Damodar Mudaliar & Anr. v. Secretary of State for India

In this landmark judgement, the High Court of Madras studied Section 70 of the Contract Act in detail to ascertain whether or not a certain group of persons who benefited from an act were liable to pay for the same.
CITATION(1895) ILR Mad 88
COURTHigh Court of Madras
JUDGES/CORAMAJ Collins and Shephard
DATE OF JUDGEMENT18.10.1894

Introduction

The Law of Contracts, as is applied today, has been defined by some classic decisions of English and Indian Courts. Some of these seminal cases, which may seem minor in their actual cause, have shaped the world of contracts. Damodar Mudaliar vs. Secretary of State for India is one such judgement, which is on the law of restitution for unjust enrichment.

Facts

The facts of the case are as follows: Eleven villages were irrigated by a certain tank, some of which were zamindari villages, and others were held by the Government. The Government affected certain repairs necessary for the preservation of the tank, and it was found that they did not intend to do so gratuitously for the zamindars and that latter had enjoyed the benefits thereof. It was not found that there was any request, either express or implied, on the part of the defendants to the Government to execute the repairs. In a suit by the Secretary of State to recover from the defendants their share of the cost incurred, the zamindars were, under the circumstances, held liable to contribute to the expenses of the repairs.

Issues

The main issue in the case was: Whether or not the Defendant, being the proprietors of certain villages irrigated by the tank, could be made liable for the costs of repairs of that tank incurred by the Government.

Arguments on behalf of the Plaintiffs

The Plaintiffs’ Counsel relied on Section 70 of the Contract Act, 1872 which states that where a person lawfully does anything for another person, not intending to do so gratuitously, and such other person enjoys the benefit thereof, the latter is bound to make compensation to the former in respect of, or to restore, the thing so done.

Also Read  Bonda Kui v. Emperor

Arguments on behalf of the Defendant

The contention on the Defendant’s part was that the Government were bound to do the repairs at their own expense and not entitled to charge the zamindar. The present action could not be maintained as there was no contract between them and the Government and no joint liability such as could give rise to an action for contribution. The Defendant heavily relied on the case of Leigh v. Dickeson L.R.[1]

Summary of court decision and judgement

The District Judge found that the Government had not intended to do the repairs gratuitously, that the Defendant had benefited by the repairs and that they were therefore liable in the proportion of the irrigated area of their villages to the irrigated area of the Government villages. The High Court accepted the findings and dismissed the appeal with costs.

Analysis

The Madras High Court has elaborately expressed its opinion regarding the wide scope of Section 70 of the Act as compared to the English law. It observed that certainly, there may be difficulties in applying a rule stated in such wide terms as is that expressed in Section 70, but according to the Section it is not essential that the act shall have been necessary in the sense that it has been done under circumstances of pressing emergency or been an act necessary to be done at some time for the preservation of property.

It may therefore be extended to cases in which no question of salvage enters. It is not limited to persons standing in particular relations to one another, and except in the requirement that the act shall be lawful; no condition is prescribed as to the circumstances under which it shall be done.

The decision was in conformity with the existing law, obligation of a person enjoying benefits of another person’s non-gratuitous act. The findings of the case acted as a precedent to cases that followed on after this case was settled.

Also Read  Navtej Singh Johar & Ors. v. Union of India

In the appeal to the High Court, the bench once again dealt with the issues in detail and closely examined the requisites of Section 70 of the Indian Contract Act, 1872 to which the plaintiffs relied on.

Conclusion

Damodar Mudaliar vs. Secretary of State for India is considered to be one of the most important landmark judgments delivered by an Indian High Court, particularly in the era of 1950s, which contain valuable accounts of how, if at all, the common law principles have been modified by the Indian legislature. It is therefore especially unfortunate that this branch of law has subsequently not developed in India as one might have expected.


[1] 15 Q.B.D. 60.