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Case Analysis: Jagdish Chandra Trikha vs Punjab National Bank

Important Information Pertaining To Case:
Name of the case- Jagdish Chandra Trikha vs Punjab National bank and others, On 24 October, 1997
Equivalent Citations- 1997 VIAD Delhi 753, AIR 1998 Delhi 266, 4 (1996) CLT 513, 2000 100 CompCas 839 Delhi, 69 (1997) DLT 874 - Delhi High Court - Bench: Justice C Nayar - Suit Appeal No. 524 of 1982

Facts Of The Case
The plaintiff�s father, late Rai Sahib Mool Chand had entrusted a box containing 480 tolas that is 5596.80 grams (about 5600 grams) gold ornaments and jewellery to defendant bank.
This event had taken place in Peshawar (now in Pakistan), before the partition of India.

Rai Sahib Mool Chand was a very lucrative lawyer and was a regular income tax payer. He was considered to be one of the wealthiest persons in Peshawar, after migrating to India in the year 1947 along with his family, he died on 30th April, 1953 in Delhi leaving behind his heirs/legal representatives entitled to his estate.

He had entrusted 480 tolas of ornaments and jewelry, the jewelry box was locked, wrapped and sealed in Punjab National Bank, Peshawar Cantt Branch, Peshawar.
Defendant No1is the successor according to the Banking Companies (Acquisition and Transfer of Undertaking) Act, 1969.

The gold ornaments/jewellery allegedly weighed 500 Tolas and were placed in the box by the late father of the plaintiff Rai Sahib Mool Chand and his mother Smt. Washeshran Devi with a list of the said articles of jewellery therein and the same was locked by the deceased himself after which the box was wrapped with a white cloth and duly stitched by defendant.
Before entrusting the box, the plaintiff�s father wrote his name on it.

After depositing the box, the deceased went to Shimla Hills in 1947, stayed there for a month; communal disturbances took place in the meantime due to which he could not return and therefore was not able to collect his belongings and property, which included the box.

After the partition in the month of August in 1947, the deposit box along with several other deposit boxes was moved to Rawalpindi branch of the same bank. The box was in the physical custody of the bank, till it was sent to India.

The safe deposit box was brought to India by the Ministry of Rehabilitation, Government of India under the Indo Pakistan Moveable Property Agreement of June, 1950 along with safe deposits of several other depositors pertaining to the then The Punjab National Bank Ltd., and other Banks.

The plaintiff received the box from the Reserve bank of India in the year 1962, when the box was produced before them, the plaintiffs observed that the box had a different wrapper, seals of then bank, the original wrapper, and the original seal were missing and the box was light in weight.

Owing to all this, the plaintiff refused to accept it.

The plaintiff contended that the box was tampered, the contents were removed from it, whereas the defendant bank refused to accept the fact, when the box was opened in the court, it was found that the box contained broken article weighing about 250 grams, approximately 20 tolas.

The plaintiff claimed that the jewelry deposits in the bank were worth Rs. 3, 72, 400.

What was held?
It was held that the position of the bank was that of a bailee, and the plaintiff was that of a bailor, the bailee (bank) failed to take care of the goods and could not return it back to the bailee.

The bank was held liable for paying Rs. 3, 72,400 along with simple interest of 12 per cent per annum from the date of institution of suit till the date of realization of the amount.
If a person assumes the custody of another person's goods, even without any formal arrangement, this is sufficient to constitute bailment.[8] In Ultzen v. Nichols,[9] the plaintiff went to the defendant's restaurant for dining. When the plaintiff went to the defendant's restaurant, a waiter took the plaintiff's coat from him without being requested to do so and hung it on a hook behind the plaintiff. When the plaintiff wanted to leave, he found that the coat was missing.

It was held that the defendant was the bailee of the coat as his servant had assumed the possession of the same and he was, therefore, liable for its loss which was because of the defendant's negligence. But if the owner maintains control over the goods, there is no bailment. When a person keeps his goods on the premises of another person but continues to have control over them, this is not sufficient delivery for being considered to be bailment.

Delivery of goods with some purpose is one of the essentials of bailment, and return of goods after the purpose is fulfilled is another. This is as per section 148 of the Indian Contract Act, 1872. Here in this case, the plaintiff bailed the ornaments to the defendant bank with a purpose to keep his property in safe custody, which the bank failed to fulfill, As per Section 151; the bailee is bound to take care of the goods.

Owing to the fact that the bailee was unable to fulfill the requisites, was held liable to pay the compensation of Rs 3, 72, 400. The bailee needs to take care of the goods just like that of his own goods.

Prudent and reasonable care must be taken by the bailee, which was to be done by the bank in this case, of the same quantity, value and under similar circumstances, as the bailee takes care of his own goods.

Delivery pertains to transfer of possession of goods from one person to another for a specific period of time and for a specific purpose. It is not mandatory to be actual every time, could be symbolic. The delivery of the goods could be made by doing anything which has the effect of putting the goods in possession of that of the intended bailee. As discussed above, the standard of care required for bailment is that of a reasonable and prudent man, whether for reward or gratuitous, uniform duty of care is required in that of bailee�s part.

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