Supreme Court of India
Most. Rev. P.M.A. Metropolitan & ... vs Moran Mar Marthoma & Anr on 20 June, 1995
Each word and expression casts an obligation on the court to exercise jurisdiction for enforcement of right. The word `shall' makes it mandatory. No court can refuse to entertain a suit if it is of description mentioned in the Section. That is amplified by use of `expression, `all suits of civil nature'. The word `civil' according to dictionary means, `relating to the citizen as an individual; civil rights'. In Black's Legal Dictionary it is defined as, `relating to provide rights and remedies sought by civil actions as contrasted with criminal proceedings'. In law it is understood as an antonym of criminal. Historically the two broad classifications were civil and criminal. Revenue, tax and company etc, were added to it later. But they too pertain to the larger family of `civil'. There is thus no doubt about the width of the word `civil'. Its width has been stretched further by using the word `nature' along with it. That is even those suits are cognisable which are not only civil but are even of civil nature. In Article 133 of the Constitution an appeal lies to this Court against any judgment, decree or order in a `civil proceeding'.
This expression came up for construction in S.A.L. Narayan Row & Anr. etc. etc. v. Ishwarlal Bhagwandas & Anr. etc. etc. AIR 1965 SC 1818. The Constitution Bench held `a proceedings for relief against infringement of civil right of a person is a civil proceedings'.
In Arbind Kumar Singh v. Nand Kishore Prasad & Anr. AIR 1968 SC 1227 it was held `to extend to all proceedings which directly affect civil rights'. The dictionary meaning of the word `proceedings' is `the institution of a legal action, `any step taken in a legal action.' In Black's Law Dictionary it is explained as, `In a general sense, the form and manner of conducting juridical business before a court or judicial officer. Regular and orderly progress in form of law, including all possible steps in an action from its commencement to the execution of judgment. Term also refers to administrative proceedings before agencies, tribunals, bureaus, or the like'. The word `nature' has been defined as, `the fundamental qualities of a person or thing; identity or essential character; sort; kind; character'. It is thus wider in content. The word `civil nature'is wider than the word `civil proceeding'. The Section would, therefore, be available in every case where the dispute has the characteristic of affecting one's rights which are not only civil but of civil nature.
Are religious rights, for instance right to worship in a religious place, entry in a temple, administration of religious shrines for instance a temple, mosque or a church are rights of civil nature? Is the suit filed by the respondent bad as the declaration, injunction and prohibition sought are in respect of matters which are not civil in nature? The answer is given by Explanation I. The Civil Procedure Code was enacted during British period. The legislature enacting the law was aware that there were no ecclesiastical courts either in ancient or Medieval India as in England. `The term "ecclesiastical law" may be used both in a general and in a technical sense. In its general sense it means the law relating to any matter concerning the Church of England administered and enforced in any court; in its technical sense it means the law administered by ecclesiastical courts and persons' [Halsbury's Laws of England Vol. 14 para 137]. `The ecclesiastical law of England is as much the law of the land as any other part of the law' [Halsbury's Laws of England Vol.14 para 139]. There was no such law in our country. The ecclesiastical courts are peculiar to England. The Parliament was aware of it. That is why it added Explanation I to Section 9 of the Civil Procedure Code. It obviates any ambiguity by making it clear that where even right to an office is contested then it would be a suit of a civil nature even though that right may entirely depend on the decision of a question as to religious rites or ceremonies. Explanation II widens it further to even those offices to which no fees are attached. Therefore, it was visualised from the inception that a suit in which the right to property or religious office was involved it would be a suit of civil nature. Reason for this is both historical and legal. In England ecclesiastical law was accepted as a part of the common law binding on all. But, `the introduction of English Law into a colony does not carry with it English ecclesiastical law'. (Halsbury Laws of England Vol. 14 para 315). In ancient or medieval India the courts were established by King which heard all disputes. No religious institution was so strong and powerful as church in England. The Indian outlook was always secular. Therefore, no parallel can be drawn between the administration of the churches by ecclesiastical courts in England. Religion in India has always been ritualistic. The Muslim rulers were by and large tolerant and understanding. They made India their home. They invaded, ruled and became Indian. But Britishers made it a colony. However, that did not interfere with religion. Disputes pertaining to religious office including performance of rituals were always decided by the courts established by law. As far back as 1885 Justice Mehmood in Queen Empress vs. Ramzan & Qrs. 1885 (7 ILR) Allahabad p. 461 repelled the argument that the courts were precluded from considering Muslim Ecclesiastical Law and observed at page 468 as under:-
"I am unable to accept this view, because, if it is conceded that the decision of this case depends (as I shall presently endeavour to show it does depend) upon the interpretation of the Muhammadan Ecclesiastical Law, it is to my mind the duty of this Court, and of all Courts subordinate to it, to take judicial notice of such law".
There are numerous authorities where dispute about entry in the temple, right to worship, performing certain rituals have been taken cognizance of and decided by civil courts. In Narasimma Chariar & Ors. vs. Sri Kristna Tata Chariar 6 Mad. H.C. Reports 449 it was claimed by the plaintiff that they had the exclusive rights to Adhyapaka Mirass of reciting certain texts or chants in a temple. In that suit it was held:
"The claim is for a specific pecuniary benefit to which plaintiffs declare themselves entitled on condition of reciting certain hymns.
There can exist no doubt that the right to such benefits is a question which the Courts are bound to entertain, and cannot cease to be such a question, because claimed on account of some service connected with religion.
If, to determine the right to such pecuniary benefit, it becomes necessary to determine incidentally the right to perform certain religious services, we know of no principle which would exonerate the Court from considering and deciding the point".
It was approved by the Privy Council in Krishname & Ors. vs. Krishnasamy & Ors. 1879 ILR 2 Mad. 62 and the passage extracted above was approved by observing that it was "perfectly correct". This was a decision when Explanation II was not there. The dispute had two rounds of litigation. In the second round after remand the High Court observed.
"It is certainly not the duty of the Civil Court to pronounce on the truth of religious tenets nor to regulate religious ceremony; but, in protecting persons in the enjoyment of a certain status or property, it may incidentally become the duty of the Civil Court to determine what are the accepted tenets of the followers of a creed and what is the usage they have accepted as established for the regulation of their rights interse."
The Law Commission in its 27th Report in Civil Procedure Code, December 1964 at page 91 while considering the addition of Explanation II to Section 9 observed as under:
"It may be added, that the decision of the Privy Council to the effect that a suit for pecuniary benefits is a civil suit, even if it becomes necessary to determine a right to perform religious services, does not imply that other suits relating to religious offices cannot be entertained."
In Srinivasalu Naidu v. Kavalmari Munnuswami Naidu AIR 1967 Madras 451 it was observed, "The explanation certainly does not confine the limits of the nature of suits contemplated by the main section. What the Explanation states is only that though religious rites and ceremonies may form the basis of a right that is claimed, such right being a right to property or to office, a suit to establish such right would be a suit of a civil nature. The Section takes within its broad sweep all questions where one person claims any privilege in himself as against others. There is no doubt that such a question would be one of a civil nature."
On the plain phraseology of the Section, therefore, it is clear that a suit filed after coming into force of the Constitution for vindication of rights related to worship of status, office or property is maintainable in civil court and it would be duty of the court to decide even purely religious questions if they have a material bearing on the right alleged in the plaint regarding worship, status or office or property.
In Nagar Chandra Chatterjee & Anr. v. Kailash Chandra Mondal & Ors. AIR 1921 Calcutta 328 it was held:
"Where there were no Ecclesiastical Courts, there was nothing to prevent civil courts from holding that Pujari has been removed from his office on valid grounds."
Sir Ashutosh Mookerjee quoted thus:
"There is manifestly nothing wrong in principle that the holder of a spiritual office should be subject to discipline and should be liable to deprivation for what may be called misconduct from an ecclesiastical point of view or for flagrant and continued neglect of duty..... It is plain that although so far as Hindus are concerned, there is now no State Church and no ecclesiastical court, there is nothing to prevent civil courts from determining questions such as those raised in the present litigation and from holding that the Pujari has been removed from his office on valid grounds."
In U.W. Baya vs. U. Zaw Ta. AIR 1914 Lower Burma 178 (1) where a question arose as to which was the forum where an action for violation of religious rights could be brought, it was held, "there are, therefore, no ecclessiastical authorities in Lower Burma. Section 9, Civil P.C. enacts that the courts shall subject to the provisions herein contained, have jurisdiction to try all suits of a civil nature excepting suits of which the cognizance is either expressly or impliedly barred. This is a suit of a civil nature. It is a claim of certain lands and manuscripts.
The civil courts, in our opinion, clearly have jurisdiction to decide the suit and should do so".
In Sri Sinha Ramanuja Jeer & Ors. v. Sri Ranga Ramanuja Jeer & Anr. (1962) 2 SCR 509 this Court observed:
"prima facie suits raising questions of religious rites and ceremonies only are not maintainable in a civil Court, for they do not deal with legal rights of parties. But the explanation to the section accepting the said undoubted position says that a suit in which the right to property or to an office is contested is a suit of civil nature notwithstanding that such right may depend entirely on the decision of a question as to religious rites or ceremonies. It implies two things, namely, (i) a suit for an office is a suit of a civil nature; and (ii) it does not cease to be one even if the said right depends entirely upon a decision of a question as to the religious rites or ceremonies."
In Ugamsingh & Mishrimal vs. Kesrimal & Ors., 1971 (2) SCR 836, it was held that right to worship is a civil right which can be subject matter of a civil suit. The Court observed :
"It is clear therefore that a right to worship is a civil right, interference with which raises a dispute of a civil nature."
That the right to conduct worship is also a civil right has been recognised by the courts in T.A. Aiyangar Swamigal & Ors. v. L.S. Aiyangar & Ors. 31 Madras Law Journal 758. In Devendra Narain Sarkar & Ors. v. Satya Charan Mukerji & Ors. AIR 1927 Calcutta 783 it was held that a suit by a person claiming to be entitled to a religious office against an usurper, for a declaration of his right to the office is a suit of a civil nature.
Similarly in S. Ramnuja Jeer (supra) this Court observed as under:
"From the aforesaid passage it is clear that so long as the holder of a purely religious office is under a legal obligation to discharge duties attached to the said office for the non-observance of which he may be visited with penalties, a civil court could grant a declaration as to who would be or could be the holder of such office."
The conclusions thus reached are:
(a) The civil courts have jurisdiction to entertain the suits for violation of fundamental rights guaranteed under Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution of India and suits.
(b) The expression 'civil nature' used in Section 9 of the Civil Procedure Code is wider than even civil proceedings, and thus extends to such religious matters which have civil consequence.
(c) Section 9 is very wide. In absence of any ecclesiastical courts any religious dispute is congnizable, except in very rare cases where the declaration sought may be what constitutes religious rite
Supreme Court of India
Firm Seth Radha Kishan ... vs The Administrator, ... on 7 March, 1963
Under s. 9 of the Code of Civil Procedure the Court shall have jurisdiction to try all suits of civil nature excepting suits of which cognizance is either expressly or impliedly barred. A statute, therefore, expressly or by necessary implication, can bar the jurisdiction of civil Courts in respect of a particular matter. The mere conferment of special jurisdiction on a tribunal in respect of the said matter does not in itself exclude the jurisdiction of civil courts. The statute may specifically provide for ousting the jurisdiction of civil Courts ; even if there was no such specific exclusion, if it creates a liability not existing before and gives a special and Particular remedy for the aggrieved party, the remedy provided by it must be followed. The same principle would apply if the statute had provided for the particular forum in which the said remedy could be had. Even in such cases, the Civil Court's jurisdiction is not completely ousted. A suit in a civil Court will always lie to question the order of a tribunal created by a statute, even if its order is, expressly or by necessary implication, made final, if the said tribunal abuses its power or does not act under the Act but in violation of its provisions.