1. The common grievance in the two writ petitions is against a Notification published in the Kolkata Gazette (Extraordinary) dated December 10, 2019, bearing Notification No.05/IGR-Kolkata dated December 9, 2019, whereby the Inspector General of Registration and Commissioner of Stamp Revenue, West Bengal, in exercise of the power conferred by sub-section (1) of Section 69 of the Registration Act, 1908, as subsequently amended (hereinafter referred to as "the Registration Act"), amending the West Bengal Registration Rules, 1962 (hereinafter referred to as "the 1962 Rules") by introducing provisions pertaining to presentation of "e-Deeds" for registration. The said amendment was introduced in the 1962 Rules, thereby adding sub-rule (6) to Rule 124 in Chapter-XIX.
2. The further challenge in the writ petitions is against a notice issued by the A.D.S.R., Ranaghat-I and the A.D.S.R., Domkal, District: Murshidabad respectively, whereby it was intimated to the general public that, from January 2, 2020, sale deeds valued at Rs.50 lakh or more would compulsorily be registrable online in the e-Deed format.
3. The petitioners in the two writ petitions have also challenged an order of the Inspector General of Registration and Commissioner of Stamp Revenue, West Bengal (hereinafter referred to as "the IGR") dated November 11, 2019 in connection with File No. 1M-117/2018, wherein it was held, inter alia, that the Directorate of Registration and Stamp Revenue, Government of West Bengal was going to introduce very shortly a concept of e-Deed as an optional value-added service, in which deeds can be prepared and submitted online in accordance with the prescribed deed format and to be signed digitally (electronically) by the parties to such deed of sale, gift, assignment etc. using the e-Nathikaran system, further strengthening the existing "computerized service delivery to the registrant public". It was further held that the filing of 'True copies' of the deeds prepared by the copy writers was no longer much relevant in the present system of registration. However, as the West Bengal Registration (Filing of True Copies) Rules, 1979 (hereinafter referred to as "the True Copies Rules") had not yet been repealed by the Government, considering sympathetically the number of copy writers involved for their livelihood at present in preparing the true copies of the deeds, the filing of 'True copies' were still being accepted in the concerned registration offices, though there is no value addition to the service delivery of registrant public. It was thus decided that the revision of rate of remunerations prayed by the copy writers in the District of Murshidabad need not be considered at that stage.
4. Learned counsel appearing for the petitioners in W.P. No.24366(W) of 2019 argues that the Notification dated December 9, 2019 was in violation of Section 69(2) of the Registration Act. It is submitted that the impugned notification, published in the Kolkata Gazette dated December 10, 2019, did not reflect any approval having been taken from the State Government. In such context, learned counsel relies on another Notification dated May 19, 2008, published in the Kolkata Gazette (Extraordinary) dated May 21, 2008, similar in nature to the instant case but in respect of a different issue. In the said notification, in case of a similar Amendment to the 1962 Rules, the approval of the Government of West Bengal was specifically mentioned, which is absent in the impugned notification.
5. It is further argued on behalf of the petitioners that the impugned amendment renders Section 19A, which is a West Bengal Amendment to the Registration Act, redundant.
6. Section 19A reads as follows:
"19A. Document unless accompanied by a true copy thereof not to be accepted for registration. - Notwithstanding anything contained elsewhere in the Act or in any other law for the time being in force, no document shall be accepted by the registering officer for registration unless it is prepared and presented, and accompanied by a true copy thereof, in accordance with such rules as may be made in this behalf."
7. Section 69 of the Registration Act, is as follows:
"69. Power of Inspector-General to superintend registration-offices and make rules. -
(1) The Inspector-General shall exercise a general superintendence over all the registration-offices in the territories under the State Government, and shall have power from time to time to make rules consistent with this Act -
(a) providing for the safe custody of books, papers and documents;
(aa) providing the manner in which and the safeguards subject to which the books may be kept in computer floppies or diskettes or in any other electronic form under sub-section
(1) of section 16A;
(b) declaring what languages shall be deemed to be commonly used in each district;
(c) declaring what territorial divisions shall be recognized under section 21;
(d) regulating the amount of fines imposed under sections 25 and 34, respectively;
(e) regulating the exercise of the direction reposed in the registering officer by section 63;
(f) regulating the form in which registering officers are to make memoranda of documents;
(g) regulating the authentication by Registrars and Sub-Registrars of the books kept in their respective offices under section 51;
(gg) regulating the manner in which the instruments referred to in sub-section (2) of section 88 may be presented for registration;
(h) declaring the particulars to be contained in Indexes Nos. I, II, III and IV, respectively;
(i) declaring the holidays that shall be observed in the registration-offices; and
(j) generally, regulating the proceedings of the Registrars and Sub-Registrars.
(2) The rules so made shall be submitted to the State Government for approval, and, after they have been approved, they shall be published in the Official Gazette, and on publication shall have effect as if enacted in this Act."
8. It is next argued on behalf of the petitioners that the impugned notification would render redundant the services of the copy writers, who are numerous in number and depend for their livelihood exclusively on their employment as copy writers in the registration offices, thereby snatching away their livelihood and consequentially their right to life, as enshrined in the Constitution of India. In this regard, learned counsel for the petitioners cites Rule 7(1)(f) of the West Bengal Registration (Copy Writers) Rules, 1999 (hereinafter referred to as "the Copy Writers Rules"), and submits that a copy writer's licence shall not be granted to a person if he is engaged in any gainful occupation or employment. As such, it is argued that, to get a copy writer's licence, one has to give up all other vocations. Moreover, the copy writers require certain qualifications, as provided in Rule 5 of the Copy Writers Rules, and have to acquire the necessary skills in performance such job, which are honed over the years of working in such profession. The impugned notification, in a single stroke, takes away all such investment of time and resources and renders meaningless the relinquishment of other job options for the copy writers and is violative of the right to practice any profession, also enshrined in Article 19 of the Constitution.
9. Learned counsel for the petitioners next places reliance upon the provisions of Rule 5 of the True Copies Rules. The said provision deals with the modalities of preparation of a true copy, as contemplated in Section 19A (West Bengal Amendment) of the Registration Act. By pointing out the detailed requirements of the said provision, it is argued that the job of copy writing is a specialized one, which necessitated the provisions in the Copy Writers Rules relating to the minimum specific qualifications of the copy writers. However, such right is now being taken away by the impugned notification.
10. Learned counsel for the petitioners also argues that the notice by the concerned A.D.S.R.s, making it mandatory for online registration of documents valued at Rs.50 lakh or more, is patently arbitrary and violative of even the impugned notification dated December 9, 2019, which mentions that the said notification for introducing the optional system in respect of e-Deed would come into force with effect from the 10th Day of December, 2019, which indicates that e-filing was intended to be an optional, and not a mandatory, system. Such basic premise of the notification is violated by making online registration mandatory in respect of deeds of or above Rs.50 lakh in valuation.
11. Apart from adopting the arguments advanced by the petitioners in W.P. No. 24366(W) of 2019, learned counsel for the petitioner appearing in W.P. No.202(W) of 2020, adds that the impugned order of the IGR dated November 11, 2019 is also contrary to law, since the same refused to enhance the rate of remuneration of the copy writers, by overlooking the irreparable financial damage to be suffered by the copy writers due to introduction of the e-filing system. Moreover, it is submitted that the IGR, in the impugned order dated November 11, 2019, erroneously held that the filing of true copies of the deeds prepared by the copy writers was no longer much relevant in the present system of registration, which observation, in effect, violates Section 19A (West Bengal Amendment) of the Registration Act.
12. Learned counsel places reliance on a document filed in court today, which is apparently the copy of a communication by the Government of Odisha, Revenue and Disaster Management Department (Under Secretary), to all District Registrars and Sub-Registrars, regarding general guidelines for maintaining uniformity in the matter of e-registration. It is pointed out that, in such circular the Odisha Government took pains to incorporate the provision for filing of true copies even in respect of e-filings, as such, protecting the interest of the copy writers. It is argued that a similar mode ought to have been adopted in West Bengal as well.
13. Learned counsel also submits that in view of the redundancy to be faced by the copy writers imminently due to the introduction of the e-filing system, the rate of remuneration of the copy writers ought to have been enhanced to compensate the loss suffered by them due to the introduction of the said e-filing system. However, it is argued, the IGR refused to enhance such rates by the impugned order dated November 11, 2019.
14. Learned counsel for the petitioner in W.P. No.202(W) of 2020 next argues that Rule 131 of the 1962 Rules, which provides for documents to be registered manually in case the system of Computerization of Registration of Documents (CORD) is out of order or in case the documents, in the opinion of the Registering Officer, cannot be registered under the CORD. It is submitted that the said rule is violated by the notice which makes deeds of or above the value of Rs.50 lakh registrable online compulsorily, as well as by the impugned notification.
15. Learned Advocate General, arguing for the State, submits that the position of law, insofar as Section 19A as well as Rule 5(5) of the True Copy Rules as well as the Copy Writers Rules are concerned, remains the same despite the introduction of the impugned notification.
16. It is next argued that an approval was actually obtained from the State Government for the introduction of the notification-in-dispute, although not mentioned in so many words in the impugned notification, in support of which the learned Advocate General files a true copy of such an approval. However, it is also argued that such approval was unnecessary in the present case and was taken just for abundant caution. The logic behind such argument is that, although it might be necessary for taking the approval of the State Government in case of introduction of the Rules, as envisaged in Section 69(1) of the Registration Act, each and every amendment to such Rules need not be approved by the State Government even within the contemplation of sub-rule (2) of Section 69 of the said Act.
17. The arguments of the parties in the present matter raise the relevant question as to whether the impugned notification as well as the connected order and decision of the A.D.S.R. are valid in law and are violative of the right to life and livelihood, as enshrined in the Constitution of India, of the copy writers.
18. For answering such question, a comparative appreciation of the relevant provisions of law is required.
19. Taking first things first, Section 19A (West Bengal Amendment) of the Registration Act, although making it mandatory that a document presented for registration has to be accompanied by a true copy thereof, in accordance with such Rules as may be made in this behalf, nowhere provides that such true copy has to be prepared by a copy writer.
20. Rule 3 of the True Copies Rules stipulates that every document that is presented for registration shall be accompanied by a true copy thereof, prepared in the manner specified in the Rules. Rule 3 further provides that such copy shall be furnished by the person presenting the document for registration.
21. However, it is nowhere provided in Rule 3 as well, that the copy has to be prepared by the copy writers. The only requirement of Rule 3 is that such copy has to be furnished by the person presenting the document for registration.
22. Rule 5 of the said Rules provides the modalities of preparation of a true copy for the purpose of Section 19A of the Registration Act. Sub-Rule (1) of Rule 5 contemplates that the copy shall be written, typed, printed or lithographed on ruled lines in a clear and legible manner. The writing, printing and lithographing shall be in long lasting blue-black or black ink and typed copies shall have long lasting blue-black or black impressions. Rule 5(2) provides that each copy shall be an exact reproduction of the original document, but it need not be a facsimile copy. Everything appearing on each page of the original document, including the signatures of the parties, attesting witnesses etc., shall be faithfully copied in the said copy.
23. A comparative study of the aforesaid provisions makes it clear that the governing statutes merely require that a person authorized to present a document for registration has to produce a true copy along with the original deed for registration. Even the Copy Writers Rules does not provide anywhere that the assistance of copy writer has to be mandatorily taken for the purpose of preparing or filing such a true copy. The Registration Act itself, which is the governing statute in the field, also does not stipulate any mandate that the true copy envisaged therein has to be prepared by a copy writer.
24. It is further relevant to mention that the concerned Rules, which guide and govern the registration of documents, insofar as the copy writers are concerned, are made under the authority given to the Inspector General under Section 80GG. The said provision is quoted herein below:
"80GG. Power to Inspector-General to make rules relating to copy writers. - The Inspector-General shall have power from time to time to make rules consistent with this Act, with prospective or retrospective effect, providing for the grant of licences to copy writers, the revocation of such licences, the terms and conditions subject to which and the authority by which such licences shall be granted, and generally for all purposes connected with the copying of documents for registration.
(2) The rules so made shall be submitted to the State Government for approval, and, after they have been approved, they shall be published in the Official Gazette, and on publication shall have effect as if enacted in this Act."
25. Even from the said section, it is seen that the Rules have to be made consistent with the Registration Act, providing for the grant of licences to the copy writers, the revocation of such a licences, the terms and conditions subject to which and the authority by which such licences shall be granted and generally for all purposes connected with copying of documents for registration.
26. As such, there is nothing in Section 80GG to empower the Inspector General to make rules for the purpose of making it mandatory that the preparation of true copies has to be channelized through copy writers, such provision is not existent in the Registration Act itself and, if introduced, would not be consistent with the Act.
27. The Copy Writers Rules, thus, operates within the limited conspectus of Section 80GG. Moreover, as per the contemplation of Section 80GG, the Rules have to be in consonance with the Registration Act itself, which does not, anywhere, make it mandatory or even optional for true copies to be prepared by copy writers.
28. Thus, a thorough perusal of the gamut of the Act and Rules pertaining to the subject-matter in issue in the present lis reveals that it is not the intention of the legislature that the copy writers mandatorily have a role to play in the preparation of true copies for the purpose of registration.
29. It is obvious that the provisions regarding copy writers were made in order to supplement the procedure of registration, since there were many people who were unable to make true copies of the documents sought to be registered, by themselves. People coming from uneducated/illiterate backgrounds or from the weaker sections of society or from rural areas in general almost always have to take the help of copy writers in preparation of true copies.
30. That apart, many of the urban educated may also not want to go into the nitty- gritties of making exact copies of the documents to be registered and delegate the task to specialists in the field, being the copy writers.
31. As such, the role of the copy writers in the process of registration is a supplementary one, which is marginal in nature and not mandatory.
32. Even Rule 5, sub-sections (1) and (2) of the True Copies Rules includes within its purview printed copies as true copies.
33. As such, there is no conflict between such Rules and the concept of e-filing, where printouts from the soft copies of the documents to be registered may be taken out without violating Rule 5 of the True Copies Rules.
34. Moreover, looking at the practical side of the matter, the concept of e-filing from outside the registration offices has not been introduced by any of the impugned notification or orders.
35. Even as per the amended Sub-rule (6) of Rule 124 of the 1962 Rules, it is envisaged that an e-Deed has to be presented for registration by the person authorized to present such document under Section 32 of the Act before the Registering Officer, who has to satisfy himself on the counts as mentioned in the said Amendment.
36. As such, even if an e-copy of the deed is filed online, the same has to be done from the registration office itself and the provisions of Section 19A still remain in force, thereby making it mandatory for the person authorized to present the document for registration to present a true copy along with the document, either in electronic form or as a hard copy.
37. Thus, the challenge to the Notification dated December 9, 2019 fails on the score that the same has not changed the position as to filing of true copies. The copy writers, if facing imminent redundancy or financial loss, do so not due to the change in law, which has only taken into consideration new technological advancements. The law remains the same as regards filing of true copies as it was before the introduction of the impugned notification.
38. What has affected the copy writers is the advancements of technology and not the amendment of law. With utmost sympathy for the copy writers, due to their imminent financial crisis and, in some cases, loss of livelihood, due to it being possible that the draftsmen of the electronic copies of the documents to be registered would take out computer printouts by the same mechanical process as the original document without the help of copy writers, the advancement of technology and its reflection in the legislations cannot be halted on that ground alone.
39. The collateral damage suffered by the copy writers due to such introduction of technology has been an age-old malady associated with the march of civilization. A similar fate befell deed writers after the invention of typewriters, the typists after the advent of computers, and so on.
40. The copy writers, in this respect, can only cope up by adapting themselves to the new technology, probably by shifting to printers and other instruments more compatible with e-filing. That apart, there would always be that marginal section of society who would not be able, by themselves, to obtain true copies or have access to the electronic process of drafting electronic documents, who will always provide a source of livelihood, though increasingly meagre, to the copy writers.
41. As such, the Notification dated December 9, 2019, published in the Kolkata Gazette (Extraordinary) dated December 10, 2019 is intra vires and cannot be held to be otherwise.
42. As regards the challenge to the Order dated November 11, 2019, the said order refused to revise the rate of remuneration of the copy writers. However, the said conclusion cannot be faulted since, if on every technological advancement and the corresponding changes to the relevant statutes, compensation had to be granted to the marginal section of the society affected collaterally by such advancement, by way of increasing their remunerations, the process would be self-defeating and counter-productive. This is because the increment in costs for compensating the loss to be suffered by the marginal section of copy writers due to technological advancements would eat away from the profits and benefits of the technological advancements themselves and the cost-effectiveness resulting from such advancement. Such cannot be the rule of law, justice or social advancement.
43. As far as the argument with regard to the observation in the said Order dated November 11, 2019, that the filing of true copies of the deeds prepared by the copy writers would no longer
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be much relevant, the said finding itself cannot be faulted, since it is supplemented by the very next sentence in the said order itself, which states that the True Copies Rules has not yet been repealed and as such, true copies are still being accepted in the concerned registration offices. Thus, the challenge against the Order dated November 11, 2019 passed by the IGR is turned down. 44. However, as far as the notice intimating that, from January 2, 2020, all sale deeds of or above the valuation of Rs.50 lakh would be mandatorily registrable online, the same is categorically violative of the amendment sought to be introduced by the Notification dated December 9, 2019 itself, since the said notification, in clause 2 thereof, specifies that it was for introduction of an optional system in respect of e-Deeds. The moment a decision is taken that deeds of a certain valuation would be mandatorily registrable online only, the 'optional' aspect of the amendment introduced by the notification is defeated, even if only in respect of deeds of such valuation. Moreover, the A.D.S.R.s concerned had no authority under the law to make such alteration to the 1962 Rules itself and as such, the said decision of the A.D.S.R.s is ex facie without jurisdiction. The same is not only violative of the Notification seeking introduction of an amended Sub-Rule (6) to Rule 124 of the 1962 Rules, but also without jurisdiction in so far as the issuing authority is concerned. As such, the Notifications, in all Districts of West Bengal, whereby online registration of deeds/documents of or above the value of Rs.50 lakh was made mandatory, is hereby struck down, being de hors the law. 45. Accordingly, W.P. No.24366(W) of 2019 and W.P. No.202(W) of 2020 are hereby allowed in part, only by striking down the Notifications made by the A.D.S.R.s of all Districts of West Bengal making the online registration of deeds of or above Rs.50 lakh mandatory from January 2, 2020. It is made clear that the online registration and e-filing with regard to all deeds/documents, irrespective of valuation, would be optional, in terms of the Notification dated December 9, 2019, published in the Kolkata Gazette on December 10, 2019. The said impugned Notification and the impugned order of the IGR are not interfered with. 46. There will be no order as to costs. 47. Urgent certified website copies of this order, if applied for, be made available to the parties upon compliance with the requisite formalities.