Supreme Court of India
Arjun Singh vs Mohindra Kumar & Ors on 13 December, 1963
The scope of a proceeding under O. IX, r. 7 and its place in the scheme of the provisions of the Code relating to the trial of suits was the subject of consi- deration in Sangram Singh v. Election Tribunal(1). Dealing with the meaning of the words "The Court may proceed ex parts" in O.' IX, r. 6(1)(a) Bose J. speaking for the Court said:
"When the defendant has been served and has been afforded an opportunity of appearing, then, if he does not appear, the Court may proceed in his absence. But, be it noted, the Court is not directed to make an ex parte order. Of course the fact that it is proceeding ex parte will be recorded in the minutes 'of its proceedings but that is merely a statement of the fact and is not an order made against the defendant in the sense of an ex parte decree or other ex parte order which the court is authorised to make. All that rule 6(1)(a) does' is to remove a bar and no more. It merely authorises the Court to do that which it could not have done without this authority, namely to proceed in the absence of one of the parties."
Dealing next with the scheme of the Code, the learned Judge pointed out that the manner in which the Court could thereafter proceed i.e., after r. 6(1)(a) was passed would depend upon the purpose for which the suit stood adjourned, and proceeded :
"If it is for final hearing, an ex parte decree can be passed, and if it is passed, then O. IX, r. 13 comes into play and, before the decree is set aside the Court is required to make an order to set it aside. Contrast this with r. 7 which does not require the setting aside of what is commonly, though erroneously, known as.'the ex parte order'. No order is contemplated by the Code and there- fore no order to set aside the order is contemplated either." And referring to the effect of the rejection of application made under O. XI, r. 7, he added:
"If a party does appear on the day to which the hearing of the suit is adjourned, he cannot be stopped from participating in the proceedings simply because he did not appear on the first or some other hearing. But though he has the right to appear at an adjourned hearing, he has no right to set back the hands of the clock. Order IX. r. 7 makes that clear. Therefore, unless he can show good cause, he must accept all that has gone before and be content to proceed from the stage at which he comes in."
That being the effect of the proceedings,. the question next. arises what is the nature of the order if it can be called an order or the nature of the adjudication which the court makes under O. IX, r. 7. In its essence it is directed to ensure the orderly conduct of the proceedings by penalising improper dilatoriness calculated merely to prolong the litigation. It does not put an end to the litigation nor does it involve the determination of any issue in controversy in the suit. Besides, it is obvious that the proceeding is of a very summary nature and this is evident from the fact that as contrasted with O. IX, r. 9 or O. IX, r. 13, no appeal is provided against action of the court under O. IX, r. 7. "refusing to set back the clock". It is, therefore, manifest that the Code proceeds upon the view of not importing any finality to the determination of any issues of fact on which the court's action under that provision is based. In this connection reference may be made to a decision of a Division Bench of the Madras High Court in Sankaralinga v. Ratnasabhapati (1). The question arose on an appeal to the High Court by the defendants against whom an ex parte decree had been passed on March 30, 1895. Previous thereto they had put in petitions supported by affidavits under s. 101 of the Civil Procedure Code of 1882 corresponding to O. IX, r. 7. to set aside "an ex parte order," accept their written statements, and proceed with the suit on the merits. The ground alleged for the relief sought was that they were not duly served with summons. This application was rejected by the Court. Thereafter, after an ex parte decree was passed, they again filed another application under s. 108 under the then code, corresponding to the present O. IX, r. 13. The ground put forward was again the same, namely that the summons was not properly served. The District Judge having dismissed the application under s. 108 (O. IX, r. 13), the defendants preferred an appeal to the High Court. On behalf of the plaintiffs-respondents the contention was raised by Mr. Bhashyam Ayyangar-learned Counsel-that the application to set aside the ex parte decree under s. 108 was incompetent because the same question has already been decided against the defendant when he filed the application under s. 101. The Court composed of Subramania Iyer & Benson JJ. said, "the contention at first sight may seem to be reasonable, but having regard to the very wide words 'in any case' used in s. 108 we are unable to hold that the defendant was not entitled to make an application under section 108." There have been other decisions in which a similar view has been held and though the provisions of the Code corresponding to O. IX, r. 7 and O. IX, r. 13 have been in force for over a century from 1859, there has not been a single case in which the plea of res judicata such as has been urged in the appeal before us has been upheld.
It is common ground that the inherent power of the Court cannot override the express provisions of the law. In other words, if there are specific provisions of the Code dealing with a Particular topic and they expressly or by necessary implication exhaust the scope of the powers of the Court or the jurisdiction that may be exercised in relation to a matter the inherent power of the Court cannot be invoked in order to cut across the powers conferred by the Code. The prohibition contained in the Code need not be express but may be implied or be implicit from the very nature of the provisions that it makes for covering the contingencies to which it relates, We shall confine our attention to the topic on hand, namely applications by defendants to set aside ex parte orders passed against them and reopen the proceedings which had been conducted in their absence. Order TX, r. 1 requires the parties to attend on the day fixed for their appearance to answer the claim of the defendant. Rule 2 deals with a case where the defendant is absent but the Court from its own record is apprised of the fact that the summons has not been duly served on the defendant in order to acquaint him with the proceedings before the Court. Rule 2 contains a proviso applicable to cases where notwithstanding the absence of service of summons, the defendant appears. Rule 3 deals with a case where the plaintiff alongwith the defendant is absent when the suit is called on and empowers the Court to dismiss the suit. Rule 5 deals with a case where the defendant is not served properly and there is default on the part of the plaintiff in having this done. Having thus exhausted the cases where the defendant is not properly served, r. 6(1)(a) enables the Court to proceed exparte where the defendant is absent even after due service. Rule 6 contemplates two cases: (1) The day on which the defendant fails to appear is one of which the defendant has no intimation that the suit will be taken up for final hearing for example, where the hearing is only the first hearing of the suit, and (2) where the stage of the first hearing is passed and the hearing which is fixed is for the disposal of the suit and the defendant is not present on such a day. The effect of proceeding ex parte in the two sets of cases would obviously mean a great difference in the result. So far as the first type of cases is concerned it has to be adjourned for final disposal and, as already seen, it would be open to the defendant to appear on that date and defend the suit. In the second type of cases, however, one of two things might happen. The evidence of the plaintiff might be taken then and there and judgment might be pronounced. In that case O. IX, r. 13 would come in. The defendant can, besides filing an appeal or an application for review, have recourse to an application under O. IX, r. 13 to set aside the ex parte decree. The entirety of the evidence of the plaintiff might not be concluded on the hearing day on which the defendant is absent and something might remain so far as the trial of the suit is concerned for which purpose there might be a hearing on an adjourned date. On the terms of O. IX, r. 7 if the defendant appears on such adjourned date and satisfies the Court by showing good cause for his non- appearance on the previous day or days he might have the earlier proceedings recalled" set the clock back" and have the suit heard in his presence. On the other hand, he might fail in showing good cause. Even in such a case he is not penalised in the sense of being forbidden to take part in the further proceedings of the suit or whatever might still remain of the trial, only he cannot claim to be relegated to the position that he occupied at the commencement of the trial. Thus every contingency which is likely to happen in the trial vis-a-vis the non-appearance of the defendant at the hearing 'of a suit has been provided for and O. IX, r. 7 and O. IX, r. 13 between them exhaust the whole gamut of situations that might arise during the course of the trial. If, thus, provision has been made for every contingency, it stands to reason that there is no scope for, the invocation of the inherent powers of the Court to make an order necessary for the ends of justice. Mr. Pathak however, strenuously contended that a case of the sort now on hand where a defendant appeared after the conclusion of the hearing but before the pronouncing of the judgment had not been provided for. We consider that the suggestion 'that there is such a stage is, on the scheme of the Code, wholly unrealistic. ln the present context when once the hearing starts, the Code contemplates only two stages in the trial of the suit: (1) Where the hearing is adjourned or (2) where the hearing is completed. Where the hearing is completed the parties have no further rights or privileges in the matter and it is only for the convenience of the Court that O. XX, r. 1 permitts judgment to be delivered after an interval after the hearing is complated. It would, therefore, follow that after the stage contemplated by O. IX, r. 7 is passed the next stage is only the passing of a decree which on the terms of O. IX, r. 6 the Court is competent to pass. And then follows the remedy of the party to have that decree set aside by application under O.IX. r. 13. There is thus no hiatus between the two stages of reservation of judgment and pronouncing the judgment so as to make it necessary for the Court to afford to the party the remedy of getting orders passed on the lines of O. IX, r. 7. We are, therefore, of the opinion that the Civil Judge was not competent to entertain the application dated May 31, 1958 purporting to be under O. IX, r. 7 and that consequently the reasons given in the order passed would not be res judicata to bar the hearing of the petition under O. IX, r. 13 filed by the appellant.
There is one other aspect from which the same question could be viewed. O. IX, r. 7 prescribed the conditions subject to which alone an application competent under the opening, words of that rule ought to be dealt with. Now, the submission of Mr. Pathak if accepted, would mean to ignore the opening words and say that though specific power is conferred when a suit is adjourned for hearing, the Court has an inherent power even when (a) it is not adjourned for that purpose, and (b) and this is of some importance, when the suit is not adjourned at all, having regard to the terms of O. XX, r. 1. The main part of O. IX, r. 7 speaks "of good cause being shown for non-appearance" on a previous day. Now, what are the criteria to be applied by the Court when the supposed inherent jurisdiction of the Court is invoked. Non-constant it need not be identical with what is statutorily provided in r. 7. All this only shows that there is really no scope for invoking the inherent powers of the Court. Lastly, that power is to be exercised to secure the ends of justice. If at the stage of r. 7 power is vested in the Court and after the decree is passed O. IX, r. 13 becomes applicable and the party can avail himself of that remedy, it is very difficult to appreciate the ends of justice which are supposed to be served by the Court being held to have the power which the learned counsel says must inhere in it. In this view it is unnecessary to consider whether to sustain the present submission the respondent must establish that the court was conscious that it lacked specific statutory power and intended to exercise an inherent power that it believed it possessed to make such orders as may be necessary for the ends of justice.
Supreme Court of India
G.P. Srivastava vs Shri R.K. Raizada & Ors on 3 March, 2000
Under Order 9 Rule 13 C.P.C. an ex-parte decree passed against a defendant can be set aside upon satisfaction of the Court that either the summons were not duly served upon the defendant or he was prevented by any 'sufficient cause' from appearing when the suit was called on for hearing. Unless 'sufficient cause' is shown for non-appearance of the defendant in the case on the date of hearing, the Court has no power to set aside an ex-parte decree. The words "was prevented by any sufficient cause from appearing" must be liberally construed to enable the court to do complete justice between the parties particularly when no negligence or inaction is imputable to erring party. Sufficient cause for the purpose of Order 9 Rule 13 has to be construed as elastic expression for which no hard and fast guidelines can be prescribed. The courts have wide discretion in deciding the sufficient cause keeping in view the peculiar facts and circumstances of each case. The 'sufficient cause' for non appearance refers to the date on which the absence was made a ground for proceeding ex-parte and cannot be stretched to rely upon other circumstances anterior in time. If 'sufficient cause' is made out for non appearance of the defendant on the date fixed for hearing when ex-parte proceedings initiated against him, he cannot be penalised for his previous negligence which had been overlooked and thereby condoned earlier. In a case where defendant approaches the Court immediately and within the statutory time specified, the discretion is normally exercised in his favour, provided the absence was not malafide or intentional. For the absence of a party in the case the other side can be compensated by adequate costs and the lis decided on merits.
The Supreme Court has in the case of Parimal v. Veena: (2011) 3 SCC 545 held that the second proviso of Order IX Rule 13 of CPC is mandatory and has interpreted the expression "sufficient cause" as under:
"13. "Sufficient cause" is an expression which has been used in a large number of statutes. The meaning of the word "sufficient" is "adequate" or "enough", inasmuch as may be necessary to answer the purpose intended. Therefore, word "sufficient" embraces no more than that which provides a platitude which when the act done suffices to accomplish the purpose intended in the facts and circumstances existing in a case and duly examined from the viewpoint of a reasonable standard of a cautious man. In this context, "sufficient cause" means that the party had not acted in a negligent manner or there was a want of bona fide on its part in view of the facts and circumstances of a case or the party cannot be alleged to have been "not acting diligently" or "remaining inactive". However, the facts and circumstances of each case must afford sufficient ground to enable the court concerned to exercise discretion for the reason that whenever the court exercises discretion, it has to be exercised judiciously. (Vide Ramlal v. Rewa Coalfields Ltd. [AIR 1962 SC 361], Lonand Grampanchayat v. Ramgiri Gosavi [AIR 1968 SC 222], Surinder Singh Sibia v. Vijay Kumar Sood [(1992) 1 SCC 70] and Oriental Aroma Chemical Industries Ltd. v. Gujarat Industrial Development Corpn. [(2010) 5 SCC 459].) xxxx xxxx xxxx xxxx xxxx
15. While deciding whether there is sufficient cause or not, the court must bear in mind the object of doing substantial justice to all the parties concerned and that the technicalities of the law should not prevent the court from doing substantial justice and doing away the illegality perpetuated on the basis of the judgment impugned before it. (Vide State of Bihar v. Kameshwar Prasad Singh [(2000) 9 SCC 94], Madanlal v. Shyamlal [(2002) 1 SCC 535], Davinder Pal Sehgal v. Partap Steel Rolling Mills (P) Ltd. [(2002) 3 SCC 156], Ram Nath Sao v. Gobardhan Sao [(2002) 3 SCC 195], Kaushalya Devi v. Prem Chand [(2005) 10 SCC 127], Srei International Finance Ltd. v. Fairgrowth Financial Services Ltd. [(2005) 13 SCC 95] and Reena Sadh v. Anjana Enterprises [(2008) 12 SCC 589].)
16. In order to determine the application under Order 9 Rule 13 CPC, the test that has to be applied is whether the defendant honestly and sincerely intended to remain present when the suit was called on for hearing and did his best to do so. Sufficient cause is thus the cause for which the defendant could not be blamed for his absence. Therefore, the applicant must approach the court with a reasonable defence. Sufficient cause is a question of fact and the court has to exercise its discretion in the varied and special circumstances in the case at hand. There cannot be a straitjacket formula of universal application."
13. In the case of G.P. Srivastava v. R.K. Raizada: (2000) 3 SCC 54 the Supreme Court held as under:-
"7. Under Order 9 Rule 13 CPC an ex parte decree passed against a defendant can be set aside upon satisfaction of the Court that either the summons were not duly served upon the defendant or he was prevented by any "sufficient cause" from appearing when the suit was called on for hearing. Unless "sufficient cause" is shown for non- appearance of the defendant in the case on the date of hearing, the court has no power to set aside an ex parte decree. The words "was prevented by any sufficient cause from appearing" must be liberally construed to enable the court to do complete justice between the parties particularly when no negligence or inaction is imputable to the erring party. Sufficient cause for the purpose of Order 9 Rule 13 has to be construed as an elastic expression for which no hard and fast guidelines can be prescribed. The courts have a wide discretion in deciding the sufficient cause keeping in view the peculiar facts and circumstances of each case. The "sufficient cause" for non-appearance refers to the date on which the absence was made a ground for proceeding ex parte and cannot be stretched to rely upon other circumstances anterior in time. If "sufficient cause" is made out for non-appearance of the defendant on the date fixed for hearing when ex parte proceedings were initiated against him, he cannot be penalised for his previous negligence which had been overlooked and thereby condoned earlier. In a case where the defendant approaches the court immediately and within the statutory time specified, the discretion is normally exercised in his favour, provided the absence was not mala fide or intentional. For the absence of a party in the case the other side can be compensated by adequate costs and the lis decided on merits."
Delhi High Court
Mehta Brothers And Ors. vs Bank Of India And Anr. on 9 November, 2000
On the Court reaching the conclusion that ex parte decree against the defendant applying for the same deserves to be set aside, the first step would be to allow his application and set aside the ex parte decree as against him upon such terms as to costs etc. as the Court may deem fit and the Court shall appoint a day for proceeding with the suit. The stage for applying the principle embodied in the proviso is the second stage that whether it should be set aside against the other defendants who have not approached the Court for setting aside the same or whether it should be set aside as a whole, irrespective of the fact that a prayer is made or not by any party, the Court is enjoined upon to consider the next question that whether the decree is of such a nature that it cannot be set aside as against the said defendant only, it may be set aside as against all or any of the other defendants also. The Legislature was aware of the controversy, which existed before the proviso was inserted in 1908 Code. The controversy was on both the counts. Had the Legislature intended to limit Court's jurisdiction in setting aside that part of the decree where suit ended in an order favourable to some of the defendants, it would have done so explicitly by saying that the decree may be set aside as against all or any of the other defendants against whom it is ex parte. But no scope for any doubt appears to have been left when the Legislature empowered the Court to set aside the same as "against all or any of the other defendants" without making any distinction on the defendants that whether those defendants had remained successful or not. The only condition to be satisfied for applying the proviso is that the nature of the decree is such that it cannot be set aside as against the defendants applying
Under Order V, Rule 2 CPC, it is a mandatory requirement of law that a copy of the summons along with the plaint and documents filed therein are served on the defendant. This proposition was stated in a recent judgment of Supreme Court of India in Nahar Enterprises vs. Hyderabad Allwyn Ltd. and Another, (2007) 9 SCC 466 as follows:
"When a summons is sent calling upon a defendant to appear in the court and file his written statement, it is obligatory on the part of the court to send a copy of the plaint and other documents appended thereto, in terms of Order 5 Rule 2 CPC.
...The learned Judge did not address itself the question as to how a defendant, in absence of a copy of the plaint and other documents, would be able to file his written statement. The court, furthermore, in our opinion, committed a manifest error insofar as it failed to take into consideration that the summons having been served upon the appellant after the date fixed for his appearance, it was obligatory on its part to fix another date for his appearance and filing written statement and direct the plaintiff to take steps for service of fresh summons. This legal position is explicit in view of the provisions of Order 9 Rule 6(1)(c) CPC....
The Court, therefore, committed an illegality in dismissing the application for setting aside the ex parte decree. It was a fit case where the court should have exercised its jurisdiction under Order 9 Rule 13 CPC."
22. It is a settled proposition of law that if, under Order IX, Rule 13 CXPC, the defendant is able to show that summons were not duly served on him, then the ex parte decree is liable to be set-aside. The question of defendant‟s knowledge or no knowledge of the suit is not relevant for the purpose of Order IX, Rule 13 CPC application seeking setting-aside of ex parte decree on the grounds of non-service of summons. In this regard, the following judgments are referred by the learned counsel appearing on behalf of defendants No.3 & 4:-
(i) Ravi Bhushan Seth vs. Meena Seth, reported in 2002 (50) BLJR 331 The High Court of Jharkhand was considering an application for setting aside of ex-parte decree on the grounds of non- service of summons. The plaintiff in opposition claimed that the defendant had knowledge of the suit otherwise. Rejecting the contention, the High Court emphasized the importance of proper compliance with the provisions of the CPC relating to service of summons and observed that substituted service could be ordered only when there was a reason to believe that the defendant was deliberately keeping out of the way for the purposes of the summons. The application for setting aside of ex-parte decree was accordingly allowed.
(ii) Sambhunath Das vs. Sirish Ch. Mohapatra, reported in AIR 1985 Orissa 215 The High Court of Orissa, while hearing a revision petition arising out of an application seeking setting aside of ex-parte decree, observed that on record, there was no proof of proper service having been effected on the defendant, and further refused to disallow the application for setting aside of ex- parte decree on the ground that the defendant could be imputed with the knowledge of pendency of the final decree proceedings by virtue of having participated in Miscellaneious Case. Rejecting the contention, the High Court observed:
"...It must be remembered that the Civil P.C. embodies provisions conforming to the rules of natural justice and no order adverse to a party can be passed without notice to him. It cannot therefore, be held that the petitioner participated in the Misc. Case so as to impute his knowledge of the final decree proceeding. In this view of the matter the finding of the Courts below that the petitioner having participated in Misc. Case No.45 of 1976 had knowledge of the final decree proceeding cannot be sustained."
(iii) Radha Ballav Thakur vs. Dayal Chand Bose, reported in AIR 1962 Orissa 15 In this judgment, the High Court of Orissa, considered the application seeking setting aside of ex-parte decree in context of an identical proviso to O. IX, R. 13 under the State Amendment as the proviso to O. IX, R. 13 after the 1976 amendment to the CPC (i.e. to the effect that an ex- parte decree shall not be set aside merely on the ground of irregularity in service of summons, if the court is satisfied that the defendant knew of the date of hearing in sufficient time to enable him to appear and answer the plaintiff‟s claim), and held as follows:
"It is, however, clear that the provisions are to the effect that, if the defendant is able to show that the summons were not duly served on him, it is mandatory that the decree should be set aside; the question of knowledge or no knowledge is not relevant for the purpose of Order 9, Rule 13.
. It is also the matter of record that no fresh notice was issued to the defendants at the time of filing and allowing the amendment to the plaint. It is settled position of law that issuance of fresh notice at the time of amendment of plaint is mandatory and any amendment allowed without allowing an opportunity to the opposite party to contest the same is negation of justice and illegal.
27. This principle has been affirmed by the Supreme Court of India in a three Judge Bench decision in Ramnik Vallabhdas Madhvani and Ors. vs. Taraben Pravinlal Madhvani, reported in AIR 2004 SC 1084 in the following manner:-
"Procedural aspect demands that on the amendment being allowed, the opposite party has to be given a chance to respond to the amended pleading and if the plea is contested, the court has to give its decision thereon. Not affording an opportunity to the contesting party to contest a plea, which has been allowed to be amended, is negation of justice. In the present case the fact remains that the amendment application of the plaintiff was allowed vide order dated 16-12-1985 when on the same date the appeal against the preliminary decree was disposed of and rate of interest going even beyond what was permitted by way of amendment, was awarded. The decree which was passed was for much more than what the amendment allowed. The plaintiff had only sought leave to amend the rate of interest as originally pleaded as 6% per annum to 13% per annum. This amendment was allowed. But in the decree the Court allowed interest to be charged at the prevailing bank rate of interest charged by nationalised banks from time to time on commercial transactions during the relevant period. Thus the High Court while allowing the prayer for amendment simultaneously passed a decree not only based on the amended plea, but for exceeding it. No amended pleadings were filed. No opportunity was given to the defendants to contest the plea. A bare reading of Order 6 Rule 17 of the Code of Civil Procedure shows that amendment is of a plea contained in the pleadings and the object of allowing the amendment of pleadings is to determine the real questions in controversy between the parties. This means that the parties have to be given a chance to contest the questions in controversy and the court has to give its decision ultimately on such contested issues. This procedure was not followed in the present case. The procedure followed is wholly illegal.
28. In the following decision, it is held that even if a party is ex parte, and thereafter, if an amendment application is made, then that must be served to the party concerned and if the party remains absent despite notice, then the Court applying its discretion may pass an appropriate order. Reliance is placed on the following judgment:-
M/s. Jharkhand Mines and Industries Ltd. & Anr. vs. Nand Kishore Prasad & Ors., reported in AIR 1969 Patna The High Court of Patna while dealing with the effect of passing of an ex-parte decree without service of notice at the time of the amendment of the suit, held as follows:
"It was incumbent on the Court to see to it that the notice of the amended plaint was served on the defendants of that suit. The Code of Civil Procedure, in my opinion, casts a duty on the court to see that the defendants are made aware of any amendment in the plaint, whether the amendment be in regard to the addition of parties or in regard to the contents thereof. Unfortunately, the learned Subordinate Judge, who passed the ex parte decree, did not direct any notices to be issued to the defendants with a view to make them aware about the amendment of the plaint. He should have issued such notices and awaited the service report, and, if the defendants so desired, granted them an opportunity to file a written statement before putting up the suit for hearing and disposal, whether ex parte or otherwise. On this ground alone, I am of the opinion that the ex parte decree is vitiated and must be set aside."
29. Admittedly, no notice of amendment application was issued to defendants No.3 & 4, nor served upon them, nor any appropriate order was passed in this regard.
Supreme Court of India
Mahesh Yadav & Anr vs Rajeshwar Singh & Ors on 16 December, 2008
The proviso appended to Order IX Rule 13 of the Code of Civil Procedure postulates that when an ex parte decree has been passed against some of the defendants and it is necessary to set aside the entire decree, the Court is not powerless to do so. If an application for setting aside the ex parte decree was maintainable at the instance of the appellants, we fail to understand as to why a separate suit was required to be filed. When an ex parte decree is passed, the defendant may have more than one remedies. He may file a suit contending that the decree was obtained fraudulently. He may file an application under Order IX Rule 13 of the Code of Civil Procedure for setting aside the ex parte decree. He may prefer an appeal from the ex parte judgment and decree. In a given case, he may also file a review application.
Supreme Court of India
Bhivchandra Shankar More vs Balu Gangaram More on 7 May, 2019
The suit for partition was filed by respondents No.1 to 13 in the year 2007. It was decreed ex- parte on 04.07.2008. The appellant and respondents No.14 and 15 filed application under Order IX Rule 13 CPC on 15.10.2008 and the said application was dismissed on merits by the order dated 06.08.2010. Challenging the said order, the appellant and respondents No.14 and 15 preferred an appeal on 03.09.2010. About three years after its filing i.e. on 11.06.2013, the said appeal was withdrawn and on the next day i.e. on 12.06.2013, the appellant and respondents No.14 and 15 filed appeal challenging the decree passed in Regular Civil Suit No.35 of 2007 along with an application to condone the delay of four years, ten months and eight days.
A conjoint reading of Order IX Rule 13 CPC and Section 96(2) CPC indicates that the defendant who suffered an ex-parte decree has two remedies:- (i) either to file an application under Order IX Rule 13 CPC to set aside the ex-parte decree to satisfy the court that summons were not duly served or those served, he was prevented by “sufficient cause” from appearing in the court when the suit was called for hearing; (ii) to file a regular appeal from the original decree to the first appellate court and challenge the ex-parte decree on merits.
It is to be pointed out that the scope of Order IX Rule 13 CPC and Section 96(2) CPC are entirely different. In an application filed under Order IX Rule 13 CPC, the Court has to see whether the summons were duly served or not or whether the defendant was prevented by any “sufficient cause” from appearing when the suit was called for hearing. If the Court is satisfied that the defendant was not duly served or that he was prevented for “sufficient cause”, the court may set aside the ex- parte decree and restore the suit to its original position. In terms of Section 96(2) CPC, the appeal lies from an original decree passed ex-parte. In the regular appeal filed under Section 96(2) CPC, the appellate court has wide jurisdiction to go into the merits of the decree. The scope of enquiry under two provisions is entirely different. Merely because the defendant pursued the remedy under Order IX Rule 13 CPC, it does not prohibit the defendant from filing the appeal if his application under Order IX Rule 13 CPC is dismissed.
12. The right of appeal under Section 96(2) CPC is a statutory right and the defendant cannot be deprived of the statutory right of appeal merely on the ground that the application filed by him under Order IX Rule 13 CPC has been dismissed. In Bhanu Kumar Jain v. Archana Kumar and Another (2005) 1 SCC 787, the Supreme Court considered the question whether the first appeal was maintainable despite the fact that an application under Order IX Rule 13 CPC was filed and dismissed. Observing that the right of appeal is a statutory right and that the litigant cannot be deprived of such right, in paras (36) and (38), it was held as under:-
“36. …………… A right to question the correctness of the decree in a first appeal is a statutory right. Such a right shall not be curtailed nor shall any embargo be fixed thereupon unless the statute expressly or by necessary implication says so. [See (2004) 5 SCC 385, Deepal Girishbhai Soni and Others v. United India Insurance Co. Ltd., Boaroda and Chandravathi P.K. and Others v. C.K. Saji and Others (2004) 3 SCC 734].” ……………..
“38. The dichotomy, in our opinion, can be resolved by holding that whereas the defendant would not be permitted to raise a contention as regards the correctness or otherwise of the order posting the suit for ex parte hearing by the trial court and/or existence of a sufficient case for non-appearance of the defendant before it, it would be open to him to argue in the first appeal filed by him under Section 96(2) of the Code on the merits of the suit so as to enable him to contend that the materials brought on record by the plaintiffs were not sufficient for passing a decree in his favour or the suit was otherwise not maintainable. Lack of jurisdiction of the court can also be a possible plea in such an appeal. We, however, agree with Mr Chaudhari that the “Explanation” appended to Order 9 Rule 13 of the Code shall receive a strict construction as was held by this Court in Rani Choudhury v. Lt.-Col. Suraj Jit Choudhary (1982) 2 SCC 596, P. Kiran Kumar v. A.S. Khadar and Others (2002) 5 SCC 161 and Shyam Sundar Sarma v. Pannalal Jaiswal and Others (2005) 1 SCC 436.”
13. After referring to its own judgment in Jotiba Limbaji, the High Court held that after the appeal from the order of the lower court refusing to set aside the ex-parte decree, the defendant may think of applying to the High Court in revision and in that process, considerable time might be lost. After referring to other judgments, in the impugned judgment, the High Court held as un- der:-
“15……….. An unscrupulous defendant may file the application under Order IX Rule 13 CPC and carry the order to the highest forum irrespective of the merit in it and thereafter still file appeal against the decree. Considerable time would be lost for the plain- tiff in that case. Every provision under the law of procedure is aimed at justness, fairness and full opportunity of hearing to the parties to the court proceedings. It caters to every conceivable situation. But at the same time, the law expects a litigant to be straight, honest and fair. The two remedies provided against ex-parte decree are in respect of two different situations and are expected to be resorted to only if the facts of the situation are available to a litigant. The remedies provided as simultaneous and cannot be converted into consecutive remedies.”
14. The above observation of the High Court that “the remedies provided as simultaneous and cannot be converted into consecu- tive remedies” cannot be applied in a rigid manner and as a strait- jacket formula. It has to be considered depending on the facts and circumstances of each case and whether the defendant in pursuing the remedy consecutively has adopted dilatory tactics. Only in cases where the defendant has adopted dilatory tactics or where there is lack of bonafide in pursuing the two remedies con- secutively, the court may decline to condone the delay in filing the first appeal. If the court refuses to condone the delay in the time spent in pursuing the remedy under Order IX Rule 13 CPC, the defendant would be deprived of the statutory right of appeal in challenging the decree on merits.
It is a fairly well settled law that “sufficient cause” should be given liberal construction so as to advance sustainable justice when there is no inaction, no negligence nor want of bonafide could be imputable to the appellant. After referring to various judgments, in B. Madhuri, this Court held as under:-
“6. The expression “sufficient cause” used in Section 5 of the Limitation Act, 1963 and other statutes is elastic enough to enable the courts to apply the law in a meaningful manner which serves the ends of justice. No hard-and-fast rule has been or can be laid down for deciding the applications for condonation of delay but over the years courts have repeatedly observed that a liberal approach needs to be adopted in such matters so that substantive rights of the parties are not defeated only on the ground of delay.”
16. Observing that the rules of limitation are not meant to destroy the rights of the parties, in N. Balakrishnan v. M. Krishnamurthy (1998) 7 SCC 123, this Court held as under:-
“11. Rules of limitation are not meant to destroy the rights of parties. They are meant to see that parties do not resort to dilatory tactics, but seek their remedy promptly. The object of providing a legal remedy is to repair the damage caused by reason of legal injury. The law of limitation fixes a lifespan for such legal remedy for the redress of the legal injury so suffered. Time is precious and wasted time would never revisit. During the efflux of time, newer causes would sprout up necessitating newer persons to seek legal remedy by approaching the courts.
So a lifespan must be fixed for each remedy. Unending period for launching the remedy may lead to unending uncertainty and consequential anarchy. The law of limitation is thus founded on public policy. It is enshrined in the maxim interest reipublicae up sit finis litium (it is for the general welfare that a period be put to litigation). Rules of limitation are not meant to destroy the rights of the parties. They are meant to see that parties do not resort to dilatory tactics but seek their remedy promptly. The idea is that every legal remedy must be kept alive for a legislatively fixed period of time.” As pointed out earlier, an appeal under Section 96 CPC is a statutory right. Generally, delays in preferring appeals are required to be condoned, in the interest of justice, where there is no gross negligence or deliberate inaction or lack of bonafide is imputable to the party seeking condonation of delay.
In the case in hand, respondents No.1 to 13 filed a suit for partition in the year 2007, which was decreed ex-parte on 04.07.2008. Appellant and respondents No.14 and 15 filed application under Order IX Rule 13 CPC and the same came to be dismissed on 06.08.2010. Being aggrieved by dismissal of application under Order IX Rule 13 CPC, the appellant and respondents No.14 and 15 preferred an appeal under Order XLIII Rule 1(d) CPC on 03.09.2010. Of course, the said appeal was pending for about three years and the same was withdrawn on 11.06.2013. Thereafter, on the next day i.e. on 12.06.2013, the appellant and respondents No.14 and 15 filed an appeal challenging the ex-parte decree and judgment dated 04.07.2008 passed in Regular Civil Suit No.35 of 2007. It cannot be said that the appellant and respondents No.14 and 15 were grossly negligent in pursuing the matter more so, when the decree was passed in the suit for partition.
It is pertinent to note that as per Section 97 CPC where any party aggrieved by a preliminary decree does not appeal from such decree, he shall be precluded from disputing its correctness in any appeal which may be preferred from the final decree. The object is that the questions decided by the court at the stage of passing preliminary decree cannot be challenged at the time of final decree. If no appeal had been preferred against the preliminary decree, the suit filed by the respondents-plaintiffs being a suit for partition, the appellant would be deprived of the opportunity in challenging the decree on merits. In the interest of justice, the appellant and respondents No.14 and 15 are to be given an opportunity to challenge the ex-parte decree dated 04.07.2008 on merits, notwithstanding the dismissal of their application filed under Order IX Rule 13 CPC.
In the facts and circumstances of the present case, the time spent in pursuing the application under Order IX Rule 13 CPC is to be taken as “sufficient cause” for condoning the delay in filing the first appeal. The impugned judgment of the High Court cannot be sustained and is liable to be set aside.