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Court should dismiss appeal in entirety if there is death of some of defendants?

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SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

 

SUNKARA LAKSHMINARASAMMA (D) BY LRs.         ..APPELLANTS

 

 

                              VERSUS

 

 

SAGI SUBBA RAJU & OTHERS ETC.                ..RESPONDENTS

J U D G M E N T MOHAN M. SHANTANAGOUDAR, J.

These appeals are directed against the common judgment in Letters Patent Appeal No. 323 of 1992 and Appeal Nos. 2959 and 2960   of   2001   dated   11   September,   2003   passed   by   the   High Court   of   Judicature   of   Andhra   Pradesh   at   Hyderabad.     The appellants herein were the plaintiffs in O.S. No. 98 of 1984 on the file   of   the   Subordinate   Judge,   Bhimavaram   (formerly   O.P. 
No.124/1980),   and   O.S.   No.   97   of   1984   on   the   file   of   the Subordinate   Judge,   Bhimavaram   (formerly   O.P.   No.10/1982). They were the defendants in O.S. No. 72 of 1983 on the file of the Subordinate  Judge,  Bhimavaram (formerly O.P. No.32/1978 on the file of the Subordinate Judge, Narsapur).

2. O.S.   No.   98   of   1984  was  filed for  partition   of  Schedule  A property against Defendant Nos. 5 to 25. In this suit, only one alienation   made   by   Veeraswamy   (the   plaintiff Lakshminarasamma’s   son)   was   assailed,   though   Veeraswamy had   alienated   various   other   properties   through   different   sale deeds falling under Schedule A.  O.S. No. 97 of 1984 was filed for partition of Schedule A and B properties as well as for eviction of Defendant Nos. 26 to 125 and 127 from the said properties.  O.S. No.   72   of   1983   was   filed   by   one   Sagi   Subba   Raju   (one   of   the respondents   in   these   appeals)   for   specific   performance   of   an agreement   of   sale   dated   19.09.1974   executed   by   the   late Veeraswamy covering an extent of 3 acres 56 cents in Revenue Survey Nos. 347 and 347/3 of Bhimavaram village.

O.S.   Nos.   97   of   1984   and   98   of   1984   (for   partition   of Schedule A and B properties) were dismissed by the trial Court and confirmed by the first appellate Court. O.S. No. 72 of 1983
(suit for specific performance) was decreed partly, directing sale of 1/3rd of the property in favour of the plaintiff Sagi Subba Raju, and   such   decree   was   confirmed   by   the   first   appellate   Court. Feeling   aggrieved   by   these   judgments   and   decrees,   the unsuccessful appellants filed appeals before the High Court.  So also, Sagi   Subba Raju, who was to get 1/3rd  of the property in the   suit   for   specific   performance   filed   L.P.A.   No.   323   of   1992 before the High Court.  All these appeals were heard together by the High Court and decided against the appellants herein, which means   that   the   judgments   and   decrees   of   dismissal   passed   in O.S. Nos. 97 & 98 of 1984 were confirmed by the Division Bench of the High Court also.   Thus, there are concurrent findings of three Courts in respect of those two suits filed by appellants for partition against the appellants herein.  In respect of O.S. No. 72 of 1983 also, the Division Bench proceeded to grant a decree, as prayed   for,   in   favour   of   Sagi   Subba   Raju   and   against   the appellants   herein.     In   other   words,   the   suit   for   specific performance also was decreed fully against the appellants herein. Hence, the appellants are before this Court.

3. Shri A. Subba Rao, learned advocate appearing on behalf of the   appellants,   taking   us   through   the   material   on   record, 
submits that the Courts below were not justified in concluding that the bequests (Wills) relied upon by the defendants, i.e. Will dated   14.08.1932   (Exhibit   B4/Ex.P1)   in   respect   of   Schedule   A property and the Will dated 05.10.1968 (Exhibit B106/Ex. P2) in respect   of   Schedule   B   property   executed   for   the   benefit   of Veeraswamy, were proved; that the plaintiffs have got 2/3 rd share in the suit properties and therefore the bequests (Exhibits B4 and B106)   will   not   confer   any   right   to   the   beneficiary   in   excess   of remaining 1/3rd  of the properties. Lastly, he submitted that the Defendant   Nos.   5   to   125   &   127,   being   the   purchasers   of   the properties   from   Veeraswamy   (in   whose   favour   the   Wills   were executed), are liable to be evicted inasmuch as Veeraswamy did not have any right, title or interest over the suit properties to the full extent, on the other hand, Veeraswamy had only 1/3 rd share in the suit properties.

4. Per   contra,   learned   counsel   appearing   on   behalf   of   the respondents contends that the judgment of the Division Bench of the High Court is just and proper and needs no interference.  The trial Court, the first appellate Court and the Division Bench of the High Court have held that Exhibit B4 and Exhibit B106 are proved   in   accordance   with   law   and   consequently   Veeraswamy 
became the owner of the property from the said Wills. He further submitted that the defendants/purchasers have been in peaceful possession of  the  suit properties for more than 40 to 50 years and some of the defendants have even alienated the properties to third   parties.     Lastly,   he   submitted   that   the   appeals   are   not maintainable   since   a   number   of   defendants   (purchasers   from Veeraswamy)   were   deleted   from   the   array   of   parties   by   the appellants herein, and some of the defendants have died during the pendency of the suits as well as the first appeals and second appeals   and   their   legal   representatives   were   not   brought   on record by the appellants herein. Even before this Court, some of the defendants/respondents have expired.   The appellants have not bothered to bring on record the legal representatives of such deceased defendants.  As a result, the decree passed in favour of the   deceased   and   deleted   defendants   holding   that   Veeraswamy had   the   right   to   sell   the   property   has   attained   finality,   and consequently the sales made in favour of such defendants have attained finality too.   In other words, the validity of the Wills as well as that of the sale deeds stands confirmed in respect of the deceased/deleted defendants and therefore these appeals, which are pending consideration in respect of other defendants before
this Court, are liable to be dismissed in view of the fact that in case   any   order   is   passed   adverse   to   the   interest   of   the respondents   herein/remaining   defendants,   the   same   would   be conflicting   with   the   judgments   and   decrees   which   are   already confirmed as against the deceased/deleted defendants.

5. Exhibit B4, the Will dated 14.08.1932, pertains to Schedule A   property.   The   said   Will   was   executed   by   Sunkara Padmanabhudu, who was admittedly the owner of the Schedule A properties.  He had no issue.  His wife also expired shortly after his death. The beneficiary under the said Will was Veeraswamy, who   is   none   other   than   the   grandson   of   Sunkara Venkataramaiah   (the   brother   of   Sunkara   Padmanabhudu). Exhibit B106, the Will dated 05.10.1968 pertains to Schedule B property. The said Will was executed by Laxmipathi (the father of Veeraswamy)   in   favour   of   his   son   Veeraswamy.   Sunkara Padmanabhudu expired on 20.08.1932 and Laxmipathi died on 21.01.1969.  Thus, Veeraswamy became the owner of Schedule A and   B   properties,   after   the  demise of   Sunkara  Padmanabhudu and   Laxmipathi.     There   is   nothing   on   record  to   show   that  the properties in Schedule B were the joint properties of Laxmipathi and his son.   So also, it is not established by the plaintiffs that 
Schedule   B   properties   were   available   for   partition.   There   are concurrent findings of three Courts on the said point against the appellants/plaintiffs   in   partition   suits.   The   plaintiff Laxminarasamma is the second wife of Laxmipathi, who has not specifically   questioned   the   alienations   made   by   her   son Veeraswamy in favour of Defendant Nos. 5 to 125 by filing O.S. Nos. 97 & 98 of 1984.  There is no prayer by her for getting the sale deeds cancelled.   All the three Courts concurrently on facts have concluded that both the Wills are proved. Even before us, the   findings   of   the   validity   of   the   Wills   etc.   have   not   been seriously disputed by the appellants.   Even otherwise, on going through   the   judgments   of   the   three   Courts,   we   find   that   the reasons   assigned   and   the   conclusions   arrived   at   in   respect   of proof   of   both   the   Wills   are   just   and   proper.     Hence,   no interference is called for.

6. Since Veeraswamy was the sole owner of the properties by virtue of Exhibits B4 and B106 Wills, naturally he had the right to alienate the properties.  Defendant Nos. 5 to 125 and 127 had purchased   the   properties   for   valuable   consideration   from Veeraswamy. As mentioned supra, the alienations made in favour of   these   defendants/purchasers   were   not   questioned   by   the
appellants in the aforementioned two suits for partition.  Be that as   it  may,   since  we   find   that the Courts below  are justified in concluding that the sales made in favour of Defendant Nos. 5 to 125   and   127   are   just   and   proper   and   as   they   are   bona   fide purchasers   for   valuable   consideration,  no  interference is  called for.

7. Shri A. Subba Rao, learned counsel for the appellants was however forceful in his arguments, insofar as the suit for specific performance   is   concerned.     According   to   him,   the   appellants herein (defendants in the suit for specific performance) would be put   to   hardship   if   the   decree   for   specific   performance   is confirmed, inasmuch as there has been a huge escalation in the price of the properties since the agreement of sale.  Such plea of escalation in price cannot be accepted in view of the fact that the appellants in the first instance do not have the right to question the agreement of sale.   As mentioned supra, since Veeraswamy was the absolute owner of the properties including the property involved in the suit for specific performance, he had the right to enter   into   an   agreement   of   sale   also.     This   property   was bequeathed   to   Veeraswamy   under   Exhibit   B4   Will   by Padmanabhudu.   Hence, Veeraswamy was the sole owner of the 
property.     Consequently,   he   had   entered   into   an   agreement   of sale with Sagi Subba Raju, as far back as on 19.09.1974.   The suit was  filed  in the  year 1978, which was later transferred to another Court and the same was re­numbered as O.S. No. 72 of 1983.     Since   1978,   this   litigation   is   being   fought   by   the prospective vendee.   The property of about three and half acres was agreed to be sold by Veeraswamy in favour of the prospective vendee in the year 1974 for a sum of Rs.51,000/. Such price was agreed to between the vendor as well as the prospective vendee. This Court cannot imagine the value of the property as it stood in the   year   1974   in   the   said   area,   i.e.   at   Bhimavaram   village   in Andhra Pradesh.   Be that as it may, we find that hardship was neither pleaded nor  proved by the appellants herein before the trial Court.   No issue was raised relating to hardship before the trial Court.   A plea which was not urged before the trial Court cannot   be   allowed   to   be   raised   for   the   first   time   before   the appellate Courts.  Moreover, mere escalation of price is no ground for interference at this stage (see the judgment of this Court in the   case   of  Narinderjit   Singh   vs.   North   Star   Estate   Promoters Limited, (2012) 5 SCC 712).  Added to it, as mentioned supra, the appellants do not have the locus standi to question the judgment 
of   the   Division   Bench   since   they   are   not   the   owners   of   the property.     As   a   matter   of   fact,   Veeraswamy,   the   vendor   of   the properties, had entered the witness box before the trial Court and supported   all   his   alienations   in   favour   of   the   defendants. Therefore,   in   our   considered   opinion,   the   Division   Bench   has rightly concluded in favour of Sagi Subba Raju and against the appellants and granted the decree for specific performance.

8. In   any   event,   Shri   Thomas   P.   Joseph,   learned   senior advocate   appearing   on   behalf of the respondents is justified in contending   that   these   appeals   are   not   maintainable   since   a number of defendants against whom the relief is sought/claimed have either been deleted from the array of parties, or are dead. The legal representatives of such deceased defendants have not been   brought   on   record.     Even   before   this   Court,   Respondent No.7   (D8),   Respondent   No.8   (D9),   Respondent   No.9   (D10)   and Respondent No.11 (D13) in Civil Appeal No. 4382/2016 @ SLP(C) No. 20376/2004 have died.  Their legal representatives have also not been brought on record.  It is relevant to note here itself that Defendant Nos. 4, 6, 36, 50, 54, 58, 67, 69, 73, 77, 82, 92, 93, 113,   120   and   127   expired   during   the   pendency   of   the   matter before the trial Court in O.S. No. 97 of 1984. So also, Defendant 
Nos.   20,   53,   64   and   118   have   also   died   and   their   legal representatives have also not been brought on record.  

9. Order 22 Rule 4, CPC lays down that where within the time limited   by   law,   no   application   is   made   to   implead   the   legal representatives of a deceased defendant, the suit shall abate as against a deceased defendant.  This rule does not provide that by the omission to implead the legal representative of a defendant, the   suit   will   abate   as   a   whole.     If   the   interests   of   the   co­ defendants are separate, as in the case of co­owners, the suit will abate   only   as   regards   the   particular   interest   of   the   deceased party. In such a situation, the question of the abatement of the appeal in its entirety that has arisen in this case depends upon general   principles.     If   the   case   is   of   such   a   nature   that   the absence of the legal representatives of the deceased respondent prevents the court from hearing the appeal as against the other respondents,   then   the   appeal   abates   in   toto.     Otherwise,   the abatement   takes   place   only   in   respect   of   the   interest   of   the respondent who has died.  The test often adopted in such cases is whether in the event of the appeal being allowed as against the remaining   respondents   there   would   or   would   not   be   two contradictory decrees in the same suit with respect to the same
subject matter.   The court cannot be called upon to make two inconsistent   decrees   about   the   same   property,   and   in   order   to avoid   conflicting   decrees   the   court   has   no   alternative   but   to dismiss the appeal as a whole.  If on the other hand, the success of the appeal would not lead to conflicting decrees, then there is no valid reason why the court should not hear the appeal and adjudicate upon the dispute between the parties.   In the matter on   hand,   the   absence   of   certain   defendants   who   have   been deleted from the array of parties along with the absence of legal representatives of a number of deceased defendants will prevent the   court   from   hearing   the   appeals   as   against   the   other defendants.     We   say   so   because   in   the   event   of   these   appeals being allowed as against the remaining defendants, there would be two contradictory decrees in the same suit in respect of the same   subject   matter.     One   decree   would   be   in   favour   of   the defendants   who   are   deleted   or   dead   and   whose   legal representatives have not been brought on record;  while the other decree would be against the defendants who are still on record in respect of the same subject matter.   The subject matter in the suit   is   the   validity   of   the   two   Wills.   The   Courts   including   the Division Bench of the High Court have consistently held that the
two Wills are proved, and thus Veeraswamy being the beneficiary under the two Wills had become the absolute owner of the suit properties in question. Such decree has attained finality in favour of the defendants who are either deleted or dead and whose legal representatives have not been brought on record.   In case these appeals are allowed in respect of the other defendants, the decree to   be   passed   by   this   Court   in   these   appeals   would   definitely conflict   with   the   decree   already   passed   in   favour   of   the   other defendants.     As   mentioned   supra,   the   Court   cannot   be   called upon to make two inconsistent decrees about the same subject matter.   In order to avoid conflicting decrees, the Court has no alternative but to dismiss the appeals in their entirety (see the judgment of this Court in the case of Shahazada Bi vs. Halimabi, (2004) 7 SCC 354).

10. In view of the above, the appeals fail not only on the ground of non­maintainability, but also on merits, and are dismissed.

 

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