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Panchura Estate v. The Tahsildar - STA.Nos.7 of 2003  RD-TN 1455 (13 April 2007)
IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUDICATURE AT MADRAS
THE HON'BLE MR. JUSTICE P. SATHASIVAM
THE HON'BLE MR. JUSTICE S. TAMILVANAN
SPECIAL TRIBUNAL APPEAL Nos.7 to 20, 23 of 2003 & 1 of 2004 and
CONTEMPT PETITION No.540 of 2004
connected miscellaneous petitions.
S.T.A.No.7 of 2003:
M/s. Panchura Estate Ltd.,
Bitherkad rep. By its
V.K. Mehta. .. Appellant vs.
1.The Tahsildar, Pandalur
The Nilgiris District.
2.The District Forest Officer
Gudalur, The Nilgiris. .. Respondents Special Tribunal Appeal filed under Section 41 of the Gudalur Janmam Estate (Abolition & Conversion into Royatwari) Act 24/1969, against the common judgment and decree dated 04.06.2003 made in CMA.Nos.9 of 1999 and 16 of 1999 on the file of Janmam Estate Abolition Tribunal and District Judge of Nilgiris at Ootacamund, reversing the order dated 24.12.1998 passed in S.R.No.1 of 1995 on the file of the Assistant Settlement Officer, Dharapuram. Mr. J. Ravindran, for appellant in STA.No.7/2003. Mr. T. Srinivasa Raghavan, for appellant in STA.Nos.8, 11, 12, 14, 16 and 17/2003. Mr. N. Doraikannan, for appellant in STA.No.9&10/2003. Mrs. A.V.Bharathi,for appellant in STA.Nos.13 & 15/03. Mr. S.V. Jayaraman, Senior counsel for Mr. S. Raghu, for appellant in STA.Nos.20 & 22/03 and for petitioner in contempt petition No.540 of 2004. Mr. S. Ramasamy, Additional Advocate General-II assisted by Mr. Titus Jesudoss, for respondents in all the appeals.
Mr. P.P. Rajendran, for 3rd respondent in STA.No.13/03. No appearance for appellant in STA.Nos.18 & 19/03. COMMON JUDGMENT
(Judgment of the Court delivered by P. SATHASIVAM,J.)
Since the issues involved in all these appeals are identical, they are being disposed of by the following common order.
2. In the light of the order to be passed hereunder, we are of the view that there is no need to refer all the factual matrix as stated by both parties.
3. For convenience, we shall refer the parties as arrayed before the Original Authority, viz., the Assistant Settlement Officer.
4. The appellants/claimants in all the above appeals applied for grant of ryotwari patta to the Assistant Settlement Officer (in short, "A.S.O."), Dharapuram under the provisions of the Gudalur Janmam Estates (Abolition and Conversion into Ryotwari) Act (XXIV of 1969). The claimants before the A.S.O. produced and placed several documents, such as, lease deeds, rent receipts/pattam receipts, bills for sale of agricultural produces in support of their claim regarding possession and occupation of lands in question. According to the learned counsel for the appellants, the A.S.O. on consideration of those documents and after making personal inspection, found that the claimants are entitled to patta, and accordingly, granted ryotwari patta in respect of the lands mentioned therein.
5. Aggrieved by the said order of the A.S.O. the respondents therein, viz., the District Forest Officer and the Tahsildar, Gudalur, preferred individual appeals before the Janmam Estate Abolition Tribunal and District Court, The Nilgiris, Ootacamandalam. The Tribunal, considering the order of the Supreme Court in the case of Smt. Gangabai vs. Vijayakumar (AIR 1974 SC 1126), which deals with preservation of forest lands and after observing that the claimants have not marked specific documents before the A.S.O. in support of their claim, accepted the stand taken by the District Forest Officer and the Tahsildar, Gudalur, set aside the order of A.S.O. granting patta and allowed all the appeals. In those circumstances, challenging the order of the Tribunal, the claimants preferred the above appeals.
6. We heard the learned counsel for the appellants as well as respondents.
7. Mr. S.V. Jayaraman, learned senior counsel as well as the other counsel appearing for the appellants mainly contended that in spite of the fact that all the relevant documents, such as, lease deeds, pattam receipts, bills for sale of agricultural produces, rental receipts, etc., were available with the A.S.O. the Tribunal without adverting to the same, merely based on the order of the Supreme Court (AIR 1974 SC 1126 - cited supra), set aside the order of A.S.O. and allowed the appeals filed by the District Forest Officer and the Tahsildar, Gudalur. According to them, all the documents produced by the claimants/appellants are available along with other records, it is, but, proper on the part of the Tribunal, which is an appellate authority, to verify the same and give a finding one way or the other. It is their further grievance that in spite of acceptable volumness documents, the Tribunal, committed an error in setting aside the order of A.S.O. granting patta in favour of the claimants.
8. In the light of the above submissions, we carefully verified the orders passed by the A.S.O. as well as the Tribunal. A perusal of the order of the A.S.O. shows that the claimants have produced (i) lease deeds; (ii) pattam receipts; (iii) bills for sale of agricultural produces from the year 1966 onwards; (iv) rent receipts; (v) building tax receipts; (vi) balance sheet of respective companies; (vii) certified copy of the survey map, demarking the boundaries of area; and (viii) possession certificate from the Village Administrative Officer. While considering the claim of the claimants, the A.S.O. heavily relied on those documents and after making local inspection, accepted their case, and granted ryotwari patta to them.
9. Now, let us consider the order of the Tribunal. Though an objection was raised by the claimants regarding maintainability of the appeal by the District Forest Officer and the Tahsildar, ultimately, the learned District Judge, after finding that the appellants therein (District Forest Officer and the Tahsildar) are aggrieved persons and in order to protect the forest lands, gave a finding that the appeals filed by them are maintainable and rejected the objection of the claimants. Even before us, there is no serious dispute as to the finding relating to maintainability of the appeals filed by the Officers.
10. We also verified the entire order of the Tribunal. As rightly pointed out by the learned counsel for the appellants, except referring the order of the Supreme Court (AIR 1974 SC 1126 - cited supra) relating to preservation of forest lands, there is no discussion at all as to the documents/materials produced by the claimants before the A.S.O. In more than one place, the learned Judge, has commented the A.S.O. for not marking those documents as exhibits. Likewise, in many places, he doubted the finding/conclusion arrived at by him. If the learned Judge has doubt as to the correctness of the order of the A.S.O. or in his view the order of A.S.O. is bereft of required materials, he could very well call for report as to the availability of the documents mentioned above and filed by the claimants. As stated earlier, before us all the counsel appearing for the appellants asserted that those documents are even now available in the Office of the A.S.O. The Tribunal, being an appellate authority and the claim of the claimants for ryotwari patta is based on possession and occupation of the lands, it is, but, proper on the part of the Tribunal either to call for a report from A.S.O. or send for those documents to satisfy himself in order to give a definite finding. Unfortunately, such recourse has not been followed by the Tribunal. Instead, it concentrated only in referring the order of the Supreme Court and complemented the counsel who appeared on either side.
11. As regards non-consideration of the relevant documents/materials, learned Additional Advocate General fairly states that the proper course is to direct the Tribunal to reconsider the matter in issue and take a decision one way or the other. Though the learned counsel for the appellants furnished several details in support of their claim, we are of the view that it is for the appellate authority to consider and take a decision one way or the other; hence, we desist from probing those documents. From the materials available, we are satisfied that the appellate Tribunal has not adverted to the factual details/materials placed by the claimants and committed an error in setting aside the order of A.S.O. It is made clear that we are not underestimating the power of the Government/Government officials in safeguarding the forest wealth, but at the same time, the Tribunal being an appellate authority, is duty bound to verify and give a finding with reference to the documents produced by the parties one way or the other. Even if those documents are not marked by A.S.O. as an appellate authority, the Tribunal can very well call for a report as to the existence/availability of those documents. If those materials are not available and does not support the case of the claimants, the Tribunal is free to pass appropriate orders. On this ground, we inclined to set aside the order of the Tribunal and remit all the matters to the Tribunal for fresh disposal.
12. Under these circumstances, the order passed by the Tribunal in the respective Civil Miscellaneous Appeals are set aside and the matter is remitted back to the Tribunal for fresh consideration. The Tribunal is directed to restore all the appeals on its file and dispose of the same afresh, after affording opportunity to all the parties. As said earlier, and in view of the assertion of the appellants/claimants, all the documents are available with the A.S.O. it is for the Tribunal to verify/call for a report/send for the same, in order to arrive a definite conclusion. In view of the assertion of the appellants that they are in possession and enjoyment of the lands in question, both parties are directed to maintain status quo prevailing as on date. Considering the nature of relief sought for, the Tribunal is directed to pass fresh orders as mentioned above within a period of six months from the date of receipt of a copy of this order. All the appeals are allowed to the extent mentioned above. No costs. Consequently, connected contempt petition and the miscellaneous petitions are closed. kh
1.The Tahsildar, Pandalur
The Nilgiris District.
2.The District Forest Officer
Gudalur, The Nilgiris.
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