State Of Kerala vs M/S Popular Estates (Now … on 29 October, 2021


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Supreme Court of India

State Of Kerala vs M/S Popular Estates (Now … on 29 October, 2021

Author: Uday Umesh Lalit

Bench: Hon’Ble Ms. Banerjee, S. Ravindra Bhat

                                                          1

                                                                                 REPORTABLE
                                     IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
                                    CRIMINAL APPELLATE JURISDICTION

                                        CIVIL APPEAL NO. 903 OF 2011



          STATE OF KERALA & ANR.                                              ...APPELLANT(S)

                                                       VERSUS

          M/S POPULAR ESTATES
          (NOW DISSOLVED) & ANR.                                           ...RESPONDENT(S)



                                                      JUDGMENT

S. RAVINDRA BHAT, J.

1. This appeal by special leave challenges a judgment of the Kerala High
Court1, which allowed an appeal preferred by the respondent (hereafter called
“Popular Estates”) and held that an area of slightly over 402 acres (i.e., 100
hectares and 155.90 acres) vested in the State of Kerala (hereafter “the state”),
and the rest of the land (of a total 1534.40 acres) had to be treated as plantation,
and thus, belonged to the said respondent.

2. Popular Estates became owners of 1534.40 acres of land. Those lands were
acquired by sale, by M/s Popular Automobiles, a registered firm, through four
registered deeds executed in 1963. These lands fell to Popular Estate’s share upon
partition of the firm’s assets. The Kerala Private Forests (Vesting and
Signature Not Verified

Assignment) Act, 1971 (hereafter “the Vesting Act”) came into force with effect
Digitally signed by Dr.
Mukesh Nasa
Date: 2021.10.29
18:06:55 IST
Reason:

from 10.5.1971. Under Section 3 of the Vesting Act, all private forests vested in

1
In MFA 108/2006 decided on 05.12.2008
2

the State Government. The Act was challenged before the Kerala High Court,
which struck it down, by a judgment, in 1972. That judgment was reversed by
this Court’s ruling in 19732.

3. The forest authorities attempted to take possession of large areas of land
occupied by Popular Estates, arguing that they were private forests and had vested
in the state, under the Act. Popular Estates moved two Original Applications3
before the Forest Tribunal (“tribunal” hereafter) under Section 8 of the Act
claiming a declaration that no part of the estate consisting 1534.40 acres was
liable to vest in the state. Since it was being cultivated and hence, it was exempt
under the provisions of the Vesting Act. The state opposed those applications.
The tribunal appointed a commissioner to inspect the entire area and report about
its state to it. The commissioner after a preliminary inspection was of the view
that a detailed survey of the land was necessary as most of the land was situated
on hills, and therefore, inaccessible. Private surveyors, appointed to survey the
land were unable to complete the work. The tribunal directed Forest Department
Survey Officers to survey the lands. The tribunal, thereafter dismissed the
Original Applications4. It made critical comments about the manner in which the
surveyors had made the report and recorded that:

“This exclusion by the forest officials, may be due to the fact that the magic
money lulled them to sleep over the rights of the Government or may be due to
the fact that the claim originally put forward by the forest officials was false.

Neither way it is not very complimentary to the respondents here or to those
officials concerned. It is for the Government to make necessary immediate
enquiry in this matter through some official, other than Forest Department
official, if the Government so think and ascertain whether any area which
legitimately come under the classification of private forest and which had
vested in the Government besides bits 1 to 7 have been excluded by the forest
officials or by the forest survey officials. On the basis of the Commissioner’s
report and the facts mentioned by him, I am inclined to think that prima facie it
appears that areas which should really be vested forest have been excluded,
when the claim was confined to 100 hectares.”

2
State of Kerala v Gwalior Rayon Silk Manufacturing and Weaving Co.1974 (1) SCR 671
3
O.P Nos. Nos. 242 & 243/ 1974
4
By order dated 15.02.1978
3

After orders of the tribunal, forest authorities attempted to take possession
of the land. In the meanwhile, the state also issued notification no. 4713/1977
notifying 100 hectares of the respondent estate as private forest, based on survey
undertaken by the forest department. Popular Estates filed two appeals5
impugning the tribunal’s orders, before the High Court. These were dismissed;
the special leave petition against those orders too, were dismissed. Popular
Estates then filed civil suits6 claiming that the state be permanently injuncted from
taking possession. Initially, the civil court refused to register the plaint on grounds
of maintainability, later, the suits were entertained on the intervention of the High
Court in civil revision.

4. On 22.7.1987, the Custodian and Conservator of Vested Forests issued a
notification (Ex. A-27) under Section 6 of the Act demarcating 324 hectares of
land belonging to Popular Plantation as vested forests under the Act. This
notification was challenged in writ proceedings7. Popular Plantation also
withdrew the two suits. Their writ petitions were dismissed on the ground that the
respondents had alternate remedy available before the tribunal. In these
circumstances, Popular Estates filed applications8 before the tribunal under
Section 8 of the Vesting Act challenging the notification dated 22.07.1987 and
seeking a declaration that the property covered by the applications was not private
forest and had not vested in the state government. Simultaneously, they also filed
a writ appeal9 against the order dismissing their writ petition. The writ appeal was
admitted subject to the condition that Popular Plantation withdraw its original
applications pending before the tribunal, and upon complying with the same, they
approached the tribunal as directed, by filing original applications in 199010
challenging the state’s jurisdiction to issue the notification after a long lapse of

5
MFA 230 & 231/1978
6
Suit Nos. 69 & 71/ 1987 before the civil court Munsif’s Court, Hosdurg
7
Before the Kerala High Court in OP No. 7498/ 1987
8
Original Applications Nos. 28 & 29/ 1988
9
Before the Kerala High court in WA No. 165/1989.

10

Original Applications Nos. 166 & 167/ 1990
4

time. Popular Plantation also filed an appeal before this court, which was
disposed of11. This court observed that Popular Plantation had the liberty of
appearing and pursuing their application before the tribunal, confining the
challenge to the validity of the notification “on the grounds set out in the writ
petition filed in the High Court”. In the event the tribunal held it had no
jurisdiction, liberty was given to file an appeal and/or a writ petition before the
High Court to challenge the notification “but only on the said grounds”.

5. Popular Estates amended its original applications pending before the
tribunal (OA Nos. 166 & 167/1990) and also filed a writ petition before the High
Court12 challenging the validity of the notification dated 22.7.1987. The tribunal
dismissed13 the two original applications holding that in its earlier order it had
only dealt with the status of 100 hectares of the land and, therefore, with regard
to rest of the land the State was empowered to issue a fresh notification. This
order was challenged in an appeal before the High Court14. By a common
judgment15 the High Court allowed the appeal and writ petition, holding the
notification to be valid only in respect of the 100 hectares of vested forest. It was
held that there was no vesting so far as the rest of the land was concerned. The
High Court also directed the Custodian of Vested Forests to demarcate the
boundaries of the certain extent under Section 6 of the Act and restore possession
of the remaining extent of the properties to Popular Plantation.

6. The state appealed to this court, by special leave. The appeal16 was decided
by a judgment17 dated 04.11.2004 (hereafter referred to as “Popular-II”). This
court, in Popular-II noticed that the High Court had proceeded on the basis that
the order made by the Taluk Land Board in a land ceiling case pertaining to

11
Civil Appeal No. 200/ 1991 disposed by order dated 11.1.1991 [reported in Popular Plantation v. State of
Kerala
, 1991 Supp (2) SCC 720]
12
OP No. 4751/ 1993
13
By order dated 30.10.1992
14
MFA No. 72/ 1993
15
Dated 07.04.1994 the High Court allowed MFA No. 72/1993 and writ petition OP No. 4751/1993
16
C.A 7111/1999
17
State of Kerala v. Popular Estates
, (2004) 12 SCC 434
5

Popular Plantation would amount to res judicata. A draft statement under the
provisions of the Kerala Land Reforms Act, 1963 (hereafter, “KLR Act”) was
filed. Section 81 of the KLR Act exempted private forests and plantations. Rule
10 of the Kerala Land Reforms (Ceiling) Rules, 1970 prescribed that Taluk Land
Boards were to prepare a draft statement of lands to be surrendered and serve
copies of such drafts on persons interested in the lands. In the draft statement
prepared by the Taluk Land Board (hereafter, “the Board”), Popular Estates was
shown to hold an extent of 1576-73-257 acres of land, of which 1537-25-645
acres fell under the exempted category, and that Popular Estates was eligible to
retain the balance extent within the ceiling area. The Board concluded18 that there
was no surplus land to be surrendered to the state. The state government did not
challenge the declaration made by the Board but sought to initiate proceedings
under Section 85(9-A) of the KLR Act, by issuing notice dated 18.05.1992 for
reopening the final order of the Taluk Land Board. That notice had been
challenged by Popular Estates by their civil revision petition19 before the Kerala
High Court by which further proceedings were stayed. Based on a previous
judgment rendered in Kunjanam Antony v. State of Kerala20 this court held that
the Board’s determination could not operate as res judicata, but would be a piece
of evidence. This court remanded the matter back to the tribunal.

7. The tribunal re-appreciated the evidence on the record as required by this
court and rejected Popular Estates’ appeal21. Noticing that the burden was upon
Popular Estates to establish that the disputed properties were not private
forests but were cultivated as plantations, the tribunal observed that in terms of
the Vesting Act, especially Section 2(f) and its various components, the first
requirement was to consider whether the lands or any part of the lands fell within
the purview of the Madras Preservation of Private Forests Act, 1949 (hereafter,

18
Order of Taluk Land Board dated 04.11.1980.

19

CRP No. 1409/ 1992
20
(2003) 3 SCC 221
21
By its order dated 25.05.2005
6

“the Madras Act”) which was immediately in force before the Vesting Act was
enacted. It was noticed that the Madras Act applied to all private forests
in Malabar and south Kanara having a contiguous area of 100 acres. The disputed
properties were situated at a place within erstwhile Malabar district and the
tribunal took note of the Range Officer’s evidence (RW-1) which suggested that
the Madras Act applied to the disputed property. The tribunal’s order also took
into account Ex. A-37, one of the title deeds which referred to the permission
granted by the District Collector to sell the property and held that such permission
was necessary having regard to the provisions of the Madras Act. Relying on
Section 2(f)(1)(i)(B) of the Vesting Act, the tribunal stated that this provision
takes lands which were principally used for the cultivation of tea, coffee, cocoa,
rubber, cardamom or cinnamon and lands used for any purpose ancillary to such
cultivation, out of its coverage. In this regard Popular Estates had examined PW-
5 and relied on a few documents to establish that the properties were cultivated
with rubber, coffee and cardamom. PW-5 was the manager of the plantation: his
services began in 1969 as Office Assistant. He stated, in his evidence that at that
stage (in 1969), 1130 acres of the estate was plantation and that 160 acres were
also planted before commencement of the Act. The tribunal brushed aside this
evidence, concluding that nothing tangible emerged from it and that Popular
Estates necessarily had to prove that the disputed properties were principally
cultivated with rubber, coffee or cardamom. The tribunal faulted PW-5’s
evidence as not being precise with respect to the extent of properties which had
been planted with the different crops. It also faulted his evidence on the ground
that he had limited knowledge since he had to deal only with the estate when he
became an Estate Supervisor in 1974-75; it was concluded that he did not have
any direct knowledge with respect to the nature or extent of cultivation. The
tribunal considered Ex. A37-A41 holding that they were title deeds. It was noted
that Ex. A41 was executed in 1972, i.e. after the appointment date; and being a
photocopy – was in any case inadmissible. The other documents had come into
7

existence before the appointed day, however, their recitals did not disclose
expressly that before the appointed date, the properties were cultivated
with rubber, coffee and cardamon. The tribunal noted that the schedules in two
of the documents – Ex. A-37 and 38 – showed that the properties were cultivated
with cardamom. These were to the extent of 72.762 hectares and 89.92 acres, but
were not proved to be land within the disputed properties.

8. The tribunal noted that this court’s holding was that the Board’s orders
were not binding on the authorities under the Vesting Act. It proceeded to analyse
Ex. A-50 & 51 which was the draft statement of lands surrendered to the
government under the KLR Act and the certified copy of the order of the Taluk
Land Board, respectively. In this context, the tribunal considered Objection no.7,
that Popular Automobiles owned 1530.4 acres in Maloth village and that out of
this, the private forest coming within the purview of the Madras Act – an extent
of 1127.50 acres – had been converted into plantation. The tribunal discarded the
Board’s findings as inconclusive.

9. The tribunal further rejected the evidence of PW-1, the Range Forest
Officer, who had deposed before the earlier tribunal proceedings in O.A. 242 &
243/1974 to say that the dispute was confined to 100 hectares. In this regard,
the tribunal relied firstly, upon certain observations of this court in Popular-II
and secondly, that PW-1 had no authority to admit any fact to the detriment of
the state. Likewise, the tribunal rejected other documentary evidence in the form
of Ex. A-11 and A-14 as well as Ex. A-6 and A-7 as insufficient to prove that the
disputed properties were principally planted with rubber, coffee or cardamom. In
the final analysis, the tribunal went by the fact that the disputed properties were
covered by the Madras Act immediately before the appointed date. It
consequently held that Popular Estates failed to bring their case under any of the
clauses to Section 2(f)(1)(i) of the Vesting Act (i.e. the exclusionary part), and
therefore, failed to prove that any part of such properties were Estates meant for
the cultivation of coffee, rubber, cardamom etc.
8

10. Aggrieved by the tribunal’s order, Popular Estates preferred an appeal. the
High Court in the impugned judgment recounted the entire proceedings
particularly the judgement of this court in Popular-II and the decision
in Kunjanum Anthony (Supra). It gave certain weight and credence to the
observations and findings of the Board and held that the land ceiling proceedings
were not res judicata in the proceedings under the Vesting Act but constituted a
valid piece of evidence. The impugned judgement relied upon the judgment
in Kunjanum Antony’s case (supra) that until a contrary state of affairs is shown
to exist, the order of the Board would have to be given due weight. The High
Court observed that the excess land automatically vests with the state like
in the private forests vesting under Section 3 (1) of the Vesting Act. The purpose
of or intent of both enactments is to distribute excess lands to landless agricultural
labourers. The High Court was of the view that the state never alleged that the
Board’s order was obtained under fraud but rather that it was passed after
considering all statutory formalities. The Board, noted the High Court, rendered
findings with respect to the nature of the land as on the appointed date of the KLR
Act, i.e., 01.01.1970. The appointed date for the Vesting Act was 10.05.1971.
The High Court held that there is not much difference between the two dates in
point of time and that there was nothing on record to suggest that the land
usage had changed in between. Proceeding with its analysis on the evidence on
record, the Court took note of the title deeds (Ex. A-37 to A-40) and the balance
sheets and profit and loss account (Ex. A-59 to A-64) to show that Popular Estates
was earning agricultural income from the land before the appointed date, and that
it maintained regular balance sheet, and profit and loss account. The High Court
was of the opinion that the notification issued on 08.07.1977 ultimately led to the
state establishing that only 100 hectares were private forest. It was also stated that
Ex. A-27, i.e., the notification dated 22.07.1987, was issued after demarcating the
land under Section 6 and taking those 100 hectares as included in the 1534.40
acres purchased by the firm after nine years when legal proceedings were
9

pending. Ex. A-65 is the accounts ledger for 1970-71 which showed that there
was cultivation in the relevant accounting year. There were other letters in the
form of exhibits, i.e., Ex. A-66, A-69 and A-70 which showed that Labour
authorities such as the Labour Commissioner and Provident Fund authorities
were involved with respect to labour unrest in the estate. Exhibit A-67 and A-68
were addressed to the Agricultural Income Tax Officer and Ex. A-71 and A-72
were letters addressed to the Sales Tax Officer. These also showed that some
labour disputes in the estate starting from 1983 existed and that production had
slowed down. It was only after these that Ex. A-27, notification dated 22.08.1987
was issued.

11. The High Court was of the opinion that all these documents clearly
showed that the entire area other than the 100 hectares of land earlier notified by
notification dated 08.07.1977 were not private forests on the appointed date but
exempted in view of the definition of private forest. The court also noted the
location sketch given by PW-3 the Commissioner, a copy of the memorandum
submitted before the Advocate Commissioner by forest officials (Ex. A-4), and
the reports of the Commissioner (Ex. A-6 and A-7), all of which revealed that
only 100 hectares in the entire lands were private forest on the appointed date.
The final report Ex. A-7, Ex A-8 and A-9 (location sketches) also showed the
details of the survey by the forest officials. All these were produced by the
Commissioner. Also, the demarcated areas by the official survey ascertained the
extent by actual theodolite survey. The High Court observed that all these showed
only the disputed area marked as Bits 1-7; the plan was also exhibited as Ex. C-

3. The High Court took into account the evidence of the then Range Officer (PW-

1), the Commissioner (PW-3), PW-4 & PW-5 – all of which pointed that the
disputed area covered by Ex. A-7 was plantation on the date when the act came
into force.

10

12. The High Court then relied on the full bench decision of the Kerala High
Court in Parameswara Sastrigal K.S. v. State of Kerala & Ors.22. That judgment
observed that if the land vested in the government as a private forest on the
appointed date, the owner cannot thereafter alienate or transfer or assign the land
for certain. However, if it is not a private forest vested in the government there is
no impediment for the title holder to transfer the land. The Court also took note
of the judgment of this court in Bhawani Tea & Produce Co. Ltd. v. State of
Kerala & Ors
.23 where it was observed that:

“The reverse question is involved in this case, namely if the land was not private
forest but plantation under the M.P.P.F. Act and was similarly not private forest
but plantation on 10.5.1971, it could not, without anything more, become
private forest thereafter even though it was not under the same efficient or
successful plantation as it was earlier. Whether the plantation yielded any crop
or not was for the owners to decide and not by the authorities under the Vesting
Act, unless it did make specific provisions to cover such a situation.”

13. Taking note of these circumstances the court concluded that on the
appointed date, except the area of 155.9 acres of land, the rest of the lands covered
by Ex. A-27 were not private forest but plantations falling within the exclusions
under Section 2(f)(1)(i)(A) to (D) of the Vesting Act. The High Court finally held
that 1127.50 acres of land were plantation and 100 hectares, i.e. 247 acres were
private forest. Since there was no claim with respect to 155.90 acres of land nor
any proof that it was converted into plantation on the appointed date, that extent
was also held to vest in the state. However with respect to the rest, i.e.
1127.50 acres minus 155.90 acres of land, the appeal was allowed and Ex.A-27
notification to that extent was set aside.

Submission of parties

14. Mr. Pallav Sisodia, learned senior counsel argued on behalf of the state that
the impugned judgement requires interference as it is based on a misappreciation

22
2008 2 ILR 371
23
1991 (2) SCC 463
11

of the facts on record. Learned counsel urged that the primary onus to establish
that the extent of land notified by the state was not a private forest covered by the
Vesting Act lies upon the party or individual asserting it to be so. Thus, the
burden lay upon the appellant before the High Court, i.e. Popular Estates to prove
that the entire extent of 1534.40 acres of land were in fact under cultivation as
plantation. Mr. Sisodia submitted that before 10.05.1971, Popular Estates was not
the owner of the forest land; two partnerships had formed since the earlier
partnership was dissolved by deed dated 07.01.1972 produced as Ex. A-41. In
these circumstances Popular Estates was not entitled to maintain the original
application since the vesting took place on 10.05.1971 and therefore, as the
subsequent purchaser could not agitate with respect to the vesting. It was alleged
that the High Court principally relied on Ex A-50 and A-51 proceedings under
the KLR Act or the determination of the Land Board to allow the appeal. In this
regard, learned counsel stressed that the decision of this court in Popular-II was
clear that such determinations by the Board for an entirely different purpose could
not constitute res judicata by giving undue weight to that piece of evidence and
ignoring that the other evidence led before the tribunal was utterly inadequate;
the appellant state urged that the High Court fell into error.

15. The State argued that the High Court erred in holding that Ex. A-6 and A-
7 showed that only 100 hectares were private forest. In this respect, learned
counsel highlighted the observations of the tribunal that the said two documents
do not prove the fact that the rest of the lands were in fact cultivated with
plantation crops. He also relied upon the deposition of PW-3 (Commissioner)
who had stated that he could not ascertain the planted areas, the number of plants
or the age of such plants in his first inspection and that he had confined his second
inspection to Plot numbers 1 to 7. Learned counsel emphasised that by Ex. A-6
and A-7 the Commissioner had reported that a thick forest existed and had
highlighted the need to conduct a detailed survey. It was urged that the
Commissioner had visited the area in December 1975, long after the date
12

of vesting, i.e. 10.05.1971 and therefore, the report was not determinative. It was
further argued that the High Court completely ignored examining whether the
plantations were registered under the Coffee Act, the Rubber Act or the
Cardamom Act which now fall within the purview of the Spices Board under
the Spices Board Act, 1986 or whether they had any valid registration in law. In
these circumstances there could have been no conclusive finding that plantations
existed, as was asserted by Popular Estates.

16. Learned counsel relied upon the pleadings made by Popular Estates in the
earlier rounds of litigation, especially in the first writ petition which had
challenged the enactment of the Vesting Act, in which an assertion was made that
more than 1000 acres was forest area. He also submitted that a comparison of
the respondent’s pleadings clearly showed that there were glaring inconsistencies
in this regard. It was submitted that in the writ petition filed at the earliest point
of time in 1971, the total plantation area mentioned was 923 acres and that 682.47
acres grasslands were leased for dairy purposes. According to that writ
petition, the total extent of land was 1589.47 acres. In another writ petition
filed subsequently, another version that the plantation area was only 228.55 acres
was asserted, in relation to one block; 780.34 acres was leased out for dairy
purposes. A total of 573.69 acres of balance land were mentioned out of which
194.44 acres were plantation in one area, and the entire plantation area in both
parcels of land put together in this writ petition did not exceed 425 acres. It was
highlighted that if one took into account these pleadings, a conflicting picture
emerged. On an overall analysis of the pleadings, the nature of oral testimony,
over reliance on the suspect testimony and the deposition of PW-1, a Forest range
officer who had no business to depose against the state and PW-5, whose evidence
did not inspire confidence with respect to the specifics regarding the area of
cultivation, could not have led the High Court to reasonably conclude that 1127
acres were in fact cultivated, based upon on almost similar finding of the land
board. It was also urged that the High Court failed to see that the burden of
13

proving that the lands claimed by Popular Estates as not covered by
forest, remained unproved and undischarged. Consequently, the High Court,
even on an independent analysis of the evidence could not have allowed the
appeal.

17. Mr Sisodia concluded his arguments by saying that the primary objective
of the Vesting Act is to ensure that large chunks of private forests held by a few
individuals or entities, but which constituted valuable economic resource which
required redistribution in terms of Directive Principles of State Policy, were made
over to those sections of society who did not own any land.

The impugned judgement therefore failed in noticing the salutary purposes of the
Act by holding that Ex. A- 27 could be upheld only to the extent of 155.90 acres
and in setting aside the rest.

18. It was argued on behalf of the respondent, Popular Estates, that the order
of the High Court impugned in this case, should not be interfered with. Mr K.V.
Viswanathan, learned senior counsel appearing on behalf of Popular Estates,
argued that the judgement in Popular-II declared that even though the
determinations of Boards could not be treated as res judicata in proceedings
under the Vesting Act, nevertheless, they had to be given due weight. They
carried credibility as long as the basis of such decision indicated factual
investigation and the order was not under a cloud. In the present case too, there
was no reason for the tribunal to doubt or question the Board’s findings.
Reiterating the nature of the KLR Act and the objectives of the Vesting Act, it
was submitted that both enactments observed common public good, namely
determination of either excess lands or uncultivated forest lands, but not
plantation; and ensuring redistribution to deserving categories of persons.

19. Referring to the record, Mr. Vishwanathan argued that the High Court took
all evidence: oral and documentary, into consideration. He stressed that not only
the survey by the Commissioner, but also survey conducted by Forest range
14

officers and the report of such officials confirmed that the entire area was
inspected, and only those portions – covered in Bits 1 to 7 – were found to be
forest lands, and consequently demarcated. There was general agreement that the
rest of the lands were not forest land, but were cultivated for rubber, coffee and
cardamom. Learned counsel relied on Ex A-7, Ex A-8 and Ex. A-9
(location sketch) and the commissioner’s sketch as well. The senior counsel
further argued that Ex. A-59 to A-64 proved that Popular Estates was earning
agricultural income from the lands, much prior to the appointed date. These
documents also established that it maintained regular balance sheet, and profit
and loss accounts.

20. Popular Estates relied on the depositions of PW-1 and PW-5. Commenting
on the statement of PW-5, learned senior counsel urged that the tribunal wrongly
rejected his testimony. It was argued that he was an employee, though not
working as a Superintendent when he joined in 1969, that alone could not have
been a ground to reject his evidence.

21. It was argued next that under Section 8A of the Vesting Act, an appeal lay,
as a matter of right, to the High Court against the order of the tribunal. In terms
of Section 8A (3), the High Court could confirm cancel, or set aside the decision
of the tribunal appealed against, remand the matter, or pass such orders as it
deemed fit. In these circumstances, the High Court had opportunity to undertake
a full margin of appreciation of the entire evidence and arrive at its own
conclusions. In support of this, learned counsel relied upon the judgment of this
Court in State of Kerala v ACK Rajah24 in which the Court had observed that in
deciding the appeal under Section 8A, the High Court has very wide powers
which are not hedged by any limitation. The High Court could, in any given
matter consider the correctness and propriety of the tribunal’s view under appeal,
which arose for its consideration; it could independently consider the evidence
and satisfy itself whether the findings of the tribunal and its conclusions were

24
1994 Supp. (3) SCC 250
15

proper. It was contended that in these circumstances, the view of the High Court
based upon its overall appreciation of the circumstances was sound and just and
did not call for interference.

22. It was reiterated by the learned counsel that the decision in Kunjanom
Antony (supra) and Popular Estates-II are binding on the question of law that
though the decision of the Land Board under the KLR Act cannot be conclusive
as res judicata, nevertheless it has considerable evidentiary weight and that unless
the contrary state of affairs is shown, the Board’s order would have to be given
due weight. Therefore, since the Board’s order was not under cloud or under
appeal, prima facie, due weight had to be given. Unfortunately, the tribunal
entirely discarded the Board’s determination which was based on the appreciation
of the objective facts. Counsel highlighted that in the present case, the inspection
undertaken was in the context of assertions made in the mid-1970s. The
determination of the Board was decisive. Therefore, it had considerable
evidentiary weight and could not be brushed aside as a mere piece of paper.

23. It was urged that the preliminary and final report of the Commissioner in
the earlier proceedings instituted by Popular Estates in 1974 through its two
applications were also earliest in point of time. The preliminary report, Ex. A-6
which was filed on 15.01.1976 shows that there was extensive cultivation of
coffee, cardamom, rubber, areca nut, etc. Learned counsel invited the attention of
this court to the concerned documents. He submitted that the final report, Ex. A-
7 furnished by the Commissioner on 12.09.1977 recorded what was observed by
the Forest Range Officer, i.e. only that disputed portions in Bit Nos. 1 to 7 had
been demarcated and that the other areas were cultivated. The counsel underlined
that these reflected the true ground reality. Coupled with the Range Officer’s
memorandum (Ex.A-4) which was furnished before the Commissioner on
01.09.1977, it was clear that the areas were inspected in detail and that only those
areas that vested with the government were demarcated by the survey party
attached with the Superintendent, Land Records.

16

24. It was urged that what was demarcated was only 100 hectares and the other
areas were not demarcated since they were cultivated. This was endorsed in the
final report, Ex. A-7. It was submitted that the possession with respect to 100
hectares of uncultivated forest lands was also covered by draft statement of land
dated 24.01.1979, Ex. A-50 which was furnished to the Board in proceedings
under the KLR Act. This document, Ex. A-50 was the basis for the Board’s order
dated 04.11.1980 (Ex. A-51). These two confirmed that only 100 hectares was
vested forest. Furthermore, learned counsel submitted that an extent of 533 acres
was under cardamom cultivation; 120 acres under rubber plantations; 257 acres
under coffee plantation; 155.9 acres was forest land; and 17.5 acres of roads and
buildings. Given these circumstances, the reliance by the High Court on these
materials to conclude that only 100 hectares and 155.90 acres was forest land that
vested with the state and that the rest was under cultivation, is unexceptionable.

25. Learned counsel submitted that the tribunal fell into error in rejecting the
evidence of PW-1 – the Forest Range Officer, who gave memorandum to the
Commissioner on 01.09.1977. Somehow, the proceedings in the tribunal and the
evidence of this officer were always viewed in a coloured manner as was evident
from the oft repeated phrase of “magic money”, insinuating that PW-1 had been
bribed. It was submitted that there was no such suggestion to him nor was any
material placed on record that he was criminally prosecuted or proceeded with
departmentally. Learned counsel likewise submitted that the tribunal erred in
overlooking and rejecting the evidence on record such as the auditor’s balance
sheets (Ex. A-57 to A-64) as well as the auditor’s deposition as PW-4, and the
deposition of the manager of Popular Estates (PW-5 – who had worked since
1969, though not a Superintendent but later having regard to these accounts). It
was also highlighted that the title deeds of the predecessor-in-interest of the
partners of the Popular Estates who had acquired the lands in 1963 clearly showed
that considerable areas were shown as cardamon plantation. The Popular Estates
had filed agricultural income returns and even as on 1970, it was producing
17

coffee, rubber and cardamom. The fact that it had some labour trouble also
supported its contention that Popular Estates’ plantation activities were on in full
scale.

Relevant provisions of law

26. Before proceeding with the discussion of merits of this case, it would be
necessary to extract the relevant provisions of law, which the High Court took
into consideration, and which the parties relied on. The first enactment relevant
in this regard, is the Madras Act, of 1949. It applied25, to private forests in the
districts of Malabar and South Kanara (now Dakshina Kannada district of
Karnataka) having a contiguous area of 100 acres or more. The Act also applied26
to forests in estates, falling under the Madras Estates Land Act, 1908. “Forest”
was defined as including “waste or communal land containing trees and shrubs,
pasture land and any other class of land declared by the State Government to be
a forest by notification”27. By virtue of Section 3 (1), no owner of any forest
could, without previous sanction of the District Collector, sell, mortgage lease or
“otherwise alienate the whole or any portion of the forest.”

27. The second enactment in question, is the KLR Act. It defined 28 private
forests as meaning:

“a forest which is not owned by the Government, but does not include-

(i) areas which are waste and are not enclaves within wooded areas;

(ii) areas which are gardens or nilams;

(iii) areas which are planted with tea, coffee, cocoa, rubber, cardamom or
cinnamon; and

(iv) other areas which are cultivated with pepper, areca nut, coconut, cashew
or other fruit-bearing trees or are cultivated with any other agricultural crop;

25

Section 1 (2) (i)
26
Section 1 (2) (ii).

27

Section 2 (a)
28
By Section 2 (47)
18

Section 81 provided for exceptions, and enacted inter alia that provisions of the
chapter relating to vesting of excess did not apply to private forests. The relevant
parts of Section 81 are extracted below:

“81. Exemptions. – (1) The provisions of this Chapter shall not apply to –

(a) lands owned or held by the Government of Kerala or the Government of any
other State in India or the Government of India or a local authority or the
Cochin Port Trust or any other authority which the Government may, in public
interest, exempt, by notification in the Gazette, from the provisions of this
Chapter.

      **********                      ************
              *********

(b) lands taken under the management of the Court of Wards:
Provided that the exemption under this clause shall cease to apply at the end of
three years from the commencement of this Act;

(c) lands comprised in mills, factories or workshops and which are necessary
for the use of such mills, factories or workshops;

(d) private forests;

(e) plantations;

(f) cashew estate
Explanation. – For the purpose of this clause “cashew estate” shall mean dry
land principally cultivated with not less than 150 cashew trees per hectare.]

(g)****** **********
*******”

28. By Section 2 (a) of the Vesting Act, 10.05.1971 was deemed as the
“appointed date.” Section 2(f) of the Vesting Act defined “private forest” in the
following terms:

“(f) “private forest” means-

(1) in relation to the Malabar district referred to in subsection (2) of Section 5
of the States Reorganisation Act, 1956 (Central Act 37 of 1956)-

(i) any land to which the Madras Preservation of Private Forest Act, 1949
(Madras Act XXVII of 1949), applied immediately before the appointed day
excluding-

(A) lands which are gardens or nilams as defined in the Kerala Land Reforms
Act, 1963 (1 of 1964);

(B) lands which are used principally for the cultivation of tea, coffee, cocoa,
rubber, cardamom or cinnamon and lands used for any purpose ancillary to
the cultivation of such crops or for the preparation of the same for the market.

19

Explanation.-Lands used for the construction of office buildings, godowns,
factories, quarters for workmen, hospitals, schools and playgrounds shall be
deemed to be lands used for purposes ancillary to the cultivation of such crops;
(C) lands which are principally cultivated with cashew or other fruit bearing
trees or are principally cultivated with any other agricultural crop and
(D) sites of buildings and lands appurtenant to and necessary for the convenient
enjoyment or use of, such buildings;

(ii) any forest not owned by the Government, to which the Madras Preservation
of Private Forest Act, 1949 did not apply, including waste lands which are
enclaves within wooded areas.

(2) in relation to the remaining areas in the State of Kerala, any forest not
owned by the Government, including waste lands which are enclaves within
wooded areas.

Explanation.- For the purposes of this clause, a land shall be deemed to be a
waste land notwithstanding the existence thereon of scattered trees or shrubs.”

29. Section 2 (1) (f) of the Vesting Act defines “private forest”, in relation to
Malabar District. Section 2(f)(1)(i) says that “private forest” means any land to
which the Madras Act applied immediately before the appointed day, viz.,
10.05.1971. It thereafter, enacts that certain lands are excluded from the definition
of “private forest” falling under sub-clauses (A) to (D). Lands, which are gardens
or nilams (defined in the KLR Act, 1963), are excluded from the definition of
“private forest” under the Vesting Act under sub-clause (A). Likewise, lands used
principally for the cultivation of tea, coffee, cocoa, rubber, cardamom or
cinnamon and lands used for any purpose ancillary to the cultivation of such crops
or for the preparation of the same for the market are excluded from the definition
of “private forest” by reason of sub-clause (B). Explanation to Section 2 (1) (i)
(B) further showed that lands used for the purpose of construction of office
buildings, go-downs, factories, quarters for workmen, hospitals, schools and
playgrounds were deemed to be lands used for purposes ancillary to the
cultivation of such crops. Therefore, Section 2 (1) (i) (B) evidences that lands
used principally for cultivation of certain crops and lands used for construction
of buildings for the purpose of running and maintaining a plantation are excluded
from the definition of “private forest”. Section 3 of the Vesting Act under which
private forests were to vest in the Government said:

20

“3. Private forests to vest in Government. -(1) Notwithstanding any thing
contained in any other law for the time being in force, or in any contract or
other document, but subject to the provisions of sub-section (2) and (3), with
effect on and from the appointed day, the ownership and possession of all
private forests in the State of Kerala shall by virtue of this Act, stand
transferred to and vested in the Government free from all encumbrances,
and the right, title and interest of the owner or any other person in any
private forest shall stand extinguished.

(2) Nothing contained in sub-section (1) shall apply in respect of so much
extent of land comprised in private forests held by an owner under his
personal cultivation as is within the ceiling limit applicable to him under the
Kerala Land Reforms Act, 1963 [1 of 1964] or any building or structure
standing thereon or appurtenant thereto. Explanation. For the purposes of
this sub-section, `cultivation’ includes cultivation of trees or plants of any
species.

(3) Nothing contained in sub-section 1 shall apply in respect of so much
extent of private forests held by an owner under a valid registered document
of title executed before the appointed day and intended for cultivation by
him, which together with other lands held by him to which Chapter III of the
Kerala Land Reforms Act, 1963, is applicable, does not exceed the extent of
the ceiling area applicable to him under section 82 of the said Act.
(4) Notwithstanding anything contained in the Kerala Land Reforms Act,
1963, private forests shall, for the purposes of sub-section (2) or sub- section
(3), be deemed to be lands to which chapter III of the said Act is applicable
and for the purposes of calculating the ceiling limit applicable to an owner,
private forests shall be deemed to be `other dry lands’ specified in Schedule
II to the said Act.”

30. Section 4 of the Vesting Act provided that private forests after being
vested in the state were to be deemed to be reserved forests, and Section
5
provided for eviction of persons in unauthorised occupation of any such private
forest. Section 6 provided for demarcation of boundaries of the private forests
vested in the government by the Custodian.

Analysis and Conclusions

31. The definition of private forest given in Section 2(f) of the Vesting Act and
Section 2(47) of the KLR Act were considered by this court in Gwalior Rayons
Silk Mfg. (Wvg.) Ltd v. The Custodian of Vested Forests, Palghat & Anr29
. The
lands involved in that case were forests as defined in the Madras Act and

29
1990 (Supp) SCC 785
21

continued to be so when the Vesting Act came into force in 1971. It was observed
that the definition of private forests applicable to the Malabar district was not
general in terms but limited to the area and lands to which the Madras Act applied,
and exempted therefrom land described under sub-clause (A) to (D). It was held
that the previous decision of this court in Malankara Rubber & Produce Co. v.
State of Kerala & Ors
.30 and the earlier decision in State of Kerala v. Gwalior
Rayons Silk Mfg. (Wvg.) Ltd31
(supra) was a

“ a judicial recognition of the distinction between private forest in Travancore-
Cochin area in Kerala State and the private forest in Malabar district. This
distinction by itself is sufficient to dispel the anomalies suggested by counsel
for the appellant. Look at the definition. Sub-clause (A) refers to gardens or
nilams as defined in the KLR Act. ‘Garden’ means lands used principally for
growing coconut trees, arecanut trees or pepper vines or any two or more of
the same. ‘Nilam’ means lands adapted for the cultivation of paddy. Sub-clause
(B) deals with what may be called plantation crops, cultivation of which in the
general sense would be cultivation of agricultural crops. Such agricultural
crops are by name specified. Lands used for any purpose ancillary to such
cultivation or for preparation of the same for the market are also included
thereunder. Next follows sub-clause (C). It first refers to lands which are
principally cultivated with cashew or other fruit-bearing trees. It thus refers to
only the fruit beating trees. It next refers to ‘lands which are principally
cultivated with any other agricultural crop. If the legislature had intended to
use the term ‘agricultural crop’ in a wide sense so as to take within its fold all
species of trees fruit-beating or otherwise, it would be unnecessary to have the
first limb denoting only the cashew or other fruit-beating trees. It may be
significant to note that the Legislature in each sub-clause (A) to (C) has used
the words to identify the different categories of crops or trees. The words used
in every sub-clause too have “associations, echoes and overtones”.

32. In Bhavani Tea & Produce Co. Ltd (supra) this court had to consider the
correct method of determining what is a private forest, under the Vesting Act; the
determination made was in connection with the interplay of provisions of the
other enactments, i.e. the KLR Act, and the Madras Act. It was held as follows:

“Division into plots was done by the Commissioner as he found these plots to
have been different and the demarcation was of compact areas with few isolated
areas, and such a demarcation was contemplated under the Act. It was pointed
out that the company also contested the case on plot-by-plot basis. The Tribunal
as well as the High Court also proceeded on that basis. It is pointed out the

30
[1973] 1 SCR 399
31
[1974] 1 SCR 67 1
22

company objected to the principle of division before the High Court but did not
question the correctness of the actual division made and hence the High Court
could decide only on plot-by-plot basis. We have no difficulty in holding that
the forest area is generally described or notified with reference to land in forest
laws. But that does not mean that what stood on the land has to be ignored,
particularly in case of plantations which were exempted under the M.P.P.F.Act.

While we are not inclined to agree that the entire estate of the company was
required to be taken as one whole, we find it difficult to agree that wherever
some forest was found inside the company’s estate the Vesting Act would apply.
We find that the M.P.P.F. Act, the Kerala Forest Act, the Kerala Land Reform
Acts considered the plantations as units by providing that they would include
the land used for ancillary purposes as well. Therefore, while applying the
Vesting Act to such plantations the same principle would be applicable.”

33. The correct manner of interpreting the interplay between the Madras Act
and the Vesting Act, was explained lucidly in the judgment of this court in State
of Kerala v. Pullangode Rubber & Produce Co. Ltd32
. This court observed that:

“8. It is necessary first, we think, to construe the definition of “private forest”
in the said Act. It means, as aforestated, in relation to the erstwhile Malabar
District of the State of Madras, land to which the Madras Preservation of
Private Forests Act applied immediately before 10-5-1971, being the appointed
day under the said Act, but excluding, inter alia,
“lands which are used principally for the cultivation of tea, coffee, cocoa,
rubber, cardamom or cinnamon and lands used for any purpose ancillary to
the cultivation of such crops or for the preparation of the same for the market”.
Such lands so used are, therefore, not private forests within the meaning of the
said Act. Now what this means is that the lands in Malabar District
aforementioned which are used (a) principally for the cultivation of tea, coffee,
cocoa, rubber, cardamom or cinnamon, (b) for any purpose ancillary to the
cultivation of such crops, and (c) for the preparation of such crops for the
market are not private forests under the said Act. The use of the words “are
used” in this context necessarily refers to such use as on the appointed date
under the said Act, namely, 10-5-1971. It is not possible to give any other
meaning to the words “are used”. They must relate to use on that particular
day for it is on that day that land is or is not a private forest within the meaning
of the said Act.”

34. The state’s contention that as Popular Estates had mentioned in its petition
that a certain area was forest (since it was so, by virtue of provisions of the Madras
Act) therefore, does not preclude the latter’s contention that no vesting could take
place; whether the lands were “forest” or cultivated plantations or estates, for the

32
(1999) 6 SCC 92
23

purposes of Section 2(f)(1)(i)(B) of the Vesting Act, especially whether they
stood excluded from operation of that Act, had to be considered independently.

35. The judgment in Kunjanam Antony (supra) enunciated the rule that where
the Land Board arrives at a determination about the character of lands, under the
KLR Act, that becomes a piece of evidence for the purposes of the Vesting Act.
It was observed that:

“There can be no doubt that the order of the Thaluka Land Board, a statutory
authority, is binding on the authorities under the Land Reforms Act. So far as
the proceedings under the Forest Act are concerned, the order of the Thaluka
Land Board would be a piece of evidence but it cannot be treated as a binding
on the authorities under the Forest Act. Unless a contrary state of affairs is
shown to exist, the order of the Thaluka Land Board would have to be given
due weight. From the material placed before the High Court and also before
us, it appears that there is no evidence in regard to the destruction of the rubber
plantation due to fire. There is, however, material to show that the appellant
has been cultivating tapioca. Further, the High Court recorded a finding that
there was no evidence indicating that the appellant had intention to cultivate
the land which only meant cultivation of rubber plantation. There is also
nothing on record to show that absence of rubber plantation was for short
period and that the land was in the process of rubber plantation.”

36. Apart from this court’s judgment in Popular II, another recent judgment,
in State of Kerala v. Mohammed Basheer33 has also followed the rule in
Kunjanam Antony. Therefore, it is no longer open for the state to argue that the
Board’s determination or order, had little or no evidentiary value. In view of the
judgments of this court, including Popular II, the enunciation of the principle that
“unless a contrary state of affairs” were shown to exist, the Board’s order “would
have to be given due weight” had to apply, and was correctly invoked by the High
Court.

37. Coming to the facts of this case, what can be seen is that the two reports:
preliminary and final, filed by the Commissioner, in the first proceeding
(instituted by Popular Estates in 1974 by two applications) were the nearest in

33
(2019) 2 SCC 260
24

point of time, to the appointed date. The preliminary report, Ex. A-6 (filed on
15.01.1976) discloses widespread cultivation of coffee, cardamom, rubber, areca
nut, etc. The two reports are part of the record. Ex. A-7 by the Commissioner, i.e.
the final report dated 12.09.1977 recorded that the Forest Range Officer, after
inspection stated that “only disputed portions in Bit Nos. 1 to 7 had been
demarcated and that the other areas were cultivated”. The respondents
contention was that this reflected the true factual position, coupled with the Range
Officer’s memorandum (Ex. A-4) filed before the Commissioner on 01.09.1977.

38. A combined reading of these materials, leads one to infer that a detailed
inspection of the area took place. Only those areas that vested with the
government were demarcated by the survey party, attached with the
Superintendent, Land Records. It was in these circumstances that the respondent
successfully urged before the High Court that what was demarcated was only 100
hectares and the others were not demarcated since they were cultivated. This was
borne out by Ex. A-7, the final report. The possession with respect to 100 hectares
of uncultivated forest lands was also covered by draft statement of land (Ex. A-
50, dated 24.01.1979) furnished to the Board in proceedings under the KLR Act.
Ex. A-50 was the foundation for the Board’s order dated 04.11.1980 (Ex. A-51).
Both these documents confirmed that 100 hectares was vested forest. Popular
Estates had submitted that 533 acres was under cardamom cultivation; 120 acres
under rubber plantation; 257 acres under coffee plantation and that 155.9 acres
was forest land; and 17.5 acres of were comprised of roads and buildings. These
arguments found favour with the High Court. In our considered opinion, there is
no glaring error in the impugned judgment, having regard to these circumstances.

39. The tribunal entirely rejected the evidence of PW-1, the Forest Range
Officer, who gave the memorandum to the Commissioner on 01.09.1977. The
tribunal wholly discredited and brushed aside the evidence of this officer and
viewed it with suspicion. This is clear from the repeated use of the phrase “magic
money” suggesting that PW-1 was devious and had been bribed. A reading of his
25

deposition shows no such suggestion to him; no material was placed on record
that he was prosecuted for an offence, nor were departmental proceedings
initiated, for misconduct.

40. The other materials on record (the auditor’s balance sheets, Ex. A-57 to A-

64) the evidence of the auditor (PW-4), the deposition of the manager of the
respondent/ Popular Estates, PW-5, who had worked since 1969 onwards
reinforce the respondent’s contentions that the largest part of the area was
cultivation for plantation crops. The tribunal, in this court’s opinion unreasonably
discarded these materials.

41. The other documents, i.e. Ex. A-66, Settlement arrived at between Popular
Estates and its workers after closure on 25.6.1982 reveal that it had 80 permanent
workers and 29 temporary workers on its rolls. Likewise, copies of income tax
returns for various dates showed that income from these estates was consistently
reported, along with expenditure. For the year ending on 31.3.1968 income was
reported as ₹ 81,319; for the year ending 31.3.1969 it was ₹95,707/-; the year
ending 31.3.1970 it was ₹ 1,12,524; and for the year ending 31.3.1971 it was ₹
1,38,918. The respondent Popular Estates was apparently depositing agricultural
income tax and employees provident fund (Ex. A-67, A-69 and A-70). It had
produced correspondence with these statutory authorities, as well as sales tax
returns (Ex. A-71).

42. The title deeds of the predecessor-in-interest of the partners of the Popular
Estates who had acquired the lands in 1963, show that large areas were shown as
cardamon plantation. Popular Estates had filed agricultural income returns and
even in 1970, it was producing coffee, rubber and cardamom. The fact that it had
some labour trouble also supported its contention that Popular Estates’ plantation
activities were on in full scale. All these materials, in the opinion of the court,
support the conclusions of the High Court, which are based on plausible (and not
an unreasonable) inference of the overall analysis of the evidence on the record.

26

43. There is some authority for the proposition that where two plausible views
on the conclusions that can be drawn from facts on the record exist, this court, in
exercise of its discretionary jurisdiction under Article 136 of the Constitution
would not interfere with the findings of the High Court. It has been observed in
Pritam Singh v. The State34, this Court observed that:

“On a careful examination of Article 136 along with the preceding article, it
seems clear that the wide discretionary power with which this Court is invested
under is to be exercised sparingly and in exceptional cases only, and as far as
possible a more or less uniform standard should be adopted in granting special
leave in the wide range of matters which can come up before it under this
article.”

Similar observations were made in Tirupati Balaji Developers Pvt. Ltd. v. State
of Bihar35
. In Jamshed Hormusji Wadia v. Board of Trustees, Port of Mumbai36,
this Court observed that-

“The discretionary power of the Supreme Court is plenary in the sense that there
are no words in Article 136 itself qualifying that power. The very conferment of
the discretionary power defies any attempt at exhaustive definition of such
power. The power is permitted to be invoked not in a routine fashion but in very
exceptional circumstances as when a question of law of general public
importance arises or a decision sought to be impugned before the Supreme
Court shocks the conscience. This overriding and exceptional power has been
vested in the Supreme Court to be exercised sparingly and only in furtherance
of the cause of justice in the Supreme Court in exceptional cases only when
special circumstances are shown to exist.”

44. Likewise, in Union of India v. Gangadhar Narsingdas Agarwal & Anr37
this court, declining to interfere with the order of the High Court in exercise of
its power under Article 136 of the Constitution, said that even if two views are
possible, the view taken by the High Court being a plausible one, it would not
call for intervention by this court. A similar view was expressed in Jai Mangal
Oraon v. Mira Nayak (Smt) & Ors38
, wherein this court held that when there was
nothing illegal and wrong in the reasoning and conclusions arrived at by the High

34
1950 SCR 453
35
(2004) 5 SCC 1
36
(2004) 3 SCC 214
37
(1997) 10 SCC 305
38
(2000) 5 SCC 141
27

Court and it appeared to be merited and in accordance with the interpretation of
statutory provisions, this court would not interfere with the order of the High
Court under Article 136 of the Constitution. In Taherakhatoon (D) By Lrs. v.
Salambin Mohammad39, this Court at observed as follows:

“In view of the above decisions, even though we are now dealing with the appeal
after grant of special leave, we are not bound to go into merits and even if we
do so and declare the law or point out the error- still we may not interfere if the
justice of the case on facts does not require interference or if we feel that the
relief could be moulded in a different fashion.”

45. This court has carefully considered the findings of the High Court while
setting aside the order of the tribunal. The reasons which led the High Court to
conclude that the tribunal’s findings called for interference are merited and in
accord with the material evidence on record. This Court is therefore of the opinion
that no interference with the impugned judgment of the High Court is called for.
The appeal is therefore, dismissed, without order on costs.

…………………………………………J.
[INDIRA BANERJEE]

…………………………………………J.
[S. RAVINDRA BHAT]

NEW DELHI
OCTOBER 29, 2021

39
(1992) 2 SCC 635



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