The role of the judiciary is not restricted to settling disputes, but also to solve problems in obscure areas. For that purpose, the Indian Constitution bestows different types of power upon the courts. For instance, one such power is mentioned in Article 142, which gives power to the Supreme Court to pass any order, decree for doing complete justice in any matter which is pending before it.
The principle of ‘Moulding of Relief’ is based on this Article of the Indian Constitution.
PRINCIPLE OF MOULDING OF RELIEF:
The facts of every suit are determined and recorded at its initial stage. On the basis of these facts, the rights and obligations of the parties to the suit are determined. These facts cannot be altered after the litigation has commenced.
However, if there is a subsequent occurrence of an event, which has the potential of impacting the relief sought by the parties to the suit, the court can take cognizance of this change and then mould the relief in the interest of justice, even though it is not strictly in consonance with the relief sought by the parties. This approach adopted by the court is known as ‘Moulding of Relief’.
ORIGIN OF THE PRINCIPLE AND ITS USE IN INDIA:
This principle originated in a 1935 U.S Supreme Court case of Patterson v. State of Alabama, where, the U.S Supreme Court held that while delivering justice, the court was required to consider any change of fact or law which supervened since the judgment was entered and which can materially affect the implementation of the judgment.
The same principle has been upheld and followed by the Indian courts. In Pasupuleti Venkateswarlu vs The Motor & General Traders (AIR 1975 SC 1409), the Supreme Court applied this principle and held that the court should take note of the developments which happened after the filing of the suit, and provide meaningful relief on the condition that it should be fair to both the sides.
In State Bank of India v. N. Sundara Money, (AIR 1976 SC 1111) the Supreme Court applied the principle, by reinstating the employee in the bank on the account of the long period of time that had elapsed, on the condition that his new salary will be same as if he were to be appointed in the same post in the present day.
A recent example of moulding of relief can be seen in the case of the 2019 Ayodhya-Babri Masjid dispute. On the last date of hearing of the case, both, the Hindu parties and the Muslim parties, gave their written submissions for moulding of relief, as per the Supreme Court’s directions.
While the Muslim parties prayed for the restoration of the Babri Masjid structure, before its demolition. The Hindu parties pleaded that the disputed land’s ownership should be solely given to them and a Ram temple should be constructed at that site and a trust should be formed for the management of the same.
However, in the verdict, the Supreme Court applied the principle of moulding of relief and granted the ownership of the land to the Hindu parties and also passed an order to allot five acres of land to the Muslim parties to build a mosque, which was not the relief sought by the Muslim parties. The Supreme Court while reading out the verdict said that such an order would help in retaining the secular fabric of the nation.
APPLICATION OF MOULDING OF RELIEF:
The principle of Moulding of Relief is applicable in civil matters, especially in cases of land disputes. It is also done in cases of writ petitions. However, it cannot be applied to criminal cases. The courts apply this principle when a subsequent event takes place after filing of the suit which can make the previously sought relief as redundant.
The application of this principle is subjected to certain conditions. The Supreme Court, in the case of Sheshambal (dead) through LRs vs. Chelur Corporation Chelur Building (2010) 3 SCC 470 laid down the conditions that are to be satisfied by the court in order to mould relief. The conditions cited in the judgment are as follows:
- That the relief, as claimed originally has, by reason of subsequent events, become inappropriate or cannot be granted.
- That taking note of such subsequent event or changed circumstances would shorten litigation and enable complete justice being done to the parties; and
- That such subsequent event is brought to the notice of the court promptly and in accordance with the rules of procedural law so that the opposite party is not taken by surprise.
WHICH COURTS CAN APPLY THIS PRINCIPLE?
Generally, moulding of relief can be done by the courts of the appeal i.e. High Courts and Supreme Courts only. Even though the trial courts can mould relief, it rarely happens in practice.
The Supreme Court, by the virtue of Article 142, has the power to mould the relief, in order to do complete justice. Many Supreme Court decisions also interpreted the powers of the Supreme Court in moulding reliefs. In I.C Golak Nath v. State of Punjab, [1967(2) SCR 762], it was held that the Supreme Court can mould the relief to meet the exigencies of the circumstances and also make the law laid down by it, prospective in operation.
High Courts also do have the power to mould relief even if there is no express provision in the constitution. This has been buttressed in many Supreme Court decisions such as Dwarka Nath v. I.T.O, (AIR 1966 SC 81), where it was held that the High Court can mould the relief to meet the peculiar and complicated requirements. The same principle was upheld in the case of B.C. Chaturvedi vs Union of India and Ors [1996 AIR 484, 1995 SCC (6) 749].
CAN THIS PRINCIPLE BE APPLIED AT AN INTERLOCUTORY STAGE?
Interlocutory stage means any time before the final disposal of the suit. The principle of moulding of relief cannot be granted at an interlocutory stage. This was held in the 2018 Supreme Court case of Samir Narain Bhojwani vs. Aurora Properties and Investments. In this case the Supreme Court ruled that application of this principle is possible when the final relief in the main suit is being considered.
The basis of this observation in the above mentioned case was that the interim mandatory injunction is a remedy granted in those situations where courts are of the opinion that status quo has been altered to the detriment of the complainant and that the interim mandatory injunction is the only remedy to restore status quo. Thus, application of principle of moulding of relief at interlocutory stage is inappropriate.
CAN JUDGMENTS INVOLVING APPLICATION OF THIS PRINCIPLE, BE A PRECEDENT?
Generally, judgments given by the higher courts have a binding value upon the lower courts. However, in those cases where the principle of moulding of relief has been applied, the judgment is not binding in nature. The reason behind it is that such a principle is applied after taking the cumulative facts of the case into consideration and not by taking into the law into account.
This article is authored by Karishma Rajesh, student of BA LLB at ILS Law College, Pune.
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