John Beaumont, Kt., C.J.
1. This is a reference made by the Sessions Judge of Nasik recommending that this Court should set aside the conviction of a man named Dattatraya Malhar Ilidkar, who was convicted under Section 12 of the Press and Registration of Books Act, Act XXV of 1867, and fined Rs. 5. The learned Sessions Judge thinks that the conviction was not justified in law. What the accused person did was to distribute in the streets printed handbills in the form of exhibit 3, giving notice of two meetings of agriculturists which were to be held in order to support certain resolutions being brought up in the Bombay Legislative Council, and it is suggested, and the learned Magistrate so held, that in so doing he was guilty of an offence under Section 12 of the Act inasmuch as the handbills did not comply with Section 3.
2. Two points arise on the reference, first, whether exhibit 3 is a paper printed within the meaning of that expression in Section 3 of the Act, and, secondly, if it is, whether the action of the accused in distributing this pamphlet or paper amounted to publication, and so constituted an offence under Section 12.
3. With regard to the first point, Section 3 of the Act provides that-
Every book or paper printed within British India, shall have printed legibly on it the name of the printer and the place of printing, and (if the book or paper be published) the name of the publisher, and the place of publication.
' Paper' is not defined in the Act, though ' newspaper' is, and Section 5 of the Act deals expressly with newspapers. The expression ' paper printed' is not an accurate expression, because paper as an article is not printed, but manufactured; when it has been manufactured it may have letters, signs or figures printed upon it, but literally speaking the paper itself is not printed. The Advocate General argues that the only meaning which can be given to the expression ' paper printed' is that it includes every piece of paper on which any letter, figure or sign is printed, and that every such piece of paper falls within the mischief aimed at by the Act. The view has been expressed by the Chief Justice of the Patna High Court in Rameshwar Prashad Verma v. Emperor : AIR1931Pat351 that the word ' paper' in Section 3 is practically synonymous with ' newspaper.' There is much to be said for this view, though, of course, the argument against it is that when the Legislature intended to refer to a newspaper it did so in express terms. If the contention of the Advocate General be correct as to the meaning of ' paper', it would seem to follow that offences against Section 3 of the Act are committed by practically everybody from the Viceroy and Governors downwards. Every invitation to dinner or to a party of any sort which is printed, every printed notice from a club secretary to members, every printed visiting card would be ' paper printed' within the meaning attributed to the expression by the Advocate General, and would require to have printed upon it the name of the printer and place of printing. No doubt Section 21 provides some safeguard in that it enables the Government to exclude certain classes of books or papers from the operation of the Act, but I should certainly feel great hesitation in giving to the words used in Section 3 the wide meaning attributed to them in the argument of the Advocate General. However, in my opinion, it is not necessary to decide in this case what the exact meaning of the expression ' paper printed' may be, because it is, in my opinion, perfectly plain that the accused has not published this paper, if it be a paper, within the meaning of Section 12. Section 12 provides that ' whoever shall print or publish any book or paper otherwise than in conformity with the rule contained in Section 3 ' shall be liable to conviction and punishment. One must read the word ' publish' in that section in conjunction with the reference to a ' publisher' in Section 3 and in Section 5, which latter section provides that the ' publisher' of every newspaper has to make a declaration in the form set out in the section. It is quite clear that the publisher of the paper referred to in Section 3 and Section 5 is the man who publishes it in the ordinary sense of the term, that is to say, arranges with the proprietor for its distribution, and a mere seller or distributor of the paper is not a publisher under either of those sections. In my opinion the only person who can be guilty of publishing under Section 12 is the person who is performing the act of a publisher within Section 3 and Section 5. The Advocate General argues that if no name of a publisher appears on the document, the Court must assume the person who is actually in possession of the document, and distributing it, to be the publisher. In my opinion no such assumption can be made; in most cases such assumption would be quite contrary to the facts. There is no evidence in this case that the accused published exhibit 2, and on that ground the reference of the learned Judge is correct. The conviction must be set aside, and the fine repaid.
4. I should add nothing on my own account to what my Lord the Chief Justice has just said in regard to the alleged offence of the accused, but for the fact that the question raised is of some general importance so far as the actual decision is concerned. The accused was convicted under Section 12 of the Press and Registration of Books Act, Act XXV of 1867, for having published a pamphlet in Marathi purporting to be issued under the signature of the Secretary to the Local Congress Committee inviting certain agriculturists to attend public meetings convened in connection with certain grievances of theirs. The accused was merely found distributing the pamphlets to the public, and for that act he was held liable as a publisher. Section 12 provides that ' whoever shall print or publish any book or paper otherwise than in conformity with the rule contained in Section 3 of this Act' shall be punished by fine, etc. Section 3 requires certain particulars to appear on every book or paper printed in British India. Those particulars do not appear on the pamphlet in question. The gist of the offence is the printing or publishing of any book or paper, and the pertinent questions that arise are whether the accused's act amounts to publishing the pamphlet within the meaning of Section 12, and whether the pamphlet is a paper printed within the meaning of Section 3. The former question is really decisive of the case. The latter question, however, involves some difficulty in construing the provisions of Section 3 of the Act. These provisions create a certain amount of ambiguity in view of the language used as to whether the pamphlet in question could be described as paper printed. If regard is had to the material portion of the preamble, it is evident that the object and scope of the regulation is to control printing presses and periodicals containing news. If that preamble serves legitimately as a guide to the purpose and intent of the Legislature in enacting Sections 3 and 12, a paper on which any kind of printed matter might appear other than news is not a paper printed within Section 3. If it was, it would bring within the scope of the penal provisions many kinds of printed matter which have hitherto been allowed to be printed and circulated with impunity.
5. It is, however, unnecessary to attempt to explain precisely what is meant by the expression ' paper printed' in Section 3, because I am clearly of the opinion that a mere distributor or seller of a book or other printed paper is not a publisher within the meaning of Section 3. That word is used in a technical sense meaning a person who has undertaken to print certain matter for public circulation. It is elementary that in dealing with a penal provision the rule of strict construction requires that the language shall be construed so that no cases shall be held to fall within it which do not fall within the reasonable interpretation of the enactment. I think it will be doing considerable violence to the language of Sections 3 and 12 to adopt the interpretation which the learned Advocate General has asked us to adopt for upholding the conviction of the accused for merely distributing the pamphlet. As generally happens, pamphlets of this description are given for distribution to a person hired for the purpose. Although the latter takes part in the circulation of the pamphlet, he cannot be regarded as a publisher in the sense in which that word is understood with reference to the publication of a book or paper, and in which sense it is used in Section 3. The insistence upon the printing of a mere distributor's name on every such pamphlet will lead to results which could not be imputed to the Legislature within its intention. That restricted interpretation of the word ' publisher' in Section 3 must govern the provisions of Section 12 excluding from its operation mere distributors or sellers of books or pamphlets. It is important to note that in the charge sheet in vernacular there is no suggestion that the accused is the publisher of the pamphlet, but a mere distributor, and it is expressly indicated that the person issuing the same is some person connected with the Congress. It is not suggested that the accused is an office-holder in that body, causing the pamphlet to be printed for circulation. Therefore, the conviction is wrong, and the reference must be accepted, and the accused acquitted.