Read Order: Gram Panchayat Hansawas Khurd v. Dhan Singh and Others

Monika Rahar

Chandigarh, April 22, 2022: While considering two revision petitions, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has held that for deciding a dispute under Section 13-A of the Punjab Village Common Lands (Regulation) Act, 1961 raising the question of whether any right, title or interest in any land or immovable property vests in the Gram Panchayat or not, would exclusively lie with the Collector, to the exclusion of the Civil Court.

The Bench of Justice Manjari Nehru Kaul held, “Adverting to the case in hand, the relief claimed in the civil suit involves the adjudication of rights of the parties over the suit property, hence, the jurisdiction of the Civil Court over the matter would, therefore, be barred under Section 13 of the Act.” 

Also, while looking into the observation of the Trial Court made to the effect that since the trial was at the stage of evidence, an application under Order 7 Rule 11 of CPC was not maintainable, the Court opined that the powers of the Court conferred under Order 7 Rule 11 of CPC are mandatory in nature and can be exercised at any stage of the suit, but before the conclusion of the trial.

The Court was dealing with two revision petitions clubbed together. The first petition (in respect of CR-3394-2019) was filed under Article 227 of the Constitution of India, seeking setting aside of the order of the trial court dismissing an application under Order 7 Rule 11 of CPC, filed by the petitioner/defendant- Gram Panchayat, seeking rejection of plaint on account of lack of jurisdiction.

In the second petition (in respect of CR-14336-2018), the petitioner sought setting aside of the order vide which the injunction application filed by the respondents/plaintiffs under Order 39 Rule 1 CPC was allowed by the Trial Court. Against this order an appeal was filed and it was dismissed. So, this petitioner also contained a prayer seeking this order of the appellate Court. 

The case of the counsel for the defendant- Gram Panchayat (petitioner) was that the plaintiffs (respondents herein) filed a suit for title under the Act for declaring them as owners in possession of the suit land before the Court of Collector, Charkhi Dadri. During the pendency of the suit  plaintiffs also filed the civil suit (CS-870- 2017) in question before the Trial Court for restraining the defendant from dispossessing or interfering into the peaceful possession of the plaintiffs in the suit property.  

The Counsel further submitted that the Trial Court should have appreciated that since the jurisdiction of the Civil Court was specifically barred under Section 13 of the Act, the suit in question was not maintainable. He further submitted that the trial Court gravely erred in observing that since the trial was at the stage of evidence, an application under Order 7 Rule 11 of CPC was not maintainable. It was also argued that as long as the trial was not concluded, an application under Order 7 Rule 11 of CPC could be filed. 

The counsel for the plaintiffs (now respondents) on the other hand vehemently urged that the plaintiffs was in physical possession of the suit land since the year 1928. He submitted that the suit land was wrongly mutated in the name of the defendant without even issuing any notice to them. It was also stated that the suit for permanent injunction to restrain the defendants was not barred under Section 13 of the Act, more so, when they already filed a suit for title before the Court of the Collector. The counsel, therefore, submitted that the civil suit in question was maintainable as there was no other remedy available to the plaintiffs to restrain the defendant from interfering into their peaceful possession. 

After hearing the parties, the Court perused the provisions of Section 13 (Bar of Jurisdiction in Civil Courts) of the Act and therefrom it was observed that undoubtedly the jurisdiction to decide any dispute as to whether any right, title or interest in any land or immovable property vests in the Gram Panchayat or not, would exclusively lie with the Collector, to the exclusion of the Civil Court. 

Adverting to the case in hand, the Court opined that the relief claimed in the civil suit involves the adjudication of rights of the parties over the suit property, hence, the jurisdiction of the Civil Court over the matter would, therefore, be barred under Section 13 of the Act. 

Coming next to the contention of the plaintiff’s counsel that there was no alternative remedy available to them for restraining the defendants, was held by the Court to be devoid of any merit. The Court held that Section 13-A(2) of the Act provides for deciding the suits under Section 13-A(1) in the same manner, as is provided for, in the Code of Civil Procedure (CPC), hence, the Collector also does have all such incidental powers to decide the suit effectively and also has the powers to grant injunction. 

In this light, the Court held that the plaintiffs would be at liberty to avail of the alternative remedies before the appropriate Forum/Collector under the provisions of the Act, if so advised.

On the decision of the Trial Court, the High Court held that the trial Court also erred in observing that since the evidence commenced, an application under Order 7 Rule 11 of CPC was not maintainable. It was clarified and reiterated that the powers of the Court conferred under Order 7 Rule 11 of CPC are mandatory in nature and can be exercised at any stage of the suit, but before the conclusion of the trial.

As a sequel to the above, more so, since the question of right of the parties over suit property was involved, the impugned orders were set aside and the revision petitions were accordingly allowed.

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