In the present case the document Exhibit-1 forms the sheet- anchor of the Plaintiffs case. The out come of the suit was totally dependent on the validity of the Exhibit-1 deed, the execution of which had been categorically denied by the defendants. It was the burden of the plaintiffs to prove Exhibit-1. When a dispute had arisen as regards the genuinity of the signature and finger print of Rami Bala Borthakur, an opinion on the said point ought to have been formed by the court with the aid and assistance of expert opinion more so, when a reference had already been made under section 45 as had been done by the trial court. As such, in the facts and circumstances of the case, the learned First Appellate Judge was not justified in assuming the role of an expert on such a crucial matter and undertaking the task of comparison of the signatures all by himself based on a visual comparison thereby drawing conclusions which are contrary to the expert opinion. Non-disclosure of the method of examination may at best create a doubt as regards the probative value of such opinion of the expert but the same would not render the opinion as totally irrelevant more so when the opinion of the CW-1 had corroborated the findings of the DW-4.
IN THE HIGH COURT OF GAUHATI
RSA No. 153 of 2003
Decided On: 02.04.2015
Appellants: Debajit Barthakur and Ors.
Respondent: Sarnalata Devi and Ors.
Respondent: Sarnalata Devi and Ors.
Hon'ble Judges/Coram:Suman Shyam, J.
Citation;AIR 2015 Gauhati 127, 2015(2)GLT604
1. Heard Mr. P.K. Kalita, learned counsel assisted by Ms. T. Goswami, learned Advocate appearing for the appellants. None appears for the respondents despite the names of their counsels having been reflected in the cause list. This Second Appeal has been preferred against the judgment and decree of reversal dated 08.07.2003 passed by the learned Civil Judge (Senior Division), Morigaon in Title Appeal No. 9/2003 reversing the judgment and decree dated 04.02.2003 passed by learned Civil Judge (Junior Division) No. 1; Morigaon in Title Suit No. 59/1993.
2. The case of the plaintiff/respondent as set out in the plaint is that land measuring 3 kathas covered by Dag No. 635 of Patta No. 148 of 1971 Re-Settlement, situated at Morigaon Revenue Town in (erstwhile) Morigaon Sub Division is the subject matter of the suit which has been described in Schedule - 'Ka' to the plaint. Late Girish Barthakur was the owner of a plot of land measuring 7 kathas in the aforesaid dag and patta. Girish Barthakur died in the year 1977 leaving behind the defendant Nos. 1 to 7 as his legal heirs. Defendant No. 7 Ranubala Barthakur is the wife of Late Girish Barthakur whereas the other defendants are the sons and daughters of Late Girish Barthakur. It is the case of the plaintiff that after the death of her husband the name of Ranubala Barthakur being the wife was mutated in respect of the entire land. On 12.07.1979 Ranubala Barthakur sold the Schedule-'Ka' land measuring about 3 kathas, out of the total 7 kathas land, to the plaintiff for an amount of Rs. 40000/- by executing registered deed of sale bearing No. 1203 of 1979 pursuant whereto possession of the land was delivered to the plaintiff. Since then the plaintiff has been enjoying the land and his name has also been duly mutated in respect thereof by order passed by the SDC, Morigaon in Mutation Case No. 68/84-85. The plaintiff further pleaded that when the Morigaon Sub-Division was declared as a district, the value of landed property had substantially enhanced. As such, in order to make wrongful gain at the cost of the plaintiff, the defendants had denied the title of the plaintiff and dispossessed him from the suit land on 09.10.1989 as a result of which the plaintiff Deben Nath (since deceased) was compelled to institute the Title Suit, inter alia, praying for a decree declaring his right, title and interest and for recovery of khas possession of the suit land. After the death of the plaintiff Deben Nath, his legal heirs were impleaded in the suit as plaintiff Nos. 1 to 5.
3. The defendants contested the suit by filing their written statement wherein besides taking the formal pleas pertaining the maintainability of the suit on the ground of want of cause of action, non-joinder of necessary parties, limitation etc., the contesting defendants categorically denied having executed any registered deed of sale in favour of the original plaintiff (Deben Nath). It is the case of the defendants that their predecessor-in-interest, Girish Barthakur was the original owner of the land measuring 7 kathas. After his death the property left behind by Girish Barthakur devolved upon all the defendants who are his legal heirs and the property was held and enjoyed by the defendants as ejmali property. The defendants have further stated that nobody except the legal heirs of Girish Barthakur was ever in possession of the land and that the sale deed claimed by the plaintiff is a forged document. The defendants have also averred that the mutation, as claimed by the plaintiff, was done without giving notice to the defendants. It is the version of the defendants that the plaintiff (Deben Nath) before filing the suit had forcibly tried to possess the suit land. However, with the help of local people and the police, the defendants could resist such illegal attempt on the part of the plaintiff. The defendants have residential house over the suit land and are living therein since the time of the husband of defendant No. 7. As such, the defendants have prayed for dismissal of the suit
4. On the basis of pleadings of the parties as many as 8 issues, including the additional issues, were framed, which are as follows:--
"1. Whether there is any cause of action for the suit?
2. Whether the suit is maintainable in its present form?
3. Whether the suit is bad for non-joinder and mis-joinder of parties?
4. Whether the suit is under valued?
5. Whether the suit is barred by limitation?
6. Whether the plaintiff has right, title and interest over the suit land?
7. To what relief the parties are entitled?
8. Whether the defendant No. 6 Smti. Ranubala Borthakur has right to transfer the entire suit land measuring 3 kathas?"
5. Both sides led oral as well as documentary evidence which included the evidence tendered by Signature and Handwriting Experts of the Forensic Department Upon consideration of the material evidence on record the learned trial Court held that the plaintiffs' side could not prove the validity and/or genuineness of the sale deed by adducing sufficient evidence as a result of which the Issue No. 6 was decided by the trial Court against the plaintiff and in favour of the defendants. Besides the above, the learned trial Court had also decided the other issues against the plaintiff side and dismissed the suit by the judgment and decree dated 04.02.2003 passed in Title Suit No. 59/1993.
6. Being aggrieved and dissatisfied with the judgment and decree dated 04.02.2003 passed by Civil Judge (Junior Division) No. 1, Morigaon in Title Suit No. 59/1993 the substituted plaintiffs as appellants had preferred Title Appeal No. 9/2003. After hearing the learned counsels for the parties the First Appellate Court had allowed the appeal by reversing the judgment and decree passed by the trial Court on the grounds and reasons mentioned therein. It appears that although the signature and thumb impression of the alleged vendor, viz., Smti. Ranubala Barthakur was referred to Handwriting Expert and the opinion of such expert went against the plaintiffs, yet, by discarding such evidence of experts, the learned First Appellate Court went on to arrive at its own conclusion by making a visual comparison of the signature appearing in the sale deed with other documents and on such basis decreed the suit filed by the plaintiff by reversing the judgment and decree passed by the learned trial Court.
7. Being highly aggrieved by the judgment and decree dated 08.07.2003 passed by the First Appellate Court, the defendants as appellants have preferred this Second Appeal which was admitted by this Court to be heard on the following substantial questions of law:--
"1. Whether the judgment of the learned Civil Judge (Senior Division), Morigaon is perverse on account of non-appreciation of evidence excluding the evidence of the Fingerprint Expert and his report and the assumption that Exhibit-1 was admitted though denied all through?
2. Whether the learned Judge was justified in not considering the evidentiary value of Exhibit-1 merely because Exhibit-1 was admitted without objection?
3. Whether in the face of the admitted fact that the original owner of the land Girish Barthakur (deceased) left his wife, defendant No. 6 and six sons and daughters, as his heirs, the sale deed Ext. 1 even if valid, could convey title over the land in excess of their share?
4. Whether in the face of the evidence of the Handwriting Expert and the Fingerprint Expert and their opinions about the signatures and thumb impressions on Ext.1, tire learned Civil Judge was right to undertake the exercise of visual comparison of the signatures and the fingerprint by invoking his power U/S 73 of the Evidence Act?"
8. Mr. P.K. Kalita, learned counsel for the appellants, submits that on the face of the claim made by the plaintiffs to have purchased the Schedule-'Ka' land by means of registered sale deed dated 12.07.1979 (Ext.-1) the defendants have categorically denied the execution of the sale deed by Ranubala Barthakur. In the evidence of DW1 Ranubala Barthakur, she had also emphatically denied the execution of the Ext.-1 sale deed. She had also deposed that the defendant No. 1, Debajit Barthakur had never put his signature in the Ext.-1 sale deed at any point of time. As a matter of fact, in the year 1979 Debajit Barthakur was a minor and not even competent to put his signature in the sale deed. In view of such a firm stand adopted by the defendants denying the execution of the sale deed, the plaintiffs side ought to have led sufficient and convincing evidence to prove and establish the execution of the sale deed in accordance with law which they have failed to do. That apart, even the evidence of the Handwriting Expert (DW 4) as well as the Fingerprint Expert (CW1) would go to show that their evidence were against the plaintiffs and in favour of the stand taken by the defendants. He submits that taking note of the entirety of evidence available on record, the learned trial Court had rightly dismissed the suit of the plaintiffs by recording findings in respect of each of the issues. Such being the position, there was no justifiable ground for the First Appellate Court to reverse the decree passed by the trial Court, more so, when such conclusion has been arrived at based on irrelevant considerations and contrary to materials available on record. Mr. Kalita, therefore, submits that the impugned judgment and decree passed by the learned First Appellate Court is not sustainable in the eye of law and hence the same is liable to be quashed and set aside by this Court.
9. I have considered the submissions made by and on behalf of the appellants and have also perused the records. On scrutiny of the materials available on record it appears that having regard to the stand taken by both the parties to the proceeding, as has been noticed herein before, the learned trial Court had referred the Ext.-1 sale deed for scientific opinion as per Section 45 of the Act of 1872. The DW 4, Tamizuddin Ahmed, being a Handwriting Expert, examined the signatures appearing in the sale deed as well as the specimen signatures of Ranubala Barthakur and thereafter gave his opinion in the form of Ext.-D which is quoted herein below: -
"The documents in connection with T.S. No. 59/93 have been carefully and thoroughly examined.
The person who wrote the blue enclosed signatures stamped and marked S1 to S6 did not write the red enclosed signatures stamped and marked Q1 to Q3 and Q1/1."
10. The Fingerprint Expert, B.K. Choudhury (CW1), who had compared and examined the fingerprints appearing in Ext.-1 with that of RTI specimen of Ranubala Barthakur had also submitted his opinion in the form of Ext.-O which is quoted herein below:--
"Certified that we have examined the document prints of registered sale deed No. 1203/79 marked as "Y" and specimen prints of Smti Rami Bala Borthakur marked as "X". On examination prints D1, D2 of documents mark "Y" and specimen prints of Ranu Bala Borthakur S1, S2, S3, S5, S6 mark as "X" are found fit for comparison. On comparison document prints D1, D2 against the names of Rami Bala Borthakur and Debajit Borthakur are found non identical with the specimen R.T.I. of Rami Bala Borthakur S1, S2, S3, S4 S5, S6 in document prints of mark "Y" are found not similar with the specimen of Rami Bala Borthakur mark "X"."
11. Section 45 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 permits the Court to obtain the opinion from scientific experts as regards handwriting or fingerprint impressions so as to form an opinion of its own. Section 45 of the Evidence Act is quoted herein below for ready reference:--
"45. Opinions of experts.- When the Court has to form an opinion upon a point of foreign law or of science or art, or as to identity of handwriting [or finger impressions], the opinions upon that point of persons specially skilled in such foreign law, science or art, [or in questions as to identity of handwriting] [or finger impressions] are relevant facts.
Such persons are called experts."
12. In the instant case, the trial court had, for justifiable reasons, referred the sale deed Ext.-1 for opinion of Handwriting and Fingerprint expert and thereafter on the basis of such opinion had gone on to hold that the sate deed under question was not executed by Ranubala Barthakur. Once the scientific expert's opinion was available on record, the learned First Appellate Court could have either agreed with such opinion or in the event of any further doubts remaining in the matter, could have referred the matter for a fresh opinion. But in the present case what can be seen from the record is that the learned Judge has discarded the evidence available on record of the DW 4 as well as CW1 and thereafter, arrived at a conclusion by visually comparing the signatures himself, drawing an opinion which was contrary to the expert opinion. It appears that such a recourse has been taken by the learned First Appellate Court by relying upon Section 73 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, which reads as follows:--
"73. Comparison of signature, writing or seal with others admitted or proved.--In order to ascertain whether a signature, writing or seal is that of me person by whom it purports to have been written or made, any signature, writing, or seal admitted or proved to the satisfaction of the Court to have been written or made by that person may be compared with the one which is to be proved, although that signature, writing, or seal has not been produced or proved for any other purpose.
The Court may direct any person present in Court to write any words or figures for the purpose of enabling the Court to compare the words or figures so written with any words or figures alleged to have been written by such person."
[This Section applies also, with necessary modification, to finger impressions].
13. From a bare reading of Section 73 of the Evidence Act, 1872 it leaves no room for doubt that the Court would have the power to visually compare the disputed signature with the admitted signature. However, the core question that would arise for a decision in the present appeal is whether the powers available under Section 73 of the Indian Evidence Act, can be exercised by the court so as to form an opinion as regards the disputed signature/handwriting by making a visual comparison drawing a conclusion which is contrary to the expert opinion obtained under Section 45 of the Act, 1872. In other words would it be permissible for the court itself to become a handwriting expert and substitute its views with the expert opinion obtained under section 45 of the Indian evidence Act merely based on a visual comparison of the signatures.
14. In the case of Ajit Savant Majagvai v. State of Karnataka, reported in MANU/SC/0822/1997 : (1997) 7 SCC 110 in paras 37 and 38 the Hon'ble Apex Court while interpreting the scope and ambit of section 73 of the Indian Evidence Act, has held that although the Court has power to compare the disputed signature with the admitted one, yet, normally, the said exercise should be left to the wisdom of the expert. Paragraph 37 and 38 of the said judgment are quoted below:
"37. This Section consists of two parts. While the first part provides for comparison of signature, finger impression, writing etc. allegedly written or made by a person with signature or writing etc. admitted or proved to the satisfaction of the Court to have been written by the same person, the second part empowers the Court to direct any person including an accused, present in Court, to give his specimen writing or finger prints for the purpose of enabling the Court to compare it with the writing or signature allegedly made by that person. The Section does not specify by whom the comparison shall made. However, looking to the other provision of the Act, it is clear that such comparison may either be made by a handwriting expert under Section 45 or by anyone familiar with the handwriting of the person concerned as provided by Section 47 or by the Court itself.
38. As a matter of extreme caution and judicial sobriety, the Court should not normally take upon itself the responsibility of comparing the disputed signature with that of the admitted signature of handwriting and in the event of slightest doubt, leave the matter to the wisdom of experts. But this does not mean that the Court has not power to compare the disputed signature with admitted signature as this power is clearly available under Section 73 of the Act. (See: State (Delhi Administration) v. Pali Ram. MANU/SC/0189/1978 : AIR 1979 SC 14 : (1979)2 SCC 158)."
15. Further, in the case of The State (Delhi Administration) v. Pali Ram reported in MANU/SC/0189/1978 : (1979) 2 SCC 158 the Hon'ble Supreme Court has held that although the first paragraph of Section 73 provides for comparison of signature, writings etc. but it does not specifically say by whom such comparison may be made. Construed in the light of sections 45 and 47 of the Indian Evidence Act, it was clear that such comparison may be made by a handwriting expert or by one familiar with the hand writing of the person concerned or by the court. It was observed that the two paragraphs of section 73 were not mutually exclusive but were complementary to each other. Section 73 is to be read as a whole in the light of Section 45.
16. In the case of The State (Delhi Administration) (supra) the Hon'ble Apex Court, while analysing the various judicial pronouncements on the subject, has further observed in paragraph 32 as follows:--
"32. In this connection, the observations made by Hidayatullah, J. (as he then was) in Fakharuddin v State of Madhya Pradesh (supra) are apposite and may be extracted:
Both under sections 45 and 47 the evidence is an opinion, in the former by scientific comparison and in the later on the basis of familiarity resulting from frequent observations and experience. In either case, the court must satisfy itself by means as are open that the opinion may be acted upon. One such means open to the court is to apply its own observation to the admitted or proved writings and to compare them with the disputed one, not to become a handwriting expert but to verify the premises of the expert in one case and to appraise the value of me opinion in the other case. The comparison depends on an analysis of the characteristics in a large measure in the disputed writing. In this way, the opinion of the deponent whether expert or other is subjected to scrutiny and although relevant to start with becomes probative. Where an expert's opinion is given, the court must see for itself and with the assistance of the expert come to its own conclusion whether it can safely be held that the two writings are by the same persons. This is not to say that the court must play the role of an expert but to say that the court must accept the fact proved only when it has satisfied itself on its own observation that it is safe to accept the opinion of the expert or other witnesses."
The above observation of the Hon'ble Apex Court throws ample light as to the role of the court under section 73 of the Indian Evidence Act
17. Once the specimen signature and/or finger print is referred by the court for scientific opinion under section 45 of the Indian Evidence Act and the opinion is available on record, such opinion becomes relevant facts and would normally be accept by the court unless there arises some doubt as regards the probative value of the opinion so given by the expert. The expert opinion obtained under section 45 cannot be totally disregarded by the court without recording a valid reason.
18. In the instant case the specimen signature/RTI of Smti Rami Bala had been referred for opinion of expert. The expert opinions given by DW4 as well as well as CW1 had unequivocally shown that the signature as well as fingerprint sent to them for examination did not belong to Ranubala Barthakur. The opposite party had ample opportunity to cross-examine DW-4 to discredit the said witnesses. However, during the cross-examination nothing could be extracted by the plaintiffs' side so as to discredit the testimony of the DW 4. It appears from the record that the opinions of DW-4 as well as CW-1 was discarded by the Appellate Court merely on the ground of non-disclosure of the method employed by the experts for examination of the signature. If that be so, there was nothing stopping the court from obtaining necessary clarification on the matter. The court had the option to even refer the signatures/fingerprints for fresh opinion of experts. However, instead of doing so, the learned First Appellate Court had taken the task of comparing the signatures by itself so as to form an opinion. It is, however, not known as to how the learned Judge had compared the finger prints so as to override the opinion of the CW-1.
19. Matching of signatures and finger prints fall within the province of scientific enquiry by experts whose job it is to opine as to the points of similarity or dissimilarity of the disputed signature and/or finger print. Although section 73 does not impose any bar upon the court from making a visual comparison of the disputed signature/handwriting with the admitted one so as to form its own opinion yet, such visual comparison made by the Judge himself would not be conclusive in nature. As has been observed by the Hon'ble Apex Court, the Judge should, as a matter of prudence and caution, avoid forming an opinion as regards the identity of the handwriting/signature solely on visual comparison made by himself and leave the matter for the experts to decide. In a case where the opinion of expert is available on record, it would be improper for the Judge to draw a contrary opinion merely based on visual comparison by disregarding the expert opinion.
20. In the present case the document Exhibit-1 forms the sheet- anchor of the Plaintiffs case. The out come of the suit was totally dependent on the validity of the Exhibit-1 deed, the execution of which had been categorically denied by the defendants. It was the burden of the plaintiffs to prove Exhibit-1. When a dispute had arisen as regards the genuinity of the signature and finger print of Rami Bala Borthakur, an opinion on the said point ought to have been formed by the court with the aid and assistance of expert opinion more so, when a reference had already been made under section 45 as had been done by the trial court. As such, in the facts and circumstances of the case, the learned First Appellate Judge was not justified in assuming the role of an expert on such a crucial matter and undertaking the task of comparison of the signatures all by himself based on a visual comparison thereby drawing conclusions which are contrary to the expert opinion. Non-disclosure of the method of examination may at best create a doubt as regards the probative value of such opinion of the expert but the same would not render the opinion as totally irrelevant more so when the opinion of the CW-1 had corroborated the findings of the DW-4.
21. That apart, even from the evidence led by the plaintiff's side it can be seen that the plaintiff has not been able to examine the attesting witnesses nor any reason has been furnished for not doing so. In view of the fact that the defendants have categorically denied the execution of the Ext.-1 sale deed terming the same as a forged document, it was incumbent upon the plaintiff's side to prove the sale deed Ext.-1 by examining the attesting witnesses so as to be able to gainfully rely upon the said document. The plaintiff's side had examined PW2, Bhuban Mahanta i.e. the deed -writer who had identified his signature in the sale deed as well as the signatures of Ranubala Barthakur as Ext.-1(1) to 1(3). But in his cross-examination he has stated that he did not know either Ranubala or Debajit personally. On the face of such admission there was no basis to show as to how the PW 2 could identify the signature of Ranu Bala when he did not even personally know those persons. As such, it is evident that the plaintiffs had failed to convincingly prove the Ext.-1 sale deed in accordance with law.
22. In view of the discussions made herein before it is thus apparent that the plaintiff's side had failed to prove and establish their case so as to entitle them for a decree declaring their right, title and interest and for recovery of khas possession as prayed for. There was no evidence available for the learned First Appellate Court to come to the conclusion that Ext.-1 sale deed was a valid document on the basis of which the plaintiff had acquired title over the suit land.
23. There is yet another aspect of the matter which needs to be mentioned herein. It is the undisputed position of fact that upon the death of Girish Barthakur all the defendants being his legal heirs had jointly inherited the area of land measuring 7 kathas left behind by their predecessor-in-interest Girish Barthakur. It is nobody's case that the property had been partitioned amongst the legal heirs of Girish Barthakur. Such being the position, the wife of Girish Barthakur, namely, Ranubala Barthakur on her own, did not have any authority or competence to convey title in respect of entire 3 kathas of land in favour of the plaintiffs by executing any sale deed. As such, even viewed from that angle Ranubala Barthakur was not competent to transfer the Schedule-'Ka' land in favour of the plaintiffs at the relevant point of time by executing Exhibit-1 sale deed.
24. It is settled law that mutation alone would not confer right, title and interest over immovable property. Therefore, the mere fact that the name of Ranubala Borthakur had been mutated in respect of the entire plot of land measuring 7 kathas would be of no avail to the plaintiff. The mere fact that Ext.-1 was admitted in evidence without any objection raised by the defendants also cannot per se be a ground to dispense with the requirement of proof of the said document in accordance with law. In view of the discussions and reasons cited in the foregoing paragraphs, the questions of law framed in this appeal would stand answered accordingly. In the result, this Second Appeal stands allowed. The judgment and decree passed by the First Appellate Court is set aside and the decree passed by the trial Court is hereby upheld. Decree be prepared accordingly. However, having regard to the facts and circumstances of the case there would be no order as to cost.