Case Laws Companies Act Harinagar Sugar Mills Ltd Vs Shyam Sunder Jhunjhunwala and Others

PETITIONER:
M/S. HARINAGAR SUGAR MILLS LTD.

Vs.

RESPONDENT:
SHYAM SUNDAR JHUNJHUNWALA AND OTHERS

DATE OF JUDGMENT:
25/04/1961

BENCH:
SHAH, J.C.
BENCH:
SHAH, J.C.
AIYYAR, T.L. VENKATARAMA
DAS, S.K.
KAPUR, J.L.
HIDAYATULLAH, M.

CITATION:
1961 AIR 1669 1962 SCR (2) 339
CITATOR INFO :
R 1963 SC 874 (9)
RF 1964 SC 648 (11)
RF 1964 SC1140 (12)
R 1965 SC1222 (10)
R 1965 SC1595 (20)
E 1966 SC 671 (5,19)
RF 1966 SC1922 (5)
R 1967 SC1606 (11,14)
RF 1971 SC 321 (15)
D 1977 SC 567 (21)
RF 1977 SC2155 (24)
RF 1987 SC1629 (15)
RF 1990 SC1984 (22,23,27)
ACT:
Appeal-Company rufusing to register transfer of
shares–Appeal to Central Government-Decision in appeal–
Whether judicial-Central Government, if acts as a tribunal-
Special leave, if lies against decision-Powers of Central
Government in appeal–Whether giving of reasons for decision
essential–Companies Act, 1956, (1 of 1956) ss. 111 and 155-
Constitution of India, Art. 136.

 

HEADNOTE:
One B who held a large number of shares in the appellant
company, transferred two blocks of 100 shares each to his
son and daughter-in-law. The transferees applied to the
company to register the transfers. Purporting to act under
art. 47B of the Articles of Association of the company the
directors of the company resolved not to register the
transfers. Against this resolution the transferees
preferred appeals to the Central Government under s. III(3)
of the Companies Act, 1956. The Central Government, without
giving any reasons for its decision, set aside the
resolution of the directors and directed the company to
register the transfers. The company obtained special leave
to appeal against the decision of the Central Government
under Art. 136 of the Constitution and appealed to the
Supreme Court on the ground that the Central Government
acted in excess of its jurisdiction or otherwise acted
illegally in directing the company to register the
transfers. The respondents raised a preliminary objection
that the Central Government exercising appellate powers
under s. III of the Act (before its amendment in 1960) was
not a tribunal exercising judicial functions and was not
subject to the appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court
under Art. 136.
Held, that the appeal was competent to the Supreme Court by
special leave against the decision of the Central Government
under s. III (3) Of the Companies Act, 1956. The Central
Government, when exercising powers under s. III was a
tribunal within the meaning of Art. 136 and was required to
act judicially. A person aggrieved by the refusal to
register transfer of shares had two remedies under the Act,
viz., (1) to apply to the court for rectification of the
register under s. 155 or (2) to prefer an appeal under s.
III. The power of the Court under s. 155, which has
necessarily to be exercised judicially, and the power of the
Central Government under s. III have to be exercised subject
to the same restrictions. In both cases it has to be
340
decided whether the directors have acted oppressively,
capriciously corruptly or malafide. The decision has
manifestly to stand those objective tests and has not merely
to be founded on the subjective satisfaction of the
authority. In an appeal under S. III(3) there is a lis or
dispute between the contesting parties relating to their
civil rights, and the Central Government has to determine
the dispute according to law in the light of the evidence
and not on grounds of policy or expediency. There was thus
a duty imposed on the Central Government to act judicially.
The proviso to sub-s. (8) of s. III which provided for the
award of reasonable compensation in lieu of the shares in
certain circumstances also fortifies that view.
Shivji Nathubhai v. The Union of India, [1960] 2 S.C.R. 775,
Re Bell Brothers Ltd. Ex Parte Hodgson, (1891) 65 L.T. 245,
The Province of Bombay v. Kusaldas S. Advani, [1950] S.C.R.
621, The King v. London County Council, [1931] 2 K.B. 215
and The Bharat Bank Ltd., Delhi v. Employees of the Bharat
Bank Ltd., Delhi, [1950] S.C.R. 459, referred to.
In an appeal under s. 111(3) of the Act the Central Govern-
ment has to determine whether the exercise of the discretion
by the directors refusing to register the transfer is
malafide, arbitrary or capricious and whether it is in the
interest of the company. The decision of the Central
Government is subject to appeal to the Supreme Court under
Art. 136; the Supreme Court cannot effectively exercise its
power if the Central Government gives no reasons in support
of its order. The mere fact that the proceedings before the
Central Government are to be treated as confidential does
not dispense with a judicial approach, nor does it obviate
the disclosure of sufficient grounds and evidence in support
of the order. In the present case no reasons have been
given in Support of the orders and the appeals have to be
remanded to the Central Government for rehearing.
In re Gresham Life Assurance Society, Ex Parte Penney, (1
872) Law Rep. 8 Ch. 446 and In re Smith and Fawcett, Ltd.,
L. R. (1942) 1 Ch. D. 304, referred to.
Per Hidayatullah, J.-The appeal to the Supreme Court under
Art. 136 was competent. The Act and the Rules showed that
the function of the Central Government under s. 11(3) was
curial and not executive; there was provision for filing a
memorandum of appeal setting out the grounds, for the
company making representations against the appeal, for
tendering evidence and award of costs. There was provision
for a hearing and a decision on evidence. The Central
Government acted as a tribunal within the meaning of Art.
136.
Huddart, Parker & Co. Pyoprietar Ltd. v. Moorehead, (108) 8
C.L.R. 330, Shell Company of Australia v. Federal
Commissioner of Taxation, [1931] A.C. 275, Rex v.
Electricity Commissioners, [1924] 1 K. B. 171 Royal Aquarium
and Summer and Winter Garden
341
Society v. Parkinson, (1892) 1 Q.B. 431, Shivji Nathubai v.
The Union of India, [1960] 2 S.C.R. 775 and Province of
Bombay v. Kushaldas S. Advani, [1950] S.C.R. 621, referred
to.
But special leave should not ordinarily be granted in such
cases. The directors were not required to give reasons for
their decision and there was a presumption that they had
acted properly and in the interest of the company. In the
appeal under s. 111 of the Act all allegations and counter
allegations were confidential and the Central Government
could not make them public in its decision. An appeal
against such a decision could rarely be effective. In the
present case the appeal under s. III(3) was confined to the
ground that the refusal to register was without giving any
reasons; there was no question of confidential allegations
and there was no evidence to consider. The Articles of
Association gave the directors absolute discretion to refuse
to register the transfers without giving any reasons and
there was a presumption that the directors had acted
honestly. There was thus no reason for the Central
Government to reverse the decision of the directors.
In re Gresham Life Assurance Society; Ex Parte Penney,
(1872) Law Rep. 8 Ch. 446, In re Hannan’s King (Browning)
Gold Mining Company Limited, (1897) 14 T.L.R. 314 and Moses
v. Parkar Ex parte Moses, [1896] A.C. 245, referred to.

 

JUDGMENT:
CIVIL APPELLATE, JURISDICTION: Civil Appeals Nos. 33 and 34
of 1959.
Appeal by special leave from the order dated May 29,1957, of
the Central Government Ministry of Finance, New Delhi in
Appeal Cases Nos. 24 and 33 of 1957.
A. V. Viswanatha Sastri and Ganpat Rai, for the
appellants.
B. P. Maheshwari, for the respondents.
M. C. Setalvad, Attorney-General for India, B. B. L.
Iyengar and T. M. Sen, for Union of India.
1961. April 25. The Judgment of S. K. Das, Kapur, Shah and
Venkatarama Ayyar, JJ., was delivered by Shah, J.
Hidayatullah, J. delivered a separate Judgment.
SHAH, J.-M/s. Harinagar Sugar Mills Ltd. is a public limited
company incorporated under the Indian Companies Act, 1913 (7
of 1913). Article 47B of the Articles of Association of the
company invests the
44
342
directors of the company with absolute discretion to refuse
to register any transfer of shares. That Article is in the
following terms:
“The directors may in their absolute
discretion and without giving any reason
refuse to register any transfer of any shares
whether such shares be fully paid or not.
If the directors refuse to register the
transfer of any shares, they shall within two
months, after the date on which the transfer
was lodged with the company, send to the
transferees and the transferor notice of the
refusal.”
One Banarasi Prasad Jhunjhunwala is the holder of a block of
9500 fully paid-up shares of the company. In January, 1953,
he executed transfers in respect of 2500 out of those shares
in favour of his son Shyam Sunder and in respect of 2100
shares in favour of his daughter-in-law Savitadevi and
lodged the transfers with the company for registration of
the shares in the names of the transferees. The directors
of the company by resolution dated August 1, 1953, in
purported exercise of the powers under Article 47B of the
Articles of Association, declined to register the shares in
the names of the transferees. Petitions were then filed by
Banarasi Prasad and the transferees in the High Court of
Judicature at Bombay for orders under s. 38 of the Indian
Companies Act, 1913 for rectification of the register of the
company maintaining that the refusal by the board of
directors to register the transfer of the shares was “mala
fide, arbitrary and capricious” and that the directors had
acted with improper and ulterior motives. The High Court
rejected these petitions holding that in summary proceedings
under s. 38, controversial questions of law and fact could
not be tried and that the proper remedy of the transferees,
if so advised, was to file suits for relief in the civil
court. Requests were again made by the transferees to the
company by letters dated February 29, 1956 to register the
transfers made by Banarasi Prasad in 1953. The directors of
the company in their meeting of March 15, 1956 reiterated
their earlier resolution not to register the shares trans-
ferred in the names of the transferees. Against this
343
action of the company, appeals were preferred to the Central
Government under s. 111 el. (3) of the Indian Companies Act,
1956, which had since been brought into operation on April
1, 1956. K. R. P. Ayyangar, Joint Secretary, Ministry of
Finance, who heard the appeals declined to order
registration of transfers, because in his view, the
questions raised in the appeals could, as suggested by the
High Court of Bombay, be decided only in a civil suit.
Thereafter, Banarasi Prasad transferred a block of 100
shares to his son Shyam Sunder and another block of 100
shares to his daughter-in-law Savitadevi, and the
transferees requested the company by letters dated November
21, 1956, to register the transfers. In the meeting dated
January 12, 1957, the directors of the company resolved not
to register the transfers and informed the transferees
accordingly. Against this resolution, separate appeals were
preferred by Shyam Sunder and Savitadevi under s. 111 el.
(3) of the Indian Companies Act, 1956 to the Central
Government. It was submitted in para 4 of the petitions of
appeal that the refusal to register the transfer of shares
was without “any reason, arbitrary and untenable”. The
company filed representations submitting that the refusal
was bona fide and was not “without any reason, arbitrary and
untenable” as alleged. Shyam Sunder and Savitadevi filed
rejoinders to the representations submitting that they had
never alleged that refusal to transfer the shares “was
capricious or mala fide” and that all they had alleged was
that the “refusal was without any reason, arbitrary and
untenable”. By separate orders dated May 29, 1957, the
Deputy Secretary to the Government of India, Ministry of
Finance set aside the resolution passed by the board of
directors in exercise of the powers conferred by sub-ss. (5)
and (6) of s. Ill of the Indian Companies Act, 1956, and
directed that the company do register the transfers. In so
directing, the Deputy Secretary gave no reasons. Against
the orders passed by the Deputy Secretary, with special
leave under Art. 136 of the Constitution, these two appeals
are preferred by the company.
344
Two questions fall to be determined in these ap peals, (1)
whether the Central Government exercising appellate powers
under s. 111 of the Companies Act, 1956 before its amendment
by Act 65 of 1960 is a tribunal exercising judicial
functions and is subject to the appellate jurisdiction of
this court under Art. 136 of the Constitution, and (2)
whether the Central Government acted in excess of its
jurisdiction or otherwise acted illegally in directing the
company to register the transfer of shares in favour of
Shyam Sunder and Savitadevi.
Article 136 of the Constitution, by the first clause
provides:
“Notwithstanding anything in this Chapter, the
Supreme Court may, in its discretion, grant
special leave to appeal from any judgment,
decree, determination, sentence or order in
any cause or matter passed or made by any
court or tribunal in the territory of India”.
The Central Government exercising powers under s. Ill of the
Companies Act is not a court; that is common ground. The
Attorney-General intervening on behalf of the Union of India
submits that the Central Government merely exercises
administrative authority in dealing with an appeal under s.
111 of the Indian Companies Act, 1956 and is not required to
act judicially. He submits that the authority of the
directors of the company which is in terms absolute, and is
not required to be exercised judicially, when exercised by
the Central Government under s. 111 does not become
judicial, and subject to appeal to this court. But the mere
fact that the directors of the company are invested with
absolute discretion to refuse to register the shares will
not make the jurisdiction of the appellate authority
administrative.
In a recent case decided by this court Shivji Nathu bhai v.
The, Union of India (1), it was held that the Central
Government exercising power of review under r. 54 of the
Mineral Concession Rules, 1949 against an
(1) [1960] 2 S.C.R. 775.
345
administrative order of the State Government granting a
mining lease was subject to the appellate jurisdiction of
this court, because the power to review was judicial and not
administrative. In that case, the action of the State
Government granting the mining lease was undoubtedly an
administrative act, but r. 54 of the Mineral Concession
Rules, 1949 granted a right of review at the instance of an
aggrieved party to the Central Government, and authorised it
to cancel the order of the State Government or to revise it
in such manner as it deemed just and proper. The exercise
of this power was held by this court to be quasi-judicial.
Before it was amended by s. 27 of Act 65 of 1960, s. III of
the Indian Companies Act, 1956-omitting parts not material-
provided:
(1) Nothing in sections 108, 109 and 110 shall prejudice
any power of the company under its articles to refuse to
register the transfer of, or the transmission by operation
of law of the right to, any shares or interest of a member
in, or debentures of, the company.
(2) If, in pursuance of any such power, a company refuses
to register any such transfer or transmission of right, it
shall, within two months from the date on which the
instrument or transfer, or the intimation of such
transmission, as the case may be, was delivered to the
company, send notice of the refusal to the transferee and
the transferor or to the person giving intimation of such
transmission, as the case may be.
(3) The transferor or transferee, or the person who gave
intimation of the transmission by operation of law, as the
case may be, may, where the company is a public company or a
private company which is a subsidiary of a public company,
appeal to the Central Government against any refusal of the
company to register the transfer or transmission, or against
any failure on its part within the period referred to in
sub-s. (2) either to register the transfer or
transmission or to send notice of its refusal to register
the same.
(4)………………………………………………
(5) The Central Government shall, after causing reasonable
notice to be given to the company and
346
also to the transferor and the transferee or as the case may
require, to the person giving intimation of the transmission
by operation of law and the previous owner, if any, and
giving them a reasonable opportunity to make their
representations, if any, in writing by order, direct either
that the transfer or transmission shall be registered by the
company or that it need not be registered by it: and in the
former case, the company shall give effect to the decision
forthwith.
(6) The Central Government may, in its order aforesaid give
such incidental and consequential directions as to the
payments of costs or otherwise as it thinks fit.
(7) All proceedings in appeals under sub-s. (3) or in
relation thereto shall be confidential and no suit, pro-
secution or other legal proceeding shall lie in respect of
any allegation made in such proceedings, whether orally or
otherwise.
(8) In the case of a private company which is not a
subsidiary of a public company, where the right to any
shares or interest of a member in, or debentures of, the
company, is transmitted by a sale thereof held by a court or
other public authority, the provisions of sub-ss. (3) to (7)
shall apply as if the company were a public company:
Provided that the Central Government may, in lieu of an
order under sub-s. (5) pass an order directing the company
to register the transmission of the right unless any member
or members of the company specified in the order acquire the
right aforesaid within such time as may be allowed for the
purpose by the order, on payment to the purchaser of the
price paid by him therefor or such other sum as the Central
Government may determine to be a reasonable compensation for
the right in all the circumstances of the case.
Against the refusal by a company to register the transfer or
transmission of a right to the shares, an appeal lies to the
Central Government. The Government, after giving notice of
the appeal and hearing the parties concerned may order that
the shares be registered if it thinks that course is in the
circumstances proper. The Central Government may
347
by the proviso to sub-s. (8) in lieu of an order under sub-
s. (5), directing a private company to register,,
transmission of shares sold by a court or public authority,
order that any member or members of the company specified in
the order do acquire the right on payment to the purchaser
of the price paid by him, or such other sum as the Central
Government determine to be reasonable compensation. In
exercise of the powers under s. 642, rules called “The
Companies (Appeals to the Central Government) Rules, 1957”
have been framed by the Central Government. By cl. (3) of
the rules, the form of the petition of appeal is prescribed.
Clause (4) provides that the memorandum of appeal shall be
accompanied by an affidavit and documentary evidence if any
in support of the statements made therein including a copy
of the letter written by the appellant to the company for
the purpose of registration of the shares. Clause (5) pres-
cribes the mode of service of notice of appeal to the
company and el. (6) authorises the Central Government before
considering the appeal to require the appellant or the
company to produce within a specified period such further
documentary or other evidence as it considers necessary.
Clause (7) enables the parties to make representations if
any in writing accompanied by affidavits and documentary
evidence. Clause (8) authorises the Central Government
after considering the representations made and after making
such further enquiries as it considers necessary to pass
such orders as it thinks fit under sub-s. (5) of s. 111 of
the Act. By the appendix to the rules, the form in which
notice is to be given to the company is prescribed.
Paragraph 2 of the form states that the company shall be
called upon to make its representations in writing against,
the appeal and be informed that if no representation is
received, the appeal will be determined according to law.
There was no provision similar to s. Ill of the Indian
Companies Act, 1956, in the Act of 1913, nor is our
attention invited to any provision in the English Companies
Act on which our Act is largely based, to a similar
provision. Prior to 1956, if transfer of
348
shares was not registered by the directors of a company,
action under the Companies Act of 1913 could only be taken
under s. 38 of the Indian Companies Act, 1913 by petition
for rectification of the share register. As we will
presently point out, the power to refuse to register a
transfer granted by the Articles of Association, if
challenged in a petition for rectification of register was
to be presumed to have been exercised reasonably, bona fide
and for the benefit of the company, and unless otherwise
provided by the Articles, the directors were not obliged to
disclose reasons on which they acted. The power had to be
exercised for the benefit of the company and bona fide, but
a heavy onus lay upon those challenging the resolution of
the directors to displace the presumption of bona fide
exercise of the power. The discretion to refuse to register
transfers was not liable to be controlled unless the
directors “acted oppressively, capriciously or corruptly, or
in some way mala fide” (Re Bell Brothers Ltd. ex parte
Hodgson) (1).
Power to refuse to register transfer of shares, without
assigning any reasons, or in their absolute and uncontrolled
discretion, is often found in the Articles of Association,
and exercising jurisdiction under s. 38 of the Indian
Companies Act, 1913, the court may not draw unfavourable
inferences from the refusal to disclose reasons in support
of their resolution. The power given to the court under s.
38 is now confirmed with slight modification by s. 155 of
the Indian Companies Act, 1956. Under that section, the
court may rectify the register of shareholders if the name
of any person is without sufficient cause entered in or
omitted from the register of members of a company, or
default is made, or unnecessary delay has taken place in
entering on the register the fact of any person having
ceased to be a member. The court is in exercising this
jurisdiction competent to decide any question relating to
the title of the person claiming to have his name registered
and generally to decide all questions which may be necessary
or expedient to decide for the rectification. A person
aggrieved by the refusal to
(1) (1891) 65 L.T. 245.
349
register transfer of shares has, since the enactment of the
Companies Act, 1956, therefore two remedies for seeking
relief under the Companies Act, (1) to apply to the court
for rectification of the register under s. 155, and (2) to
appeal against the resolution refusing to register the
transfers under s. 111. It is common ground that in the
exercise of the power under s. 155, the court has to act
judicially: to adjudicate upon the right exercised by the
directors in the light of the powers conferred upon them by
the Articles of Association. The respondents however
submit-and they are supported by the Union of India-that the
authority of the Central Government under s. Ill is
nevertheless purely administrative. But in an appeal under
s. 111 el. (3) there is a lis or dispute between the
contesting parties relating to their civil rights, and the
Central Government is invested with the power to determine
that dispute according to law, i.e., it has to consider and
decide the proposal and the objections in the light of the
evidence, and not on grounds of policy or expediency. The
extent of the power which may be exercised by the Central
Government is not delimited by express enactment, but the
power is not on that account unrestricted. The power in
appeal to order registration of transfers has to be
exercised subject to the limitations similar to those
imposed upon the exercise of the power of the court in a
petition for that relief under s. 155: the restrictions
which inhere the exercise of the power of the court also
apply to the exercise of the appellate power by the Central
Government, i.e., the Central Government has to decide
whether in exercising their power, the directors are acting
oppressively, capriciously or corruptly, or in some way mala
fide. The decision has manifestly to stand those objective
tests, and has not merely to be founded on the subjective
satisfaction of the authority deciding the question. The
authority cannot proceed to decide the question posed for
its determination on grounds of expediency: the statute
empowers the Central Government to decide the disputes
arising out of the claims made by the transferor or
transferee which claim is opposed by the company,
45
350
and by rendering a decision upon the respective con
tentions, the rights of the contesting parties are directly
affected. Prima facie, the exercise of such authority would
be judicial. It is immaterial that the statute which
confers the power upon the Central Government does not
expressly set out the extent of the power: but the very
nature of the jurisdiction requires that it is to be
exercised subject to the limitations which apply to the
court under s. 155. The proviso to sub-s. (8) of s. Ill
clearly indicates that in circumstances specified therein
reasonable compensation may be awarded in lieu of the
shares. This compensation which is to be reasonable has to
be ascertained by the Central Government; and reasonable
compensation cannot be ascertained except by the application
of some objective standards of what is just having regard to
all the circumstances of the case.
In The Province of Bombay v. Kusaldas S. Advani(1), this
court considered the distinction between decisions quasi-
judicial and administrative or ministerial for the purpose
of ascertaining whether they are subject to the jurisdiction
to issue a writ of certiorari. Fazl Ali, J. at p. 642
observed:
“The word “decision” in common parlance is more or less a
neutral expression and it can be used with reference to
purely executive acts as well as judicial orders. The mere
fact that an executive authority has to decide something
does not make the decision judicial. It is the manner in
which the decision has to be arrived at which makes the
difference, and the real test is: Is there any duty to
decide judicially?”
The court also approved of the following test suggested in
The King v. London County Council (2) by
Scrutton L.J.:
“It is not necessary that it should be a court in the sense
in which this court is a court; it is enough if it is
exercising, after hearing evidence, judicial functions in
the sense that it has to decide on evidence between a
proposal and an opposition; and it is not necessary to be
strictly a court; if it is a tribunal which has to
(1) [1950] S.C R. 62 T.
(2) [1931] 2 K.B. 215, 233.
351
decide rights after hearing evidence and opposition, it is
amenable to the writ of certiorari.”
In The Bharat Bank Ltd., Delhi v. Employees of the Bharat
Bank Ltd., Delhi (1), the question whether an adjudication
by an industrial tribunal functioning under the Industrial
Disputes Act was subject to the jurisdiction of this court
under Art. 136 of the Constitution fell to be determined:,
Mahajan J. in that case observed:
“There can be no doubt that varieties of administrative
tribunals and domestic tribunals are known to exist in this
country as well as in other countries of the world but the
real question to decide in each case is as to the extent of
judicial power of the State exercised by them. Tribunals
which do not derive authority from the sovereign power
cannot fall within the ambit of Art. 136. The condition
precedent for bringing a tribunal within the ambit of Art.
136 is that it should be constituted by the State. Again a
tribunal would be outside the ambit of Art. 136 if it is not
invested with any part of the judicial functions of the
State but discharges purely administrative or executive
duties. Tribunals however which are found invested with
certain functions of a Court of Justice and have some of its
trappings also would fall within the ambit of Art. 136 and
would be subject to the appellate control of this Court
whenever it is found necessary to exercise that control in
the interests of justice.”
It was also observed by Fazl Ali J. at p. 463 that a body
which is required to act judicially and which exercises
judicial power of the State does not cease to be one
exercising judicial or quasi-judicial functions merely
because it is not expressly required to be guided by any
recognised substantive law in deciding the disputes which
come before it.
The authority of the Central Government entertaining an
appeal under s. 111(3) being an alternative remedy to an
aggrieved party to a petition under s. 155 the investiture
of authority is in the exercise of the judicial power of the
State. Clause (7) of s. III
(1) [1950] S.C.R. 459.
352
declares the proceedings in appeal to be confidential, but
that does not dispense with a judicial approach to the
evidence. Under s. 54 of the Indian Income-tax Act, (which
is analogous) all particulars contained in any statement
made, return furnished or accounts or documents produced
under the provisions of the Act or in any evidence given, or
affidavit or deposition made, in the course of any
proceedings under the Act are to be treated as confidential;
but that does not make the decision of the taxing
authorities merely executive. As the dispute between the
parties relates to the civil rights and the Act provides for
a right of appeal and makes detailed provisions about
hearing and disposal according to law, it is impossible to
avoid the inference that a duty is imposed upon the Central
Government in deciding the appeal to act judicially.
The Attorney-General contended that even if the Central
Government was required by the provisions of the Act and the
rules to act judicially, the Central Government still not
being a tribunal, this court has no power to entertain an
appeal against its order or decision. But the proceedings
before the Central Government have all the trappings of a
judicial tribunal. Pleadings have to be filed, evidence in
support of the case of each party has to be furnished and
the disputes have to be decided according to law after con-
sidering the representations made by the parties. If it be
granted that the Central Government exercises judicial power
of the State to adjudicate upon rights of the parties in
civil matters when there is a lis between the contesting
parties, the conclusion is inevitable that it acts as a
tribunal and not as an executive body. We therefore over-
rule the preliminary objection raised on behalf of the Union
of India and by the respondents as to the maintainability of
the appeals.
The Memorandum and Articles of Association of a company when
registered bind the company and the members of the company
to the same extent as if they respectively had been signed
by the company and each member, and contained covenants on
its and
353
his part to observe all the provisions of the Memorandum and
of the Articles. Clause 47B of the Articles of Association
which invests the director with discretion to refuse to
register shares is therefore an incident of the contract
binding upon the transferor, and registration of transfer or
transmission cannot therefore be insisted upon as a matter
of right. The conditions subject to which a party can
maintain a petition for an order for rectification of the
register of shareholders have been settled by a long course
of decisions. Two of those may be noticed.
In In re Gresham Life Assurance Society Ex parte Penney (1),
the deed of settlement of a life insurance company provided
that any shareholder shall be at liberty to transfer his
shares to any other person who was already a shareholder, or
who should be approved by the board of directors, and that
no person not being already a shareholder or the executor of
a shareholder, should be entitled to become the transferee
of any share unless approved by the board. One J. R. De
Paiva who was the holder of ten shares of the company sold
them to W. J. Penney and lodged the transfer with the shares
for registration at the company’s office. The directors in
exercise of the powers conferred upon them by the deed of
settlement refused to register the shares. In a joint
summons taken out by Paiva and Penney under s. 35 of the
Companies Act, 1862, the Master of the Rolls directed the
transfer to be registered, the directors of the company
having failed to submit any reasonable ground or objection
to the purchaser. In the view of the Master of the Rolls,
it was for the court to judge whether the objection was
reasonable and that objection must be disclosed to the
court. Against this order, the company approached the Court
of Appeal. James L. J. in dealing with the contention
raised by the appellant observed that the directors were in
a fiduciary position both towards the company and towards
every shareholder and that it was easy to conceive of cases
in which the court may interfere with any violation of the
fiduciary duty so
(1) (1872) Law Rep. 8 Ch. 446.
354
reposed in the directors. It was observed by James L. J.:
“But in order to interfere upon that ground it
must be made out that the directors have been
acting from some improper motive, or
arbitrarily and capriciously. That must be
alleged and proved, and the person who has a
right to allege and prove it is the
shareholder who seeks to be removed from the
list of shareholders and to substitute another
person for himself … this Court would have
jurisdiction to deal with it as a corrupt
breach of trust; but if there is no such
corrupt or arbitrary conduct as between the
directors and the person who is seeking to
transfer his shares, it does not appear to me
that this court has any jurisdiction whatever
to sit as a Court of Appeal from the
deliberate decision of the board of directors,
to whom, by the constitution of the company,
the question of determining the eligibility or
non-eligibility of new members is committed.
If the directors had been minded, and the
Court was satisfied that they were minded,
whether they expressed it or not, positively
to prevent a shareholder from parting with his
shares, unless upon complying with some
condition which they chose to impose, the
Court would probably, in exercise of its duty
as between the cestui que trust and the
trustees, interfere to redress the mischief,
either by compelling the transfer or giving
damages, or in some mode or other to redress
the mischief which the shareholder would have
had a just right to complain of.”
It was also observed by James L.J.:
” I am of opinion that we cannot sit as a
Court of Appeal from the conclusion which the
directors have arrived at if we are satisfied
that the directors have done that which alone
they could be compelled by mandamus to do, to
take the matter into their consideration”.
Mellish L.J. observed:
“But it is further contended that in order to
secure the existing shareholder against being
deprived of the right to sell his shares, the
directors are
355
bound to give their reason why they reject the
transferee, and if they reject him without
giving a reason that is a ground from which
the Court ought to infer that they were acting
arbitrarily. I cannot agree with that. It
appears to me that it is very important that
directors should be able to exercise the power
in a perfectly uncontrollable manner for the
benefit of the shareholders; but it is
impossible that they could fairly and properly
exercise it if they were compelled to give the
reason why they rejected a particular
individual….I am therefore of opinion that
in order to preserve to the company the right
which is given by the articles a shareholder
is not to be put upon the register if the
board of directors do not assent to him, and
it is absolutely necessary that they should
not be bound to give their reasons although I
perfectly agree that if it can be shown
affirmatively that they are exercising their
power capriciously and wantonly, that may be a
ground for the Court interfering”.
A similar view was also expressed in In re, Smith and
Fawcett Ltd. (1) where the Court of Appeal held that where
the directors of the company had uncontrolled and absolute
discretion to refuse to register any transfer of shares,
while such powers are of a fiduciary nature and must be,
exercised in the interest of the company, the petition for
registration of transfer should be dismissed unless there is
something to show that they had been otherwise exercised.
Rectification of the register under s. 155 can therefore be
granted only if the transferor establishes that the
directors had, in refusing to register the shares in the
names of a transferee, acted oppressively, capriciously or
corruptly, or in some way mala fide and not in the interest
of the company. Such a plea has, in a petition for
rectification, to be expressly raised and affirmatively
proved by evidence. Normally, the court would presume that
where the directors have refused to register the transfer of
shares when they have been invested with absolute discretion
to refuse registration, that the exercise of the power was
bona fide. When
(1) L.R. [1942] 1 Ch. D. 304.
356
the new Companies Act was enacted, it was well settled that
the discretionary power conferred by the articles of
association to refuse to register would be presumed to be
properly exercised and it was for the aggrieved transferor
to show affirmatively that it had been exercised mala fide
and not in the interest of the company.
Before the Committee appointed by the Government of India
under the Chairmanship of Mr. C. H. Bhabha representation
was made by several bodies that this power which was
intended to be exercised for the benefit of the company was
being misused and the Committee with a view to afford some
reasonable safeguards against such misuse of the power
recommended that a right of appeal should be provided
against refusal to register transfer of shares. The
Legislature, it appears, ,accepted this suggestion and
provided a right of appeal. But the power to entertain the
appeal is not unrestricted: being an alternative to the
right to approach the civil court, it must be subject to
the same limitations which are implicit in the exercise of
the power by the civil court under s. 155. The Central
Government may therefore exercise the power to order that
the transfer which the directors have in their discretion
refused, be registered if it is satisfied that the exercise
of the discretion is mala fide, arbitrary or capricious and
that it is in the interest of the company that the transfer
should be registered.
Relying upon el. (7) of s. 111 which provided that the
proceedings in appeals under sub-s. (3) or in relation
thereto shall be confidential, it was urged that the
authority hearing the appeal is not obliged to set out
reasons in support of its conclusion and it must be assumed
that in disposing of the appeal, the authority acted
properly and directed registration of shares. But the
provision that the proceedings are to be treated as
confidential is made with a view to facilitate a free
disclosure of evidence before the Central Government which
disclosure may not, in the light of publicity which attaches
to proceedings in the ordinary courts, be possible in a
petition under s. 155 of the
357
Companies Act. The mere fact that the proceedings are to be
treated as confidential does not dispense with a judicial
approach nor does it obviate the disclosure of sufficient
grounds and evidence in support of the order.
In the present case, the position is somewhat un-
satisfactory. The directors passed a resolution declining
to register the shares and informed the transferor and the
transferees of that resolution. The transferees in their
petition stated that the refusal to register transfer was
without any reason, arbitrary and untenable and in the
grounds of appeal they stated that they did not know of any
reasons in sup-port of the refusal and reserved liberty to
reply thereto if any such reasons were given. The company
in reply merely asserted that the refusal was not without
any reason or arbitrary or untenable. The transferees in
their rejoinder made a curious statement-of which it is
difficult to appreciate the import-that they had “nowhere
stated in the memoranda of appeals that the refusal to
transfer shares was capricious or mala fide” and all that
they “had stated was that the refusal was without any
reason, arbitrary or untenable”. The Deputy Secretary who
decided the appeals chose to give no reasons in support of
his orders. There is nothing on the record to show that he
was satisfied that the action of the directors in refusing
to register the shares “was arbitrary and untenable” as
alleged. If the Central Government acts as a tribunal
exercising judicial powers and the exercise of that power is
subject to the jurisdiction of this court under Art. 136 of
the Constitution, we fail to see how the power of this court
can be effectively exercised if reasons are not given by the
Central Government in support of its order. In the petition
under s. 38 of the Indian Companies Act, 1913, the Bombay
High Court declined to order rectification on a summary
proceeding and relegated the parties to a suit and a similar
order was passed by the Joint Secretary, Ministry of
Finance. These proceedings were brought to the notice of
the Deputy Secretary who heard the appeals. Whether
46
358
in spite of the opinion recorded by the High Court and by
the Joint Secretary, Ministry of Finance in respect of
another block out of shares previously attempted to be
transferred, there were adequate grounds for directing
registration, is a matter on which we are unable to express
any opinion. All the documents which were produced before
the Deputy Secretary are not printed in the record before us
and we were told at the bar that there were several other
documents which the Deputy Secretary took into con-
sideration. In the absence of anything to show that the
Central Government exercised its restricted power in hearing
an appeal under s. 111(3) and passed the orders under appeal
in the light of the restrictions imposed by art. 47B of the
articles of association and in the interest of the company,
we are unable to decide whether the Central Government did
not transgress the limits of their power. We are however of
the view that there has been no proper trial of the appeals,
no reasons having been given in support of the orders by the
Deputy Secretary who heard the appeals. In the
circumstances, we quash the orders passed by the Central
Government and direct that the appeals be re-heard and
disposed of according to law. Costs of these appeals will
be costs in the appeals before the Central Government.
HIDAYATULLAH, J.-I have had the advantage of reading the
judgment just delivered by my brother, Shah, J. In view of
the strong objection to the competence of the appeals under
Art. 136 by the respondents, to whom liberty was reserved by
the order granting special leave, I have found it necessary
to express my views.
The facts have been stated in detail by my learned brother,
and I shall not repeat them in full. Very shortly stated,
the facts are that the second respondent, Banarsi Prasad
Jhunjhunwala, transferred 2500 shares to his son, and 2100
shares to his daughter-in-law, in the appellant Company in
1953. The appellant Company declined to register these
transfers. Proceedings for rectification of the Register
under s. 38 of the Indian Companies Act, 1913, followed
359
in the High Court of Bombay, but the High Court referred the
disputants to the Civil Court. In the petition before the
High Court, the respondents had charged the Directors of the
appellant Company with bad faith and arbitrary dealing.
The respondents renewed their requests for registration, but
they were again declined, and appeals were filed before the
Central, Government under s. 111(3) of the Companies Act,
1956, which had come into force from April 1, 1956. These
appeals were heard by Mr. K. R. P. Aiyengar, Joint
Secretary, Ministry of Finance, who dismissed them, holding
that only a suit was the appropriate remedy.
Banarsidas Prasad then made a fresh transfer of 100 shares
each to his son and daughter-in-law, and requests for
registration of these shares were made. The appellant
Company again declined to register the shares, but gave no
reaons. Under cl. 47-B of the Articles of Association of
the appellant Company, it is provided:
“The Directors may in their absolute
discretion and without giving any reason
refuse to register any transfer of any shares
whether such shares be fully paid or not. If
the Directors refuse to register the transfer
of any shares, they shall, within two months
after the date on which the transfer was
lodged with the company, send to the trans-
feree and the transferor notice of the
refusal.”
The appellant Company was prima facie within its rights when
it did not state any reasons for declining to register the
shares in question.
Appeals were again taken to the Central Government under s.
111(3). It was alleged that the refusal to register the
shares without giving any reasons was “arbitrary and
untenable”. In accordance with the provisions of the
section, representations were filed by the appellant Company
and rejoinders by the opposite party. The transferees made
it clear that they did not charge the appellant Company with
“capricious or mala flee conduct” but only with arbitrary
any reasons. The appeals
360
succeeded, and the shares were ordered to be registered.
The Deputy Secretary, who heard and decided the appeals,
gave no reasons for his decision. Against his order, the
present appeals have been filed with special leave.
The preliminary objection is that the appeals are
incompetent, because the Central Government, which heard
them, is not a tribunal muchless a Court, and the action of
the Central Government is purely administrative. It is,
therefore, submitted that Art. 136 does not apply, because
special leave can only be granted in respect of a
determination by a Court or a tribunal, which the Central
Government is not. This is not the only provision of law,
under which the Central or State Governments have been
empowered to hear appeals, revisions or reviews, and it is
thus necessary to find out the exact status of the Central
Government when it hears and decides appeals, etc., for the
application of Art. 136.
Article 136(1) reads as follows:
“Notwithstanding anything in this Chapter, the
Supreme Court may in its discretion, grant
special leave to appeal from any judgment,
decree, determination, sentence or order in
any cause or matter passed or made by any
Court or tribunal in the territory of India.”
The orders which the Central Government
passes, certainly fall within the words
“determination” and “order”. The proceeding
before the Central Government also falls
within the wide words “any cause or matter”.
The only question is whether the Central
Government, when it hears and decides an
appeal, can be said to be acting as a Court or
tribunal. That the Central Government is not
a Court was assumed at the hearing. But to
ascertain what falls within the expression
“Court or tribunal”, one has to begin with
“Courts”. The word “Court” is not defined in
the Companies Act, 1956. It is not defined in
the Civil Procedure Code. The definition in
the Indian Evidence Act is not exhaustive, and
is for the purposes of that Act. In the Now
English Dictionary (Vol. II, pp. 1090, 1091),
the meaning given is:
361
“an assembly of judges or other persons
legally appointed and acting as a tribunal to
hear and determine any cause, civil,
ecclesiastical, military or naval.”
All tribunals are not Courts, though all Courts are
tribunals. The word “Courts” is used to designate those
tribunals which are set up in an organised State for the
administration of justice. By administration of justice is
meant the exercise of judicial power of the State to
maintain and uphold rights and to punish “wrongs”. Whenever
there is an infringement of a right or an injury, the Courts
are there to restore the vinculum juris, which is disturbed.
Judicial power, according to Griffith, C. J. in Huddart,
Parker & Co. Proprietary Ltd. v. Moorehead (1) means:-
“the power which every sovereign authority
must of necessity have to decide controversies
between its subjects, or between itself and
its subjects, whether the rights relate to
life, liberty or property. The exercise of
this power does not begin until some tribunal
which has power to give a binding and
authoritative decision (whether subject to
appeal or not) is called upon to take action.”
When rights are infringed or invaded, the aggrieved party
can go and commence a querela before the ordinary Civil
Courts. These Courts which are instrumentalities of
Government, are invested with the judicial power of the
State, and their authority is derived from the Constitution
or some Act of legislature constituting them. Their number
is ordinarily fixed and they are ordinarily permanent, and
can try any suit or cause within their jurisdiction. Their
numbers may be increased or decreased, but they are almost
always permanent and go under the compendious name of
“Courts of Civil Judicature”. There can thus be no doubt
that the Central Government does not come within this class.
With the growth of civilisation and the problems of modern
life, a large number of administrative tribunals have come
into existence. These tribunals have the authority of law
to pronounce upon valuable
(1) [1908] 8 C.L. R. 330, 357.
362
rights; they act in a judicial manner and even on evidence
on oath, but they are not part of the ordinary Courts of
Civil Judicature. They share the exercise of the judicial
power of the State, but they are brought into existence to
implement some administrative policy or to determine
controversies arising out of some administrative law. They
are very similar to Courts, but are not Courts. When the
Constitution speaks of ‘Courts’ in Art. 136, 227 or 228 or
in Art,%. 233 to 237 or in the Lists, it contemplates Courts
of Civil Judicature but not tribunals other than such
Courts. This is the reason for using both the expressions
in Arts. 136 and 227. By “Courts” is meant Courts of Civil
Judicature and by “tribunals”, those bodies of men who are
appointed to decide controversies arising under certain
special laws. Among the powers of the State is included the
power to decide such controversies. This is undoubtedly one
of the attributes of the State, and is aptly called the
judicial power of the State. In the exercise of this power,
a clear division is thus noticeable. Broadly speaking,
certain special matters go before tribunals, and the residue
goes before the ordinary Courts of Civil Judicature. Their
procedures may differ, but the functions are not essentially
different. What distinguishes them has never been success-
fully established. Lord Stamp said that the real
distinction is that Courts have “an air of detachment”. But
this is more a matter of age and tradition and is not of the
essence. Many tribunals, in recent years, have acquitted
themselves so well and with such detachment as to make this
test insufficient. Lord Sankey, L.C. in Shell Company of
Australia v. Federal Commissioner of Taxation (1) observed:
“The authorities are clear to show that there
are tribunals with many of the trappings of a
Court, which, nevertheless, are not Courts in
the strict sense of exercising judicial
power…. In that connection it may be useful
to enumerate some negative propositions on
this subject: 1. A tribunal is not necessarily
a Court in this strict sense because it gives
a final decision. 2. Nor because it hears
(1) [1931] A.C.275. 296.
363
witnesses on oath. 3. Nor because two or more
contending parties appear before it between
whom it,, has to decide. 4. Nor because it
gives decisions which affect the rights of
subjects. 5. Nor because there is an appeal to
a Court. 6. Nor because it is a body to which
a matter is referred by another body. See Rex
v. Electricity Commissioners
In my opinion, a Court in ‘the strict sense is a tribunal
which is a part of the ordinary hierarchy of Courts of Civil
Judicature maintained by the State under its constitution to
exercise the judicial power of the State. These Courts
perform all the judicial functions of the State except those
that are excluded by law from their jurisdiction. The word
“judicial”, be it noted, is itself capable of two meanings.
They were admirably stated by Lopes, L.J. in Royal Aquarium
and Summer and Winter Garden Society v. Parkinson (2), in
these words:
“The word ‘judicial’ has two meanings. It may
refer to the discharge of duties exercisable
by a judge or by justices in court, or to
administrative duties which need not be
performed in court, but in respect of which it
is necessary to bring to bear a judicial mind-
that is, a mind to determine what is fair and
just in respect of the matters under con-
sideration.”
That an officer is required to decide matters before him
“judicially” in the second sense does not make him a Court
or even a tribunal, because that only establishes that he is
following a standard of conduct, and is free from bias or
interest.
Courts and tribunals act “judicially” in both senses, and in
the term “Court” are included the ordinary and permanent
tribunals and in the term “tribunal” are included all
others, which are not so included. Now, the matter would
have been simple, if the Companies Act, 1956 had designated
a person or persons whether by name or by office for the
purpose of hearing an appeal under s. 111. It would then
have been clear that though such person or persons were not
“Courts” in the sense explained, they were clearly
(1) [1924] 1 K.B. 171.
(2) [1892] 1 Q.B 431, 452,
364
“tribunals”. The Act says that an appeal shall lie to the
Central Government. We are, therefore, faced with the
question whether the Central Government can be said to be a
tribunal. Reliance is placed upon a recent decision of
this Court in Shivji Nathubai v. The Union of India (1),
where it was held that the Central Government in
exercising power of review under the Mineral Concession
Rules, 1949, was subject to the appellate jurisdiction
conferred by Art. 136. In that case which came to this
Court on appeal from the High Court’s order under Art. 226,
it was held on the authority of Province of Bombay v.
Kushaldas S. Advani (1) and Rex v. Electricity Commissioners
(3) that the action of the Central Government was quasi-
judicial and not administrative. It was then observed:
“It is in the circumstances apparent that as
soon as r. 52 gives a right to an aggrieved
party to apply for review a lis is created
between him and the party in whose favour the
grant has been made. Unless therefore there
is anything in the statute to the contrary it
will be the duty of the authority to act
judicially and its decision would be a quasi-
judicial act.”
This observation only establishes that the decision is a
quasi-judicial one, but it does not say that the Central
Government can be regarded as a tribunal. In my opinion,
these are very different matters, and now that the question
has been raised, it should be decided.
The function that the Central Government performs under the
Act and the Rules is to hear an appeal against the action of
the Directors. For that purpose, a memorandum of appeal
setting out the grounds has to be filed, and the Company, on
notice, is required to make representations, if any, and so
also the other side, and both sides are allowed to tender
evidence to support their representations. The Central
Government by its order then directs that the shares be
registered or need not be registered. The Central
Government is also empowered to include in its orders,
directions as to payment of costs or otherwise. The
(1) [1960] 2 S.C.R. 775 (2) [1950] S.C.R. 621.
(3) [1924] 1 K.B. 171.
365
function of the Central Government is curial and not
executive. There is provision for a hearing and a decision
on evidence, and that is indubitably a curial function.
Now, in its functions Government often reaches decisions,
but all decisions of Government cannot be regarded as those
of a tribunal. Resolutions of Government may affect rights
of parties, and yet, they may not be in the exercise of
judicial power. Resolutions of Government may be amenable
to writs under Arts. 32 and 226 in appropriate cases, but
may not be subject to a direct appeal under Art. 136 as the
decisions of a tribunal. The position, however, changes
when Government embarks upon curial functions, and proceeds
to exercise judicial power and decide disputes. In these
circumstances, it is legitimate to regard the officer who
deals with the matter and even Government itself as a
tribunal. The officer who decides, may even be anonymous;
but the decision is one of a tribunal, whether expressed in
his name or in the name of’ the Central Government. The
word “tribunal” is a word of wide import, and the words
“Court” and “tribunal” embrace within them the exercise of
judicial power in all its forms. The decision of Government
thus falls within the powers of this Court under Art. 136.
It is next argued by the learned Attorney-General that there
is no law to interpret or to apply in these cases. He
argues that since there are no legal standards for judging
the correctness or otherwise of the order of the Central
Government and the decision being purely discretionary, it
is neither judicial nor quasi-judicial but merely
administrative, and that no appeal can arise from the nature
of things.
Such a line was taken before the Committee on Ministers’
Powers by Lord Hewart, and the argument reminds one of what
he then said that such decisions are purely discretionary
and the exercise of such arbitrary power is “neither law nor
justice or at all”. Sir Maurice Gwyer also was of the
opinion that an appeal could not be taken to Court against a
Minister’s
47
366
decision even on the ground of miscarriage of justice,
because that, in his opinion, was “putting a duty on the
Court” which was “not the concern of the Court”.
This argument takes me to the heart of the controversy, and
before I give my decision, I wish to say a few preliminary
things. Article 47-B gives to the Directors a right to
refuse to register shares in their absolute discretion,
without giving reasons. In In re Gresham Life Assurance
Society, Ex Parte Penney James, L.J. observed:
“No doubt the directors are in a fiduciary
position both towards the company and towards
every shareholder in it. It is very easy to
conceive cases such as those cases to which we
have been referred, in which this Court would
interfere with any violation of the fiduciary
duty so reposed in the directors. But in
order to interfere upon that ground it must be
made out that the directors have been acting
from some improper motive, or arbitrarily and
capriciously. That must be alleged and
proved, and the person who has a right to
allege and prove it is the shareholder who
seeks to be removed from the list of
shareholders and to substitute another person
for himself…… But if it is said that
wherever any shareholder has proposed to
transfer his shares to some new member, the
Court has a right to say to the directors, ‘We
will presume that your motives are arbitrary
and capricious, or that your conduct is
corrupt, unless you choose to tell us what
your reasons were, and submit those reasons to
our decision’, it would appear to me entirely
altering the whole constitution of the company
as provided by the articles.”
That shows that the Directors are presumed to have acted
honestly in the interests of the company and a case has to
be made out against them. I shall only quote from another
case, which summarises the position very aptly. In In re
Hannan’s King (Browning) Gold Mining Company (Limited) (2),
Lindley, M.R. is reported to have decided the case thus:
“Their Lordships did not sit there as a Court
of
(1) (1872) Law Rep. 8 Ch. 446.
(2) (1897) 14 T.L.R. 314,
367
honour; the question was whether the
applicants had made out that the transferee
was being improperly kept off the register.
There was no evidence of that … The Court
ought, as a matter of honesty between man to
man., to presume that the directors were
acting within their powers unless the contrary
was proved; but that was not proved by casting
unfounded aspersions upon them.”
Thus, the matter comes to this that the Directors have a
presumption in their favour and the opposite party must
prove that there was want of good faith. The right of
appeal which is given under the Companies Act, 1956, allows
the Central Government to judge this issue. For that
purpose, parties are required, if they desire, to make
representations and to put in evidence. But to enable the
parties to have a free say, the proceedings are made
confidential by law, and there is protection against action,
both civil and criminal. The appeal is disposed of on the
basis of the representations and the evidence. A decision
of a tribunal on a dispute inter partes, in the light of
pleadings and evidence, is essentially a judicial one, and
this Court ought to be able, on the same material, to decide
in an appeal whether the decision given was correct. If no
substantive law is applicable, there are questions of
evidence, of burden and adequacy of proof and of the
application of the principles of justice, equity and good
conscience to guide the Court. Once it is held that the
decision is that of a tribunal and subject to appeal, it is
manifest that an appeal may lie, unless there be some other
reason.
The difficulty which arises in these cases is whether it was
not the intention of the law that the decision of the
Central Government was to be final. The law makes all
allegations and counter-allegations confidential. If Courts
cannot compel disclosure of these allegations and the veil
of secrecy drawn by law is not rent, then it appears to me
that a further appeal can hardly be efficacious. In this
view, in my opinion, this Court should not grant special
leave in such cases. The situation which arises is not very
different from what arose before the Judicial Committee in
Moses v.
368
Parker, Ex Parte Moses (1). The headnote adequately
gives the facts, and may be quoted:
“By Tasmanian Act No. 10 of 1858, s. 5,
disputes concerning lands yet ungranted by the
Crown are referred to the Supreme Court, whose
decision is to be final; and by s. 8 the Court
is directed to be guided by equity and good
conscience only, and by the best evidence
procurable, even if not required or admissible
in ordinary cases, and not to be bound by
strict rules of law or equity or by any legal
forms:-
Held: that the Crown’s prerogative to grant
special leave to appeal is inapplicable to a
decision so authorised.”
In dealing with the case, Lord Hobhouse
observed at p. 248:
“The Supreme Court has rightly observed that
Her Majesty’s prerogative is not taken away by
the Act of 1858, but intimates a doubt whether
it ever came into existence.
Their Lordships think that this doubt is well
founded. They cannot look upon the decision
of the Supreme Court as a judicial decision
admitting of appeal. The Court has been
substituted for the commissioners to report to
the governor. The difference is that their
report is to be binding on him. Probably it
was thought that the status and training of
the judges made them the most proper
depositaries of that power. But that does not
make their action a judicial action in the
sense that it can be tested and altered by
appeal. It is no more judicial than was the
action of the commissioners and the governor.
The Court is to be guided by equity and good
conscience and the best evidence. So were the
commissioners. So every public officer ought
to be. But they are expressly exonerated from
all rules of law and equity, and all legal
forms. How then can the propriety of their
decision be tested on appeal? What are the
canons by which this Board is to be guided in
advising Her Majesty whether the Supreme Court
is right or wrong? It seems almost
(1) [1896] A.C. 245.
369
impossible that decisions can be varied except
by reference to some rule; whereas the Court
making them is free from rules. If appeals
were allowed, the certain result would be to
establish some system of rules; and that is
the very thing from which the Tasmanian
Legislature has desired to leave the Supreme
Court free and unfettered in each case. If it
were clear that appeals ought to be allowed,
such difficulties would doubtless be met
somehow. But there are strong arguments to
show that the matter is not of an appealable
nature.”
See also The’ berge v. Laudry (1).
The exercise of the powers under Art. 136 is a counterpart
of the royal prerogative to hear appeals in any cause or
matter decided by Courts or tribunals. But where the
Articles of Association of a company give absolute
discretion to the Directors and empower them to withhold
their reasons, the appeal taken to the Central Government
would involve decision on such material, which the parties
place before it. If the allegations are made confidential
by law and the Central Government in giving its decision
cannot make them public, it is manifest that the decision,
to borrow Lord Hobhouse’s language, “is not of an appealable
nature”. Whether the right to hear appeals generally
against decisions of the Central Government acting as a
tribunal be within Art. 136, in my opinion and I say it
with great respect-special leave to appeal should not be
granted in such cases, unless this Court is able to rend the
veil of secrecy cast by the law without rending the law
itself. The argument is that the allegations are
confidential only so far as the public are concerned but not
confidential where Courts are concerned. The question is
not that but one of practice of this Court. This Court
should intervene only when practicable, and that can only
arise if the parties agree not to treat the allegations as
confidential.
That, however, does not end the present appeals. Special
leave has been granted, and I have held that the appeals are
competent, even though such cases
(1) (1876) 2 App. Cas. 102.
370
often may not be fit for appeal. In this case, there is no
claim that any allegation was confidential. In fact, the
appellants before the Central Government made it clear that
they did not charge the Directors with “capricious or mala
fide conduct” but only with arbitrary refusal, without
stating any reasons. The appellant Company in its
representation set out the history of previous refusals and
the decisions of the High Court of Bombay and the Central
Government, and made it clear that the action was taken in
the interest of the Company. There are indications in the
representation to show that on the previous occasion when
these claimants were referred by the High Court and by Mr.
K. R. P. Aiyengar, Joint Secretary, to the Civil Court, they
did not go to Court to establish that the action was mala
fide and capricious. Before the Central Government, they
dropped that allegation, and confined the case to one of
refusal without giving any reasons, and that was the plain
issue before the Central Government. There was no evidence
for the Central Government to consider, and the Articles of
Association give the Directors an absolute discretion to
refuse to register shares without giving any reasons, and,
on the authorities quoted earlier, the Directors must be
presumed to have acted honestly. There was thus no reason
for the Central Government to reverse the decision of the
Directors, and the fact that no reasons have been given when
nothing was confidential, leads to the only inference that
there was none to give.
In my opinion, these appeals must succeed. I would,
therefore, set aside the order of the Central Government,
and allow the appeals with costs here and before the Central
Government, if an order to that effect was passed by the
Central Government.
Before parting with the case, I may say that the Report of
the Companies Act Amendment Committee had recommended
amendment of s. 111, and it has been amended, inter alia, by
the addition of sub-s. (5A), which reads:
“Before making an order under sub-section (5)
on an appeal against any refusal of the
company to
371
register any transfer or transmission, the
Central Government may require the company to
disclose to it the reasons for such refusal,
and on the failure or refusal of the company
to disclose such reasons, that Government may,
notwithstanding anything contained in the
articles of the company, presume that the
disclosure, if made, would be unfavourable to
the company.”
That would stop the blind man’s buff under the unamended
law!
By COURT. In view of the majority judgment of the Court, we
quash the orders passed by the Central Government and direct
that the appeals be reheard and disposed of according to
law. Costs of these appeals will be costs in the appeals
before the Central Government.

 

 

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