This Case Summary is written by Kritika Soni, a student of National Law Institute University, Bhopal
Plaintiff alleged that his father’s will deed, which conveyed the whole estate to defendant, plaintiff’s nephew, was influenced by undue influence on the donor. The deed, on the other hand, specifies that the property was given out of natural love and affection between the donor and the defendant. The main issue in this case was whether there had been undue influence.
Prasanna Kumar, the plaintiff’s father, owned land in two villages, Parbatipur and Lokepur, with an eight annas portion in each. Although the actual value of the properties is unknown, it is reasonable to presume that the Lokepur properties, which are the focus of the lawsuit, were the more valuable. Prasanna Kumar, who was almost 90 years old at the time of his death, died in February of 1948.
He had two sons, Ganga Prosad, the plaintiff, and Balaram, the second defendant in the claim, as well as a daughter Swarnalata and an only grandson Subhas Chandra, the first defendant. Ganga Prosad did not have a son. From 1932 until 1934, he worked at the Bankura Medical School. Following that, he worked as a contractor for a year. From November 1944 to November 1948, he was a member of the Searsole Raj Estate. Prasanna and his wife, their two sons and their wives, as well as Prasanna’s grandson Subhas Chandra and Prasanna’s daughter Swarnalata, who had become a widow in her childhood and was living with her parents, made up the family. Balaram appears to have always lived with his father and never worked elsewhere. According to the plaintiff’s own testimony, he was looking after his father’s property so long as he was in Bankura. The Lokepur properties were auctioned off in response to a court order for rent arrears, and Prasanna Benami purchased them under Swarnalata’s name. The gift deed demonstrates that the transaction was made out of the donor’s natural love and care for the donee, as well as the grand-respect son’s and admiration for his grandfather. He was not, according to the complaint. The lawsuit was filed in 1952, more than eight years after the transaction took place and more than four years after Prasanna died. There is substantial evidence that between 1944 and 1948, Balaram, acting as the natural guardian of his son Subhas Chandra, effected a number of settlements of various plots of land in village Lokepur, all of which included the recitation of the Nirupan Patra and the signature of Prasanna as an attesting witness. These agreements were reached in collaboration with Prasanna’s other co-sharers. The Municipal Commissioners of Bankura initiated a lawsuit against Prasanna in 1947 to reclaim unpaid taxes. In that suit, Prasanna made a written statement declaring that he had no interest in the property. The Municipal Commissioners did not serve the plaintiff with a writ of summons in the suit after Prasanna’s death, instead obtaining an ex parte decree against Balaram. The petitioner claims that he never learned about any of the land settlements in Lokepur after 1944, despite attending his father’s funeral in 1948. He admitted to paying no rent to the superior landlords and said that he learned about the deed of settlement from his relatives two years before the complaint was filed, none of whom were called as witnesses.
Questions Of Law (Legal Issues Raised)
The following issues are the legal issues or questions of law that were raised in this matter:
- Whether the gift deed was induced by undue influence?
The Apex Court firstly proceeded to consider what the essential ingredients of undue influence were and about how a plaintiff that’s currently seeking relief on its ground, after being called upon to show that the deed of gift or the contractual agreement was not induced by undue influence, shall proceed to prove his case. They acknowledge that the case in question consisted of a gift deed but the law relating to undue influence is the same in any case, regardless of a contract or a gift.
The case of Raghunath Prasad v. Sarju Prasad was considered, where the three stages for considering undue influence were explained and the Court had held that
Firstly, the relationship of the parties shall be such where one party is in a position to dominate the will of another.
Once that has been substantiated with evidence, whether a contract has been induced by undue influence is to be determined.
The third stage is that of onus probandi, which means that if the transaction seems to be unconscionable, the burden would be on the person who’s in a position to dominate the will of another, to prove that the contract has not been induced by undue influence.
The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in the case of Poosathurai v. Kappanna Chettiar stated that while determining the relation of the parties with one another, it shall also be noted that just because the parties were very nearly related to each other does not give rise to a presumption of undue influence. They stated that it would be a mistake to think that undue influence may be proven by showing that the parties’ relationships were such that one naturally relied on the other for advice, and the other was in a position to override the first’s will in offering it. More than mere influence must be demonstrated in order for influence to be deemed “undue” in law. The law on undue influence in embodied in Section 16 of the Indian Contract Act that is based on English Common Law, as noted in the judgement of SC’s Ladli Prasad Jaiswal v. Karnal Distillery Co. Ltd. According to Halsbury’s Laws of England, there’s no assumption of undie influence in cases of gifts to a son-in-law, grandson or son, even if they’re made during a donor’s illness and days before his death. Generally, these presumptions would arise in relationships between a doctor and patient, parent and child, lawyer and client, etc. Sec 16 (2) of Contract Act also shows that an undue influence can also arise where the done has a real or apparent authority over the done or is in a fiduciary relationship with the donor.
However, the Court said that the plaint included no pleading of undue influence as it referred to Order 6, Rule 4 of the Code of Civil Procedure as stressed on in the case of Ladli Prasad Jaiswal where it was observed that a general or vague plea would not serve the purpose of finding out whether case on undue influence has been made out. Rather, the party pleading shall be required to plead the precise and exact nature of the influence exercised, the manner in which it was used and the unfair advantage to the other party. The court found that there was no suggestion in the plaint that pointed to Prasanna being under the domination of Balaram or that he exercised his power in such a way so as to get the document executed and registered by Prasanna. It also stated that the High Court did not find Balram to be in a position to dominate the will of his father nor that the transaction to be an unconscionable one and that it the judges made presumptions which were neither supported by facts nor warranted by law.
The judges of this case held that the High Court’s decision was wrong and cannot be upheld. They also noted how they didn’t think it was necessary for the Additional Solicitor General to argue that the suit was defective because the judges were already of the view that undue influence had neither been alleged sufficiently on the pleadings nor had been substantiated with evidence. And so, the appeal of the Petitioner was allowed and the decree of the trial court as well as the High Court was set aside.
This case in question related to whether undue influence could be considered as the necessity of plea raised in pleadings and it ruled that before examining whether undue influence has been exercised or not, it must scrutinise the pleadings to find out whether all particulars of undue influence have been fulfilled or not and in the instant case, they could not be sufficiently substantiated. Under Section 16 of the Indian Contract Act, the first thing is to prove whether one party was indeed in a position to dominate the will of the other or not. But mere close relationship between the parties does not give rise to a party having an unfair advantage over the other.
Critical Analysis/ Suggestions
The Supreme Court in this case has rightly held that the High Court’s decision was wrong and that it cannot be upheld since the first two stages of determining whether there has been undue influence were completely ignored and not substantiated by evidence in the High Court to prove that Balaram was in a position to dominate the will of his father and nor did the court find the transaction to be an unconscionable one. Hence, the appeal was allowed and the judgement of the High Court was set aside and the decree of the trial court was restored. The respondents also had to pay the appellant, the costs throughout.
  1 SCR 270