Civil Appeal No. 2049 of 2013
Date of judgement:
27 August 2021
Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul
Justice Hemant Gupta
Appellant – Union Of India & Anr
Respondent – S. Narasimhulu Naidu (Dead) Through LRs. And Ors
The doctrine of res judicata becomes active when a party attempts to file a subsequent lawsuit on the same matter. The Apex Court, in this judgement, explained the applicability of this principle between co-defendants.
- Section 8 of the Andhra Pradesh Land Grabbing (Prohibition) Act, 1982 – The power and procedure of the Special Court to take cognizance of cases arising out of land grabbing or concerning the ownership and title, or lawful possession thereof.
- Section 11 of the Civil Procedure Code – The court shall not try any matter, which has already been decided by a competent court between the same parties involving the same issue.
- The respondents being the legal heirs of S.V. Srinivasulu Naidu (deceased), claimed that their father was the owner of the land in Survey No. 299/2, Ward No. 8, Shaikpet Village, Hyderabad. Their father had sold a part of this land measuring 4971.5 sq. yards to the purchaser and had retained the remaining part measuring 7128.5 sq. yards. However, the remaining part was acquired by the Union of India (appellant).
- As a result, the respondents had filed an application under Section 8 of the Andhra Pradesh Land Grabbing (Prohibition) Act, 1982 against the appellant before the Hyderabad Tribunal. They also alleged that the purchaser (plaintiff) of their father's land had filed a suit against the Union of India because they trespassed into the property and also against their father, being the previous owner in possession.
- The respondent's father had filed a written statement, affirming that plaintiff was the rightful owner and was entitled to the title deed. He also expressed no objection to the suit being decreed. Thus, the suit was decreed and the plaintiff was declared the title owner of the disputed property. The Union of India appealed to the High Court but it was dismissed.
- Later, in 1993, after the death of S.V. Srinivasulu Naidu, their legal heirs contended before the Tribunal that they are the rightful owners of the land measuring 7128.5 sq. yards, and the Government had no right or title over the property. The Tribunal supported and passed an award in favour of the legal heirs. When an appeal was made to the Allahabad High Court, it upheld the verdict of the Tribunal. Hence, the Union of India moved to the Supreme Court.
- The counsel for the appellant contended that the subject matter of the first suit dealt only with the land measuring 4971.5 sq. yards, and not the entire land acquired by the Union under the 1982 Act. This suit deals with the question of the ownership of the remaining part of the land in Survey No. 299/2. Hence, the doctrine of Res Judicata cannot be made applicable in this case.
- The counsel for the respondent contrarily held that the decree in the first suit was in respect of entire property possessed by S.V. Srinivasulu Naidu, though the claim of plaintiffs was restricted to the land purchased by him. It relied on K. Ethirajan (Dead) by LRs. V. Lakshmi & Ors, and submitted that when the same parties are involved in the same issue in a previous and subsequent suit, then the principle of res judicata is applicable, even if the previous suit involved a part of the property and the subsequent suit involved the whole property.
- Whether the order passed in the first suit by the plaintiff, operates as Res Judicata?
- Whether the Union of India had a rightful title over the land in the issue?
- The case of Munni Bibi & Anr. V. Tirloki Nath & Ors, was the first where the Privy Council examined whether there can be res judicata between co-defendants. Three principles of res judicata as between co-defendants were set forth. They are –
a) There must be a conflict of interest between the defendants.
b) It must be necessary to decide this conflict to give the plaintiff relief.
c) The question between the defendants must have been finally decided.
- The court observed that though the initial suit was between the same parties, the subject matter was different. Since the issue in the suit was restricted to 4971.5 sq. yards, the decree would be binding to that extent only. Hence, the matter in issue cannot be said to be barred by constructive res judicata as given under Explanation IV of Section 11 of the CPC. As a result, the decree in the first suit will not operate as res judicata in the subsequent matters.
- The court also rejected the contention of the respondent relying upon the K. Ethirajan case. It held that the judgment is not applicable in the present case as the title over the land in question before the Tribunal is distinct from the land which was the subject matter in the first suit. It pointed out that the paragraph referred to by the counsel cannot be read in isolation and must be read, keeping in mind the facts of the case.
- As for the question of the appellant's title over the land, the Supreme Court observed that by the virtue of the Government Grants Act, 1895 and the Registration Act, 1958 the transfer of land to the appellant is complete, and hence Union of India is the rightful owner of the aforesaid land. On the other hand, the applicants had failed to prove the title of their vendor so as to claim a rightful title over the land in question.
- Thus, the Bench allowed the appeal and dismissed the application filed before the Tribunal and declared the appellant in this case, to be the owner and in possession of the suit land.
Res judicata under Section 11 of the CPC has a purpose to prevent multiplicity of suits and to prevent the other party from unnecessary harassment, once the matter has been adjudicated. However, this principle is not applicable if the subject matter of the suit is not similar to that of the earlier suit. It is applicable if the matter in the former suit has been alleged by one party and either denied or admitted, expressly or impliedly by the other.
Justice SK Kaul and Justice Hemant Gupta also explained the requisite conditions which should be satisfied to apply the principle of res judicata as between the co-defendants.
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