Supreme Court of India
SRI BUDHIA SWAIN & ORS. ….. PETITIONER
GOPINATH DEB & ORS. ….. RESPONDENT
DATE OF JUDGMENT: 07/05/1999
R.C. LAHOTI, J.
What is a power to recall? Inherent power to recall its own order vesting in tribunals or courts was noticed in Indian Bank Vs. M/s Satyam Fibres India Pvt. Ltd. 1996 (5) SCC 550. Vide para 23, this Court has held that the courts have inherent power to recall and set aside an order (i) obtained by fraud practised upon the Court, (ii) when the Court is misled by a party, or (iii) when the Court itself commits a mistake which prejudices a party.
In A.R. Antulay Vs. R.S. Nayak & Anr. AIR 1988 SC 1531 (vide para 130), this Court has noticed motions to set aside judgment being permitted where (i) a judgment was rendered in ignorance of the fact that a necessary party had not been served at all and was shown as served or in ignorance of the fact that a necessary party had died and the estate was not represented, (ii) a judgment was obtained by fraud, (iii) a party has had no notice and a decree was made against him and such party approaches the Court for setting aside the decision ex debito justitiae on proof of the fact that there was no service.
In Corpus Juris Secundum (Vol. XIX) under the Chapter “Judgment- Opening and Vacating” (paras.265 to 284 at pages 487-510) the law on the subject has been stated. The grounds on which the courts may open or vacate their judgments are generally matters which render the judgment void or which are specified in statutes authorising such actions. Invalidity of the judgment of such nature as to render it void is a valid ground for vacating it at least if the invalidity is apparent on the face of the record. Fraud or collusion in obtaining a judgment is a sufficient ground for opening or vacating it. A judgment secured in violation of an agreement not to enter judgment may be vacated on that ground. However, in general, a judgment will not be opened or vacated on grounds which could have been pleaded in the original action. A motion to vacate will not be entered when the proper remedy is by some other proceedings, such as by appeal. The right to vacation of a judgment may be lost by waiver or estoppel. Where a party injured acquiesces in the rendition of the judgment or submits to it, waiver or estoppel results.
In our opinion a tribunal or a court may recall an order earlier made by it if (i) the proceedings culminating into an order suffer from the inherent lack of jurisdiction and such lack of jurisdiction is patent, (ii) there exists fraud or collusion in obtaining the judgment, (iii) there has been a mistake of the court prejudicing a party or (iv) a judgment was rendered in ignorance of the fact that a necessary party had not been served at all or had died and the estate was not represented. The power to recall a judgment will not be exercised when the ground for re-opening the proceedings or vacating the judgment was available to be pleaded in the original action but was not done or where a proper remedy in some other proceeding such as by way of appeal or revision was available but was not availed. The right to seek vacation of a judgment may be lost by waiver, estoppel or acquiescence. A distinction has to be drawn between lack of jurisdiction and a mere error in exercise of jurisdiction. The former strikes at the very root of the exercise and want of jurisdiction may vitiate the proceedings rendering them and the orders passed therein a nullity. A mere error in exercise of jurisdiction does not vitiate the legality and validity of the proceedings and the order passed thereon unless set aside in the manner known to law by laying a challenge subject to the law of limitation.
In Hira Lal Patni Vs. Sri Kali Nath AIR 1962 SC 199, it was held :-
“…….The validity of a decree can be challenged in execution proceedings only on the ground that the court which passed the decree was lacking in inherent jurisdiction in the sense that it could not have seisin of the case because the subject matter was wholly foreign to its jurisdiction or that the defendant was dead at the time the suit had been instituted or decree passed, or some such other ground which could have the effect of rendering the court entirely lacking in jurisdiction in respect of the subject matter of the suit or over the parties to it.” As already noted the appellants sought for review or recall of the order from the O.E.A. Collector solely by alleging that the notice which was required to be published in the locality before settling the land in favour of the respondent no.1 was not served in accordance with the manner prescribed by law. The appellants did not plead `non-service of the notice’ but raised objection only with regard to `the manner of service of the notice’. The High Court had called for and perused the record of the O.E.A. Collector and noted that the notice was issued on 15.12.1963 inviting public objection. The notice was available on record but some of its pages were missing. The O.E.A. Collector had noted in his order dated 23.2.1966 as under :-.lm20 “It is only due to missing of some pages of the proclamation including the last page over which the report of the process server was there, a scope was available to the objectors to file this petition. Under the above circumstances, it is not necessary to issue another proclamation and entertain further objection since the case is being heard and going to be finalised on 14.3.66.”
A suit or proceeding entertained and decided in spite of being barred by limitation is not without jurisdiction; at worst in can be a case of illegality. In Ittyavira Mathai Vs. Varkey Varkey & Anr. – AIR 1964 (Vol.15) SC 907 this Court has held:-
“…..Even assuming that the suit was barred by time, it is difficult to appreciate the contention of learned counsel that the decree can be treated as a nullity and ignored in subsequent litigation. If the suit was barred by time and yet the Court decreed it, the court would be committing an illegality and therefore the aggrieved party would be entitled to have the decree set aside by preferring an appeal against it. But it is well settled that a Court having jurisdiction over the subject matter of the suit and over the parties thereto, though bound to decide right may decide wrong; and that even though it decided wrong it would not be doing something which it had no jurisdiction to do. It had the jurisdiction over the subject-matter and it had the jurisdiction over the party and, therefore, merely because it made an error in deciding a vital issue in the suit, it cannot be said that it had acted beyond its jurisdiction. As has often been said, courts have jurisdiction to decide right or to decide wrong and even though they decide wrong, the decrees rendered by them cannot be treated as nullities….”