Declaratory Decrees | Specific Relief Act 1963

By | April 1, 2020
Declaratory Decrees | Specific Relief Act 1963

Declaratory decrees issued under section 34 of the Specific Relief Act. It acknowledges the legal character or right to property of the plaintiff. It helps in avoiding all possible future controversies and litigations that can arise over the title. It is binding only between the parties.

I. Introduction: Declaratory Decrees under the Specific Relief Act 1963

Under Chapter 6 of Part 2 (Specific Relief) of the Statute, Specific Relief Act, 1963 (hereinafter “The Act”), the remedy of Declaratory Decrees is being provided. The court can exercise its discretion so as to grant a declaration concerning the title or interest of the plaintiff for the property.

The person has to be entitled to a legal character so as to be eligible to get a declaration from the court of law. The legal character can also include a right to property.[1] The defendant should be denying or infringing the plaintiff’s title. If any consequential relief the plaintiff is entitled to, he or she must claim the same.

In the following article, the legal nuances and explanations of Declaratory Decrees i.e. an equitable remedy shall be explored. The article shall answer important questions that arise when it comes to declarations as a crucial remedy under the Specific Relief Act, 1963.

II. History of the Provision related to Declaratory Decrees 

Before delving into the remedy enshrined under the present law, it will be helpful to know how this provision took its ‘present’ shape. To know the same, one has to open the history. For this provision, the historical background goes back to 1852. It originated with section 50 of the Chancery Procedure Act of 1852, imbibing the Scot practise of declaratory. English courts got the legal and authoritative sanction to grant declarations.[2]

Hence, it was an innovative step which led to the origin of this unique remedy. In Indian statute books, this remedy found space in 1859 with section 15 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1859. It was made lawful for civil courts to “make binding declarations of a right without granting any consequential relief.”[3]

With the enactment of the Specific Relief Act, 1877, the provision concerning the power of granting declarations got transferred to section 42 of the same.[4] With section 34 of the 1963 law, this power got transmuted into a new law.[5] But, to what extent has this power has become important and got independent from this provision of law can be understood from further sections.

III. Purpose and Importance of Declaration

Instead of having multiple litigations over a controversial title of the plaintiff, the dispute can be settled once and for all through the mechanism of a declaration.[6] The stand and title of plaintiff is strengthened in favour of this claim over the property concerned and it is not weakened against the opposite party.[7]

Thus, a perpetual bulwark is provided to the plaintiff against all possible future attacks on his or her title. Existing cause of controversy is being prevented by this act of the court.[8]

Ambit of Section 34

It is well settled that this provision of law is not at all exhaustive. The source of granting declaratory decrees does not solely vest in this section. It is because of the decision of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Vemareddi Ramaraghava Reddy v. Konduru Seshu Reddy[9], wherein court considered section 9 or Order 9, Rule 7, Civil Procedure Code. 1908[10] as also vesting the source for granting declarations, since the suit, in this particular case was regarding declaring a compromise decree as not valid.

Court has been categorical in holding that this provision is merely a statutory recognition of well-recognised relief of declaration. But for situations like the declaration of rights of a holder of mortgage decree who is also an assignee of a creditor’s decree whose property is to be attached, it is Order 21, Rule 95, Code of Civil Procedure that can be used for granting declaration.[11]

Similarly, section 9 read with Order 7, Rule 7, Code of Civil Procedure can be used to declare an order of the Food Corporation of India (FCI) as illegal. In a specific case, FCI ordered plaintiff- transporter to compensate for the loss in transit, with twice the levy price of 100 bags of sugar. It was declared illegal accordingly.[12]

IV. Essentials for Relief – Declaratory Decrees 

1. Legal Character

The terminology used stands for a status that is ascribed to an individual to his or her personal capacity.[13] Thus, it is a position accepted in law. Various examples can be adduced- minority, caste, rank, official position, civil death, illegitimacy, nationality, even name of the plaintiff in a record.[14]

It can be a question of family relationships[15] or hereditary right of making appointments.[16] It can be the legal character of a priest of a temple.[17]

2. Entitlement of a legal character with the plaintiff

The plaintiff before suing for a declaratory decree cannot be a mere stranger to the title. He or she must be entitled to some legal character or right to the property so as to be eligible for the remedy.[18] The plaintiff has to sufficiently discharge the burden of proving the title irrespective of whether the defendants have proven their case or not.[19]

If the plaintiff’s claim to the title could not be sufficiently established, the court cannot decree on the basis of the defendant’s claim of title even if easement and adverse possession have not been established.[20] The title need not be absolute or perfect. He or she may have a proprietary or possessory title.[21] It should be just superior to the one to the cloud.[22]

3. Present interest

Plaintiff needs to have present and subsisting right not only at the date of suit[23] but also at the date of the decree.[24] The court cannot make a declaration on the basis of a right that may arise in future if and when the occasion arises since this will not be a basis for a legal character.[25] This shows that on a speculative basis, the court is not authorised to grant this remedy.[26]

Even for past rights or legal character, a declaration cannot be granted by the court.[27] A chance to succeeding to the property as an heir apparent would constitute to be a spes successionis under the provisions of the Transfer of Property law.[28] The court cannot grant a declaration for such an uncertain title.[29]

4. Complete Title

When the plaintiff claims the title, it must be complete. In totality, the situation has to be considered. If a voter did not take requisite steps to get his name registered in the voter list, a declaration cannot be sought for being qualified to vote, since the main relief is to get the name registered in the list.[30]

On similar lines, a partner to a firm who is not admitted to a partnership cannot ask for a declaration that he is an equal partner with other partners.[31] But, in case of issuance of a letter of allotment and possession certificate, if the plaintiff claims possessory right from a defendant who has admitted the entitlement of the plaintiff, the plaintiff is considered eligible for remedy.[32]

5. Suit against person denying or “interested to deny”

Denial of title is a must for the plaintiff to establish his or her locus standi before the court.[33] Denial can be temporary,[34] express or implied of the plaintiff’s legal character or his or her right to property.[35] But the provision is widened by including a person who can be interested to deny the title of the plaintiff.

This opens wide gates of interpretation for eligibility of plaintiff to bring suits against various people. A person interested to deny has been interpreted by courts as an opposite party holding rival claims or some sort and of some interest resembling with the right of the person whose interest is being denied.[36]

As per the explanation provided in section 34, a trustee of a property can also be a person interested to deny the title of the plaintiff.[37] Any person who might stand to gain financially from a legal right if established cannot be put in this category.[38] There must be a specific person who is denying or interested to deny the plaintiff’s right.

In a case concerning financers, consumers complained that they didn’t have a license. Court held that financer cannot ask for a general declaration that having a license is not mandated by the statute. There must be a specific person against whom the declaration is sought.[39]

6. Specific Instances of Declaration

A question of title over some property or of a legal character is a must as mentioned categorically in the law. A suit for declaration of rights emerging from a contract is not maintainable.[40] But in cases of wrongful dismissal from service, the plaintiff’s legal character is affected and tarnished, thus the employee can base his or her claim on a contract.[41]

A family relationship can be also declared by the courts. In case of blood relationships, the courts cannot compel the parties to give blood samples.[42] Such a direction concerning blood samples can only be given once an eminent need is established.[43] To claim that the appellant’s wife is the wife of the appellant, the respondent was mandated to first prove that appellant is married.[44]

For the Hindu faith, worshippers can seek a declaration that certain lands are the properties of the deity.[45] But with regards to the Muslim faith, the suit for land concerning a wakf property, the provision in the wakf act would have to be relied for initiating the matter before the respective tribunal.[46]

A declaration for subsistence of service can be made in special circumstances after purported termination of contract of service, because the appropriate remedy under the law is considered as damages.[47] In any case, such a declaration therefore can be granted if a consequential relief is also sought along with the same.[48]

Even the status of caste is a legal character as well settled by judicial pronouncements.[49] In one case, plaintiff was claimed to be a member of an agricultural tribe and the same was allowed by the court.[50] Hon’ble Supreme Court has held that for identification of caste of such members, a committee in every state government has to issue social caste certificate.[51]

A suit can also lie for declaration against the government as the court is duty bound to respect the appellant’s rights and declare them accordingly.[52] A public authority including its each officer cannot take nay unjustifiable stand concerning matters related to public.[53]

V. Categories of Relief

As per the landmark verdict by Calcutta High court[54], there are three categories of relief that can be obtained from the court through this provision of law:

  • Relief merely declaratory, defining rights but not giving any present relief.
  • Relief in form declaratory, but in effect giving instant relief to the plaintiff by restoring his deprived rights.
  • Relief claimed as introductory to the relief granted by the court.

VI. Right of further relief

The word relief has been interpreted to mean something more than a right whereby a person claiming the relief needs something. This “something” is the relief.[55] When the plaintiff, suppose, is already in possession, all that he or she would require from the court would be a declaration from the right of his or her right, nothing more, nothing less.[56]

It is well settled that a declaratory decree would merely declare and acknowledge the rights of a decree-holder. It is due to the change in the law from 1859 civil law, as discussed above, to the present Specific Relief Act.

In the earlier law, it was mandatory for the party to claim the declaratory decree along with the consequential relief available.[57] But in the latter case, a party can merely seek a declaration as well.[58] But, in the present law, there can be situations wherein the opinion of the court, it is considered necessary for a party to claim further relief.[59]

VII. Effect of Declaration

As per section 35 of the act, a declaration given by the court is binding only between the parties; hence it is only a declaration in personam and not in rem.[60]

As far as the difference from res judicata goes, there is no limitation with regards to competency of court.[61] A previous judgment can be res judicata in subsequent litigation between parties though they may not have been claiming through them or nominee parties.[62]

Conclusion – Declaratory Decrees 

The declaration thus becomes an important component of the discretionary and equitable remedies that are being provided by the court.


References

[1] Specific Relief Act, 1963, § 34, No. 47, Acts of Parliament, 1963 (India).

[2] Deokali Koer v Kedar Nath, (1912) ILR 39 Cal 704.

[3] Moothoo Vijia Ragoonadah Ranee Kolandapuree Natchiar v. Dorasinga Tevar, (1874) 2 IA 169, 187–90.

[4] Specific Relief Act, 1877, § 42, No. 1, Acts of Imperial Legislature, 1877 (India).

[5] Specific Relief Act, 1963, § 34, No. 47, Acts of Parliament, 1963 (India).

[6] T.S. Palaniappa Mudaliar v. Syed Ghulam Ghouse Madani Sahib, AIR 1928 Mad 489.

[7] Nilima Bose v. Santosh Kumar Ghosh, AIR 1997 Cal 202.

[8] Anathula Sudhakar v. P. Buchi Reddy, (2008) 4 SCC 594.

[9] Vemareddi Ramaraghava Reddy v. Konduru Seshu Reddy, AIR 1967 SC 436.

[10] Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, § 9, No. 5, Acts of Imperial Legislature, 1908 (India).

[11] Supreme General Films Exchange Ltd v. His Highness Maharaja Sir Brijnath Singhji Deo of Mahiar, AIR 1975 SC 1810.

[12] Food Corporation of India, Gorakhpur v. Mahabir Prasad Bharatiya, AIR 1988 All 160.

[13] Lalji Haridas v. Mulji Manilal Kamdar, AIR 1966 Guj 159.

[14] Rashmeet Kaur Kohli v. Central Board of Secondary Education, AIR 2007 Del 46.

[15] Narayan Dutt Tiwari v. Rohit Shekhar, (2012) 12 SCC 554.

[16] Manickavachaga Desikar v. Paramasivan, AIR 1929 PC 53.

[17] Debendra Narain Sarkar v. Satya Charan Mukerji, AIR 1927 Cal 783.

[18] Specific Relief Act, 1963, § 34(1), No. 47, Acts of Parliament, 1963 (India).

[19] Union of India v. Vasavi Cooperative Housing Society Ltd, (2014) 2 SCC 269.

[20] Ram Das v. Salim Ahmed, (1998) 9 SCC 709.

[21] Qabool Singh v. Board of Revenue, AIR 1973 All 158.

[22] Kennedy v. Elliott, 85 F 832.

[23] Dass Mal v. Union of India, AIR 1956 Punj 42.

[24] Qabool Singh v. Board of Revenue, AIR 1973 All 158.

[25] Shaikh Rafiquddin v. Haji Shaikh Asgar Ali, AIR 1922 Pat 392.

[26] Jeka Dula v. Bai Jivi, AIR 1938 Bom 37.

[27] Seth Narainbhai Ichharam Kurmi v. Narbada Prasad Sheosahai Pande, AIR 1941 Ngp 357.

[28] Transfer of Property Act, 1882, § 6 (a), No. 4, Acts of Imperial Legislature, 1882 (India).

[29] Sharifan Bibi v. Aishan Bibi, AIR 1928 Lah 831.

[30] Chairman of Municipal Commissioners v. Assam-Bengal Rly Co Ltd, AIR 1928 Cal 736.

[31] ASCO Engineering Co v. Surat Gas Supply Co, AIR 1988 (NOC) 48 (Del).

[32] Manoji Rao v. T Krishna, AIR 2001 SC 623.

[33] Tulsiram v. Shyamlal Ganpatlal, AIR 1960 MP 73.

[34] Sahdeo Lal Bhagat v. Kesho Mohan Thakur, AIR 1916 Pat. 361.

[35] Muddasani Sarojana v. Muddasani Venkat Narsaiah, AIR 2007 AP 50.

[36] Governor-General in Council v. Mulla Mahommed Bhai, AIR 1944 Ngp 382.

[37] Specific Relief Act, 1963, § 34(1), No. 47, Acts of Parliament, 1963 (India).

[38] Zena Gladys Freemantle v. Herbert Charles Freemantle, (1950) 52 BOMLR 641.

[39] Federation of All India Hire Purchaser Financiers Secunderabad v. Union of India, AIR 2008 Bom 198.

[40] Nathu Ram v. Mula, AIR 1937 Lah 25.

[41] Ashok Kumar Srivastav v. National Insurance Co. Ltd, (1998) 4 SCC 361.

[42] Goutam Kundu v. State of West Bengal, (1993) 3 SCC 418.

[43] Narayan Dutt Tiwari v. Rohit Shekhar, (2012) 12 SCC 554.

[44] D Velusamy v. D Patchaiammal, (2010) 10 SCC 469.

[45] Monmohan Haldar v. Dibbendu Prosad Roy Choudhury, AIR 1949 Cal 199.

[46] Ramesh Gobindram v. Sugra Humayun Mirza Wakf, (2010) 8 SCC 726.

[47] Bool Chand v. Chancellor Kurukshetra University, (1968) 1 SCR 434.

[48] Manninkal Krishna Kurup v. Swamiyar Avergal, AIR 1969 Ker 36.

[49] Mian Ghulam Rasul Khan v. Secy of State for India, (1925) 6 Lah 269; Secy of State v. Dhobu Ram, (1944) 25 Lah 168.

[50] Bendangmeren Longchar v. Merazulu, AIR 1994 Gau 109.

[51] Kumari Madhuri Patil v. Addl. Commissioner, Tribal Development, (1994) 6 SCC 241.

[52] Sri Rajah v. Sarvagnaya Kumara Krishna Yachendra, AIR 1945 Mad 5.

[53] K. Madhadeva Sastry v. Director Post-Graduate Centre, AIR 1982 AP 176.

[54] Manjural Haque v. Bisseswar, AIR 1943 Cal 361.

[55] Surya Nath Singh v. Shio Karan Singh, AIR 1936 Ran 316.

[56] Ramanuja v. Devanayaka, (1885) ILT 8 Mad 361.

[57] Code of Civil Procedure 1908, § 15, No. 5, Acts of Imperial Legislature, 1908 (India).

[58] Sree Sree Goddess Pitha Kali Matha Thakurani v. Surendra Nath Tagore, AIR 1934 Cal 192.

[59] Sivaramalinga Dikshitar v. Sabharatna Dikshitar, AIR 1919 Mad 233.

[60] SNP Shipping Services Pvt Ltd v. World Tanker Carrier Corp, AIR 2000 Bom 34.

[61] Veeranna v. Sayamma, AIR 1958 AP 363.

[62] Razia Begum v. Sahebzadi Anwar Begum, AIR 1958 SC 886.


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