Suits brought by or against Government or Public Officers

By Shrikanth Bhaskar, Vinay Narayan & Vinayak Ojha, GNLU

Editor’s Note: Section 80 of the CPC provides for sending a notice to the government or a public officer if one wants to institute a suit against the government or against a public officer in respect of any act purporting to be done by such public officer in his official capacity until the expiration of two months. The object of the notice is to give Secretary of State or the public officer an opportunity to reconsider his legal position and to make amends or afford restitution without recourse to a court of law.[i]

This section has been enacted as a measure of public policy and the underlying purpose is the advancement of justice and securing of public good by avoidance of unnecessary litigation.[ii] Further, it has been intended to alert the Government or a public officer to negotiate just claims and to settle them if well-founded without adopting an unreasonable attitude by inflicting wasteful expenditure on the public exchequer.[iii]

The Supreme Court, in the landmark case of Bihari Chowdhary v. State of Bihar[iv] has stated that “The object of the section is the advancement of justice and the securing of public good by avoidance of unnecessary litigation.” This project analyses the position of the section as it stands today and its applicability.

NOTICE UNDER SECTION 80(1)

Suits between individuals require no notice to be given to the defendant by the plaintiff before the filing of a suit. However as per Section 80 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, no suit will be instituted against the Government or against a public officer with regards to any act done by such an officer in his official capacity, until the expiration of two months after the notice in writing has been delivered to, or left at the office of:

(a) in the case of a suit against the Central Government, except where it relates to a railway, a Secretary to that Government;

b) in the case of a suit against the Central Government where it relates to a railway, the General Manager of that railway;

(c) in the case of a suit against the Government of the State of Jammu and Kashmir, the Chief Secretary to that Government or any other officer authorised by that Government in this behalf;

(d) in the case of a suit against any other State Government, a Secretary to that Government or the Collector of the district;

(e) in the case of a public officer, delivered to him or left at his office, stating the cause of action, the name, description and place of residence of the plaintiff and the relief which he claims.[v]

AMENDMENT

The amendment to this section had made some changes in 1976. By the amending act of 1976 section 80 has been extensively amended. Main changes consist of in the insertion of subsection (2) and (3) which are totally new. Sub-section (2) has been inserted to permit the institution of a suit without notice but subject to the important restriction prohibiting the grant of ‘relief in the suit whether interim or otherwise’ except after giving a reasonable opportunity of showing cause in respect of the relief prayed for in the suit. Subsection (3) prohibits dismissal of a suit where the notice, has been given but suffers from certain technical deficiencies.

It is expected from public authorities that they will let the plaintiff know their stand within the statutory period or in any case if has chooses to take up litigation. In certain cases, the court may be obliged to draw an adverse presumption if the notice is not acknowledged or telling the plaintiff of its stand and if no stand is taken during the trial it may be considered as an afterthought.[vi]

NATURE AND APPLICABILITY

Section 80 enumerates two types of cases i) suits against the government, and ii) suits against public officers in respect of acts done or purporting to be done by such public officers in their official capacity. Regarding the former, the notice is required to be given in all cases. Regarding the latter, notice is necessary only when the suit is in respect of any act “Purporting to be done” by the public officer in the discharge of his duty, not in any other cases.[vii] Although it has been said that substantive rights are to be determined in accordance with the provision of the Constitution[viii], Section 80 of the Code is not a procedural provision, but a substantive one.[ix]

A statutory body may be an instrumentality of the state within the meaning of Art. 12 of the Constitution[x], nevertheless, it would not answer the description of ‘government’ as it is understood in law and in the context of S. 80.[xi]

This section is explicit and mandatory and admits of no implications or exceptions.[xii] The language of this section is imperative and absolutely debars a court from entertaining a suit instituted without compliance with its provisions. If the provisions of the section are not complied with, the plaint must be rejected under O. 7, r. 11(d)[xiii].

Section 80 is mandatory and a suit filed before the expiry of the period of two months, which does not necessarily mean 60 days but has to be calculated month-wise[xiv], after the serving of notice as per S. 80(1) is not maintainable.[xv]

LAW COMMISSION OF INDIA

The Law Commission of India did not favor in retaining the provision of issuing notice under S. 80 before filing a suit by the aggrieved party. It cited as a reason, inter alia, the hardship involved in a large number of cases where immediate relief was needed. The evidence disclosed that in a large majority of cases, the Government or the public officer made no use of the opportunity afforded by the section. In most cases, the notice remained unanswered.[xvi] In large number of cases, Government and public officers utilized the provision as a “technical defence” and in a number of cases, the objection has been upheld by the Court defeating just claims of the citizens.[xvii]

The matter was again considered by the third Law commission in the twenty-seventh report where it noted that it was unable to find a parallel provision in any other country governed by the Anglo-Saxon system of law. It opined that in a democratic country like India there should ordinarily be no distinction, as is created by Section 80, between the citizen and the State.[xviii]

The Joint Committee of Parliament, however, has, in “public interest”[xix], favored the retention of the issuance of notice under S. 80, after having considered the reasoning and recommendations of the Law Commissions.

ESSENTIALS

A notice under S. 80 must contain

  1. name, description, and place of residence of the person giving notice;
  2. a statement of the cause of action; and
  3. the relief claimed by him.

In considering whether the essential requirements of the section have been complied with, the Court should ask the following questions:[xx]

  1. Whether the name, description, and residence of the plaintiff are given so as to enable the authorities to identify the person giving the notice?
  2. Whether the cause of action and the relief which the plaintiff claims have been set out with sufficient particulars?
  3. Whether such notice in writing has been delivered to or left at the office of the appropriate authority mentioned in the section? ; and
  4. Whether the suit has been instituted after the expiration of two months after notice has been served, and the plaint contains a statement that such a notice has been so delivered or left?

NOTICE WHETHER EMPTY FORMALITY?

The statutory notice served in pursuance of section 80, serves the objective of providing an opportunity to the government or a public officer to take the matter in the reconsideration and take an appropriate decision which is in accordance with law. The notice by itself was not intended to be an empty formality but it has become one.

The administration is often unresponsive and shows no courtesy even to intimate the aggrieved party why his claim is not accepted[xxi]. The reason behind the enactment of this section was as a measure of public policy, the purpose was the advancement of justice and securing of the good of the people by avoiding unnecessary litigation.

Krishna Iyer J.  has stated “ We like to emphasize that Governments must be made accountable by Parliamentary social audit for wasteful litigation expenditure inflicted on the community by inaction. A statutory notice of the proposed action under S. 80 C.P.C. is intended to alert the State to negotiate a just settlement or at least have the courtesy to tell the potential outsider why the claim is being resisted.

Now S. 80 has become a ritual because the administration is often unresponsive and hardly lives up to the Parliament’s expectation in continuing s. 80 in the Code despite the Central Law Commission’s recommendations for its deletion”[xxii]

The law commission was in fact against the provision of issuing a notice under section 80, before more than fifty years it has noticed that the section had inflicted hardship in cases where immediate relief was needed and in most of the cases the notice remained unanswered.

NOTICE WHETHER MANDATORY?

The provisions in section 80 are express and explicit by themselves and make the serving of notice mandatory by not admitting any implications or exceptions. They are imperative in nature and must be strictly complied with. Notice whether under section 80 is the first step in the litigation.[xxiii]A court cannot entertain any suit unless the notice is duly served to the public official under section 80(1). If a section had done injustice, it is a matter which can be rectified by the legislature and not by a court.[xxiv]

A plaintiff filed a suit to stop the tax officer from selling the suit property he purchased from the defendant, who was in arrears of income tax, it was held by the court that the central government was a necessary party to the suit. Hence unless a notice has been served under Section 80, the suit will not be maintainable[xxv]

The section is imperative and must undoubtedly be strictly construed; failure to serve a notice complying with the requirements of the statute will entail dismissal of the suit.[xxvi]

Construction of Notice: As mentioned before the compliance with section 80 by serving a notice is mandatory. But it is a procedural provision, a means by which the court impart justice. A notice under this section must not be construed in a pedantic manner divorced from common sense[xxvii]

Pollock has stated that We must import a little common sense into the notice of this kind. A statutory notice must be reasonably construed, keeping in mind the ultimate objective that an interpretation should not lead to injustice.Every venial defect or error not going to the root of the matter cannot be allowed to defeat justice or to afford an excuse to the government or a public officer to deny just claim of an aggrieved party”[xxviii]

The question has to be decided by reading the whole notice in totality and in a reasonable manner. If the notice on such a reading the court is satisfied that the information which was necessary to be provided to the defendants by the plaintiff was in fact provided, inconsequential defects or error is immaterial and will not vitiate the notice. The provisions of the section are not intended to be used as booby-traps against ignorant and illiterate persons.[xxix]

ACT PURPORTING TO BE IN OFFICIAL CAPACITY

The expression “any act to be done by such public officer in his official capacity” takes within its sweep acts as also illegal omission. Likewise, it also covers the past as well as future acts. All acts done or which could have been done under the color or guise by an officer in the ordinary course of his official duties would be included therein[xxx].If the allegations in the plaint relate to an act which was purported to be done by a public officer in his official capacity means that the said act must be such that it could be done ordinarily by a person in the ordinary course of his official duties. It does not cover acts outside the sphere of his duties [xxxi]There must be something in the very nature of the act complained of which attaches to the official character of the person doing it.[xxxii]

The test to be applied in these cases is whether the officer can reasonably claim protection for the acts that he commits or that it was performed by him purely in his private or individual capacity. In the case of him claiming protection notice under Section 80 is necessary, and in case it was performed by him purely in his private or individual capacity it is not.[xxxiii]

WAIVER OF NOTICE

Although, Under Section 80 of the civil procedure code mandates issuance of a notice for the institution of notice, it is considered to be a mere procedural requirement and not a substantive need. This is because the issuance of a notice does not necessarily affect the jurisdiction of the court in question. In the case of Dhina Singh v. Union Of India, It was held that this notice is for the benefit of the government or the public officer, it is the prerogative of the government to choose to waive the right[xxxiv].  Furthermore in the case, Commr. Of taxes v. Golak Nath, it was held by the courts that the facts of the particular case were vital to see if the right could be waivered or not. [xxxv]

FORM OF NOTICE

No particular has been prescribed under the code. Due to the above, there is no need to give it in any particular form to give a notice under Section 80. The mere satisfaction of all conditions prescribed in this section is sufficient. Also, in the Amar Nath v. Union of India, it was held that the notice must merely inform the opposite party about the nature and the basis of the claim and relief sought.[xxxvi]

MODE OF SERVICE

A notice submitted under section 80 of the civil procedure code must be given to, or left at the office of, the appropriate authority specified. This was held in the State of A.P V. Gundugola Venkata[xxxvii] . IT has been specified in the code as to who the appropriate authority is under section 80. As per the section, it must be given to the secretary of the department or the collector of the district. Under this section, personal delivery of the notice is not necessary, thus making the words “left at the office” redundant. The section, however, does not prohibit the personal delivery of the notice. It further allows the notice to be sent through registered post.

TECHNICAL DEFECT IN NOTICE: SECTION 80(3)

The Code of Civil Procedure (Amendment) Act, 1976 gives a lot of clarity on a suit issued against the government if there is a defect in the notice issued. The Amendment added Subsection 3 to section 80 whereby it has been explicitly stated that no suit against the government has been dismissed merely on the ground of defective notice. It also adds that in such a case the name, residence or the residence of the plaintiff is specified in the notice, allowing for the identification of the plaintiff in the notice delivered or left at the authority or public officer and the cause of action and the relief claimed by the plaintiff had been substantially indicated therein. This means that if the notice contained basic details, it would be sufficient.

The above amendment to the code was made with the intention that justice is not denied to the aggravated parties on the grounds of technical defects. Therefore, a notice under section 80 cannot be held to be invalid and no suit can be dismissed on the grounds that there has been a certain technical defect or error in the notice delivered or on the ground that such notice was served in an improper way.[xxxviii]

Also, the joint committee stated the following”

“The committee also feels that with a view to seeing that the just claims of many persons are not defeated on technical grounds, the suit against the government or the public officer should not be dismissed merely by reason of any technical defect or error in the notice or any irregularity in the service of the notice if the name, description and residence of the plaintiff have been so given in the notice as to enable the appropriate authority or public officer to identify the person serving the notice, and the notice had been delivered or left in the appropriate authority, and the cause of action and the relief claimed has been properly indicated in the notice.”[xxxix]

In copulating the period of limitation for instituting a suit against the government or public officer, the period of notice has to be excluded. [xl]

LEAVE OF COURT: SECTION 80(2)

Through the amendment made to the civil procedure code in 1976, subsection 2 was added to section 80. As per this, the aggrieved party can institute a suit against the government for obtaining urgent or immediate relief with the leave of the court even without serving the notice to the government or public office.[xli]This subsection, thus, engrafts an exception to the rule laid down in subsection (1) of section 80 and allows the plaintiff to obtain urgent relief in grave cases even without issuing the notice.[xlii]

The main objective of this is to prevent any failure or miscarriage of injustice in urgent cases. It is the urgency and immediate relief which would weigh with the court while dealing with a prayer to dispense with the requirement of notice and not the merits of the case.[xliii] Subsection (2) however, is enacted in such a way that in this type of case, the court will not have any authority to grant relief, interim or otherwise, unless a reasonable opportunity has been given to the government to show cause in respect of the relief prayed for in the suit.

WRIT PETITION

As per Section 80 of the code, it can be stated that a writ petition filed under article 32 and article 226 of the constitution does not constitute a suit as per the definition and scope of this section. Hence, prior notice to the government or public officer is not necessary before filing a petition in the Supreme Court or in a high court[xliv]

Computation of Suit:

In computing the period of limitation for filing a suit, the period of notice should be excluded.[xlv]

Premature Suit:

A suit instituted before the expiry of two months of notice as required by section 80 of the code is liable to be dismissed only on that ground[xlvi]

Appeal:

An order passed under section 80 is neither a decree nor an appealable order, and hence, no appeal lies against the order. [xlvii]

Revision:

Under Section 115 of the code, an order given under Section 80 is revisable as it considered as a “case decided”. If a court subordinate to the High Court makes an order which is patently illegal and suffers from jurisdictional error, then it can be rectified by the High Court.[xlviii]

Title of Suit: Section 79:

In any suit filed against the Government, The Government or the authority against whom the case is filed shall be named as a party in the following manner

  1. In case of a suit by or against the central government, the Union of India
  2. In the case of a suit by or against the state government, the State.[xlix]

The statement in Plaint:

Even after the expiration of two months, a plaint can be presented before the court. This must contain a statement which, under section 80 of the code, has a statutory notice which has been delivered or left as per subsection (1) of section 80. An omission to make such a statement is fatal, and in its absence, the plaint will be rejected by the court.[l]

Parties:

Where a suit is filed against a public officer in respect of any act purporting to be done in his official capacity, the government should be joined as a party to the suit.[li]

PROCEDURE: RULE 27

In the case where there is a suit filed by or against the Government, then such a plaint will have to be signed by any authorized person appointed by the Government. It is also necessary that this person is well versed with facts of the case. If such a person is authorized by the government, then he shall be deemed to be a recognized agent of the Government as per the Civil procedure code. It has also been given in the code that multiple summons may be issued to a government pleader.

There is no need for the state counsel to file a Vakalatnama. Reasonable time should be granted to the government for filing a written statement.[lii] The courts, in all cases, must assist the Government to arrive at a settlement in all cases where it is a party. This is considered as one of the main duties of the court. There are instances where the suit filed may have a substantial question of law or that it may require the interpretation of the law or the constitution.

In such cases, the court will need to send a notice to the Attorney General, if the question is regarding a central law or it will need to send a notice to the advocate general if the suit deals with state law. This has been given in Order 27-A of the Code.

OTHER PRIVILEGES

In the case where a suit has been brought up against any public officer, then it has been dictated by Rule 5-A that the Government must be a joined party to the suit. An obligation has been bestowed on the courts by Rule 5-B to assist the government or the public officer in question is coming to a settlement. Whenever the public servant is the defendant, then rule 7 ensures that there is a reasonable amount of time given to the public servant to make a reference to the government. Rule 8-A protects all those official against whom suits have been filed when they were discharging their duty or acting in an official capacity.

Section 81 is also considered as an important privilege given to a public servant. It allows the court to exempt the public servant from appearing before the court. It can do this only if believes that by making the person absenting himself from his duty, there is a loss caused to the public. It has also been stated under section 82 that no execution will be entertained by any court against any decree passed by the government is a public officer. The only condition that must be fulfilled for seeking this is that it must be unsatisfied for three months since the date the decree was passed.[liii]

CONCLUSION

This project has explained what suits against the government and public officials are. The project starts off by saying what exactly is stated in Section 80(1) which explains how a suit must be filed. After this, it was felt that there had to be a special emphasis given to the amendment and how it changed the whole sections pertinent to the above topic.

There is also a mention about the nature and applicability of such suits with a mention about the various essentials mentioned under Section 80. This project also tries to answer some of the questions with respect to this topic such as whether notices in this matter is just a mere formality or if they are mandatory. As this is with respect to government and public officers, this project also speaks about what happens to acts that are conducted in an official capacity.

After concluding the above topics, this project attempts to elucidate the various aspects of these types of suits. It speaks about whether rights granted under this can be waived, the forms in which notices can be served and also the modes in which these have to be served. As Justice Sen stated, “laws can survive only on a technicality.” Keeping in view with it, this project speaks about some of the technicality of law, like what happens when there is a technical defection in the notice, or about the exclusion period of the notice or when there is a need for a judgment on an urgent basis.

Additionally, this project talks about the procedure when writs are files, or when there is a premature suit, on appeal or if there is a revision. In conclusion, this project speaks about procedure given under rule 27 and other privileges given to parties.

Formatted on March 21st, 2019.

REFERENCES:

[i] Ghanshyam Das v. Union of India, (1984) 3 SCC Del 298.-

[ii] Mulla on the Code of Civil Procedure, J.M. Shelat, 18th edn., LexisNexis Butterworths

[iii] State of Punjab v. Geeta Iron & Brass Works Ltd., (1978) 1 SCC 68.

[iv] AIR 1984 SC 1043

[v] Civil Procedure, Justice C. K. Thakker (Takwani), 7th edn., Eastern Book Company, Lucknow

[vi] New India Assurance Co. Ltd v. Delhi Development authority A 1991 Del 298,301

[vii] State of Maharashtra v. Chander Kant, (1977) 1 SCC 257

[viii] Nirmal Chand v. Union of India, AIR 1966 SC 1068

[ix] Kanhayalal Osawl v. Govt. of India, AIR 1974 Guj 37

[x] Sukhdev Singh v. Bhagat Ram, AIR 1975 SC 1331.

[xi] Minakshi Patra v. Secretary, Irrigation and Power, Court of Orissa, AIR 1999 Ori 137.

[xii] Ramabrahma v. Dominion of India AIR 1958 Cal 183.

[xiii] Jagadish Chandra v. Debendraprasad AIR 1931 Cal 503.

[xiv] Laxmi Narain v. State AIR 1977 Pat 73.

[xv] Bihari Chowdhry v. State of Bihar AIR 1984 SC 1043.

[xvi] Civil Procedure, Justice C. K. Thakker (Takwani), 7th edn., Eastern Book Company, Lucknow, p. 428.

[xvii] Law Commission’s Fourteenth Report, pp. 475-476.

[xviii] Law Commission’s Twenty-seventh Report, pp. 21-22.

[xix] Report of the Joint Committee.

[xx] State of A.P. v. Gundugola Venkata, AIR 1965 SC 11.

[xxi] Bihari Chowdhary v. State of Bihar ,(1984) 2 SCC 627

[xxii] State Of Punjab v. M/S. Geeta Iron & Brass Works Ltd, 1978 AIR 1608

[xxiii] State of  Seraikella  v. Union of India 1951 SCR 474

[xxiv] Bhagchand v. Secy. Of State AIR 1927 PC 176

[xxv] Prakash textiles v.Tax recovery Officer  AIR (1983) kant 174.

[xxvi] Ghanshyam Dass v.Dominion of India 1984 3 SCC 46.

[xxvii] State of Madras v. C.P. Agencies AIR 1960 SC 1309

[xxviii] Jones v.Nicholls, (1844) 13 M & W 361:153 ER 149

[xxix] Raghunath Das v. Union of India AIR 1969 SC 674;

[xxx] Samanthalal Koti v. Pothuri Subbiah AIR 1918 Mad 62

[xxxi] Ibid.

[xxxii] State of Maharastra v. Chander Kant (1977) 1 SCC 257 at p.260

[xxxiii] Amalgamated Electricity co.(Belagaum) Ltd. v Municipal committee Ajmer AIR 1969 SC 227

[xxxiv] AIR 1958 SC 274

[xxxv] AIR 1979 Gau 10

[xxxvi] AIR 1963 SC 424

[xxxvii] AIR 1965 SC 11

[xxxviii] Section 80 of the Indian Procedure Code

[xxxix] Report of the joint committee, gazette on India dt. 1-4-1976

[xl] S.15, Limitation Act, 1963. Also in Jai Chand v Union of India (1969) 3 SCC 642

[xli] Ghanshyam Das v. Dominion of India AIR 1984 SC 1004

[xlii] Ibid.

[xliii] Civil Procedure, Justice C. K. Thakker (Takwani), 7th edn., Eastern Book Company, Lucknow

[xliv] Province of Bombay v. Khushaldas S Advani AIR 1950 SC 222

[xlv] S.15(2) Limitation act,1963

[xlvi] Bihari Chowdhary v. State of Bihar AIR 1984 SC 1043

[xlvii] Kailash Chandra v. State of MP AIR 1992 MP 242

[xlviii] Muktarei Devi v State of Manipur AIR 1978 Gau 17

[xlix] State of A.P v. Gundugola Venkata AIR 1965 SC 11

[l] Section 79, Civil Procedure code,1908

[li] Order 27 rule 1

[lii] Northern Sub-division v. Comunidade of Bombolim , (1995) 5 SCC  333

[liii] Section 84 , Civil Procedure Code, 1908

10 Replies to “Suits brought by or against Government or Public Officers”

  1. AN APPLICATION BY A PERSON TO LOCAL AUTHORITY TO ASK FOR A REILIEF WILL AMOUNT TO SERVICE OF NOTICE ? WILL IT DISPENSEWITH THE LEGAL NOTICE ENVISAGED?

  2. Full of copy of takwani book of cpc. Looks like admin is not looking that whether it is original or copyrighted material. The funny thing is that they issue ISSN number for it.

  3. can I have the name of parties in which “a suit/claim would not be entertained in which Government was required to be made a party to the dispute and not having so done”

  4. It has given a clear picture as to why a notice u/s 80 CPC is to be issued and to whom. But the fact remains that government department. have a tendency that they are not answerable to the question. raised by petitioners because there is no system in place to account for tapal sent by public. Futher there is no bio metric attenance to know the movement of a government servant who report for duty and his volume of work done by him during the office hours. My opinion is that a last grade government servant is getting around Rs.20,000/_ and a junior assistant is getting around Rs.25,000/_ but they are not doing duty for Rs.50/_ So the present pay and allowances per month based on attendance shall be made as fee for each file shall be fixed.

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