A two-judge bench of the Hon'ble Supreme Court of India ("Supreme Court"), comprising Justices D.Y. Chandrachud & M.R. Shah, vide a judgment dated 5 August 2021 in the case of Shri Saurav Jain & Anr. vs M/s A.B.P. Design & Anr, C.A. No. 4448 of 2021, held that in view of the plenary jurisdiction under Article 136 of the Constitution of India ("Constitution") read with its power to do complete justice under Article 142 of the Constitution, the Supreme Court can entertain new grounds raised for the first time if it involves a question of law which does not require adducing additional evidence.
- A suit was instituted in the Court of the Civil Judge (Senior Division), Moradabad by the first Respondent who claimed to be a 'transferable owner and cultivator' of a certain piece of land. The State of Uttar Pradesh and the Ceiling Authority were not impleaded in the suit. Suit was not only dismissed on grounds of limitation, but the objection of the Appellant with regard to lack of jurisdiction of the Trial Court under the Urban Land (Ceiling and Regulation) Act, 1976 ("ULCRA") was also rejected.
- Aggrieved by the said order, the first Respondent approached the Hon'ble High Court of Judicature at Allahabad ("High Court"). However, while challenging the finding of the Trial Court on the exercise of its jurisdiction, the Appellant did not file the cross-objections in accordance with Order XLI Rule 22 of the Code of Civil Procedure("CPC"). Accordingly, the Appeal was allowed, and the Trial Court judgment was reversed by the High Court.
- Subsequently, the Appellant approached the Supreme Court challenging the judgment passed by the High Court. Although the Appellant did not file a cross-objection regarding jurisdiction of Trial Court before the High Court, it chose to make this submission before the Supreme Court, urging that the jurisdiction of the Civil Court is excluded under the provision of the ULCRA.
ISSUE FOR CONSIDERATION BEFORE THE SUPREME COURT
- Whether a pure question of law, which was not raised before the High Court, can be raised before the Supreme Court of India by means of a Special Leave Petition ("SLP")?
ARGUMENTS BY THE APPELLANT
- The Appellant submitted that plaint was improper, and upon perusal, it would become evident that it was filed for the sole purpose of challenging the validity of the proceedings under the ULCRA, without impleading either the State of Uttar Pradesh or the Competent Authority under the ULCRA to the same. Therefore, the Civil Court had no jurisdiction to entertain the suit.
- The Appellant relied upon Order XLI Rule 22 of CPC and submitted that arguments can be raised against findings without filing a cross-objection in the appeal when the Civil Court has decreed a suit in their favour.
ARGUMENTS BY THE RESPONDENT
- The Respondent alleged that although the Competent Authority passed an order in 1988, however, vide an order dated 6 January 1993 passed by the District Judge, the case was remanded back to the Competent Authority under the ULCRA for reconsideration based on the revised master plan, and that there was no evidence of any other proceeding prior to the enactment of Act 15 of 1999 (which repealed the ULCRA).
- The Respondent further submitted that the suit was properly framed as the cause of action arose out of an advertisement issued on 31 August 2008 by Moradabad Development Authority for the auction of 660 sq. mts of land which included a portion of the suit land in Gata No. 200/1. Therefore, the suit before the Trial Court did not concern the ceiling proceeding before the Competent Authority, in any manner, whatsoever.
- While discussing the amended provisions of Order XLI Rule 22 of CPC and various judgments, the Supreme Court observed that vide the CPC Amendment (Act 104 of 1976) – (i) the scope of filing a cross-objection has been significantly expanded to include objections against 'findings' of the lower Court, and (ii) different methods of raising cross-objections were allowed. In light of the aforesaid and various precedents, it was held that even though the Appellant did not challenge the issue of jurisdiction of the Trial Court under Order XLI Rule 22 of CPC by way of filing a memorandum of cross-objection or otherwise before the High Court, it does not prohibit them from raising the same before the Supreme Court.
- It was further observed that considering the plenary jurisdiction under Article 136 of the Constitution read with its power to do complete justice under Article 142 of the Constitution, the Supreme Court can entertain suits on fresh grounds if they involve such a question of law which does not require producing additional evidence, especially one concerning the jurisdiction of the Court. It was also noted that while under Order XXI Rule 3(c) of the Supreme Court Rules 2013, SLPs are supposed to be restricted to the pleadings before the Court whose order is challenged, additional grounds can be argued at the time of hearing with leave of the Court.
- Therefore, on the basis of various judgments, the Appellant was allowed to raise grounds regarding jurisdiction before the Supreme Court as it was a pure question of law and did not require any additional evidence to be produced.
Order XLI Rule 22(2) of the CPC provides that a "cross-objection shall be filed in the form of a memorandum, and the provisions of Rule 1, so far as they relate to the form and contents of the memorandum of appeal, shall apply thereto." However, vide the said ruling, the Supreme Court has clarified that filing a cross-objection is not necessary and that a pure question of law can be raised for the first time in SLP, especially the ones revolving around jurisdiction and involving a question of law which do not require adducing additional evidence. The judgment would benefit the litigants to urge grounds before the Supreme Court which could have been raised before the High Court.
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