2014(7) ALL MR 850
IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUDICATURE AT BOMBAY

NARESH H. PATIL AND F.M. REIS, JJ.

XYZ Vs. The Chief Secretary, Govt. of Goa & Anr.

Suo Moto Writ Petition No.1 of 2013

23rd October, 2013

Petitioner Counsel: Mr. Y.V. NADKARNI
Respondent Counsel: Mr. A. N. S. NADKARNI

Legal Services Authorities Act (1987), S.21 - Court Fees Act (1870), S.16 - Motor Vehicles Act (1988) S.166 - Claim petitions under M.V. Act by Lok Adalat - Settlement of - Refund of court fee - Tribunals referring matters to Lok Adalat are required to issue certificates for refund to enable claimants to receive such refunds from respective Collectorate. (Paras 16, 17)

Cases Cited:
Vasudevan Vs. State of Kerala, MANU/KE/0459/2003 [Para 15]


JUDGMENT

F. M. REIS, J. :- Heard Shri Y. V. Nadkarni, learned Amicus Curiae appointed by this Court and Shri A. N. S. Nadkarni, learned Advocate General, appearing on behalf of the Respondents.

2. The above Suo Moto Writ Petition was registered in view of a submission dated 19.07.2013 by the learned Registrar (Judicial) & Member Secretary of the Goa State Legal Services Authority. The issue raised is as under:

"Whether a claimant/s, as the case may be, whose claim petition/s is/are referred, to any one of the modes of settlement of dispute, as per Section 89 of CPC and settled amicably, by one of such mode, should be left high and dry in the matter of refund of fees paid as per Rule 278(i) of the Motor Vehicles Rules, 1991, for want of specific provisions under the said rule ?"

3. On the basis of the said submission, this Court issued a notice to the Respondents vide Order dated 30.07.2013 and called upon them to file an affidavit with that regard. The stand of the State Government came to be stated by the affidavit filed by the Respondents on record dated 22.08.2013.

4. It is the stand of the Respondents in the affidavit that the claimant is entitled to a certificate from the Court which has referred the matter to the Lok Adalat to receive the full amount of Court fees from the Collector in terms of Section 21 of the Legal Services Act 1987 read with Section 89 of the Civil Procedure Code, 1908, and read with Section 16 of the Court Fees Act, 1870.

5. We have heard the learned Amicus Curiae, who has pointed out that in view of the provisions of Section 16 of the Court Fees Act, 1870, even the fees which are paid at the time of the filing of the Claim Petitions can be read into the said provision to entitle the claimant to seek a refund. Learned Amicus Curiae has taken us through the provisions of Section 21 of the Legal Services Act, 1987 and pointed out that even in terms of Section 89 of the Civil Procedure Code, the settlements before Lok Adalat are also including therein. Learned Amicus Curiae further pointed out that merely because the word used is "fees" does not divest the colour of the payment to be Court Fees as the Tribunals deciding motor accident claims are not Courts and, as such, the term used is "fees". Learned Amicus Curiae further pointed out reading the provisions of Section 21 of the Legal Services Act with Section 89 of the Civil Procedure Code and Section 16 of the Court Fees Act, the inescapable conclusion is that the claimants filing Claim Petitions and whose Petitions have been settled before Lok Adalats, are entitled for the refund of the fees paid by them whilst filing such Claim Petition.

6. The learned Advocate General appearing for the State pointed out that though there is no quarrel with the propositions advanced by the learned Amuicus Curiae, but however, according to him, the Tribunals before whom the Claim Petitions have been filed should pass appropriate Orders directing the issuance of certificates to enable the claimants to seek refund of the fees paid by them before the Collector in view of Section 16 of the Court Fees Act. The learned Advocate General further pointed out that this exercise is permissible in terms of the provisions of law and, as such, unless and until such certificate is issued, the Collector would not be in a position to refund such fees. Learned Advocate General has also placed on record his brief arguments in connection with his submissions.

7. We have considered the submissions of the learned Amicus Curiae as well as the learned Advocate General and gone through the records. On perusal thereof, we find that the claimants file the Petitions before the Motor Accident Claims Tribunal for compensation, inter alia, under Section 166 of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988. Such Tribunal is constituted under Section 165 of the said Act. In terms of the said Act, the Claims Tribunal shall be deemed to be a Civil Court for all the purpose of Section 195 and Chapter XXVI of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.

8. By Goa Act 5 of 1966, an amendment was introduced after Section 15 of the Court Fees Act, 1870 by adding Section 16-A, 16-B and 16-C but, however, the said amendment would not be applicable to amicable settlement which took place under Section 89 of the Civil Procedure Code, 1908, as Section 16 as introduced by the Central Government Act 46 of 1999 and Sections 16, 16A, 16B and 16C introduced by the State of Goa are distinct and would operate in entirely different circumstances. Once the matter is referred to Lok Adalat, the matter relating to refund of the Court Fee is governed by the provisions of the Legal Services Authorities Act 1987 read with Section 89 of the Code of Civil Procedure 1908 and also read with Section 16 of the Central Court Fees Act 1870. In order to consider whether settlements before Lok Adalats is also a mode of settling disputes in terms of the provisions of the Civil Procedure Code, it would be appropriate to record Section 89 of the said Code which reads thus :

"89. Settlement of disputes outside the Court:- (1) where it appears to the Court that there exist elements of a settlement which may be acceptable to the parties, the Court shall formulate the terms of settlement and give them to the parties for their observations and after receiving the observations of the parties, the Court may reformulate the terms of a possible settlement and refer the same for-

(a) arbitration;

(b) conciliation;

(c) judicial settlement including settlement through Lok Adalat; or

(d) mediation

(2) where a dispute has been referred-

(a) for arbitration or conciliation, the provisions of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 (26 of 1996) shall apply as if the proceedings for arbitration or conciliation were referred for settlement under the provisions of that Act;

(b) to Lok Adalat, the Court shall refer the same to the Lok Adalat in accordance with the provisions of sub-section (1) of section 20 of the Legal Services Authority Act, 1987 (39 of 1987) and all other provisions of that Act shall apply in respect of the dispute to the Lok Adalat;

(c) for judicial settlement, the Court shall refer the same to a suitable institution or person and such institution or person shall be deemed to be a Lok Adalat and all the provisions of the Legal Services Authority Act, 1987 (39 of 1987) shall apply as if the dispute were referred to a Lok Adalat under the provisions of that Act;

(d) for mediation, the Court shall effect a compromise between the parties and shall follow such procedure as may be prescribed."

9. On plain reading of the said provisions of Section 89, we find that in terms thereof, the parties can be referred for judicial settlement including settlements through Lok Adalats and that the same would be in accordance with the provisions of sub-section (1) of Section 20 of the Legal State Authority Act, 1987 and all other provisions of the Act shall apply in respect of the dispute so referred to the Lok Adalats.

10. Section 21 of the Legal Services Authority Act of 1987 provides thus :

"21. Award of Lok Adalat - (1) Every Award of the Lok Adalat shall be deemed to be a decree of a civil court or, as the case may be, an order of any other court and where a compromise or settlement has been arrived at by a Lok Adalat in a case referred to it under sub-section (1) of Section 20, the court-fee paid in such case shall be refunded in the manner provided under the Court-Fees Act, 1870 (7 of 1870)."

11. On going through the provisions of Section 21, we find that when the mattes are compromised or settled before the Lok Adalat in the case referred to it, the Court fees paid in such case shall be refunded under the Court Fees Act, of 1870. In terms of Section 2(aaa) of the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987, "Court", means a civil, criminal or revenue court and includes any tribunal or any other authority constituted under any law for the time being in force, to exercise judicial or quasi-judicial functions. Section 2(c) of the Legal Servicies Authorities Act, 1987, defines "legal service" includes the rendering of any service in the conduct of any case or other legal proceeding before any court or other authority or tribunal and the giving of advice on any legal matter."

12. On going through the said definitions in the said Act of 1987, it is clear that proceedings before the Tribunal would also be before a Court and, as such, the proceedings before the Tribunal would be included in Section 21 of the said Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987.

13. Section 25 of the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987, also provides that :

"25. Act to have overriding effect.- The provisions of this Act shall have effect notwithstanding anything inconsistent therewith contained in any other law for the time being in force or in any instrument having effect by virtue of any law other than this Act."

14. Keeping the said Act of 1987 in mind, we shall proceed to consider the effect therein in Section 16 of the Court Fees Act, 1870. Section 16 of the Court Fees Act, 1870, provides thus :

15. On plain reading of the said provisions, it becomes abundantly clear that the full amount of Court Fees paid in respect of cases or claims are to be refunded to the parties by whom the same have been respectively paid. We would refer to the observations of the Kerala High Court in the case of Vasudevan vs. State of Kerala, reported at MANU/KE/0459/2003, wherein paras 9 and 10 reads thus:

"9. From the above provision, it can be seen that when a matter is referred to Lok Adalat as was done in this case refund of the court fee has to be decided in terms of Section 21 of the Legal Services Authorities Act which in turn states that refund shall be in the manner provided under the provisions of the Court Fees Act, 1870. Section 16 of the Court Fees Act, 1870 is a provision inserted by Act 46 of 1999. Section 16 of the Court Fees Act, 1870 reads as follows:

"Where the Court refers the parties to the suit any one of the mode of settlement of dispute referred to in Section 89 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 (5 of 1908), the plaintiff shall be entitled to a certificate from the court authorising him to receive back from the Collector, the full amount of the fee paid in respect of such plaint".

10. Section 89(2)(b) of the Code of Civil Procedure also provides that where a dispute has been referred to the Lok Adalat the Court shall refer the same to the Lok Adalat in accordance with the provisions of Sub-section 1 of Section 20 of the Legal Services Authority Act, 1987 (39 of 1987) and all other provisions of that Act shall apply in respect of the dispute so referred to the Lok Adalat.

On a careful reading of the above provision, it can be seen that when a matter is referred to Lok Adalat by a civil court, the provisions contained in the Legal Services Authorities Act shall govern the parties in the matter of resolving the dispute and also in the matter of refund of the court fees. There is a specific provision in the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 which provides for refund of the court fee when the matter is settled by the Lok Adalat and as per Section 16 of the Court Fees Act, 1870 the entire court fee paid on the plaint is liable to be refunded and the Court which has referred the matter shall issue a certificate to the plaintiff to receive the amount from the Collector."

16. On going through the provisions of the said Act of 1987, an Award passed by the Lok Adalat is deemed to be a Decree of a Civil Court and in terms of Section 21 of the Legal State Authorities Act of 1987, the Court fees paid in such cases shall be refunded in the manner provided under the Court Fees Act, 1870. Hence, reading of the provisions referred to herein above, there is no distinction between a Civil suit settled before the Lok Adalat and the Claim Petition filed under Section 166 of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, which is settled before the Lok Adalat as both are Decrees of Civil Court. As pointed out herein above, on reading the definitions of the "Court" under the said Act of 1987, it includes the Tribunal and a Claim Petition is included in the definition of a case. The fees referred to under Section 16 of the Court Fees Act, 1870, would include the fees paid by claimants whilst filing Claim Petitions in terms of the provisions of the Motor Vehicles Act.

17. In view of the above, the issue raised by the learned Registrar(Judicial) of this Court in the submissions dated 19.07.2013, is answered holding that the claimant is entitled to a certificate from the Court which has referred the matter to the Lok Adalat to receive the full amount of the Court-Fees/fees from the Collectorate in terms of Section 21 of the Legal State Authorities Act, 1987 read with Section 89 of the Civil Procedure Code, 1908, and read with Section 16 of the Court-Fees Act, 1870. Hence, when Claim Petitions are settled before the Lok Adalats, the Tribunal referring the matters before such Lok Adalats shall issue certificates for refund of such fees in compliance with the provisions of Section 16 of the Court-Fees Act, 1870, so as to enable the claimants to receive such refund from the respective Collectorate.

18. Rule stands disposed of in the above terms.

Ordered accordingly.