Devi Lal Modi Proprietor MS v. Sales Tax Officer Ratlam (1964)

The doctrine of res judicata is a wholesome one which is applicable not merely to matters governed by the provisions of the Code of Civil Procedure but to all litigations. It proceeds on the principle that there should be no unnecessary litigation and whatever claims and defences are open to parties should all be put forward it the same time provided so confusion is likely to arise by so putting forward all such claims.[1]

Res Judicata on Additional Points

 An interesting and important case on the principle of Res Judicata came before the court in the case of ‘Devi Lal Modi Proprietor MS v. Sales Tax Officer Ratlam (1964)’.

In the case, Devilal Modi first challenged the assessment of sale-tax by a writ petition filed by him in the High Court of Madhya Pradesh under Article 226. The High Court dismissed his writ petition and by special leave, the appellant (D. Modi) came to Supreme Court in appeal against the said decision of the High Court. The Supreme Court also dismissed his appeal.

Thereafter, the appellant filed another writ petition under article 226 raising additional ground in his writ petition, the High Court considered his petition on ‘merit’ but rejected those grounds and dismissed the petition. Against that dismissal, that appellant filed special leave petition in Supreme Court.

So, the question came before the court that whether it is open to the appellant to challenge the validity of the same order of assessment twice by two consecutive writ petitions under Art. 226.

The analysis of the court

After considering the facts of the case, the court analysed the case as follows-

  • There can be no doubt that the fundamental rights guaranteed to the citizens are a significant feature of our Constitution and the High Courts under Art. 226 are bound to protect these fundamental rights. There can also be no doubt that if a case is made out for the exercise of its jurisdiction under Art. 226 in support of a citizen’s fundamental rights, the High Court will not hesitate to exercise that jurisdiction.
  • But the question as to whether a citizen should be allowed to challenge the validity of the same order by successive petitions under Art. 226, cannot be answered merely in the light of the significance and importance of the citizens’ fundamental rights.
  • The general principle underlying the doctrine of res judicata is ultimately based on considerations of public policy. One important consideration of public policy is that the decisions pronounced by courts of competent jurisdiction should be final, unless they are modified or reversed by appellate authorities; and the other principle is that no one should be made to face the same kind of litigation twice over, because such a process would be contrary to considerations of fair play and justice, [vide: Daryao and Others v. The State of U.P. & Others.(1962)].
  • It may be conceded that the rule of constructive res judicata is somewhat technical or artificial rule prescribed by the Code of Civil Procedure. This rule postulates that if a plea could have been taken by a party in a proceeding between him and his opponent, he would not be permitted to take that plea against the same party in a subsequent proceeding which is based on the same cause of action;

but basically, even this view is founded on the same considerations of public policy, because if the doctrine of constructive res judicata is not applied to writ proceedings, it would be open to the party to take one proceeding after another and urge new grounds every time; and that plainly is inconsistent with considerations of public policy to which we have just referred.

  • Though the courts dealing with the questions of the infringement of fundamental rights must consistently endeavour to sustain the said rights and should strike down their unconstitutional invasion, it would not be right to ignore the principle of res judicata altogether in dealing with writ petitions filed by citizens alleging the contravention of their fundamental rights.

Considerations of public policy cannot be ignored in such cases, and the basic doctrine that judgments pronounced by this Court are binding and must be regarded as final between the parties in respect of matters covered by them, must receive due consideration.

  • Considerations of public policy and the principle of the finality of judgments are important constituents of the rule of law and they cannot be allowed to be violated just because a citizen contends that his fundamental rights have been contravened by an impugned order and wants liberty to agitate the question about its validity by filing one writ petition after another.
  • The present proceedings illustrate how a citizen who has been ordered to pay a tax can postpone the payment of the tax by prolonging legal proceedings interminably. We have already seen that in the present case the appellant sought to raise additional points when he brought his appeal before this Court by special leave; that is to say, he did not take all the points in the Writ petition and thought of taking new points in appeal.

When leave was refused to him by this Court to take those points in appeal, he filed a new petition in the High Court and took those points, and finding that the High Court had decided against him on the merits of those points, he has come to this Court; but that is not all.

At the hearing of this appeal, he has filed another petition asking for leave from this Court to take some more additional points and that shows that if constructive res judicata is not applied to such proceedings a party can file as many writ petitions as he likes and take one or two points every time. That’ clearly is opposed to considerations of public policy on which res judicata is based and would mean harassment and hardship to the opponent.

Besides, if such a course is allowed to be adopted, the doctrine of finality of judgments pronounced by this Court would also be materially affected. We are, therefore, satisfied that the second writ petition filed by the appellant in the present case is barred by constructive res judicata.”


Devi Lal Modi Proprietor MS v. Sales Tax Officer Ratlam (1964)

[1] Bombay Gas Co. Ltd vs Jagannath Pandurang & Others: 1972 AIR 2356, 1972 SCR (3) 929