India: Fate Of Private Document Kept In Public File

Last Updated: 19 September 2018
Article by Varun Sharma and Abhishek Goyal

What is the fate of private document kept in public file? This question has often stimulated and challenged judicial minds. This question becomes quite relevant as different modes of proof and varied presumptions are provided for public and private documents under the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 ("Evidence Act"). An endeavor is made to ascertain the fate and nature of such documents, which may comprise of pleadings, Affidavits, documents, etc., filed before various Courts, Tribunals, Authorities, etc., including the documents which are registered in terms of the provisions of the Registration Act, 1908 ("Registration Act").

Section 3 of the Evidence Act defines 'document' as any matter expressed or described upon any substance by means of letters, figures or marks or by more than one of those means, intended to be used, or which may be used, for the purpose of recording that matter. Similar definition of 'document' is also provided under Section 29 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 ("IPC") and Section 3(18) of the General Clauses Act, 1897 ("GC Act"). As per the Evidence Act, 'evidence' means and includes, inter alia, "all documents including electronic records produced for the inspection of the Court" (documentary evidence).

Documents, as per the Evidence Act, can broadly be divided into two categories; public and private. According to Section 74 of the Evidence Act, public documents are the documents forming the acts or records of the acts of the sovereign authority, official bodies and tribunals, and of public offices, legislative, judicial and executive of any part of India or of the commonwealth, or of a foreign country.  Furthermore, the public record kept in any State of private documents, are also included under the definition of public documents under this section. Per contra, all other documents (except those provided under Section 74 of the Evidence Act) are defined as private documents under Section 75 of the Evidence Act. It is pertinent to note here that law permits the proof of public documents by production of mere certified copies of such documents in terms of Section 77 or in the manner as provided under Section 78 of the Evidence Act. In contrast, private documents may be proved either by primary or secondary evidence (where permitted), in terms of Section 61 till Section 65 of the Evidence Act. Equally important is the presumption as to the genuineness of the certified copies of the documents as provided under Section 79 of the Evidence Act. In simple terms, public documents are the ones which are prepared by a public servant in the discharge of his official duties. Further, such documents are characterized by the fact that they are kept in special custody and are provable by means of a copy, without production of the original.

The Hon'ble Madras High Court, in Rangaraju v. Kannayal and Ors., 2012 SCC Online Mad. 138, considering various case laws on the subject, enumerated the characteristics of public document. It was, inter alia, noted by the Hon'ble Court that such documents must be prepared by a public servant in discharge of his official duty. As per the Hon'ble Court, public documents are the ones made by public officer for the purpose of the public making use of it and being able to refer it. The Hon'ble Court further held that the test of test of publicity is that the public are interested in such documents and are entitled to see it so that if there is anything wrong in it, they are entitled to protest. Furthermore, it was held by the Hon'ble Court, that when a public has a right to inspect an official document, it becomes a public document and certified copy of the same will be given to the person who has applied for it and that a certified copy of a public document need not be proved by calling a witness.

Coming back to the issue at hand, it is important to note that the definition of public documents, provided under Section 74 of the Evidence Act, clearly provides that only the acts, records of acts of authorities mentioned therein and the public record kept in any State of any private document constitute such documents (public documents). The Hon'ble Gujarat High Court (in The State of Gujarat v. Ambalal Maganlal Shah, 1966 CriLJ 967(1), 1965 SCCOnline Guj. 197), as early as the year 1965 noted the distinction between record of the Court and the record of the acts of the Court in the following terms, "A private document does not become a public document simply because it is filed in the Court. To be a public document, it should be a record of the act of a public officer or Court. There is a distinction between the record of the act of the Court and the record of the Court. A document which forms part of the record of the Court does not necessarily form record of the act of the Court. It may be that upon a private document, which is a record of the act of private parties a second act is done by the public officer or by the Court, namely filing the document or putting a number on the document. Only that portion of the document, which records the act of the Court in filing the document would be a public document. Therefore, that part of the document, namely the original part would be a private document forming the record of the act of the private parties and what is subsequently added to that document by the Court would be a public document." Therefore, it can clearly be deduced that simply because a document is filed before any Court/ Tribunal/ Authority in any form, the same would not acquire a 'public' character. In fact, it is not the record of the Court, rather, the record of acts of the Court which is considered as public document. Clearly, the pleadings or even private documents filed before the various Courts/ Tribunals/ Authorities would not make such documents 'public'. However, orders or decrees passed by the Courts/ Tribunals/ Authorities are public document, as they are the record of the acts of such Courts/ Tribunals/ Authorities.

Similarly, registration of document under the provision of the Registration Act would not make such a document 'public' (K.K. Thankappan And Ors. v. K.S. Jayan And Ors., AIR 2003 Ker. 114). It was eloquently noted by the Hon'ble High Court of Gauhati (Agartala Bench) in Bidhan Paul v. Paresh Chandra Ghosh, (2001) 3 Gauhati LR 594, "Only those public records which keep the private documents and not the copies of private documents are treated as "public document" within the meaning of Section 74(2) of the Indian Evidence Act."  Even recently, a similar issue was considered by the Hon'ble High Court of Madhya Pradesh in Smt. Rekha Rana and Ors. v. Smt. Ratnashree Jain, 2006 (1) MPLJ 103, particularly, "Whether a sale deed (duly registered) is a public document?" The Hon'ble High Court, after a thorough review of the provisions of the Registration Act, held that, though, various books maintained in the Registration Offices are public record kept in a State of private documents and therefore public document. However, a deed of sale or other registered document would not fall under either of the two classes of documents described in Section 74, as 'public document'. It was observed by the Hon'ble Court, "A deed of conveyance or other document executed by any person is not an act nor record of an act of any sovereign authority or of any official body or tribunal, or of any public officer, legislative, judicial and executive. Nor is it a public record kept in a State of any private documents. A sale deed (or any other deed of conveyance) when presented for registration under the Registration Act, is not retained or kept in any public office of a State after registration but is returned to the person who presented such document for registration, on completion of the process of registration. An original registered document Is not therefore a public record kept in a state of a private document. Consequently, a deed of sale or other registered document will not fall under either of the two classes of documents described in Section 74, as 'public documents'."

Therefore, in the light of the above discussion it can be concluded that solely because a private document is filed or placed before Court/ Tribunal/ Authority or the same is registered under the provisions of the Registration Act, it would not transform the nature of such document to 'public'. A private document does not lose its character for the reason of it being filed before such authorities. Accordingly, unless and until some actions are performed by the public officer on such documents in his usual course of duties, it continues to be a private document. Similarly, registered private documents do not attain public character solely on their registration under the provisions of law. In fact, it is only the public record of private documents, kept in any State, which attributes 'public' character to such private documents in terms of Section 74(2) of the Evidence Act. Conclusively, a private document continues to retain its character even if it is kept in public file. It is neither by such filing or registration that a 'private' character of a such document is lost.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Topics
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions