In the High Court of Madras Equivalent Citation: (1895) ILR 18 Mad 88 Appellants Damodara Mudaliar and Ors. Respondent Secretary of State of India Decided on 18 October, 1894 Bench Arthur John Hammond Collins, C.J. and Hale Horatio Shephard, J.
In this case, the application of section 70 of the Indian Contract Act (1872) was in question. Section 70 of the Act speaks about the obligation of person enjoying benefit of non-gratuitous act. According to this section, any person who enjoys the benefit of a non-gratuitous act done lawfully by another person becomes liable to compensate such person with respect to the non-gratuitous act done. In this case, the rule of law that nobody should benefit at the expense of another was upheld.
The Parayankulattur tank irrigated eleven villages. Earlier, all the 11 villages were zamindari villages. Later, seven of those villages were severed from zamindari and became ordinary ryotwari villages under the control of the Government. The tank was in need of repairs and the Government carried out the repairs for the preservation of the tank. The Government sought proportional contribution from the appellant zamindars towards the costs of the repair. The appellants denied their liability contending that the Government was bound to do the repairs at its own expense and not entitled to charge the zamindars. The question in this case was whether the zamindars who were proprietors of the villages irrigated by the tank could be held liable for the expenses of its repair incurred by the Government.
Contentions of the appellants:
- The Government was bound to do the repairs of the Parayankulattur tank at its own expense and not entitled to charge the zamindars.
- There was no contract between the appellants and the respondents which could give rise to any joint liability which could in turn give rise to an action for contributionas held in Leigh v. Dickenson L.R. 15 Q.B.D. 60.
- The District Judge had not made a fair apportionment of the cost of the work, having regard to the interests of the Government villages and zamindars’ villages in the irrigation secured by the tank.
Contentions of the respondent:
- Under section 70 of the Indian Contract Act (1872), the appellants are liable to pay the Government as they benefit from the repair of the tank as the tank irrigates the zamindari villages as well.
- The act of repairing the tank was not intended to be a non-gratuitous act by the Government.
- The appellants were aware of the repairs being executed and had not disapproved of the same.
- Whether the repairs were executed for the benefit of the appellants?
- Whether the Government acted lawfully in executing the repairs?
- Whether the Government intended the act to be non-gratuitous?
The Hon’ble Court while considering the appellants’ first contention that there was no contract between the appellants and the respondents which could give rise to any joint liability which could in turn give rise to an action for contribution referred to the case Leigh v. Dickenson L.R. 15 Q.B.D. 60 in which the parties were tenants-in-common of a house, and the claim made was in respect of money expended on substantial and proper repairs. The statement of law made in this case that where an outlay is in the nature of salvage, all interested in the thing saved are bound to contribute was held to be incorrect in various later decisions like Lampleigh v. Brathwaite 1 Smith’s Leading cases 160. As a general rule, a man cannot be made liable for goods and services rendered under circumstances giving him no option of declining or accepting.
The Hon’ble Court distinguished the present case from the aforementioned case on the grounds of dissimilar facts and the non-availability of the remedy of partition. There was no common obligation to repair the tank because the appellants and the respondents were separately liable to their tenants for the maintenance of the tank and not jointly. The exception which covers the case of joint debtors where one debtor pays the whole debt was found to be not applicable here. If relied upon English authorities, the liability of the appellants would be non-existent in the instant case.
However, section 70 of the Indian Contract Act (1872) lays down a rule of law different from the English authorities. Under this section to establish a right of action at the suit of a person who does anything for another, three conditions must be satisfied:
1. The thing must be done lawfully.
2. It must be done by a person not intending to act gratuitously.
3. The person for whom the act is done must enjoy the benefit of it.
Under this section, it is not essential that the act should have been necessarily done due to circumstances of pressing emergencyorfor the preservation of the property. The application of this section is not limited to persons standing in particular relations to one another. The only requirement for its application is that the act should be lawful.
According to an illustration given in England v. Marsden L.R. 1 C.P. 529,the fact that the respondent had an interest in the matter may show that he was acting on his own account only. However, section 69 and Moule v. Garrett (L.R. 5 Ex. 132 on appeal: L.R. 7 Ex. 101) show that a person doing an act in which he is himself interested may, at the same time, intend to act for another and hence, may be entitled to recover the money spent from the other. This principle couldn’t be applied in the instant case as the duty of the appellants and the respondent was related to the doing of work and not the payment of money.The Hon’ble Court held that the Government acted non-gratuitously while doing the repair as there was some evidence to show that the act was not intended to be done gratuitously and there was no evidence to the contrary.
The Hon’ble Court while deciding whether in executing the repairs the Government acted lawfully, opined that the section should not be read in such a way as to justify the officious interference of one man with the affairs or property of another, or to impose obligations in respect of services which the person sought to be charged did not wish to have rendered.In the instant case, it was held that the Government had acted lawfully in repairing the tank. Irrespective of whether the act was done with a view of benefiting all the villages under the tank or the Government villages only, and irrespective of whether or not it was done with the intention of charging the zamindars, the act was held to be lawful. The fact that the zamindars knew of the intention to execute the repairs and did not disapprove shows that the act was done lawfully for them.
While deciding whether the appellants had enjoyed the benefits of the repair, the Hon’ble Court stated the need to ascertain the irrigable area of the villages owned by the Government and the zamindars, respectively. Prima facie, it appeared that the Government derived more benefit from the repair of the tank than the appellants as the majority of the villages irrigated by the tank were ryotwari villages. The District Judge in his findings stated that the appellants had undoubtedly enjoyed the benefits of the repair. The Hon’ble Court accepted the findings and dismissed the appeal with costs. The appellants were held liable to pay the necessary proportion of the cost of the repair of the tank incurred by the respondent.
In this case, the court interpreted the application of section 70 of the Indian Contract Act (1872) keeping in mind the rule of law that no person should benefit at the cost of another. This case laid down the principle that while applying section 70, the fact that the party who committed the non-gratuitous act had a personal interest in the matter would not render him ineligible to recover proportional contribution from those who have enjoyed the benefits of his act. This case also laid down that while applying section 70 it was not necessary for the party who did the non-gratuitous act to prove that it was done under a situation of pressing emergency in order to recover compensation for such act from the party who benefitted from it.
Edited by Parul Soni
Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje