Decided on July 29,1955



Viswanatha Sastry, J. - (1.)"This is an appeal by the plaintiff' against the decree in O. S. No. 108 of 1930 on the file of the Subordinate Judge, Vijayawada dismissing his suit for a declaration that the Resolution and decree of the Board of Revenue dated 6-4-1950 in V. O. S. A. No. 9 of 1949 was illegal, ultra vires and void. The Court below decided that it had no jurisdiction to entertain the suit, and this decision is challenged on appeal. The Madras Hereditary Village-Offices Act (III of 1895) will be referred to as " the Act" in this judgment. The facts are not in dispute and may be shortly stated. Rolupade is a proprietory village forming part of Nadim Tiruvur estate. The plaintiff's father Meduri Challayya was holding the office of headman and karnam of this village till 1910 when there was a bifurcation of the two offices. Challayya opted for the karnam's office and continued to retain it till 1927. In 1910, Nagabhushanam, a divided son of Challayya by his first wife, applied for and was appointed to the post of Village Headman of Rolupade, an office which he holds even now. When Challayya became old, he resigned the office of karnam on 6-8-1927 and his son by his second wife Rama Rao, the present plaintiff, was appointed karnam in the place of his father. In 1947, Gopala-krishnamurthy, a son of Nagabhushanam filed a suit V. O. S. No. 1 of 1947 in the Court of the Revenue Divisional Officer, Vijayawada for recovery of the office of karnam under Section 13 (1) of the Act. In that suit, Rama Rao was impleaded as a defendant along with the other members of the family. The Revenue Divisional Officer dismissed the suit, and Gopalakrishnamurthy filed an appeal V. O. S. A. No. 1 of 1948 to the District Collector, who confirmed the decision of the Revenue Divisional Officer. The ground on which the District Collector upheld the dismissal of the suit was that when Nagabhushanam was appointed as village headman in 1910, he had given up all claims of reversion to the karnam's post in favour of his step-brother Rama Rao at a time when Gopalakrishnamurthy had not been born, and that Nagabhushanam got himself appointed to the headman's post on the basis of such relinquishment. Gopalakrishnamurthy took up the matter in second appeal to the Board of Revenue in V. O. S. A. No. 9 of 1949. The Board of Revenue decided that Gopalakrishnamurthi, who belonged to the senior line was preferentially entitled to the office of karnam by virtue of the rule of lineal primogeniture, and that the relinquishment of the office by his father Nagabhushanam was not binding on his heirs. By its order dated 6-4-1950, the Board set aside the order of the Collector and appointed Gopalakrishnamurthy as the karnam.
(2.)Aggrieved by this order of the Board, Rama Rao brought the present suit for a declaration that the order of the Board was ultra vires, illegal and void for several reasons which were set out in the plaint, and which may be summarised as follows:(1) There was no preliminary enquiry or finding about the fitness of Gopalakrishnamurthy for the office, such an enquiry and finding being a condition precedent to the appointment. (2) There was no vacancy in the office of karnam in 1950 when the appointment of Gopalakrihnamurthy was made, in as much as Rama Rao had functioned as karnam from 1927 to 1950 and still remained in that office. (3) The Board had no power to admit additional evidence on appeal and reverse the decision of the Collector. (4) The suit filed before the Revenue Divisional Officer was barred by limitation, and the appeal to the Board of Revenue was also filed out of time. (5) Nagabhushanam having relinquished his right to the office of karnam in 1910, Gopalakrishnamurthy who had not been born in 1910, and who was not the next heir to the last office holder, had no right to the office. Most of these objections are untenable. A preliminary enquiry or finding about the fitness of the appointee is not necessary, where, as in this case, the appointment was made as the result of a decree passed after hearing the rival claimants to the office. There was a vacancy in the office of Karanam in 1927 when Challayya resigned owing to old age. There is nothing in Section 13 of the Act which requires that a suit for a hereditary office could be filed only when a vacancy existed in the office itself. Gopalakrishnamurthy sued for the office in 1947. He lost his case before the Revenue Divisional Officer and the District Collector and took the matter up on second appeal to the Board of Revenue. The Board of Revenue decided that he was in existence in 1927 on the strength of documentary evidence which the Revenue Divisional Officer had declined to receive without adequate reason and which the Collector, while willing to receive, did not consider necessary in the view he took of the rights of the parties. On further appeal, the Board of Revenue had power to receive evidence tendered before the Revenue Divisional Officer but improperly rejected by him and arrive at a decision on the basis of such evidence. When the karnam's office became vacant in 1927, Gopalakrishnamurthy was a minor and he had under Section 14 of the Act a period of 3 years after attaining majority for bringing a suit for the office. His suit before the Revenue Divisional Officer was therefore in time, and so was his appeal. Even if there was any delay in filing the appeal before the Board, it was excusable under Section 25 of the Act, and in view of the fact that both the parties were heard by the Board, the delay, if there was any delay, should be deemed to have been excused by the Board. The question whether Gopalakrishnamurthy, the grandson of the last office-holder Challayya was preferentially entitled to the office as being the descendant of the last holder in the senior male line or whether by reason of the relinquishment of his claim to the office in 1910 by Gopalakrishnamurthy's father Nagabhushanam, Rama Rao, as the son of the last holder, was entitled to the office, was one of which the revenue courts had jurisdiction to decide. It is unnecessary for us to consider whether the decision was correct on the merits, because, in our opinion, the correctness of the decision in law or fact cannot be decided in a civil court. The Karnam's office is one of the offices included in Section 3 of the Act. Omitting the proviso which is not here relevant, Section 21 of the Act runs as follows:
"No Civil Court shall have authority to take into consideration or decide any claim to succeed to any of the offices specified in section 3 or any question as to the rate or amount of the emoluments of any such office or except as provided in proviso (ii) to subsection (i) of Section 13, any claim to recover the emoluments of any such office".
It was argued Tor the plaintiff-appellant that the present suit for a declaration that the order of the Board of Revenue was ultra vires and void is not removed by Section 21 from the cognizance of a civil court. Reliance was placed on two decisions of the Madras High Court to which reference will be made later. Where the right alleged to have been infringed is not a common law right but one created by special statute and that very statute provides a remedy for the violation of that right by resort to proceedings before a special tribunal constituted by the statute, the party aggrieved should pursue the remedy given by the statute. The special tribunal constituted by the statute must, of course, act within the powers conferred upon it by the statute and so long as it does so, its orders, whether right or wrong, cannot be challenged except in the manner and to the extent prescribed by the statute itself.
(3.)In the present case, the Legislature has gone much further and enacted Section 21 barring civil courts from entertaining or deciding claims to offices like the karnam's office now in question and making such claims triable by the" Collector with a right of appeal to the District Collector, and of a further appeal to the Board of Revenue. See sections 13 and 23 of the Act. Section 21 of the Act is express, explicit, and peremptory in its terms and cannot be circumvented by a mere trick or device of pleading by framing a suit as one Tor declaration of the invalidity of the order of the Board of Revenue deciding that Gopalakrishnamurthy had a preferential claim to the office of karnam over Rama Rao, and that he should be appointed to the office. It is the Act that confers the right claimed by the plaintiff to the office of karnam, and if a person, whose claims were inferior to those of the plaintiff, had been appointed to the office by the Collector or the Board of Revenue, he cannot ask the civil courts to try the merits of his claim. The suit would be barred by the express terms of Section 21. The present suit, though framed as one for a declaration that the order of the Board of Revenue is illegal and ultra vires, is in substance and reality a suit for the office of karnam to which Gopalakrishnamurthy was appointed as a result of the order of the Board of Revenue. Rama Rao canrot reagitate in the civil court a claim to the karnam's office which was negatived by the Board of Revenue on appeal from the order of the Collector. In effect what the plaintiff seeks is an adjudication by a civil court upon a claim which has been expressly excluded from its jurisdiction by Section 21. 'Assuming but not deciding that the decision of the Board of Revenue in the present case as regards the preferential right of Gopalakrishnamurthi was erroneous in law, there is no right of appeal to the civil court given by the Act from the decision of the Board. Indeed, as already stated, Section 21 take? away the jurisdiction of the civil court to try or adjudicate upon rival claims to the karnam's office. Section 42 of the Specific Relief Act does not sanction any and every kind of declaratory suit. There is a danger of suits being couched in a declaratory form with a view to avoid a statutory bar and Courts will therefore look at the substance of the plaintiff's suit, the right which he asserts and the relief to which he is really entitled. The plaintiff here really wants to recover the office of karnam from his rival claimant who was appointed by the Board, and his remedy lies only under the Act. The decisions in Sambayya v. Tirupatayya ' and Venkata Subba Rao v. Ananda Rao' relied upon by the learned Advocate for the plain tiff relate to orders of the Collector passed wholly without jurisdiction. There is no doubt that if the tribunal created by Section 13(1) of the Act for adjudicating upon claims to village offices specified in Section 3, acted without jurisdiction there would, in spite of Section 21, be available a right to the aggrieved person to seek his remedy in the civil court or in this court. It is needless to cite the cases which are found collected in the decision in Venkata Subba Rao v. Ananda Rao. Where, however, all that is proved is that the tribunal acting within its jurisdiction and exercising the powers conferred on it by the Act has reached an erroneous decision in law or fact as regards the rights of rival claimants to the karnam's office, Section 21 bars a suit in the civil court to set aside the decision of the tribunal. Examples of this type of cases will be found in Kailasapathi v. Secretary of State , Venkata Subbayya v. Secretary of State for India in Council, and Venkata Sastri v. Venkata Jagannadha Rao. The present case falls within the latter category as will be apparent from the facts that we have stated at the begining of this judgment. For these reasons, we are of the opinion that the decision of the Court below is correct and that this appeal should be dismissed with costs, one set to be shared by both the respondents. T. A. B. Appeal dismissed.

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