1998(3) ALL MR 256
IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUDICATURE AT BOMBAY
V.H. BHAIRAVIA, J.
National Spiritual Assembly Of Bahais In Judia & Ors. Vs. Cyruz Mazkoori
Appeal from Order No.287 of 1995
4th May, 1998
Petitioner Counsel: Mr.RAFIQ DADA with Mrs.ANJALI CHANDURKAR
Respondent Counsel: Mr.P.B. SHAH
Civil P.C. (1908), S.9 - Civil suit - Maintainability - Suit by a member of religious body - Religious body having its own religious code of conduct - Religious body withdrawing voting right of plaintiff without hearing him - Plaintiff isolated from other followers and deprived of his right to hold office - Held suit was not barred though withdrawal order was appealable under the religious code. (Para 6)
JUDGMENT :- This Appeal originally converted from Civil Revision Application No.301 of 1994 challenging the order of the Appellate Court, Additional District Judge, Satara on 24-1-1995 allowing the Appeal of the Respondent/Plaintiff. It reveals from the record that the Appellant is a religious body known as National Spiritual Assembly, having its own religious code of conduct laid down in 'Lights of Guidance' (A Baha's Reference File). It is a voluntary religious body. The membership of this faith is by choice. The Respondent/Plaintiff who is the follower of Bahais faith has a right of vote. His right has been withdrawn by the Appellants under Rule 178 of Lights of Guidance. Therefore, the Respondent/Plaintiff filed a civil suit and prayed for restoration of his valuable right of voting. The Appellants/Defendants raised a preliminary objection regarding maintainability of this suit on the ground of jurisdiction and the trial Court was pleased to uphold the preliminary objection and returned the plaint to the Plaintiff for presenting to the proper court. It has been held by the Trial Court that the Civil Court, J.D., who has no jurisdiction to hear the suit, as the decision of withdrawing the voting right of the Plaintiff was taken in Delhi. The Respondent/Plaintiff challenged that order in the District Court, Satara. The learned Additional District Judge, Satara was pleased to allow the Appeal of the Respondent by his order dated 24-1-1994 and restored the plaint. Against that order the Appellants/original Defendants have filed Civil Revision Application being No.301/94 in this Court. However, the Civil Revision Application was allowed to be converted in Appeal From Order being A.O.No.287/95, which has been heard by this Court on merits.
2. Before I go to the crucial question of the jurisdiction of the Civil Court, it reveals from the records that Application Exh.16 filed by the Defendants raising preliminary objection regarding territorial jurisdiction only, on the ground that the decision regarding withdrawing voting right of the Plaintiff was taken in Delhi and therefore the Civil Court, J.D., has no jurisdiction. The learned Trial Judge has upheld that preliminary objection.
3. That order was challenged by the Plaintiff in the Appellate Court. It appears from the order of the Appellate Court that the present Appellants/Defendants had also contended before the Trial Court that as it was a religious body governed by its own Code of Conducts i.e. Lights of Guidance, the Defendants are also entitled for protection under Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution of India. However, the learned Appellate Judge has negatived this contention and held that the Civil Court has jurisdiction to entertain such suit. I may here make myself clear that this Appeal From Order against the Appellate Court order is maintainable in law or not is a question. However, it reveals from the records that the Civil Revision Application was allowed to be converted into Appeal From Order, therefore, I do not express my opinion on this point. I heard the learned Counsel Mr.Rafiq Dada for the Appellants and Mr.P.B. Shah for the Respondent. It has been vehemently contended by the learned Counsel Mr.Rafiq Dada appearing on behalf of the Appellants that as the Appellant No.1 is a religious body having its own Code of Conduct known as 'Lights of Guidance' and all the followers of Baha i faith are abiding by this Light of Guidance, and if any member of this faith aggrieved by any decision of the religious administration body, there is a provisions under the Lights of Guidance of appeal and as Baha i faith has its national branches, the right of appeal is provided to all the members and without exhausting that remedy Baha i follower has no right to file civil suit. Therefore, the suit is not maintainable. Further Mr.Rafiq Dada contended that this Baha i faith considering to be a minority religion has been protected under Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution of India. No civil suit is maintainable against it. In support of his argument Mr.Rafiq Dada relied on a case of Sardar Syedna Saifuddin Saheb v/s. State of Bombay reported in AIR 1962 Supreme Court 853.
4. Mr.Shah on behalf of the Respondent/Plaintiff has contended that it is not correct to say that the Baha i follower has no right to file a civil suit or civil suit is barred under this Code of Conduct (Lights of Guidance). It has been submitted by Mr.Shah that the order of withdrawing the right of vote of Respondent/Plaintiff is not finally communicated till today. Therefore, there was no question of filing appeal against it. The order of withdrawing the voting right of the Respondent/Plaintiff was just announced at Panchagani and the Respondent/Plaintiff came to know from his friend about it. The right of voting is a very important religious right and without that right no Baha i follower can survive in this faith. Mr.Shah submitted that it is a civil right and in breach of this civil right the plaintiff is entitled to file a civil suit. The learned Counsel Mr.Shah submitted that under Clause 1466, the right to file a civil suit is granted. Therefore, the appeal is deserved to be dismissed. Mr.Shah relied on a case of Most Rev.P.M.A. Metropolitan and others v/s. Moran Mar Marthoma and another reported at AIR 1995 SC 2001.
5. Having regard to facts and circumstances of this case, it appears that the right of voting has been withdrawn without giving any opportunity of being heard to the Respondent/Plaintiff. What is the effect of withdrawing the right of voting. Clause 216 of Light of Guidance reads as follows :-
".... One who has lost his voting rights is considered to be a Baha i but not one in good standing. The following restrictions and limitations apply to such a believer;
He cannot attend Nineteen Day Feasts or other meetings for Baha is only, including International Conferences, and therefore cannot take part in consultation on the affairs of the community.
He cannot contribute to the Baha i Fund.
He cannot receive newsletters and other bulletins whose circulation is restricted to Baha is.
He cannot have a Baha i marriage ceremony and therefore is not able to marry a Baha i.
He may not have a Baha i pilgrimage.
Although he is free to teach the Faith on his own behalf, he should not be used as a teacher or speaker in programs sponsored by Baha is.
He is debarred from participating in administrative matters, including the right to vote in Baha i elections.
He cannot hold office or be appointed to a committee.
He should not be given credentials (which imply that he is a Baha i in good standing)."
6. Having gone through the records and proceedings of this case, it is an admitted fact that the order of withdrawing right of vote is not communicated to the Plaintiff. Despite that the Plaintiff has written several letters requesting to reconsider the decision which has come into force without his knowledge, and as he did not receive any reply, he has filed this civil suit as a last resort. Clause 1466 reads as under :-
"There is no objection to Taking Case to Civil Court if Assembly and Baha is are Unable to Negotiate a Settlement of a Dispute.
"... The House of Justice ... states that believers should take their differences to the Spiritual Assembly and abide by the decision of the Assembly. However, if Baha is cannot negotiate a settlement of a dispute between them, and if the Spiritual Assembly cannot succeed in arbitrating a solution to the dispute, then there is no objection to the Baha is having recourse to the civil courts. The Assembly should not hesitate to refuse to act in a case which it is satisfied is more properly a question fro the law courts. However, the Assembly does not have the authority to prohibit a believer from having recourse to the civil courts if he decides to do so."
The right of appeal though it is provided under the Lights of Guidance, but the impugned order which was not finally communicated to the Plaintiff, which was passed without hearing him and even not communicated to him, the Baha is follower has no reason to file appeal. But in practice, the Respondent/Plaintiff has been isolated from the other followers and also deprived from his right of holding office, the Plaintiff has no other alternative but to file a civil suit. Therefore, in my opinion, the civil court has jurisdiction to entertain such suits and the order passed by the learned Appellate Judge is legal and just order, and this application is deserved to be dismissed. The Trial Court is directed to restore this plaint and since the main suit is of the year 1992, the Trial Court is directed to hear and decide the suit expeditiously preferably within six months.
The learned Counsel for the Appellants prays for stay of this order for eight weeks.
Having regard to facts and circumstances of this case, in my view, The Appellants are not going to be prejudiced in any way if the order passed by this Court is not stayed and even if the Appellants want to carry this order further. Hence, the request is rejected.