Relief of specific performance not available if the party has not fulfilled its obligations: Supreme Court of India

The Supreme Court of India (“SC”) in the case Surinder Kaur v. Bahadur Singh held that a party to the contract cannot be granted the relief of specific performance against the other party, if the party has not fulfilled his part of the contract.

In the present case Surinder Kaur (“Appellant”) entered into an agreement with Bahadur Singh (“Respondent”) to sell land. There was an ongoing dispute with respect to the land and therefore both the parties agreed that the sale deed will be executed once the property is free from the dispute. The parties also agreed that for the time, the property dispute is settled, the Respondent would pay the rent to the Appellant. The dispute was settled 13 years later, and the Appellant failed to execute the sale deed. Aggrieved by this, the Respondent filed a suit for specific performance of the agreement.

The Respondent had not paid rent for 13 years and still claimed for the specific performance, which was allowed by the lower courts. Aggrieved by the judgment, the Appellants appealed in the SC. The SC noted that the Respondent himself had not fulfilled his part of the contract and yet the lower courts allowed specific performance of the agreement in his favour. The SC examined Section 16 (c) of the Specific Relief Act, 1963, (“Act”) which states that specific performance cannot be granted to a party who fails to show that he has performed or was willing to perform his part of the contract, which were to be performed by him.

Furthermore, the SC noted that Section 20 of the Act states that the jurisdiction to decree a suit for specific performance is a discretionary jurisdiction and court is not bound to grant the relief just because the suit is lawful. The SC allowed the appeal and held that the Respondent did not fulfil his obligation of the contract and therefore, the suit for relief of specific performance shall not be granted in his favour. The SC opined that the Respondent by not paying the rent for such a long period did not act fairly and hence, forfeited his right to get the relief of specific performance.

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This is an important judgment as the SC has now clarified that even though the claim for specific performance is legal and valid, the courts can still reject it on the ground that the claimant of specific performance, himself, has not fulfilled his obligation noted in the contract. This judgment basically incorporates the principle of equity and justice “he who comes to equity must come with clean hands”.

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Disclaimer: This post has been prepared for informational purposes only. The information/or observations contained in this post does not constitute legal advice and should not be acted upon in any specific situation without seeking proper legal advice from a practicing attorney.


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