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Worth a lesson for law students on how long a civil case could drag on, says Supreme Court

A view of the Supreme Court of India. File  

The Supreme Court has signed off a hard-fought, five-rounder litigation which dates back half a century regarding a debt of ₹3,000.

“We wish this will be the knock-out round,” Justice V. Ramasubramanian, who authored the judgment for a Bench led by Justice Hemant Gupta, conveyed the top court’s fervent hope in the very first paragraph of the 22-page verdict.

The court compared the habit of the litigants to bounce back after every failed round to King Vikramaditya’s relentless pursuit to capture the ghost, Betal.

The tireless Vikramaditya

“Not to be put off by repeated failures, the appellants herein, like the tireless Vikramaditya, who made repeated attempts to capture Betal, started the present round and hopefully the final round,” Justice Ramasubranian observed while tracing the labyrinthine history of the case.

The dispute dates back to 1971 between Rama Rani Devi and Sasadhar Biswas before the Munsif court in West Bengal. The subject of their dispute was the ₹3,000 Biswas owed Devi.

In 1974, the Munsif directed Mr. Biswas to pay Ms. Devi the amount in six equal instalments.

However, the Munsif’s decree was not honoured. Ms. Devi moved the court for execution of the decree through attachment and sale of 7,450 sq.ft. belonging to Mr. Biswas to realise her debt. The civil court agreed. However, Mr. Biswas challenged the sale proclamation of the land by the civil court, saying there was “material irregularity and fraud” in it. But his challenge was dismissed in 1975.

An auction sale was held in 1979. Two brothers, Sachindra Nath Mukherjee and Dulal Kanti Mukherjee became the highest bidders. They deposited ₹5,500, as the highest bid amount, in court.

Compromise reached

Mr. Biswas, in July 1980, reached a compromise with the brothers who agreed to revoke the auction provided he pay them their “entire money” by December 1980. Mr. Biswas deposited ₹3,700 but the brothers had paid ₹5,500 in the auction. The brothers and BMr. iswas fall apart. The former went to court against Mr. Biswas. After several twists and turns, the dispute reached the Supreme Court in 1992 and is dismissed against Mr. Biswas

Justice Ramasubramanian said the dispute had “exhausted the gunpowder” in this first round.

But the litigants had no intention to stop. The second round was kick-started with a suit to declare the auction sale void. However, this effort was aborted later.

The third round was concerned about the issuance of the sale certificate. This came to an end in 2001. The fourth round followed shortly when the auction purchasers moved the civil court for delivery of possession of the land. This round went on till 2006 until the Supreme Court put its foot down and dismissed a review petition challenging the delivery of the property.

But it seems the litigants were in no mood to give up. In the fifth and present round, the Biswas family members raised the ‘bogey’ of “jurisdictional error” to avoid delivery of the property to the Mukherjees. It had been over four decades since the Mukherjee brothers paid ₹5,500 for the property in the auction held in 1979.

Almost all provisions available exhausted

Rejecting the Biswas family’s appeal, the court observed that they have “now exhausted almost all provisions available” to stall the delivery of the auctioned property.

As a parting shot, Justice Ramasubramanian suggested the case should actually be included in law school syllabus as study material for students to get equipped with how long a case could drag on with litigants fighting tooth and nail to avoid execution of a decree in a civil case.


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