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Disputed Signature Cannot Be Compared With Photostat Copy To Ascertain Veracity: Andhra Pradesh High Court

Shrutika Pandey
17 Nov 2021 3:53 PM GMT
Disputed Signature Cannot Be Compared With Photostat Copy To Ascertain Veracity: Andhra Pradesh High Court
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The Andhra Pradesh High Court has held that there is no sanction of law to compare a disputed signature in the photostat copy with the original signature as there is the scope of mechanical error or defective photocopying. Justice M. Satyanarayana Murthy noted,"Therefore, such comparison is impermissible under law, as there is every possibility of change of signatures due to passage of time...

The Andhra Pradesh High Court has held that there is no sanction of law to compare a disputed signature in the photostat copy with the original signature as there is the scope of mechanical error or defective photocopying. Justice M. Satyanarayana Murthy noted,

"Therefore, such comparison is impermissible under law, as there is every possibility of change of signatures due to passage of time and there is every possibility to sign on the documents in disguise, so as to obtain a favorable opinion from the handwriting expert. But, what is required as per law is that any authentic contemporaneous document containing signatures of the parties has to be referred along with the disputed signatures for comparison and opinion."

Having referred to judicial precedents on the same question, the Court noted that,

"If really, there is any doubt about the signature, the second respondent ought to have called upon the petitioner to produce the original patta for limited purpose of comparison of disputed signature of the Tahsildar on the patta with the signature available in the D.K. Register. Instead of resorting to such procedure, the second respondent himself has gone to the extent of comparing the signature of the Tahsildar appearing on the Photostat copy with the signature in D.K Register without any sanction of law. On the other hand, it is contrary to the law laid down by High Court of Andhra Pradesh in the judgment referred supra."

Background

The writ petition was filed challenging the District Collector (DC) 's decision, who ignored the complainant's plea to issue a No Objection Certificate (NOC) to sell away a piece of land. It sought to declare the same as illegal, arbitrary, and discriminatory, directing D.C. to grant the NOC to the petitioner.

The land originally belonged to the petitioner's husband, who had been assigned this land by the then Tehsildar, as he served in the Armed Forces between 1944-1961. When the petitioner's husband applied for mutation of his name in the revenue records, issued pattadar passbook and title deeds, then Tahsildaar ignored it.

After his death, the petitioner repeatedly requested the Tehsildar, which was neither accepted nor rejected. When the petitioner tried to sell the land, the Sub-Registrar stated that the land is government land and is a prohibited property under Section 22-A of the Registration Act.

Subsequently, the petitioner approached the High Court, which directed the Sub-Registrar to receive the presented document and register it as per the Registration Act, 1908. However, the prospective buyer refused to buy the land without the NOC certificate from the revenue authorities. Therefore, the petitioner applied for a NOC to alienate the land, which was not heard. The petitioner then again approached the Court, which directed the issuance of NOC under the law. However, even then, the issuance of NOC was rejected. Therefore, the petitioner has come before the present Court on the following grounds: (a) the impugned order was passed without allowing clearing the doubts and thus is in violation of natural justice; (b) the rejection was made by observing that the signature on the patta was not tallying with the signature of the officer who assigned the name; therefore such a comparison based on photostat copy is illegal and baseless; (c) other claimants similarly situated have been granted the NOC; therefore the decision is discriminatory.

Issues

1. Whether the impugned order is passed in violation of principles of natural justice, discriminating the petitioner from other similarly situated persons viz. T. Mohan Babu and others, to whom the pattas were granted under the same proceedings?

2. Whether the impugned order is passed by comparing the signature on the Photostat copy of the patta with the signature of the then Tahsildar, without affording a reasonable opportunity, is under the law. If not, whether the order is liable to be set aside?

Findings

On discussing the well-settled principle of natural justice, exceptions therein, and judicial precedents, the Court noted on the first issue that,

"A reasonable opportunity is granted to the petitioner; it is clear from the record that, no opportunity of hearing afforded to this petitioner before passing such an order impugned in the writ petition. Though, no specific procedure is prescribed affording such opportunity to this petitioner, arriving at various conclusions without affording an opportunity before passing such an order is a clear violation of principles of natural justice. A bare look at the order impugned in the writ petition, it is evident that no opportunity was afforded to this petitioner, thereby the order is liable to be set aside for violation of principles of natural justice."

On the comparison of the admitted signature with the disputed signature, the Court located the power under Section 73 of the Indian Evidence Act, which is not available to administrative authorities. Moreover, it was held that a Photostat copy is a copy taken from a mechanical process, which does not show accuracy on account of blurred signatures or defective photocopying.

The Court referred to the decision of P. Kusuma Kumari v. The State of Andhra Pradesh and Anr, where it was held that disputed signature is required to be referred to the expert along with admitted signatures of the party, the Court is bound to refer the document by exercising power under Section 73.

It also referred to Bheri Nageswara Rao v. Madurai Veerabhadra Rao. It was held that Section 45 of the Act enables the Court to obtain an expert's opinion on various aspects, including the one relating to the comparison of disputed signatures. It was held that,

"An expert would be in a position to render his opinion only when the original of the document containing the disputed signature is forwarded to him. Further, there can be effective comparison and verification of the signatures, if only another document containing the undisputed signatures of the contemporary period are made available to the expert. The opinion of a handwriting expert involves the analysis of the slant, which a person uses in the matter of putting his signature, and in some cases, the point of time, at which it may have been subscribed. These analyses would become possible only vis-a-vis an original signature, and the signature mark on a Xerox copy of a document can never constitute the basis."

Setting aside the impugned order, the Court noted that granting the NOC certificate to similarly situated persons is violative of Article 14 of the Constitution of India and discriminatory. It held,

"In any view of the matter, there is a change of procedure for registration of land assigned to Ex-servicemen. Once a property is assigned to an Ex-serviceman, after the lapse of 10 years, the Government will not control the said land. The said land becomes the absolute property of the Ex-serviceman. No reasons are assigned to include the said properties in the list under Section 22-A of the Registration Act, 1908. The respondents are just dodging the matter instead of following guidelines issued in G.O.Ms.No.279, Revenue (Assn.I) Department, dated 04.07.2016."

Title: Smt.T.Lakshmi Theresamma v. State Of Andhra Pradesh

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