If a provision bars a court from “hearing and deciding” a suit on some contingency, does that mean the suit itself is not maintainable? This was an interesting question before the Supreme Court in Public Trust Shri Geeta Satsang Bhawan vs Nand Lal.
Section 29 of the Rajasthan Public Trust Act reads: “No suit to enforce a right on behalf of a public trust which is required to be registered under this Act but has not been so registered shall be heard or decided in any Court.”
In the instant case, the trial court had heard and decided the suit by unregistered trust, while high court, allowing the appeal, dismissed the suit in limine, terming it ‘not maintainable’ in view of Section 29 of the Act.
An apex court bench comprising Justice RK Agrawal and Justice AM Sapre observed that the bar applies for "hearing and deciding” a suit, and not in filing the suit and it could be filed by the unregistered trust but it will neither be heard nor decided by the court unless and until the Trust is registered under the Act.
“Section 29, therefore, operates as stay of proceedings in the suit so long as the Trust does not get itself registered under the Act,” the bench observed.
The bench further said the moment the Trust is registered under the Act, the trial court would assume the jurisdiction to hear and decide the suit on merits and the bar created under Section 29 of the Act for “hearing and deciding” the suit is then lifted and ceases to apply to the proceedings in the suit.
The court said the high court should have stayed the proceedings by granting some reasonable time to the plaintiff-Trust to get it registered under the Act and only if despite granting time, the Trust had failed to obtain the registration certificate, then in such eventuality, the first appellate court could have dismissed the suit.