Sona Bala Bora v Jyotirindra Bhattacharjee (2005) involves presumptions relative to capacity and the criterion utilized to determine capacity in the context of a contract. It is ostensible to assert the fact that Property Law acts as a bulwark in the day-to-day activities of the people. Dealing with property matters is one of the main aspects of a… Read More »

Sona Bala Bora v Jyotirindra Bhattacharjee (2005) involves presumptions relative to capacity and the criterion utilized to determine capacity in the context of a contract. It is ostensible to assert the fact that Property Law acts as a bulwark in the day-to-day activities of the people. Dealing with property matters is one of the main aspects of a person’s life.

The case which is to be discussed and analyzed in the present document is one of the landmark cases regarding the aspect of the transfer of the property. The name of the case that is to be discussed is Sona Bala Bora v. Jyotirindra Bhattacharjee. This particular case law is the perfect blend of the provisions of the Transfer of Property Act, 1882 and the Indian Contract Act, 1872. This particular case deals with the dispute regarding the sale of a property.

In the present case, it was asserted and however believed that the sale was carried out at the time when Mr. Bhogirath who was the husband of the appellant, Sona Bala Bora was in an unstable state of mind. However, it was contended by the defendant that when the sale was to be carried out, he himself made Bhogirath for a medical checkup to ensure that whether at the time of making and signing the contract and carrying out the sale, the other party was in a stable state of mind or not.

In this case, there was a prime interpretation of Section 7 of the Transfer of Property Act, 1882, and Section 11 of the Indian Contract Act, 1872. The judges, in this case, interpreted the ambit and aspect of an unsound state of mind.

This interpretation turned out to be one of the most important interpretations of the expression unsound state of mind which also acted as a catalyst in deciding several judgments in the future related to the property matter and the unsound state of mind. Certain important cases have cited this judgment for the better and concrete approach towards justice such as Madhu Ranjan v. Shruti Sharma on 16th January 2015, Charanjit Singh v. Chattranjan Pal and Others 2011, Sh. Devi Dutt Tyagi v. Sh. Kundan Lal 2016 and many more.

Citation: (2005) 4 SCC 501

Decided by: the Supreme Court of India

Honourable bench: Justice Ruma Pal, Justice C.K. Thakker

Date of judgment: 11th April 2005.

Facts of the Case

Sona Bala Bora was the appellant in the present case who filed an appeal in the Supreme Court of India regarding the decision granted by the division bench of the High Court of Guwahati. Bhogirath was the husband of Sona Bala Bora and the father of her three children who collectively were the appellants in this case. He was suffering from mental instability and in that fit, he always threatened to sell his property comprising of three houses that were on the land which was in dispute.

However, in the fit of unsoundness of mind, he sold all the three houses to Jyotindra Bhattacharjee who is the respondent in this case, and created the situation that the family was forced to live on the streets. The appellant family filed an appeal in the High Court but the decision was in their favour according to which the appellant filed an appeal in the Supreme Court of India.

Issues Raised

  1. Whether the disputed land was within the absolute and independent power of Bhogirath and whether he had the saleable right or the title over the property?
  2. Whether there was an ‘unstable state of mind’ factor with Bhogirath while executing the sale deed in favour of the respondent? Whether the right and titles over the property also belonged to the appellants?

Commentary

This is an appeal before the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India. However, the widow of Bhogirath, Sona Bala Bora and her three children are the appellants of the case while a person named Jyotirindra Bhattacharjee was the respondent in the same. The respondent had claimed the fact that he had bought the disputed land from the husband of the appellant named Bhogirath Bora at a consideration of Rupees 69000. Bhogirath along with his wife and children resided in a 0.176 acre property in Shillong having three houses in Toto. The other two houses in the land were tenanted. The respondent filed suit for the title in 1978 against Bhogirath which comprised of the fact that he had absolute and exclusive ownership over the land.

He also clarified that the appellants along with the other tenants must vacate the house so that he could have his vacant possession all over. In rebuttal, the appellants also filed a suit which revealed the fact that it was not Bhogirath who had the absolute authority over the property and absolute power to transfer the property. So conclusively it was inferred that the sale deed in favour of the respondent was void.

The main matter came up when it was revealed that Bhogirath was completely bound by a compromise petition and in accordance to that the appellants owed a preferential right and a right to preemption over the purchase of the other two houses. The result of the compromise was that Bhogirath shall gift to Sona Bala Bora in which she along with her three children was residing and also gift deed for the same was to be executed for the appellant after the other two houses were sold.

He had also agreed to build a cement wall separating their house from the other two houses and also build a toilet in the same. It was revealed that he had also agreed to open a savings bank account of Rupees Ten thousand with the sale deeds of the other houses that were tenanted and were to be sold. The wife also agreed for not interfering in the purchase process of the other two houses by Bhogirath.

However, Bhogirath didn’t construe to the deed and breached the compromise by selling all the three houses of the land to Jyotindra Bhattacharjee. The appellants claimed that they had no knowledge about the transaction nor any notice of mutation was provided to them. Bhogirath intensely supported the respondent in the suits and also nullified the claims of the appellants and so emphasizing about the clarification in the case both the suits were harmonized together and heard before the Court.

This case was first filed by the appellants and the respondent in the District Court of Shillong. Further, it was appealed by the respondent in the Single Judge Bench of High Court of Guwahati and then passed to the Division Bench of High Court of Guwahati. After all the legal mayhem, the case finally accented to the Supreme Court of India where the appellants filed an appeal against the judgment of the Division Bench of High Court. However, it is important to take a brief note of the decision of the lower court to accurately interpret the decision of the Supreme Court that was given in the matter. In the District Court of Shillong, two sets of evidence were framed.

Although, after the examination of the evidence from both sides to the dispute, the counsels agreed that the suit could be decided only on one issue which was, ‘whether the respondent was entitled to get the suit property as per the evidence?’ Certainly, it was revealed that Bhogirath was not in a stable state of mind since 1971 and also the sale and mutation of the property was executed without the knowledge of the appellants.

The mutation was granted and allowed to the respondent without possession. The respondent asserted that he got Bhogirath medically tested regarding his mental capacity that whether he was in his stale state of mind or not prior to the purchase deed. However, the respondent didn’t produce the doctor in the Court. It is pertinent to take note of the fact that the respondent was even ready to give up his claim over the suit property but he demanded his refund money from the appellants.

The Court took cognizance of the fact that if the appellants were thrown out from their house, there will be a dome of hardships that is above their head. It was also agreed by the court that the appellants did not have any other house but the respondent had a house of his own. Construing to the same, it was concluded by the fact that the Court dismissed the suit of respondent along with the amount of Rupees 69000/- to be refunded to him y the appellants within a period of six months.

The Respondent appealed to a Single Judge Bench of High Court. In the Single Judge Bench of Guwahati High Court, Bhogirath died. However, the appeal was pending in the Single Judge Bench of High Court of Guwahati on 18th August, 1988. There were certain issues that were framed the Guwahati High Court:

  1. Whether the disputed land was within the absolute and independent power of Bhogirath and whether he had the saleable right or the title over the property?
  2. Whether there was an ‘unstable state of mind’ factor with Bhogirath while executing the sale deed in favour of the respondent? Whether the right and titles over the property also belonged to the appellants?

Regarding the first issue, the Court opined that the prime motive to buy the land was for the welfare of the family. Also, it was revealed through evidence that there was the active involvement of the appellants along with Bhogirath in the construction of the houses on the land. So it is pertinent to determine that Bhogirath cannot be deemed to be the sole owner of the property. So Bhogirath cannot have the exclusive sealable right in regards to the land and the houses.

However, the appellants got an edge of the fact that Bhogirath was of an unstable state of mind despite respondent’s claim of getting him checked before the sale deed was made. It was observed that the respondent failed to produce the doctor into the court and thus failed to prove his assertions.

He could not even call the doctor who had checked the mental capacity of Bhogirath. The wife of Bhogirath also revealed that she was involved in collecting the rent from the two houses over their land because of the fact that Bhogirath usually developed fits and even threatened his family members to sell off the land.

The court also took cognizance of the fact that Bhogirath even instituted a criminal proceeding against his wife and children which acted as a catalyst to prove that he was intensely detached from his family and acted abnormally. This was concreted by the fact further stating that he had become violent and quarrelsome and used to stay away from home for long durations, consequently transferring the property secretly to the respondent without any prior information to the appellants.

Therefore, it was observed by the Court that as a whole Bhogirath was not in a stable state of mind and therefore he did not have any exclusive rights and title over the property. So, the respondent has no right or title over the land as Bhogirath was never in a position to sell the entire property to the respondent. The Court held that the respondent had no right or title over the property and therefore he did not have the right of dispossessing the appellants from their property in such a manner.

Therefore, the interest, title and rights over the property also vests with the appellants in this context. In the Division Bench of High Court of Guwahati, This Court stated that Bhogirath had the exclusive saleable right and authority over the party as the record of rights known as ‘Patta’ had been issued to him based on a previous decision construing to the judgment of Smt. Amiya Bala Dutta v. Mukul Adhikari and Ors.[1].

It was observed by the court that a slight contribution made by Bhogirath’s wife in regards to the construction of the houses without any written or oral evidence stands meagre to her authority of being an owner of the property or having any sealable right over the same. The Court also clarified the point of dispute over the insanity of Bhogirath that mere institution of criminal proceeding against his family or selling the house to a stranger is not an apt instance of proving his insanity.

The burden of proving the insanity of Bhogirath also was upon the appellants in which they failed. The Judge pointed out that there was no pleadings or any plaint involved which included concerns about the medical condition of Bhogirath by the appellants. The court allowed the appeals of the respondents setting aside the judgments of the Single Bench High Court and ultimately the respondent was granted the rightful ownership of the disputed land. But the case took a turn when consequently the Supreme Court of India disproved the decision along with interpretations given by the Division Bench of High Court.

The Supreme Court pointed out the facts that the Division Bench proceeded in an incorrect manner when they dealt with the issue of the mental condition of Late Mr. Bhogirath. The Judges of Division Bench made a mistake by stating about the appellants failure to mention the mental instability of Bhogirath in their petition.

However, it was submitted by the appellants according to the court that Bhogirath had become abnormal and quarrelsome and also became detached from his family. After a slight recovery, during 1977, his health had deteriorated again and he began consequently developed various fits of insanity often threatening his family to sell the property at hand.

It was observed y the Supreme Court that during the cross-examination of the respondent, submitted that he had got Bhogirath medically checked before making him sign the sale deed as he was informed about Bhogirath’s mental insanity which also proved that he had a reputation of being insane even in the society.

So it was concreted that mental insanity could not be established only by medical reports but also with the help of the conduct of the person. The Supreme Court also asserted that it is not normal for a sane person for forcing his family to live on the streets by selling the entire property. The institution of the criminal proceeding against his family by him is a clear proof of his insanity and disaffection towards his family.

It was further observed by the Court that there were also some financial hardships in their lives because of which acted as a propelling factor for the sale of the property. Moreover, the relations between the other members of the family and Bhogirath were cordial, his conduct couldn’t have been proved to be an insane act. The Division Bench of the High Court made a mistake in the interpretation of the facts of the case.

So it was decided that if the decisions of the lower court cannot be concreted, then such decisions should be set aside by the higher courts. The evidence of the substantial contribution of Bhogirath’s wife in the construction of the house had been straight away rejected. Also, it was revealed that the execution of the compromise made between Bhogirath and the appellants was never deemed to be challenged by the respondent or even Bhogirath.

So finally it was held y the Supreme Court that the decision of the Trial Court which was previously concreted by the Single Judge Bench of the High Court shall be restored and will be sustained and the judgment passed by the Division Bench of the High Court shall be set aside. The court determined that the appellants have to pay back the amount of Rupees 69000/- to the respondent along with an interest of 6% per month in simple interest and the same shall be calculated from the 1st of September, 1985 until the payment has been complete. The respondent’s prayer for mesne profits, costs and interests were not allowed by the Court and the suit of the respondent stood dismissed accordingly.

It was clearly seen in this case that the inclination and obligation of the judges cannot be drawn upon only to the medical reports but also through the conduct of the person. It is seen that however the medical reports are not at par appreciated to prove a fact of normalcy or the aspect of abnormality of the person but sometimes the conduct of the person acts as the prime evidence against him.

I am in full countenance with the judges who were inclined towards concretely analyzing the law in this regard and taking into consideration the unreasonability of Bhogirath for threatening his family to sell off is property which could have forced the family to live I the streets.

This can be deemed to be ostensible enough to prove his instability of mind. Bhogirath had a reputation in the society that he suffered from fits and he was primarily mentally unstable and this fact cannot be ignored at any cost. The provision of the Indian Contract Act, 1872, clearly states that if a contract is given consent by an unsound person when he is in an unsound state of mind, it is not a valid contract.

However construing to the provisions and interpreting the same, it can be concretely deemed that being of unsound mind does not mean that the person is a lunatic if the person is incapable of understanding the circumstances and consequences of the contract or making rational judgments with regard to his interests out of the contract, the person can be said to be of an unsound mind.

According to the Black Law’s Dictionary the state of unsound mind is described, “As a ground for annulling a contract or conveyance, insanity does not mean a total deprivation of reason, but an inability, from defect of perception, memory and judgment to do the act in question or to understand its nature and consequences”.

The test of unsoundness of mind constitutes the fact whether the person is able to make rational decisions and judgments or not. In the case of Bhogirath it is evident from the conduct of Bhogirath that he had no ability and wasn’t in that state of mind of reasonably figuring out the consequences and circumstances of his contract with the respondent and neither could he make any rational judgment about his interests.

So considering all the facts and circumstances and certain decisions of the courts with reasons in mind, in my opinion, the judgment given declaring Bhogirath in an unsound state of mind is a proper decision.


[1] 1998) 2 GLJ 527


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Updated On 2022-02-05T08:30:54+05:30
Mridul Sinha

Mridul Sinha

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