Vidyabai & Ors. …Appellants Versus Padmalatha & Anr. . …Respondents ( Supreme Court of India) (CIVIL APPEAL NO. 7251 OF 2008)
7. By reason of the Civil Procedure Code (Amendment) Act, 2002 (Act 22 of 2002), the Parliament inter alia inserted a proviso to Order VI Rule 17 of the Code, which reads as under:
“Provided that no application for amendment shall be allowed after the trial has commenced, unless the court comes to the conclusion that in spite of due diligence, the party could not have raised the matter before the commencement of trial.”
It is couched in a mandatory form. The court’s jurisdiction to allow such an application is taken away unless the conditions precedent therefor are satisfied, viz., it must come to a conclusion that in spite of due diligence the parties could not have raised the matter before the commencement of the trial.
- From the order passed by the learned Trial Judge, it is evident that the respondents had not been able to fulfill the said pre-condition.
The question, therefore, which arises for consideration is as to whether the trial had commenced or not. In our opinion, it did. The date on which the issues are framed is the date of first hearing. Provisions of the 7 Code of Civil Procedure envisage taking of various steps at different stages of the proceeding. Filing of an affidavit in lieu of examination in chief of the witness, in our opinion, would amount to `commencement of proceeding’.
- This aspect of the matter has been considered by this Court in Ameer Trading Corpn. Ltd. v. Shapoorji Data Processing Ltd. [(2004) 1 SCC 702] in the following terms:
“15. The examination of a witness would include evidence-in-chief, cross-examination or re- examination. Rule 4 of Order 18 speaks of examination-in-chief. The unamended rule provided for the manner in which “evidence” is to be taken. Such examination-in-chief of a witness in every case shall be on affidavit.
16. The aforementioned provision has been made to curtail the time taken by the court in examining a witness-in-chief. Sub-rule (2) of Rule 4 of Order 18 of the Code of Civil Procedure provides for cross-examination and re-examination of a witness which shall be taken by the court or the Commissioner appointed by it.”
In Kailash v. Nanhku [(2005) 4 SCC 480], this Court held:
“13. At this point the question arises: when does the trial of an election petition commence or what is the meaning to be assigned to the word “trial” in the context of an election petition? In a civil suit, the trial begins when issues are framed and the case is set down for recording of evidence. All the proceedings before that stage are treated as proceedings preliminary to trial or for making the case ready for trial. As held by this Court in several decided cases, this general rule is not applicable to the trial of election petitions as in the case of election petitions, all the proceedings commencing with the presentation of the election petition and up to the date of decision therein are included within the meaning of the word “trial”.”
We may notice that in Ajendraprasadji N. Pandey and Another v. Swami Keshavprakeshdasji N. and Others [(2006) 12 SCC 1], this Court noticed the decision of this Court in Kailash (supra) to hold:
“35. By Act 46 of 1999, there was a sweeping amendment by which Rules 17 and 18 were wholly omitted so that an amendment itself was not permissible, although sometimes effort was made to rely on Section 148 for extension of time for any purpose.
36. Ultimately, to strike a balance the legislature applied its mind and reintroduced Rule 17 by Act 10 22 of 2002 w.e.f. 1-7-2002. It had a provision permitting amendment in the first part which said that the court may at any stage permit amendment as described therein. But it also had a total bar introduced by a proviso which prevented any application for amendment to be allowed after the trial had commenced unless the court came to the conclusion that in spite of due diligence the party could not have raised the matter before the commencement of the trial. It is this proviso which falls for consideration.”
This Court also noticed Salem Advocate Bar Assn. v. Union of India [(2005) 6 SCC 344] to hold:
“41. We have carefully considered the submissions made by the respective Senior Counsel appearing for the respective parties. We have also carefully perused the pleadings, annexures, various orders passed by the courts below, the High Court and of this Court. In the counter-affidavit filed by Respondent 1, various dates of hearing with reference to the proceedings taken before the Court has been elaborately spelt out which in our opinion, would show that the appellant is precluded by the proviso to rule in question from seeking relief by asking for amendment of his pleadings.
42. It is to be noted that the provisions of Order 6 Rule 17 CPC have been substantially amended by the CPC (Amendment) Act, 2002.
43.Under the proviso no application for amendment shall be allowed after the trial has commenced, unless in spite of due diligence, the 11 matter could not be raised before the commencement of trial. It is submitted, that after the trial of the case has commenced, no application of pleading shall be allowed unless the above requirement is satisfied. The amended Order 6 Rule 17 was due to the recommendation of the Law Commission since Order (sic Rule) 17, as it existed prior to the amendment, was invoked by parties interested in delaying the trial. That to shorten the litigation and speed up disposal of suits, amendment was made by the amending Act, 1999, deleting Rule 17 from the Code. This evoked much controversy/hesitation all over the country and also leading to boycott of courts and, therefore, by the Civil Procedure Code (Amendment) Act, 2002, provision has been restored by recognising the power of the court to grant amendment, however, with certain limitation which is contained in the new proviso added to the rule. The details furnished below will go to show as to how the facts of the present case show that the matters which are sought to be raised by way of amendment by the appellants were well within their knowledge on their court case, and manifests the absence of due diligence on the part of the appellants disentitling them to relief.”
The ratio in Kailash (supra) was reiterated stating that the trial is deemed to commence when the issues are settled and the case is set down for recording of evidence.
- Reliance, however, has been placed by Ms. Suri on Baldev Singh and Others v. Manohar Singh and Another [(2006) 6 SCC 498], wherein it was opined:
“17. Before we part with this order, we may also notice that proviso to Order 6 Rule 17 CPC provides that amendment of pleadings shall not be allowed when the trial of the suit has already commenced. For this reason, we have examined the records and find that, in fact, the trial has not yet commenced. It appears from the records that the parties have yet to file their documentary evidence in the suit. From the record, it also appears that the suit was not on the verge of conclusion as found by the High Court and the trial court. That apart, commencement of trial as used in proviso to Order 6 Rule 17 in the Code of Civil Procedure must be understood in the limited sense as meaning the final hearing of the suit, examination of witnesses, filing of documents and addressing of arguments. As noted hereinbefore, parties are yet to file their documents, we do not find any reason to reject the application for amendment of the written statement in view of proviso to Order 6 Rule 17 CPC which confers wide power and unfettered discretion to the court to allow an amendment of the written statement at any stage of the proceedings.
It is not an authority for the proposition that the trial would not deemed to have commenced on the date of first hearing. In that case, as 13 noticed hereinbefore, the documents were yet to be filed and, therefore, it was held that the trial did not commence.
- Reliance has also been placed by Ms. Suri on Pradeep Singhvi and Another v. Heero Dhankani and Others [(2004) 13 SCC 432]. Therein, the suit was filed in the year 1995 and, therefore, the proviso appended to Order VI, Rule 17 of the Code of Civil Procedure had no application.
Reliance has also been placed by Ms. Suri on Rajesh Kumar Aggarwal and Others v. K.K. Modi and Others [(2006) 4 SCC 385]. No doubt, as has been held by this Court therein that the court should allow amendments that would be necessary to determine the real question of the controversy between the parties but the same indisputably would be subject to the condition that no prejudice is caused to the other side.
- It is the primary duty of the court to decide as to whether such an amendment is necessary to decide the real dispute between the parties. Only if such a condition is fulfilled, the amendment is to be allowed. However, proviso appended to Order VI, Rule 17 of the Code restricts the power of the court. It puts an embargo on exercise of its jurisdiction. The court’s jurisdiction, in a case of this nature is limited.
Thus, unless the jurisdictional fact, as envisaged therein, is found to be existing, the court will have no jurisdiction at all to allow the amendment of the plaint.
- In Salem Advocate Bar Assn (supra), this Court has upheld the validity of the said proviso. In any event, the constitutionality of the said provision is not in question before us nor we in this appeal are required to go into the said question.