Lallubhai Shah, Acting C.J.
1. This application arises out of proceedings taken by the Inspector of Cotton Excise, Bombay Presidency, against the accused. In the complaint that was lodged on August 3, 1923, before the District Magistrate, the complainant alleged that, on April 14, 1923, he went to the Raja Bahadur Motilal Mills of Poona, of which the accused was the owner, and asked him to give reasonable facilities for the inspection of certain records showing production of mixed cotton and silk goods. At about 9 A.M. when he went there the accused gave instructions to his servants that facilities should be given to the complainant. The complainant waited up to 2 P.M., but he had not been able to get until then the inspection of the I.L.R. (1892) Mad, 221. records and of the godown which he wanted. When the accused returned at about 2 p. M. he was said to have refused to let him have access to the godown and to the records which he wanted, and accordingly charged him under Section 25, clauses 9, of the Cotton Duties Act II of 1896 On this the trial proceeded before the First Class Magistrate Mr. Atre to whom the District Magistrate had transferred this complaint. The case assumed somewhat undue proportions partly on account of the line of argument which was adopted on behalf of the accused in the trial Court, But in the end the Magistrate found that under Section 16 of the Cotton Duties Act, the complainant was entitled to have free access to the godown, and also to have inspection of the accounts from the year 1915 up to 1923 which he wanted; that the access to the godown and to the records was refused by the accused. He accordingly found him guilty of having intentionally caused obstruction in the discharge of his duties to the complainant under Section 25, Clause 9, of the Cotton Duties Act, and sentenced the accused to simple imprisonment till the rising of the Court and a fine of Rs. 1000.
2. In appeal the learned Sessions Judge was not prepared to hold it proved as regards the account books from 1915 to 1920 that the Mill Authorities knew where they were and refused to produce them, and as regards the books from 1920 to 1923 he was not prepared to hold that the accounts were not produced. It may be mentioned that the connection of the accused with this Mill commenced in August 1920. The learned Judge, however, was satisfied on the evidence that the accused refused to give access to the godown, and that in doing so, he intentionally caused obstruction to the complainant. Accordingly he confirmed the conviction and upheld the sentence.
3. In the application before us the case on behalf of the applicant has been argued on the footing of the findings recorded by the Sessions Judge. We are no longer concerned with the obstruction alleged to have been caused to the complainant as regards the account books, because the learned Judge has so far found in favour of the accused.
4. We are concerned with the obstruction said to have been caused to the complainant in respect of the godown. As regards that, the facts, which are not in dispute, are these. The go-down was locked at the time. Apparently, on April 14, from about 9 A, M. up to 2 P.M. the persons to whom the accused had given instructions to give facilities to the complainant had not done anything to open the godown. When the accused returned at about 2 P.M. to the Mill premises, he is found to have refused any access to this godown to the complainant. His case on that point was that he did not refuse, but that he said that he would write to him later on, suggesting that as he was absent during the morning hours and did not know what had transpired between the complainant and his own men, he want ed time to consider the situation. In support of that he relied upon the letter which he wrote that very afternoon which reached the complainant at about 5-30, in which he offered to open the godown to him. That offer, however, was not availed of later on, and we are not concerned with what happened subsequently. But that letter has been relied upon in the course of the argument as showing that from the beginning there was no intention on his part to cause obstruction. It is further urged before us that as the finding with regard to the refusal to produce the account books is in favour of the accused, really there could not have been any intention on the part of the accused to cause obstruction. It is also urged that this godown is not part of the Mill as defined by the Act, and that, therefore, really the accused would have a right to refuse free access to this part of the building.
5. As regards this last point, it is clear that it does not seem to have been suggested in either of the Courts below that this go-down was not part of the building. Under Section 3, Sub-clause (6) of the Act 'Mill' means any building or place where cotton goods are woven, knitted or otherwise manufactured by machinery moved otherwise than by manual labour, and includes every part of such building or place. It does not appear to have been suggested in this case that this godown was not part of such building or place. The learned Judge has found expressly that the complainant had a right of free access at all reasonable times during the working hours to this particular godown, and in the absence of any indication in the evidence to the contrary the suggestion made before us cannot be accepted. It is sufficient for our purposes in revision that both the lower Courts have found that he had a right of free access at all reasonable times to this godown.
6. As regards the question whether the act found to have been Committed by the accused amounts to intentional obstruction, it seems that it is really a question of fact to be determined with reference to the circumstances of this case. Though several cases have been referred to in the course of the argument, I think that it must depend upon the facts of this case. We have to determine on the proved facts whether the conduct of the accused amounts to an obstruction within the meaning of Clause 9 of Section 25, As I have already stated, the godown was locked. The requisition of the complainant to have it opened was not complied with in the morning of the 14th, and about 2 o'clock when the accused returned, undoubtedly the complainant insisted upon the opening of the godown It is not suggested in the case that the accused had not the necessary control over the key, and that he was not in a position to open the godown, if he was minded to do so. If under these circumstances he refused to open the godown, it seems to me that he undoubtedly caused an obstruction to the free access to this godown to which the complainant was entitled. It does not matter as to what the object of the complainant was in asking the accused to open the godown. It has been urged with some insistence that the real thing that the complainant want ed was the account books, and as there is a finding in favour of the accused on that point, there could have been no intention on the part of the accused to cause obstruction. But the obstruction to the free access to the godown did arise in fact, and to me it appears that that obstruction existed no less because the purpose for which it was wanted was not established as alleged by the complainant. The fact appears to have been, as found by the learned Sessions Judge, that the complainant had a suspicion in his mind that the account books were in the godown, and possibly he wanted to get samples of the silk cloth which was manufactured in this Mill. It is possible, on the other hand, that on account of what had transpired between the complainant and the Mill people in the morning, when the accused and the complainant met at about 2 o'clock the interview between them was not exactly pleasant, and on account of mutual distrust and suspicion of each other both parties possibly behaved in a manner in which they might not have otherwise acted. But whatever the reason may be, the fact remains that the accused refused to open the godown at the time; and it seems to me that it is no answer to say that later on in the afternoon he offered to the complainant to have access to that godown, Undoubtedly he did make such an offer by his letter in the afternoon on the 14th, and to that extent, I think, he acted correctly. But that is not sufficient, in my opinion, to condone the obstruction which he in fact caused at about 2 o'clock when he refused access to the complainant to the godown.
7. It seems to me, therefore, that the conviction under Clause 9 of Section 25 of the Cotton Duties Act is correct. Having regard, however, to the findings of the learned Sessions Judge as regards the account books, and to the fact that the complainant really wanted access to the account looks, and also to the subsequent conduct of the accused in writing the letter to which I have referred, it seems to me that the sentence is unduly severe. Having regard to these circumstances, I think that the sentence of fine of Rs. 100 would be sufficient to meet the requirements of the case. I would, therefore, reduce the sentence to a fine of Rs 100 and direct the excess, if paid, to be refunded. We set aside the sentence of imprisonment.
8. I agree that the conviction of the accused for having intentionally obstructed the complainant in the exercise of his power under the Cotton Duties Act should not be interfered with by this Court on revision.
9. On the main question, the facts found by the lower Court seem to me clearly to show that there was wilful obstruction. The complainant had been trying to get access to this godown for some hours in the morning. He had written several memos to that end addressed to the accused. He did not succeed in getting such access, and at the subsequent interview between the accused and the complainant the accused definitely refused to open the godown. To say that that does not amount to a wilful obstruction under Clause 9 of Section 25 of the Cotton Duties Act seems to me absurd. The complainant under Section 16 had a right of free access, so that no conditions could be attached to it. It was not open to the accused, for instance, to say 'you must wait some hours until I fully consider the question,' and it is not alleged that the accused was not in a position, if he wanted to, to have had the godown at once opened and the complainant given access to it. The question of the particular purpose for which the complainant wanted such access, seems to me immaterial in the circumstances of this case, so long, at any rate, as the object was in connection with the Inspector's duties under the Cotton Duties Act. It may, however, be remarked that it was not an entirely new case set up for the first time by the learned Sessions Judge, that he wanted such access to see if there were any goods in this godown, for the letter of the Inspector, Ex. 2 B, in fact mentioned his suspicion that there were such goods in the godown. Whether it was to see such goods, or whether it was to see whether any accounts were concealed there, in either case the complainant had a right of access to the godown and undoubtedly the accused; after due notice, declined to give him such access. It is absurd to say that because there was no other overt act, such as a threat or a blow, that therefore there was no intentional obstruction, I may in this connection refer to the case of Gully v. Smith (1883) 12 Q.B.D. 121. where the question arose whether an owner whose wall had tumbled down on to a road, and who, after due notice, omitted to remove it was guilty of 'wilful obstruction' of the highway under a certain statute. It was held by the Court that he was guilty of such obstruction, and Lord Coleridge in delivering judgment said, among other things:--
To my mind it is clear that, though obstruction may have begun with an act for which the appellant was not responsible, yet if he ought to have removed that which caused the obstruction, and after notice did not do so, the act of leaving it becomes wilful on his part.
10. In that case there was also a contention that there ought to have been some overt act on his part, but that was over-ruled by the Court. So here there was obstruction to the complainant's right of free access, namely the locked door. The accused had notice to remove that obstruction and to give the complainant free access, and he declined to do so, and therefore there was wilful obstruction on his part.
11. As to the point whether Section 16 would cover free access to this godown, it seems to me quite clear from the definition of the word 'Mill' in this Act that it must do so. That definition contains the wide word 'place' which (supposing the godown in not in the particular building where the machinery is) is wide enough to cover the premises containing accessories to the manufacture of cotton goods in the mill; and the explanation to Section 6 of the Act provides that cotton goods produced in the mill cover any goods which are issued out of the premises of the mill. Obviously the Legislature intends the mill premises to be covered by the word 'mill.
12. As regards the sentence, I agree with my learned brother that in the circumstances the fine should be reduced from Rs. 1000 to Rs. 100.