DECLARATORY SUITS

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This article was written by Anisha Jhawar, a student of Institute of Law Nirma University.

Meaning and Nature

Declaratory relief is a form of equitable relief which supposedly vests for the declaration of right of one party and denied by the other. Of lately, this has been incorporated in the statute under Chapter VI of the Specific Relief Act, 1963. Specifically, Section 34 provides for the declaratory relief in form of status or right. In simpler terms, it is the judicial ascertainment of a legal right or any legal character of the party to civil proceedings without any consequential relief.

The declaratory relief under Section 34 is in the nature of equitable relief for granting an already existing right which has been denied by the other party. It does not seek anything to be paid or performed additionally by the defendant. In simpler terms, this section does not warrant every declaration but that the plaintiff is entitled to such legal character or right and only under special circumstances.[1] The Hon’ble Apex Court has also held that Section 34 of the Specific Relief Act, 1963 is pari passu with the Section 42 of the Specific Relief Act, 1877.The provision is not exhaustive[2] and the courts have the power to grant declaratory decrees independent of the Section.[3] The same has been reiterated in Pyx Granite v. Ministry of Housing and Local Government.[4]

Need, necessity and Object

The object of seeking such declaratory relief is to avoid any alteration of the status quo of the parties. In one such case of Mohd. Manjural Haque v. Bisseswara Banerjee[5], the court suggested three fold classification for determining the ambit of declaratory relief. First, it defines rights and does not give any present relief. Second, it restores the deprived rights of the plaintiffs and gives effect instant relief. Lastly, it is made as an introductory relief granted by the court.

Beside one of the other important objects is to circumvent the multiplicity of proceedings.[6] However, it is pertinent to note that declaratory decree is a mode of relief which can only be granted where there is no specific performance and no award of compensation. Conclusively, it evident that object of declaratory decree is to protect the legal character and legal right from the adverse consequences and be peacefully enjoyed by the party and also to protect the peace and order when the adverse possession is noticed.[7]

Conditions

It is pertinent to note that although the court has discretion to grant the relief, yet there are few prima facie conditions that might seem to be satisfied in the light of the facts of the given case. As it is evident from the bare reading of the section, the first condition is that there might exists a vested legal right or legal character with the plaintiff and second, that such legal right or legal character has been denied by the defendant or that the defendant has some interest in denying such right or character.

However, even if the conditions have been satisfied it does not impose mandate upon the court to grant such relief. The courts still have power to exercise discretion in this aspect. The Allahabad High Court in Qabool Singh v. Board of Revenue[8] has held that the plaintiff has to show such right not only on the date of the suit but also on the date of decree. And that any relief claimed after the filing of the suit is not the one which ought to have been claimed before.

Essentials of declaratory relief

The important essentials of declaratory relief are:

  • There must be some present and existing interest and not an abstract right.
  • Mere contingency, which might be proximate, by virtue of which there is no present interest, does not suffice.
  • It must not be on speculative grounds and there must have been a denial of the same i.e. there must be present danger detrimental to the interest.
  • The person seeking the declaratory decree must not be seeking an executory decree.[9]

In furtherance to the above mentioned essentials, the declaratory decree is not granted where:

  • The relief is liable to be frustrated by authorities
  • It leads to an injustice to the adverse party.
  • It veils the suitor with undeserving advantage over the adverse party.
  • It inflicts an unjust loss to the adverse party.[10]

 

Scope and ambit

The granting of declaratory decree is restricted and ought not to be made where the plaintiff has remedy of consequential relief. But where it is not the case and there can be no executor decree, the plaintiff may be granted a decree for declaration of his present and future rights as well. In Naran Chandra Dalpati v. Sidh Nath Singh[11], the Calcutta High Court held that in order to obtain a declaratory decree, it is not required that there should be some right to relief of a consequential nature and which might have claimed from that court or the one which is preparatory to obtaining relief in other courts.

Furthermore, the provision relates to suits only and not to applications, and that it is not exhaustive even of declaratory suits. This denotes that the scope of this section is very vast in nature.[12] In yet another case it was held that there is no warrant that a declaratory relief will lay when the plaintiff is neither entitled to legal character or any such right. This implies to the proposition that declaratory relief is not a right of the plaintiff which would mandate the court.[13] The same has been reiterated by Gujarat High Court also.

The decree obtained under this section is in personam as distinguished from decree in rem. This connotes that it is binding only on the party who denies the other of his right. The effect of the declaratory relief has been incorporated under section 35 of the Specific Relief Act, 1963.[14]

Who may sue, who may be sued

Any person who has been denied of the legal character and not necessarily the legal right may sue against the person denying. In K. P. Ramakrishna Pattar v. K.P. Narayana Pattar[15], the phrase ‘legal character’ was discussed and it was held that a legal character constitutes of the attributes that the law attaches to him in his personal capacity such as marriage, adoption, divorce, legitimacy etc. Thus, the character or status should have been conferred by law on persons i.e. created by birth and not by contract. Also, a legal right can be either proprietary or personal.

The declaratory relief extends to only those rights that are legally enforceable.

Such a suit may lie against any person who has denied the right or character or has his interest in doing so.

Judicial Precedents and Case Laws: Supreme Court

The concept of declaratory reliefs could be better understood by the following case laws rendered by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India.

In one of the earliest cases of Supreme General Films Exchange Ltd. v. His Highness Maharaja Sir Brijnath Singhji Deo of Maihar & Ors.[16], the scope of the provision was discussed and that whether the plaintiff has the legal character and right to claim the declaration under the Specific Relief Act. The court held that the provision gives a statutory recognition to such relief and subject it to limitation, however, it does not deem to exhaust every kind of declaratory relief falling outside the ambit of the provision. The circumstances under this section are a matter of discretion of the courts depending upon the facts and circumstances of the case. It is not a doubt that a stranger whose interest has not been affected cannot obtain a decree for declaration.

In yet another case of Vinay Krishna v. Keshav Chandra & Anr.[17], the court discussed the proviso which lays down the applicability of bar under the said provision. The court held that once the bar under section becomes operative, no relief could be granted with reference to rejectment.

In Venkataraja & Ors. v. Vidyane Doureradjaperumal[18], the court has discussed the maintainability of declaratory suit without consequential relief. The court held that the purpose of the proviso to Section 34 is to avoid the multiplicity of the proceedings. A mere declaratory decree remains as non-executable in most cases and since the plaintiff did not amend the pleadings despite the objections in the written statement; it also defeated the purpose of Order 2 Rule 2 and hence was not found maintainable.

[1] Sheoprasan Singh v. Ramnandan Singh, 43 Ind App 91: AIR 1916 PC 78

[2] Robert Fischer v. Secretary of State, 1899 ILR 22 Mad. 270 (C)

[3] V. Ramaraghava Reddy v. K. Seshu Reddy, AIR 1967 SC 436

[4] (1958) 1 QB 554

[5] AIR 1943 Cal 361

[6] Mohd. Mamunur Rashid, A to Z regarding Declaratory suit, http://mamunurrashiddullm.blogspot.in/2012/03/to-z-regarding-declaratory-suit.html (last visited Nov. 2, 2016)

[7] Ibid 6

[8] AIR 1973 All 158

[9] Id. 7

[10] Id. 8

[11] AIR 1940 Cal 445

[12] Swayamprabhai v. Muthukrishna, AIR 1942 Mad 362: (1942) 55 LW 136

[13] KrishnaVeni Ammal v. M. D. Soundararajan, AIR 1945 Mad 53: (1944) 2 Mad LJ 231

[14] Naima Huq, Declaration as a Remedy under Specific Relief Act, (1991) 2 DULJ 79

[15] AIR 1915 Mad 584

[16] (1975) 2 SCC 530

[17] 1993 Supp (3) SCC 129

[18] (2014) 14 SCC 502

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