of law being fundamental in nature:
      “It is a fundamental  principle  that  a  decree  passed  by  a  Court
without jurisdiction is a nullity, and that its invalidity could be  set  up
whenever and wherever it is sought to be enforced or relied  upon,  even  at
the stage of execution and even  in  collateral  proceedings.  A  defect  of
jurisdiction, whether it is pecuniary or territorial, or whether  it  is  in
respect of the subject-matter of the action, strikes at the  very  authority
of the Court to pass any decree, and such a defect cannot be cured  even  by
consent of parties.”

16)   The question, therefore, is whether the impugned judgment/order  is  a
nullity because it was passed by the  High  Court  in  favour  of  and  also
against the dead persons.  In our considered opinion, it is a  nullity.  The
reasons are not far to seek.
17)   It is not in dispute  that  the  appellant  and  the  two  respondents
expired during the pendency of  the  second  appeal.   It  is  also  not  in
dispute that no steps  were  taken  by  any  of  the  legal  representatives
representing the dead persons and on whom the right to sue had  devolved  to
file an application under Order 22 Rules 3  and  4  of  the  Code  of  Civil
Procedure,1908 (for short, ‘the Code’) for bringing their  names  on  record
in place of the dead persons to enable them to continue the lis.
18)   The law on the point is well settled. On the death of a party  to  the
appeal, if no application is made by the party concerned to  the  appeal  or
by the legal representatives of the deceased on whom the right  to  sue  has
devolved for substitution of their names in  place  of  the  deceased  party
within 90 days from the date of death  of  the  party,  such  appeal  abates
automatically on expiry of 90 days from the date of death of the  party.  In
other words, on 91st  day, there is no appeal pending before the  Court.  It
is “dismissed as abated”.
19)   Order 22 Rule  3(2)  which  applies  in  the  case  of  the  death  of
plaintiff/appellant and Order 22 Rule 4(3) which  applies  in  the  case  of
defendant/respondent  provides  the  consequences   for   not   filing   the
application  for  substitution  of  legal  representatives  by  the  parties
concerned within the time prescribed. These provisions read as under:-
                             Order 22 Rule 3(2)
      “Where within the time limited by law no  application  is  made  under
sub-rule (1) the suit shall abate  so  far  as  the  deceased  plaintiff  is
concerned, and, on the application of the defendant, the Court may award  to
him the costs which he may have  incurred  in  defending  the  suit,  to  be
recovered from the estate of the deceased plaintiff.”

                             Order 22 Rule 4(3)

      “Where within the time limited by law no  application  is  made  under
sub-rule (1), the suit shall abate as against the deceased defendant.”

20)   In the case at  hand,  both  the  aforementioned  provisions  came  in
operation because the appellant and the two respondents expired  during  the
pendency of second appeal and no application was filed to bring their  legal
representatives on record.  As held above, the  legal  effect  of  the  non-
compliance of Rules  3(2)  and  4(3)  of  Order  22,  therefore,  came  into
operation resulting in dismissal of second appeal as abated  on  the  expiry
of 90 days from 10.05.1994, i.e., on 10.08.1994. The High Court,  therefore,
ceased to have jurisdiction to decide the second appeal which stood  already
dismissed on 10.08.1994. Indeed, there was no pending appeal  on  and  after
10.08.1994.
21)   In our considered view, the appeal could be revived for  hearing  only
when firstly, the proposed legal representatives  of  the  deceased  persons
had filed an application for substitution of their names and secondly,  they
had applied for setting aside of the abatement under Order 22 Rule 9 of  the
Code and making out therein a sufficient  cause  for  setting  aside  of  an
abatement and lastly, had filed  an  application  under  Section  5  of  the
Limitation Act seeking condonation  of  delay  in  filing  the  substitution
application under Order 22 Rules 3 and 4 of the Code  beyond  the  statutory
period of 90 days. If these  applications  had  been  allowed  by  the  High
Court, the second appeal could have been revived for final hearing  but  not
otherwise. Such was not the case here because no such applications had  been
filed.
22)   It is a fundamental principle of law laid down by this Court in  Kiran
Singh’s case (supra) that a decree passed by the Court, if it is a  nullity,
its validity can be questioned in  any  proceeding  including  in  execution
proceedings or even  in  collateral  proceedings  whenever  such  decree  is
sought to be enforced by the decree holder. The reason is  that  the  defect
of this nature affects the very authority  of  the  Court  in  passing  such
decree and goes to the root of the case. This principle, in  our  considered
opinion, squarely applies to this case because it is a settled principle  of
law that the decree passed by a Court for or against  a  dead  person  is  a
“nullity” (See-N. Jayaram Reddy & Anr.  Vs.  Revenue  Divisional  Officer  &
Land Acquisition Officer, Kurnool, (1979) 3 SCC 578, Ashok Transport  Agency
vs. Awadhesh Kumar & Anr., (1998) 5 SCC 567 and Amba Bai & Ors. Vs. Gopal  &
Ors., (2001) 5 SCC 570).
23)   The appellants are the legal representatives of defendant Nos.  2  and
4 on whom the right to sue has devolved.   They  had,  therefore,  right  to
question the legality of the impugned order inter alia on the ground  of  it
being a nullity.  Such objection, in our opinion, could be raised in  appeal
or even in execution proceedings arising out of such decree.  In  our  view,
the objection, therefore,  deserves  to  be  upheld.   It  is,  accordingly,
upheld.
24)   In the light of foregoing discussion, we  allow  the  appeal  and  set
aside the impugned judgment/decree.
                       ………...................................J.
                                  [R.K. AGRAWAL]


…...……..................................J.
                               [ABHAY MANOHAR SAPRE]     New Delhi;
April 27, 2017
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