Documentary evidence outweighs oral testimony

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evidence

In a recent judgment, the Supreme Court held that revenue recorded entries have statutory presumption attached to them, and oral evidence, to the contrary, will not be sufficient, as witnesses may lie but documents do not.

In Shri Partap Singh v Shiv Ram, a suit was filed by the plaintiffs claiming to be the owner of land against the defendant, who was appointed as a manager to look after the property. On allegations of misfeasance, the plaintiffs terminated the services of the manager and asked him to hand over the charge of the properties, and later filed a suit for a permanent injunction, mandatory injunction and for possession of land.

In the written statement, the manager asserted that he was a tenant, and that the suit is exclusively triable by the revenue court. On the basis of the evidence recorded, the trial court held in favour of the manager, but this was reversed in appeal by a district judge. The Himachal Pradesh High Court again reversed the judgment by allowing the manager’s appeal, and held that there is nothing on record to establish that the manager was not a tenant.

The Supreme Court, while hearing appeal, observed that as per section 32(2)(a) of the Himachal Land Revenue Act, 1954 (HLRA act), the jamabandi (record of rights) shall include the name of persons who are landowners, tenants or assignees of land revenue and also the rent, land revenue, rates, cesses or other payments due from and to each of those persons, and to the government. On the other hand, the periodical record, as mentioned in section 34 of the HLRA act, is to be prepared every year as proof of the statements.

In terms of section 45 of the HLRA act, the record of rights, as prepared in terms of sections 32 and 34 of the HLRA act, carries a presumption of truth. Any person who is aggrieved by any entry in the record of rights, or in a periodical record, has a right to invoke the jurisdiction of the civil court for the correction of entries.

The court observed that no relationship of the landlord and tenant was mentioned in the revenue record, even though it was required in terms of section 32(2)(a) of the HLRA act. In the absence of an entry, which is also expected to contain the entry of rent and possession, the tenancy cannot be treated to be in existence on the basis of the oral evidence of witnesses examined by the defendant.

The burden of proving the relationship was on the defendant and the presumption of truth attached to the revenue record could be rebutted only on the basis of evidence of impeccable integrity and reliability. While allowing the appeal, the Supreme Court held that the defendant had failed to rebut the presumption of truth on the basis of reliable, trustworthy and cogent documentary evidence to prove the relationship of a tenant, and it would not be proper to rely on the oral evidence, as its credibility vis-a-vis documentary evidence is at a much weaker level.

The dispute digest is compiled by Bhasin & Co, a corporate law firm based in New Delhi. The authors can be contacted at lbhasin@gmail.com. Readers should not act on the basis of this information without seeking professional legal advice.