The Nizam of Hyderabad executed a Trust Deed called "H.E.H. The Nizam's Jewellery Trust" on 29.3.1951. Under the Deed, the Nizam entrusted his jewellery and other antique items to the Trustees, for dividing the entire corpus into sixteen equal parts and allocating it to his sons, daughters and other relatives as specified in Clause 7 of the deed.
A dispute arose with regard to the phrase "Remaining sons and Remaining Daughters Fund", which led to the filing of Original Petitions before the Chief Judge, City Civil Court, Hyderabad under Sections 56 and 61 of the Indian Trusts Act, 1882, seeking directions to the trustees to execute the Trust Deed as per the directions contained in it. The central question to be answered by the Court was whether the surviving beneficiaries of the Nizam's Trust were alone entitled to the corpus allotted to the beneficiaries who had died issueless, or whether it would also go to the heirs of the beneficiaries who had pre-deceased the issueless sons and daughters after their death.
The Chief Judge, in its judgment dated 21.7.1999, adopted the latter view and held that even the heirs of beneficiaries who had predeceased the issueless beneficiaries would be allotted a share in the corpus.
Aggrieved by the order, Nawab Imdad Jah Bahadur (Respondent before the Supreme Court) filed a Civil Revision Petition under Section 115 of the Code of Civil Procedure before the High Court. The High Court inter alia held that the order dated 21.7.1999 was bad for want of necessary jurisdiction, as the correct remedy was for the petitioners to file a Civil Suit in stead of an Original Petition under Section 56 and 61 of the Indian Trusts Act. However, the High Court also proceeded to examine the case on merits, and set aside the finding of the Chief Judge on the correct interpretation of the Trust Deed.
The order of the High Court was challenged before the Supreme Court in a Special Leave Petition. One of the grounds taken was that the Civil Revision under Section 115 CPC was not maintainable, because the interpretation of the Trust Deed involved a question of fact/law, but not a question of jurisdiction.
Apart from invoking speculation regarding the monetary value of the Nizam's Trust, the eventual Judgment passed by the Supreme Court laid down a curious principle of law regarding the scope of Section 115 CPC. In Nawab Shaqafath Ali Khan v. Nawab Imdad Jah Bahadur, 2009 (3) SCALE 934, a Bench comprising of S.B. Sinha and Cyriac Joseph, JJ held that a Civil Revision petition under Section 115 CPC must necessarily have regard to the terminology used in the section, and therefore it must involve a question of jurisdiction. It held that a Jurisdictional question arises not only when a Court acts wholly without jurisdiction, but also in a case where jurisdictional errors are committed while exercising jurisdiction - So far so good. The Court, interestingly went on to state that there are various facets of 'jurisdictional errors', and that taking into consideration an irrelevant fact or non-consideration of a relevant fact would involve a jurisdictional issue!! Which makes me think, what is not a jurisdictional issue?
In DLF Housing and Construction Company (P) Ltd. v. Sarup Singh, (1969) 3 SCC 807, the Supreme Court had held that under Section 115 CPC, the High Court cannot correct errors of fact or law no matter how gross unless they have relation to the jurisdiction of the Court. It had further explained that exercising jurisdiction "illegally" or with "material irregularity" as stated in Section 115(1)(c) referred to errors relating to breach of some provision of law or to material defects of procedure affecting the ultimate decision, and not to errors of fact or law after the prescribed formalities have been complied with.
The DLF formulation, though vulnerable to interpretive stretching, still maintained some semblance of a distinction between an appellate and a revisional proceeding. But with the latest judgment, any factual mistake can be credited to consideration of an irrelevant fact, or non-consideration of a relevant fact, and can thus become a jurisdictional issue warranting interference under Section 115 CPC.
As a matter of fact, Section 115 CPC is not the only provision that has been subject to such de-facement. The interpretation given to the term "substantial question of law" occurring in Section 100 CPC in some judgments also reveals a similar trend towards permitting interference when felt necessary. Perhaps when Judges come across matters where they feel that grave injustice has been meted out, the limitations provided by the legislature are obliterated through Judicial interpretation. Later of course, the case becomes a precedent for innumerable cases that do not actually warrant such interference.