Supreme Court: In cases of the Complex Factual Matrix, the High Court has the discretion to entertain a Writ Petition

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An appeal before the Supreme Court arises from the decision of the Division Bench based on a writ petition filed by the Respondent against the Appellant – Bank in the case of Punjab National Bank & Ors. V. Atmanand Singh & Ors.

Facts of the case

The Respondent had borrowed a certain sum of money from the Appellant and the same was due with interest. After some time the Respondent’s son was diagnosed with cancer and the Respondent sold gold jewellery and approached the Appellant for issuance of bank drafts. The amount was transferred to the loan account against the outstanding dues. The petitioner made grievance before the Branch Manager and thereafter approached the District Magistrate.

The District Magistrate made an enquiry and initiated proceedings wherein various officials were examined. Where after, an agreement was signed by one and all in the presence of Circle Officer and under the overall supervision of the District Magistrate. According to the Agreement the Appellant, after adjusting the amount due by the Respondent, was obligated to keep the remaining in the Fixed Deposit. The Respondent (Petitioner) filed a writ application against the bank’s refusal to honour the Agreement.

Arguments before the Court

The Appellant – Bank contested the writ petition on two grounds, first, on maintainability of the writ petition, second, the money claim set up by the Respondent based on alleged Agreement. The Bank denied the existence of the Agreement based on which the Petitioner claimed the disputed amount.

The Appellant also denied the existence of all the documents annexed with the writ petition and asserted that the documents were forged and fabricated. The Single Judge, as well as the Division Bench rejecting the contention of the Bank, recorded that the plethora of documents brought on record could not have been fabricated and held that the banks wanted to “wriggle out of the ticklish situation by raising technical objections”.

The Appellant – Bank had produced affidavits to deny the deposit of any amount by the Respondent and denying being signatory to the Agreement. Similarly, the District Magistrate’s affidavit was submitted asserting that he was never appointed as an enquiry officer. The Bank also challenged the maintainability of the writ petition on the ground that the High Court could not entertain matters involving complex factual matters. A similar stance has been taken by the Appellant – Bank before the Supreme Court.

The Respondents disputed on the ground that the High Court has wide including the power to cross-examine and enquire into all matters under Art. 226 of the Constitution. The Respondents further submitted that the certified copies warrant presumption about its genuineness and that the Agreement was indeed executed.

Court’s View

The facts admitted before the Court suggest that there was no unanimity between the Appellant and the Respondent on the relevant facts. The learned single Judge without analyzing the contentions of the Appellant – Bank proceeded to make observations against the Bank. The Division Bench similarly was misled by the plethora of documents relied on the Respondent and assumed that the documents could not have been forged. There was no analysis of the relevant documents, especially the Agreement which was specifically denied by the Appellant – Bank.

Moreover, the High Court could not have disregarded the jurisdictional issue and as pointed out by the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court in Thansingh Nathmal & Ors. v. Superintendent of Taxes, Dhubri & Ors., AIR 1964 SC 1419, that there are certain self-imposed limitations on the jurisdiction of the High Court under Art. 226 of the Constitution. The High Court will not ordinarily entertain a petition under Art. 226 if there exists an alternative remedy, which without being unduly onerous, provides an equally efficacious remedy.

Furthermore, the Court observed the decision of the Court in Suganmal v. State of Madhya Pradesh & Ors., AIR 1965 SC 1740 is befitting on the reasoning that no petition   for   the   issue   of   a   writ   of mandamus   will   be   normally   entertained   for   the purpose of merely ordering a refund of money to the return of which the petitioner claims a right. Similarly, the Court in Smt. Gunwat Kaur v. Bhatinda Municipality, (1969) 3 SCC 769 observed as follows:

“When the petition raises questions of fact of a complex nature, which may for their determination require oral evidence to be taken, and on that account, the High Court is of the view that the dispute may not appropriately be tried in a writ petition, the High Court may decline to try a petition.”

Accordingly, the Supreme Court noted that the High Court erred in accepting the petition and it should have loathed entertaining the writ petition. Also, with regards to the affidavits, the Court noted that the documents are required to be proved by the party relying upon it by examining the competent witnesses and since the same was absent in the present case the Court allowed the Appeal.

Court’s Decision

The Court allowed the appeal and as a consequence set aside the decisions of the Single Judge and the Division Bench, however, the Respondent was at liberty to file appropriate alternative remedy and the proceedings before the appropriate forum was to be uninfluenced by the observations on the factual matrix by this Court.


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