1. The dispute between the plaintiff-appellant, the Raipoor ., at Ahmedabad, and - the defendant respondent, the Municipality, is in respect of water-tax for 1923-24 which the latter sought to levy on the former. The appellant's objections to the tax have ultimately been reduced to three. Firstly, the bill presented to him is defective in law, and admittedly inaccurate as regards amount, and therefore until a proper bill is presented, the appellant is not liable. Secondly, under the Rules, particularly Rule 8 made under Section 46, Clause (1), this tax is payable only in advance in one instalment, and accrues due on April 1; he is not liable for any period before April 1, following the date when the tax first became due. Thirdly, the building on which the tax is leviable can only be buildings within a radius of 75 feet of a water pipe or 500 feet of a fire plug under Rule 22. Therefore, all the buildings outside these radii as shown in the plan are not liable merely because they are in the mill compound which belongs to the appellants.
2. The trial Court upheld the first two pleas, but not the last, and decreed the suit. The lower appellate Court rejected all three, and dismissed the suit. The plaintiff appeals.
3. The facts lie in a small compass. Under the Rules under Section 46(1) in Chapter XIII of Vol, 1 of the Ahmedabad Municipal Code, p. 159, under Rule I, Clause (1) 'buildings' have the meaning in Section 3, Sub-section (7), of the Bombay District Municipal Act. Rule 2 makes buildings and lands within Municipal limits liable for the water tax. Rule 3 defines the time for paying the tax. Rule 4 provides for a proportionate charge for a water or drainage connection. Rule 6, Clause (b), defines the mode of assessing the taxes on mill and factory buildings. Rule 21 specifies the rate in accordance with the Schedule on the annual letting value the rate of the water tax. Rule 22 excepts from the water tax buildings or lands whereof no part is within 75 feet of a water pipe or within 500 feet of a fire plug, standpipe 0r water reservoir. It appears that the plaintiff Mill was outside Municipal limits until 1913. Some disputes arose subsequently in regard to water connection charges. It has now been held by both the Courts, and is not disputed in appeal, that by May 31, 1923, the Municipal pipes were brought within 75 feet of the Mill buildings, and there were two standpipes within 00 feet marked M, H, on the plan Exhibit 42, the radii being shown in red circles. The original bill presented by the respondent claimed the water tax from April 1, 1923, up to March 31, 1924, On Presentation of the bill, the plaintiffs objected, and filed the suit, and paid the amount under protest in Court. Before the evidence the respondents admitted that the appellants could not be charged for the months of April and May; the appellants withdrew that portion and the question is therefore reduced to the amount for ten months from June 1, 1923, to March 31, 1924. The original dispute covered a wider range, and raised a large number of questions, which have now been reduced to the three issues formulated at the outset of this judgment.
4. The objection to the bill, Exhibit 16, for the appellants is on the score that it fails to comply with Section 82, Clause (2), Sub-clause (b), para. 1, and does not sufficiently set out the liability incurred in default of payment. It is argued that the word 'liability' would include all the liabilities up to distress and the ultimate liability, and particularly the liability to distress and sale under Section 82(2) of the Bombay District Municipal Act, and not merely the first liability, so called, to a demand notice with a penalty of eight annas, which is the only liability actually specified in the bill, Exhibit 44. For the respondents it is contended that the liability does not mean all the liabilities, but merely the immediate liability in case of non payment of the bill, and Clause (3) of Section 82 is relied upon as showing that under the law the bill only contemplates the mention of the notice of demand, and it is only when the bill is not paid and a notice of demand in the form of Schedule B is sent that in the notice of demand mention of a distress warrant is necessary, and therefore presumably not in the bill.
5. Reference is made for the appellants to Section 102 of the Madras District Municipalities Act (IV of 1884) from which the corresponding Article 82 of the Bombay Act is said to have been taken. It is important, however, to note that the Madras Act contains no provision for a notice of demand as the Bombay Act. The question, therefore, reduces itself whether by the word 'liability' the Legislature meant the immediate liability or all the further liabilities including the ultimate liability. It may be conceded that fiscal statutes which impose pecuniary burdens must be strictly construed in favour of the subject, at least in regard to the liability to pay the tax, and also in regard to the amount: Partington v. The Atiorney-Oeneral (1869) L.R. 4H, L. 100. Similarly, in the case of penalties, the requirements of the law before the penalty is incurred must be strictly complied with. For instance, where the bill omitted to state the time within which an appeal might be preferred, as is necessary under Section 82(2)(6)(ii), the subject was held not liable : Surat Municipality v. Chhabildas : AIR1914Bom22 . At the same time such penal Acts are not to be so construed as to furnish a chance of escape and a means of evasion. 'Repairs' in the Church Building Acts were held to include others such as lighting, cleaning, etc.: The Queen v. The Official Principal of the Consistory Court (1862) 31 h. J, Q. R 106.; Maxwell on the Interpretation of Statutes, 5th Edition, pp. 465 and 468. In other words, to revert to the familiar maxim, the Courts have to consider what liability the Legislature meant to impose and the amount of it and the conditions necessary before the penalty,if any, was incurred. In the present case reading Sections 82 and 83 together, the law contemplates that Municipalities should issue a notice of demand in the form of Schedule B before they had recourse to distress. It is true that the words in Section 82, Clause (3), are 'the Municipality may cause to be served.' It is in evidence here, however, that the practice in Ahmedabad was to serve such notices of demand as the bill actually states. As the clause now in question does not expressly say that all the liabilities including the ultimate liability incurred in default of payment are to be specified in the bill, on the ordinary canons of interpretation the argument for the respondent is, in my opinion, correct, that the Municipality sufficiently complied with the law when they stated the next step to which they would have recourse, viz., a notice of demand It is true that the liability under the notice of demand was merely eight annas. But the slightness of the amount does not make it the less a liability within the meaning of the law. The bill has now been corrected and is from June 1. The first contention of the appellant, therefore, fails.
6. The second contention is as regards the period of liability. The argument for the appellants is based on the language of Ru le 3, which runs as follows: 'The said taxes shall be. payable in advance in one instalment, and shall accrue due on April 1,' Therefore, it is argued if any property became liable to tax after April 1 no bill could be presented till the following April. In other words the property must be exempted for the whole portion of the Municipal year after April 1. The original contention for the respondent as appearing from the bill was the other extreme; apparently that if the property became liable at any intermediate period before March 3, the Municipality were still entitled to charge even for the period before from April 1 preceding.
7. The respondent has pointed out that in the original plaint itself the appllant's contention was not pushed so far as it was in the issue raised, the plaintiff alleging that the water rate could only be levied, if at all, from the quarter after the pipes were laid by the Municipality, in this case therefore, from July 1. I am happily exempt from considering the grounds ad miseri cordiam presented by either party in argument here, and I need not consider whether the plaintiff is an unfortunate mill-owner who, having no need of water, has still to pay these taxes to an extravagant Municipality, which pushes its water-pipe and stand-pipe within the legal limits only for the purpose of extracting the tax, or whether on the other hand he is seeking to evade payment of the taxes necessary if the Municipality is to discharge its legal responsibility for the prevention of fire, particularly in the neighborhood of mills. Under Rule 2, water-tax is a compulsory tax irrespective of and separate from the water connection, which depends on whether a particular rate-payer chooses to apply for and obtain a water-connection pipe. Compulsory water-tax is leviable on all buildings and lands including mill and factory buildings separately assessed under Rule 6(6), and the only exemption is that in Rule 22 in the case of buildings or lands whereof no part is within 75 feet of a water-pipe or 500 feet of a fire plug, stand-pipe or water reservoir. Therefore on the present findings until the end of May 1923 the appellant's buildings and lands were exempted. The respondent have acted prudently in giving up their claim made under the bill for the months of April and May, 1923. From June 1, 1923, the exemption ceased; the liability for water-tax commenced. If Rule 3 had stopped short at the words 'in one instalment,' there would be no difficulty. The appellant could not have raised the present contention. That is solely based on the concluding words, 'and shall accrue due on April 1,' The words 'shall accrue due' are not so clear as they might be; in any case they cannot be paraphrased in the sense which the trial Court has taken (p. 10, line 14) that the liability to water rate is determined in the beginning of the year. The rule in question is not a rule of the Legislature, it is a rule made by the Municipality, which, after all is said and done, cannot be expected to have the expert draftsmanship available to Government, which in cases of important legislation such as the Bombay Land Revenue Code, has occasioned difficulty to the Courts. Reading Rule 4, on which the appellants rely, it is perfectly true that Rule 4 explicitly allows a proportionate levy for water and drainage tax after April 1, But is it therefore to be concluded that the water-tax and house and property tax in Rule 2 are not leviable except on April 1 That construction, in my opinion, s untenable for two reasons : firstly, it is inconsistent with the words 'in advance ;' secondly, because it is difficult to imagine that the Municipality merely because a house was completed on April 2, or the exemption of a building ceased at any date after April 1, would forego their entire tax payable annually in advance. Rule 3 is purely a general rule meant to provide for the case of recurring taxes already levied. This particular point, the difficulty of reconciling the words 'payable in advance' and the words 'accrue due on April 1' escaped the draftsman of the rules and left a loophole for the present contention, That contention, in my opinion, is as unsound as the original contention for the respondent based upon the same words of the same rule that, because it was payable in advance and accrued on April 1, therefore April 1 must be taken to be April 1 preceding the date when the tax first became due. Neither construction, in my opinion, is correct. The proper construction is that adopted by the lower appellate Court. In this case the tax became due from June 1.
8. The third contention is as regards the portions of the buildings outside the circle. The definition of 'buildings' is not very relevant. I am of opinion, particularly in view of Rule 6, Clause (b), and the mode of assessment on the value of the property that not merely the actual physical buildings within seventy-five feet of a water-pipe or 500 feet of a standpipe as the case may be, are liable for assessment, but if any appreciable portion of a mill building falls within these radii, the whole building of the mills becomes liable. I refer to the case quoted above, The Queen v. The Official Principal of the Consistory Court 1862 L.J.Q.B. 106. The buildings of the mill are sufficiently wide to include all the buildings within the compound which have been assessed. The lower Courts, were, therefore, right in rejecting this contention.
9. The appeal, therefore, fails, and is dismissed with costs.