Bibhabati Devi Vs. Ramendra Narayan Roy: Issues of bar of limitation and evidence.

 

TITLE Bibhabati Devi Vs. Ramendra Narayan Roy 
CITATION (1947) 49 BOMLR 246
COURT High Court of Bombay
JUDGES/CORAM Thankerton, D. Park and M. Nair
DATE OF JUDGEMENT 30.07.1946

 

Introduction

In this peculiar case, the respondent was alleged to have died a few years ago. The Court after appreciating the evidence made important observations with regard to bar of limitation and relevant facts.

Facts

The facts of the case are as follows: The suit was filed in the Court of the First Subordinate Judge, by the respondent Kumar Ramendra Narayan Roy against the present appellant. In the plaint, he sought a declaration that he is the second son of the late Rajah Rajendra Narayan Roy of Bhowal and that his possession in respect of the 1/3rd share of the properties be confirmed. He further asked for injunctions against obstruction to his possession. The present appellant denied the identity of the respondent (plaintiff in the original suit) with Kumar Ramendra Narayan Roy (Second Kumar) in his written statement.  He further alleged that the suit was barred by limitation. 

Family history: Rajah Rajendra Narayan Roy, the Zamindar of Bhowal, was one of the biggest land proprietors of East Bengal. He passed away leaving his widow, Rani Bilasmani, and three sons and three daughters. The sons were Ranendra Narayan Roy, Ramendra Narayan Roy and Rabindra Narayan Roy. The daughters were Indumayee, Jyotirmoyee, and Tarinmoyee. Indumayee was the eldest child, Jyotirmoyee the second, then had come the sons, and then the youngest child, Tarinmoyee Debi. The Rajah had executed before his death a deed of trust. The deed provided that upon his death, the estate would vest in the Rani, his widow, in trust for the three sons. She managed as trustee till her death which on January 21, 1907. Upon that event, the three sons became the owners at law, as they had been in equity. There is no question that the Second Kumar owned a third share in the estate and would be owning it still, if he be alive, unless he has been prescribed against for the requisite period.

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Issues

The main issues in the case were: 

  1. Is the suit barred by limitation?
  2. Is the Second Kumar Ramendra Narayan Roy alive?
  3. Is the present plaintiff the Second Kumar Ramendra Narayan Roy of Bhowal?

Contention of the Parties

The Second Kumar was assumed to be dead on May 8, 1909. The appellant maintains that the Second Kumar died shortly before midnight and that the following morning his body was taken in a funeral procession. He was cremated with the usual rites at the new sasan at Darjeeling. The plaintiff admits that there was a funeral procession and cremation on the morning of May 9. However, he maintains that the body so cremated was not that of the Second Kumar. His case is that the Second Kumar was taken for dead about dusk, between seven and eight o’clock, in the evening of May 8 and arrangements were at once made for cremation. The body was taken in funeral procession to the old sasan and placed in position for cremation. At the same moment, a violent storm of rain caused the party to take shelter. On their return after the rain had abated, the body was no longer there. Thereafter another body was procured and made the subject of the procession and cremation the following morning.

Shortly thereafter, the appellant began to enjoy her widow’s estate in the undivided one-third share of the Bhowal estate, which the Second Kumar had owned. She recovered the proceeds, amounting to Rs. 30,000, of a life policy taken out by the Second Kumar, the necessary certificates of his death having been provided. Soon after her, the Court of Wards took charge of the appellant’s share of the Bhowal estate. Her attempt to obtain the release of her share proved unsuccessful and the share remained in charge of the Court of Wards, up to the time of the decree in the present suit.

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On the other hand, the plaintiff’s case is that while the funeral party was sheltering from the storm, he was found to be alive by four sanyasis (ascetics). The ascetics were nearby and heard certain sounds from the sasan. They released him, took him away and looked after him. They also took him with them in their wanderings. The plaintiff claimed that later when he recovered from an unconscious state, he had lost all memory of who he was, where he came from and of past events. He lived and garbed himself as a sanyasi would. Some eleven years later he recalled that he came from Dacca, but not who or what he was. In December 1920, or January 1921, he reached Dacca, and took up a position on the Buckland Bund. There, certain people and relatives recognized him. 

Summary of Court decision and judgment 

The First Additional District Judge ordered and decreed that it be declared that the plaintiff is the Kumar Ramendra Narayan Roy, the second son of the late Rajah Rajendra Narayan Roy, Zemindar of Bhowal. The judge ordered that the plaintiff should be put in possession of an undivided one-third share in the properties in suit which comprises of the share now in the enjoyment of the first defendant (the present appellant)-jointly with the other defendants possession over the rest.

The present appellant made an appeal before the Special Bench of the High Court. The High Court the appeal and upheld the order of the lower Court. 

In the present appeal, the Court first appreciated the evidence given by the witnesses and observed that the appellant failed to establish her case and the witnesses to the death were not enough. The Court observed that the statement of the witness was a fact within the meaning of Sections 3 and 59 of the Indian Evidence Act of 1872, and that it is proved by the direct evidence of other witnesses who heard it, within the meaning of Section 60. However, it was not a relevant fact unless the learned Judge was entitled to make it a relevant fact by a presumption under the terms of Section 114.

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The Court observed that on the supposed death of the Second Kumar the appellant entered on her widow’s estate in the undivided one-third share of the Bhowal estate, which belonged to her husband, and she thereafter enjoyed it. The question arose whether her possession was adverse to her husband, he being in fact alive. Possession must be adverse to a living person, and, as she was possessing under a mistake as to his death, it is difficult to see how she can claim that by her possession she was asserting a right adverse to one whom she regarded as dead. The Court dismissed the appeals and upheld the decision of the High Court.

Analysis

Section 114 of the Evidence Act lays down that the Court may presume the existence of any fact which it thinks likely to have happened, regard being had to the common course of natural events, human conduct and public and private business, in their relation to the facts of the particular case. 

This Section helps the Court in deciding on whom the burden of proof lies in certain situations. This section must be used cautiously and not as a strait jacket formula. 

Conclusion

The Court rightly held that a fact is not relevant unless the judge is entitled to make it a relevant fact by a presumption u/s 114. Further, discussing the bar of limitation the Court held, “The Hindu widow, as often pointed out, is not a life renter, but has a widow’s estate-that is to say, a widow’s estate in her deceased husband’s estate. If possessing as widow she possesses adversely to any one as to certain parcels, she does not acquire the parcels as stridhan, but she makes them good to her husband’s estate.”

                                                           –END OF CASE COMMENT–