Topic: Ramachandra Rambux v. Champabai & Ors

Ramachandra Rambux v. Champabai & Ors
Equivalent citations: 1965 AIR 354, 1964 SCR (6) 814 - Bench: Mudholkar, J.R., Subbarao, K. - Citation: 1965 Air 354 1964 Scr (6) 814 - Date Of Judgment: 17/02/1964

Will-Genuineness-Credibility    of witnesses-Surrounding circumstances and probabilities, if court can look into- Removal     of suspicious circumstances, if propounder has to satisfy the court.

The appellant filed a suit claiming the property of one R which was in possession of R's widow on the allegation    that R had executed a will bequeathing almost his entire property to the     appellant and practically excluding his widow     and daughters. The ground on which the widow and the daughters were excluded is said to be the strained relations which had developed between R and his wife. The widow     denied     the execution of     the alleged will and challenged     the genuineness. The Trial Court holding that the will     was genuine     decreed the suit. On appeal, the     High Court dismissed the    suit holding that the win was not genuine. The finding of the High Court was based on the evidence     and the attending    circumstances appearing in the case.     Or appeal to this Court by a certificate granted: Held: (i)In order to judge the credibility of the witness, the Court is    not confined only to the way in which     the witnesses have deposed or to the demeanour of the witnesses, but it     is open to it to look into the     surrounding circumstances as well as the probabilities, so that it     may be able to form a correct idea of the trustworthiness of the witnesses. This issue cannot be determined by considering the evidence adduced    in the    Court separately from     the surrounding circumstances brought out in the evidence, or which appear from the nature and the contents of     the document itself.

(ii) It is necessary for the propounder to satisfy the court about the genuineness of the will by removing all suspicions which naturally from the various circumstances. Surat Kumar Bibi v. Sakti Chand, (1928), L.R. 56 LA.     62, Krishto     opal v. Baidyanath, A.I.R. 1939 Cal.     87, Chotey Narain Singh V. Ali. Ratan Koer, (1894) L.R. 22 I.A. 12, H. Venkachala Iyengar v. N. Thaimmajamma,     [1959] Supp.     1 S.C.R. 426, Shashi Kumar Banerjee v. Subodh Kumar Banerjee, C.A. No. 295 of 1960. dt. Sept. 13, 1963 (Non-reportable and Tyrell v. Painton, (1894) P. 151, referred to.


CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION: Civil Appeal No. 758 1963. Appeal    from the judgment and decree dated February of     the former    Bombay High Court in Appeal of 1957 from original decree.


J. B.     Dadachanji, Ravinder Narain and O. C.    Mathur,     for the appellant.

Girish Chandra and Sardar Bahadur, for respondents Nos. 1, 2 (i) to 2 (iv), 3 and 4.

February 17, 1964. The Judgment of the Court was delivered by: -

MUDHOLKAR, J.-The question which arises for consideration in this appeal by a certificate granted by the High Court of Bombay    is whether a will alleged to have been    executed by one Ramdhan on May 23, 1947 is genuine or is a    fabrication. By this will, Ramdhan is alleged to have bequeathed almost his entire property consisting of 16 fields assessed to land revenue     at Rs. 425/- per annum, five houses,    a shop     and movables consisting of 800 tolas of gold, 1,000 tolas of silver,     Rs. 50,0001/- cash and Rs.    15,000/-- due    from debtors     as well as    cattle,     agricultural     implements, utensils, etc., to the appellant, and practically excluded his widow. Sitabai and his three married daughters.     The appellant is the grandson of one of the three     predeceased uncles of Ramdhan, and the ground on which the widow and the daughters were practically excluded by Ramdhan is said to be the strained relations which developed between Ramdhan     and his wife during his last days.

Ramdhan     died on October 31. 1948, and Sitabai, who was     all along living with him, came into possession of Ramdhan's property. Admittedly, the appellant did not try to disturb her possession. According to him, he allowed     Sitabai to remain    in possession on his behalf, and that for some    time she was managing the estate in a satisfactory    way. Later on, however, she, in utter disregard    of the appellant's interests, began to give away some portions of the property to her daughters and strangers, even though she knew    that the property had been bequeathed to him by Ramdhan. and that she was entitled to receive only a maintenance of Rs.    40/- per month under the will of Ramdhan. It may be mentioned that Ramdhan was a resident of Peepalgaon in the district of Parbhani, and    the entire property, movable    as well as immovable, is at Peepalgaon itself.

Upon these allegations, the plaintiff instituted the    suit out of which this appeal arises, in the District Court at 816

Parbhani. Sitabai denied the execution of the alleged    will by Ramdhan, and also denied the relationship claimed by     the appellant with Ramdhan. According to her, after Ramdhan's death she was in exclusive possession of the property,    that she is a helpless widow without a male issue, and that     the appellant taking advantage of this fact ha,. set up a false will and laid claim to Ramdhan's property. While admitting that the immovable property had been correctly set out in the plaint, she challenged the correctness of some of     the items of the movable property, During the pendency of the suit, one Madanlal was joined as a party to it on the. basis of his     claim to be the adopted son of Ramdhan. lie    also challenged the genuineness of the will. According to    him, he was     adopted by Ramdhan in the month of Chait, Samvat, 1999 according     to the prevailing custom in the State of Udaipur. Sitabai died during the pendency of the suit,     and her daughters, Champabai, Rambhabai, and Rajubai as also Ram Pershad, one of Sitabai's sons-in-law, who was     alleged to have obtained possession of the property after the death of Sitabai, were brought on record as the legal representatives of Sitabai.

The trial Court held in favour of the appellant that he     was related     to Ramdhan, as alleged by him, and that the    will executed by Ramdhan    was genuine.    It also negatived Madanlal's claim of having been adopted by Ramdhan.     On these findings, that Court decreed the appellant's suit. The. legal representatives of Sitabai thereupon preferred an appeal    before the High Court, which held that the will     set up by    the appellant is not genuine, and on that ground, dismissed his suit.

In support of the will, the appellant examined himself,     the scribe, Venkat Rajaram and three of the attesting witnesses, Raja Kaniahprasad, Rasheeduddin Ahmed and Wamanlal.     The appellant also examined some witnesses in support of     his contention that the property bequeathed to him under the will was entrusted by him to Sitabai after the death of Ramdhan. On the other hand,     the respondents have     led evidence to show that Ramdhan could     not have been at Hyderabad where the will is alleged to have been executed, on May 23, 1947, because till the afternoon of the 817

previous day he was at a village nearly 300 miles distant from Hyderabad.

The High Court, on a consideration of the entire evidence adduced by the parties, came to the conclusion that the will was prepared under highly suspicious circumstances, and that the evidence adduced by the appellant was not such as to satisfy it that the alleged will was a genuine one. Accord- ing to the High Court, the circumstances appearing in     the case indicate that the alleged will was "in all probability" a false document brought into existence without     the knowledge of Ramdhan. The High Court rightly    pointed     out that the nature of proof which was required in a case of this kind was that laid down by the Privy Council in Sarat Kumari Bibi v. Sakhi Chand(1), where it has been stated that in all cases in which a will is prepared under circumstances which arouse the suspicion of the Court that it does     not express     the mind of the testator, it is for the propounder of the will to remove that suspicion. According to the High Court,     the evidence     led by the    appellant was     so unsatisfactory that it was impossible to give any effect to the alleged will.

Mr. Dadachanji's grievance, however, is that     the entire approach of the High Court to the evidence in this case     was wrong, because it first took into consideration the various circumstances,    and then judged the credibility of the    wit- nesses    in the light of those circumstances. In support of his contention, he has relied upon the following observation of Biswas, J. in Kristo Gopal v. Baidya Nath(2): "It is difficult to avoid the conclusion    that the learned Judges for some reason or other must have formed the idea that the will     was not a genuine document, and that having formed such, an idea. he looked at the    evidence of each of the witnesses with a suspicious    eye. On no other hypothesis is it    possible to explain the criticism which he has led himself to make."

The learned Judge has supported his observation by quoting the following observations of Lord Watson in Chotey Narain Singh v. Mt. Ratan Koer(3):

(1)(1928) L.R. 56 I.A. 62. (2) A.I.R. 1939 CaL 87. (3) 22 I.A. 12. 23.

134-159 S.C.-52


"The theory of improbability remains to be considered; and the first observation which their Lordships,     have to make is that, in order to prevail against such evidence as     has been adduced by the respondent in this case, an improbability must be clear and cogent. It must approach very nearly to, if it does     not altogether constitute, an impossibility." The learned Judge has then observed as follows: "In a case where. attesting witnesses     are produced    and they give     clear    and cogent testimony     regarding execution,    one should require very strong circumstances to repel the effect of such testimony. It will not do to talk airily about circumstances of suspicion. It is no doubt true that a person who takes it upon himself to dispute the genuineness of a will cannot be expected to prove a negative in many cases. At the same time, the difficulty in which, on his own    seeking, he places himself, will not relieve him of the burden-it may be a heavy     burden-of displacing     the positive    testimony on the other side. If he rests his case on suspicion, the suspicion must be     a suspicion     inherent in     the transaction itself which is challenged     and cannot be a suspicion arising out of a    mere conflict of testimony."

Then the learned Judge went on to observe that if there     was evidence to show that the will was actually made, it would not be relevant to enquire whether there was any occasion or motive-for the     execution of the will, and that if such a test were to    be applied in every case, no     will could probably be proved at all.

The questions which we have to consider are whether there was, in fact, a will, that is to say, whether    Ramdban     did execute     a will during his lifetime, and if so, whether     the document upon which the appellant relies is a will executed by Ramdhan and duly attested by witnesses. The appellant can prove these facts only by adducing evidence of the     due execution of the will by Ramdhan and of its    attestation. The challenge    before us is as to the    credibility of     the witnesses


who have come forward to say that the document     upon which the appellant    relies    not merely bears the signature of Ramdhan but represents the disposition made by Ramdhan, that is it    was executed by Ramdhan, and    that the attesting witnesses attested the execution of the will by Ramdhan. In order to judge the credibility of the witnesses, the Court is not confined only to the way in which the witnesses    have deposed or to the demeanour of witnesses, but it is open to it to look into the surrounding circumstances as well as the probabilities, so that it may be able to form a correct idea of the trustworthiness of the witnesses. This issue cannot be determined    by considering the evidence adduced in     the Court separately from the surrounding    circumstances which have also been brought out in the evidence, or which appear from the nature and contents of the document itself. We do not understand the observations of Lord Waston to mean    that the testimony as to the execution of the document has to be considered independently of the attendant circumstances. All that he says is that where there is a large     and consistent body of testimony tending to show the execution of a will by the testator, that evidence should not be lightly set aside on the theory of improbability. Dealing     with the mode of proof of a will, this Court     has observed in H. Venkatachala lyengar v. B. N. Thimmajamma and Others(1):

"As in the case of proof of other documents so in the case of proof of wills it would be idle to expect proof with mathematical certainty. The test to be applied would be the usual test of the satisfaction of the prudent mind in such matters.

However, there is one important feature which distinguishes wills from other     documents. Unlike other documents the will    speaks    from the death of the testator, and so, when it is propounded or produced before a     court,     the testator,     who has already departed the world cannot say whether it is his will or not;     and this aspect naturally introduces an element of solemnity     in the decision of the question as to whether the document pro pounded is proved to be the last will and testa-

(1) [1959] S.C.R. Supp. 1. 426. 443.


ment of the departed testator. Even so, in dealing with the proof of the wills the court will start on the same enquiry as in the    case of the proof of documents. The propounder would be called upon to show by    satisfactory evidence    that the will was signed by     the testator,     that the testator at the relevant time was     in a sound and disposing state of mind, that he understood the nature and effect of the dispositions and put his signature to the document of his own free will. Ordinarily when the evidence adduced in support of     the will is     disinterested,     satisfactory     and sufficient to prove the sound and disposing state of the testator's mind and his signature as required by law, courts would be justified in making a finding in favour of     the propounder. In other words, the onus on     the propounder can be taken to be discharged on proof of the essential facts just indicated. There may, however, be cases in which     the execution     of the will may be surrounded by suspicious circumstances. The alleged signature     of the testator may be shaky     and doubtful    and evidence in support of     the propounder's case that     the signature     in question is the signature of the testator     may not remove the doubt created by the appearance of the signature; . . . . the    dispositions made in the will may appear to be unnatural, improbable or unfair in the light of relevant circumstances; or, the will may otherwise indicate that the said dispositions may not be the result of the testator's free will and mind. In such cases the court would naturally expect that all legitimate suspicions should be completely removed before the document is accepted    as the last will of the testator. The presence of such suspicious circumstances naturally tends to make the initial onus    very heavy; and unless it is satisfactorily discharged, courts would be reluctant to treat the document as the last will

of the testator."


This Court also pointed out that apart from suspicious circumstances of this     kind, where it appears that     the propounder has taken a prominent part in the execution of the will which confers substantial benefits on him,    that itself    is generally treated as a suspicious    circumstance attending the execution of the will, and the propounder is required to remove the suspicion by clear and satisfactory evidence. In other words, the propounder must satisfy     the conscience of    the Court that the document upon which he relies is the last will and testament of the testator. This decision has been recently referred to in a Judgment of this Court in Shashi Kumar Banerjee and others v. Subodh Kumar Banerjee(1) (Civil Appeal No. 295 of 1966 decided on September 13, 1963). There, Wanchoo J. who spoke for     the Court, has observed as follows :

"The mode of proving    a will     does     not ordinarily differ from that of    proving     any other document except as to the special requirement of attestation prescribed in     the case of    a will     by s.     63 of     the Indian Succession Act. The onus of proving the    will is on the propounder and in the     absence of suspicious circumstances surrounding     the execution     of the will, proof of    testamentary capacity and the signature of the testator as required by law is sufficient to discharge the onus. Where however there are suspicious circumstances, the onus is on the propounder to explain them to the satisfaction of     the court before the court accepts the will as genuine.     Where    the caveator alleges undue influence, fraud and coercion, the onus is on him to prove the same. Even where there     are no such pleas but the circumstances give    rise to doubt it is for the propounder to satisfy the conscience of the Court. The suspicious circumstances may be as to the genuineness of the signature of the testator, the condition of the testator's mind, the dispositions    made in the will being unnatural, improbable or unfair in the light of relevant circumstances or there     might be other indications in     the will to show that the testator's

(1) C.A. No.    295 of     1960,    D. Sept. 13.    1963 (Non- reportable).


mind was not free. In such a case the court would naturally    expect that all legitimate suspicion should be completely removed before the document is accepted as the last will of the testator. If the propounder himself takes part in    the execution    of the     will which confers a substantial benefit on him, that is also a circumstance to be taken into account, and the propounder is required to remove the doubts by clear and satisfactory evidence. If the propounder    succeed     in removing     the suspicious circumstances the court would grant probate,    even if the will might be unnatural and might cut off wholly or in part    near relations. It is in the light of these settled principles that we have    to consider whether the appellants    have succeeded     in establishing that the will was duly executed and attested."

In Sarat Kumari Bibi's case(1) on which the High Court     has relied    and which is    also relied upon in Venkatachala lyengar's case(2) just cited, it was found that     one Jamaluddin who     took benefit under the will, had taken an active part in the preparation of the will, and, therefore, the rule made     by Lindley and Davey L.JJ. in     Tyrrell v. Painton(3) that where circumstances exist which would excite the suspicion    of the     Court,     the burden is upon     the propounder of the will to remove such suspicion and prove affirmatively that the testator knew and approved of     the contents of the document, was applied.

The High Court has analysed the entire evidence adduced by the propounder     of the will to prove its due execution by Ramdhan, and    along with that evidence, it has    also considered certain attendant circumstances.    One is     the fact that the     will is said    to have been    executed at Hyderabad, which is a place where the appellant resides     and carries on his profession as a medical practitioner and     not at Peepalgaon, where Ramdhan resided. The evidence adduced in the case shows that on the day prior to the one on which the will purports to have been executed, Ramdhan was at Ghanegaon till the afternoon. This place is 8 miles distant from Peepalgaon, and

(1) [1928] L.R. 56 I.A. 62. (2) [1959] Supp. 1, S.C.R. 426,


(3) [1894] P. 151, 157, 159.


the nearest railway station is 20 miles distant from Peepal- gaon. The will is said-to have been executed at about noon, and though it is not impossible, it is highly improbable that Ramdhan could have been present at the place of execution by that time. The third thing is that the    will was executed in the house of the appellant.    One of     the circumstances is that there was no particular reason why the will should have been executed at that time, because there is no suggestion that Ramdhan was not keeping good health. Then again, the property is very considerable, and instead of employing the services of a trained lawyer to draw up the will, a layman like Venkat Rajaram, who has given     his profession as "Jagirdari" had been enlisted. The scribe as well as the attesting witnesses are not the personal friends of Ramdhan, though they say they knew him, but appear to be either the friends or neighbours of the appellant. Yet, the appellant wants the Court to believe that all these persons were collected by Ramdhan after his arrival at Hyderabad on the morning of May 23. This, in itself, would be an improbable thing indeed, because Ramdhan would not have     had enough    time at his disposal for doing it. Again, there is no explanation why he should collect only the friends     and acquaintances of the appellant rather than persons, who were his own friends.

The High Court has further pointed out that the document is inscribed on a flimsy paper. It is in high-flown Urdu,     and is alleged to have been dictated by him in that language. No doubt, the evidence indicates that Ramdhan could speak in Urdu, but it also indicates that he cannot read or write in Urdu. It would, therefore, be legitimate to infer that     the language which he could speak was the unlettered man's    Urdu and not high-flown Urdu. which contains an admixture of Persian     words. Indeed, such words have actually been    used in this document. The signature of Ramdban is itself in Modi script, which would not have been the case if    were well-versed in     Urdu.    When we turn to the reverse of     the sheet on which the document is inscribed, we find that as we go lower down, more and more words seem to be     crammed in each line and     the spacing between two lines tends to decrease, even though there appears to have been plenty of room for the signature of Ramdhan to be scribed lower down 824

on the     paper.     It would be legitimate to infer from    this that the signature was already there before the will     was scribed. This     feature of the document as well as     the quality     of the paper used would suggest that    a piece of paper bearing Ramdhan's signature has been utilised by     the scribe for engrossing what purports to be a will. Finally, there     is the circumstance that the will is     un- natural in the sense that though Ramdhan left property worth several lakhs, he made no provision for a residence for     his wife but gave her only Rs. 40/-    per month as     her maintenance, and made only paltry bequests to his daughters. It is    true that the daughters are married    in affluent families, but in the absence of a male issue, a father is normally expected to give at least substantial bequests to his daughters.     Instead, the wiil gives almost     the entire property to a distant relative, who, it may be noticed,     was neither     brought up by the testator, nor was a     person     who looked after the testator during, his declining years.     All this is said to have been due to the fact that Ramdhan's relations with his wife had become strained.    Indeed,     the relationship between Ramdhan and his wife had become so     bad that Ramdhan, according to the appellant, suspected that she was trying to poison him. Curiously enough, in spite of this, Ramdhan continued to live with Sitabai right till     his death, and had made no arrangement for a person other    than her to     take charge of the cash and the gold and silver ornaments of the value of a couple of lakhs of rupees or so, in the     event of his dying suddenly. There is     nothing to suggest that Ramdhan's food was cooked by any one other than Sitabai.

To prove the    appellant's allegations that    Ramdhan     and Sitabai were not getting on well, the main evidence is    that of the     appellant himself, who is the person who     has obviously taken an active part in procuring the execution of the document which he has set up as the will of Ramdhan. He must be held to have taken an active    part, even though, according to him, he did not do so, because the will was written not only at Hyderabad where he lives and carries on his profession but also in his own house, and    the persons who played one part or the other in this connection     are either     his friends or his    neighbours. It is these circumstances    which have to     be borne in    mind while evaluating the testimony of the witnesses bear- 825

ing on the execution of the will. Further, it is necessary for the appellant to satisfy the conscience of the Court about    the genuineness of this will by removing     all suspicions which naturally     flow    from the various circumstances, which we have set out above. There is not an iota of evidence in this regard, and we are not satisfied that the suspicion created by the circumstances referred to by us has been removed. Learned counsel has taken us through the evidence of the appellant, the scribe and three attesting witnesses examined by him. All this evidence     has been critically examined by the High Court but for reasons given by it in its judgment, not accepted by it. We find no reasons for viewing the evidence differently. We have already adverted to the fact    that no particular reason    has been even indicated by the appellant as to     why Ramdhan     thought of executing a will long before his death. If his     idea in doing so was to make certain that     his property does not fall in Sitabai's hands after his death one would have expected him to make some arrangement     for -keeping the movables out of her reach. He, however,    made no such arrangement. Further, he would have also taken     the precaution of registering the will, so that any challenge to its genuineness could not have been successfully made. Further, there is no unimpeachable evidence to show that the will was brought to light immediately after Ramdhan's death, which would have been the case if it were a genuine will. On the other hand, there is one circumstance which suggests that the claim on the basis of Ramdhan's will was not    even thought of by the appellant till long after Ramdhan's death. The circumstance is the continuance of Sitabai in possession of the cash, gold and silver articles and other movables, even subsequent to Ramdhan's death. Of course,     the appellant has given the explanation that he allowed her to remain    in possession on his behalf, but his    evidence is wholly incredible. Indeed, the appellant has said that he instituted the suit because he found Sitabai parting    with portions of Ramdhan's movables in favour of her daughters and strangers    after the death of Ramdhan. At     least,     one thing will follow from this that according to    him Sitabai was more interested in her daughters than in him.     If, therefore, he had a genuine claim to Ramdhan's property, he would not have


allowed     Sitabai to remain in possession of Ramdhan's movables. At    least,    he would have obtained from her a document containing the list and description of the movables and also an admission to the effect that she was entrusted with them by the appellant and that she had no right in them. Had she refused to execute such a document, one would have naturally expected the appellant to institute a    suit for their possession immediately. There is no     explanation for the absence of such a document, and thus this is also a circumstance which militates against the genuineness of     the will.

In the circumstances, we hold that the High Court was right in rejecting the evidence of the attesting witnesses and the scribe    as well as of the appellant with regard to the    exe- cution of the will by Ramdhan.

We accordingly uphold the judgment of the High     Court,     and dismiss the appeal with costs.

Appeal dismissed.