1. An application was filed under section 3 of the Maharashtra (Vidarbha Region) Agricultural Debtor's Relief Act, 1969 hereinafter referred to as the Act, by creditor Kisanlal Bachharaj Vyas on 1-4-1970 against his debtors. It seems from the record that this application was opposed by the original Non-applicants Nos. 2,3, and 5 to 7 by filing a written statement and contention was also raised that the said application is bared by limitation, as it was not filed before the 1st day of April 1970 . It was also contended that as the application was not filed under Section 3 of the Act before the specified date , the debt stood extinguished. The applicant -creditor has also filed an application under Section 5 of the Limitation Act showing sufficient cause for not filing the application before the 1st day of April 1970.
2. The learned Civil Judge, Senior Division Amravati, by his order dated 23rd October 1972 allowed the application filed by the applicant -creditor under Section 5 of the Limitation Act and condoned the delay . Therefore he further held that the debt is not extinguished Against this order the present revision application is filed by the debtors.
3. Shri Chandurkar, the learned counsel for the applicant contended before me that though under Section 3 of the Act a date has been specified before which an application is to be filed , it cannot be said that any period of limitation, has been prescribed by the said section within the meaning of Section 29(2) of the Limitation Act, therefore , according to Shri Chandurkar, the provisions of Section 5 of the Limitation Act will have no application to such proceedings. For this proposition he has relied upon a decision of this Court in Shankar v. Chunilal : AIR1959Bom294 . He further contended that even assuming that a period of limitation has been prescribed, application of the provisions of the Limitation Act , including Section 5 are expressly excluded, In this context he relied upon the provision of Section 13 of the act which lays down the penal consequence if such an application is not filed before the 1st day of he has relied upon a decision of the Supreme Court in Hukumdev v. Lalit Narain : 3SCR31 .
4. For properly appreciating the contentions raised by Shri Chandurkar, it will be useful to refer to the provisions of Section 3 of the Act, which reads a under:
'3 (1) Any debtor or his creditor may, subject to the provisions of this Act, make an application before the 1st day of April 1970 to the Court for adjustment of the debts of the debtor.
(2) Every application shall be made in writing in the prescribed form, and shall be signed, verified and presented, in the prescribed manner, and shall be accompanied by a copy of the decree and a statement showing the amount paid, if any in relation to such decree'.
It is pertinent to note that initially the date specified in Section 3 of the act was 1st Day of October 1969, but the said date was subsequently extended by the Maharashtra. Ordinance XII of 1969 and for the figures, letters and words 1st day of October 1969 the figures , letters and words '1st Day of April 1970' were substituted . Therefore, the only question which is required to be decided in the present revision application is to find out as to what is the meaning of the expression, namely 'before the 1st day of April 1970'.
5. It is contended by Shri Chandurkar that the phraseology used clearly indicates that the application should be filed before the 12th Day of April 1970 and not on or before the 1st April 1970. In this view, of the matter, according to him, the last date, namely, Ist April 1970, will have to be excluded. He further contended that an application filed on 1-4-1970 is not an application which is filed before the 1st Day of April 1970 . According to him, the use of the expression 'before' clearly indicates that an application should be filed on or before the 31st March 1970 , then alone it could be said that it was filed before the Ist Day of April 1970 . It cannot be possible for me to accept this construction.
6. In my opinion, the word before will have to be construed and interpreted with reference to the context and the subject of the enactment. The Maharashtra Act No. XII of 1969 was enacted by the Legislature as it was though expedient to provide relief to certain agricultural debtors in the Vidarbha Region of State of Maharashtra. Ever prior to the enactment of the present legislation, there were statutes on the statute book which provided same relief to the agricultural debtors. By Section 52 of the present Act, the Madhya Pradesh Temporary Postponement of Execution of Decrees Act, 1956 was repealed. It has also repealed the Maharashtra (Vidarbha /Region) Agricultural Debtors Relief Ordinance. 1969 was enacted for giving relief to the agricultural debtors in the Vidarbha Region of the State of Maharashtra. This legislation, therefore, was enacted as a piece of beneficial legislation meant for the protection of the agriculturists and to provide certain reliefs to agricultural debtors. Under Section 3 of the act, the debtor or his creditor is entitled to file an application to a Court for the adjustment of the debts of the debtor. The Act then provides for penal consequences in case the procedure prescribed by the Act is not followed. Prior to the coming into force of the present legislation, there were four Acts in force in the State for the relief of the agricultural debtors providing for adjustment of their debts. The Act know as Madhya Pradesh Temporary Postponement of Execution of Decrees Act. 1956, which was in operation in the Vidarbha area had the effect of postponement of Civil Court decrees, but did not give any relief to agriculturist by way of reduction in debts. Therefore with a view to give relief to the agriculturist in the Vidarbha area in whose cases decrees passed by the Civil Court were postponed under the M.P. Temporary Postponement of Execution of Decrees Act, as extended from time to time , an Ordinance was promulgated which was called the Maharashtra (Vidarbha Region) Agricultural Debtors Relief Ordinance 1969 . According to this Ordinance, any creditor or his debtor could file an application before the 1st day of October 1969 to the Court for adjustment of the debts of the debtor. It is no doubt true that as a general principle of interpretation, where the words of the statute are plain, precise and unambiguous , the intention of the Legislature is to be gathered from the language of the Statute itself and no external aid is admissible to construe those words. It is only where a Statute is not exhaustive or where the language is ambiguous, uncertain, cloudy or susceptible of more than one meaning or shades of meaning. That the external evidence as to the evils. If any, which the Statute was intended to remedy or the circumstances which led to the passing of the Statute may be looked into for the purpose of ascertaining the object which the legislature had in view in using the words in question. Anandji Haridas and Co. Private Ltd. V. Engineering Majdoor Sangha, Civil Appeal No. 2053 of 1971, decided by the Supreme Court on 13-2-1975 (reported in : (1975)IILLJ12SC ). So far as the language used by the legislature in Section of the present Act is concerned, it is obvious that the same is ambiguous and is susceptible of more than one meaning. The word 'before has various shades of meaning , and therefore, for correctly ascertaining the meaning of the word used in Section 3 external aid will be permissible. If the Legislature intended as contended by the learned Counsel for the applicant that the application should be filed on or before 31st March 1970 it would have used a different phraseology. In that case it was not necessary for the Legislature to make a reference to 1st of April 1970 as a date before which a application could be filed. If the Legislature wanted to exclude the date, namely 1st April 1970 , it would have said so by saying that the application should be filed on or before 31st March .1970. In such case it was not necessary for the legislature to use the words that it should be filed before 1st April 1970. If that day was intended to be excluded. Therefore, in my opinion, exclusive reliance on the bare dictionary meaning of the word before will be of no assistance in properly understanding the meaning of the word before used in the section. Section 3 of the act specifies a period before which an application could be filed. The provision in a loose sense provides for a period of limitation. The provision of the Act also deprives or restricts the right of a creditor to have recourse to a legal remedy for recovery of his debt, and therefore, it is well settled that where a language is ambiguous, that construction will have to be preferred which will preserve such a remedy to one which will preserve such a remedy to one which bars or defeats it. Normally a Court should avoid an interpretation upon a Statute of this type which may have a penalizing effect unless it is driven to do so by the irresistible force of the language employed by the legislature.
7. As observed by the Supreme Court in Sheikh Gulfan v. Sanat Kumar : 3SCR364
'Normally the words used in a statute have to be construed in their ordinary meaning , but in many cases, judicial approach finds that the simple device of the adopting the ordinary meaning of words does not meet the ends of a fair and a reasonable construction. Exclusive reliance on the bare dictionary meaning of words may not be necessarily assist a proper construction of the statutory provision in which the words occur. Often enough, in interpreting a statutory provision, it becomes necessary to have regard to the subject-matter of the statute and the object which it is intended to achieve. That is why in deciding the true scope and effect of the relevant words in any statutory provision , the context in which the words occur, the object of the statute in which the provision is included , and the policy underlying the statute assume relevance and become material. As Halsbury has observed, the words should be construed in the light of their context rather than what may be either their strict etymological sense or their popular meaning apart from that context.'
If the words 'before used in Section 3 of the act is construed in this context, in my opinion, it will mean that an application could be filed under Section 3 of the Act on or before the 1st day of April 1970, that is up to 1st April 1970.
8. As already observed herein before it is the duty of a Court in construing an enactment to gather what was the intention of the Legislature from the words used by the Legislature in the enactment independently of all other considerations and it is only in the event of some doubt or difficulty in the interpretation of a statute that extraneous aid may be taken. Extraneous aid being in the nature of the previous history of the legislation, the precedent bearing upon the previous history and its stated objects and reasons. Although the statement of Objects and Reasons cannot be looked into as a direct aid to the construction, yet they can be used for a limited purpose. Such a view has been taken by the Full Bench of this Court in Smt.Radhabai v. State of Maharashtra, : AIR1970Bom232 . It is quite clear from the bare reading of the provisions of the present legislation that an application is not filed by that time. If the provisions of the Act are not followed in this behalf then Section 13 lays down that the debt itself shall stand extinguished. Therefore, to some extent it curtails the rights of the creditors to recover their debts if the procedure prescribed by the Act is not followed. In this view of the matter, in my opinion, the phraseology used in Section 3 of the Act will have also to be construed in the context in which this word occurred as well as the object of the Statute. As observed earlier, initially an application under Section 3 of the Act could have been filed before the 1st Day of October 1969. Thereafter by Maharashtra Ordinance No. III of 1969 Section 3 of the Act was amended and the figures, letters and words '1st day of April 1970 were substituted in place in figures. letters and words 1st Day of October 1969 . The Statement of Objects and Reasons appended to this Ordinance reads as under Z:
'Under Sub-section (1) of Section 3 of the Maharashtra (Vidarbha Region ) Agricultural Debtors's Relief Act, 1969 a debtor or his creditor may, subject to the provisions of the Act, make an application upto the 1st October 1969 to the Court for adjustment of the debts of the debtor. As the time available for making such application may be short, it was considered necessary to extend the same upto 1st April 1970 A Bill (L..A. Bill No. LII of 1969 -- a Bill to amend the Maharashtra (Vidarbha Region) Agricultural Debtor's Relief Act, 1969) containing a provision to secure this object to clause 2 thereof was introduced in the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly and passed by it on the 19th August 1969. The Bill. however, could not be introduced in the Maharashtra Legislative Council in the last session of the Legislature of the State of Maharashtra which was prorogued on the 22nd August 1969. The next session of the State Legislature is scheduled to commence on the 17th November 1969. It is , therefore, necessary to take immediate action to give effect to the provisions of the said clause 2 of that Bill and as both Houses of the State Legislature are not in session this Ordinance is promulgated'.
From this Statement of Objects and Reasons it is quit clear that according to the legislature initially an application under Section 3 of the Act could have been filed upto 1st October 1969 for the adjustment of the debts of the debtors and as this time available for making such an application was short, it was considered necessary to extend the same upto 1st April 1970.
9. This position is also clear from the statement of Objects and Reasons appended to the original Bill , namely, Bill No. LII of 1969 . Clause 2 of the statement of Objects and reasons appended to the Bill reads as under:
'Clause 2 -- As the time available for making application under Section 3 of the said Act for adjustment of debts before 1st October 1969 may be short, clause 2 provides for extending it upto 1st April 1970'.
Therefore, obviously the intention of the Legislature was to provide a further period for filing an application under Section 3 of the act upto 1st April 1970. Therefore, it is obvious that when the Legislature used the expression 'before the 1st day of April 1970 . The word before has been used by the Legislature in a sense which is synonymous to the word 'upto' . It is not disputed by Shri Chandurkar that if the meaning assigned to the word 'before' is upto then the application could be filed on the 1st April 1970 and it will obviously be within limitation. in my opinion, therefore, having regard to the placement of the word 'before' the context in which it is used and the subject of the enactment the word before as is used in Sec .3 of the Act will have to be understood as 'upto'.
10. In Section 6 of the Act a period of limitation is prescribed for recording settlement. The phraseology used is within thirty days from the date of such settlement. Further Section 13 of the Act reads as under:
'13. Every debt due from a debtor in respect of which no application has been made under Section 3 before the ate specified in that section or in respect of which no application for recording a settlement is made under Section 6 within the period specified in that said Section 6, or in respect of which an application made to the Court is withdrawn under c and no fresh application is made under Section 3 and every debt due from such debtor in respect of which a statement is not submitted to the Court by the creditor in compliance with the provisions of Section 12, shall be extinguished'
If all these sections of the Act are read together and harmoniously, it is obvious that the word before was also used by the Legislation in the context of the word within meaning thereby not later than . As to what is the meaning of the word within has been considered by the Supreme Court in Hari Das v. The State of West Bengal : 1972CriLJ872 .
11. Then in Harinder Singh v. S. Karnail Singh : 1SCR208 the Supreme Court held that in the context the words are used, in a given case a term within and not later than can mean the same thing.
12. In Devshankar v. Bachubha : AIR1956Bom113 , the expression before the above mentioned date came for construction before a Division Bench of this Court, though in a different context. In para 4 of the said decision a reference was made to the following observations of Shah J in Appeal No., 878 of 1952 , decided by this Court on 20-9-1954 (Bom):
'It is true that the notice has called upon the defendants to vacate and deliver possession before 31-3-1947. But it is not clear as to whether it was before the evening of 31-3-1947 or the morning of 31-3-1947'.
The phraseology used, namely, before the 31st March 1950' was construed by the Division Bench meaning that the tenant was called upon to hand over possession of the field not on 31st March 1950 itself, latitude being left to him to choose his own time on that day but even before 31-3-1950 i.e. on any date before the date 31-3-1950. Therefore it is quite clear that a view has been taken by this Court that in a given case the word 'before ' could include the day mentioned latitude being left to the person to choose his own time on that date. As already observed, in the present case the Legislature wanted to extend the time for filing an application under Section 3 of the Act upto 1st April 1970. Therefore, obviously the intention of the Legislature was to permit the filing of an application under Section 3 of the Act, before the expiry of 1st April 1970.
13. In the context the word before is used, it is quite clear that the Legislature wanted that the application under Section 3 of the act could be filed not later than 1st day of April 1970 . Even if the dictionary meaning of the word 'before is to be adhered to, the meaning of the word 'before as given in Chambers' 20th Century Dictionary is previous to the expiration of . If this meaning is given to the word 'before as used in Section 3 of the Act., it will mean that an application under Section 3 of the Act, it could be filed before the expiration of or not later than the 1st day of April 1970, that is , before the expiry of 1st April 1970, which is the date specified in Section 3 of the Act. In this view of the matter , in my opinion, the application filed by the applicant on 1st April 1970 was within time.
14. In the view which I have taken , therefore, it is not necessary to consider the question as to whether the provisions of Section 5 of the Limitation Act will apply to the provisions of Section 3 of the Act.
15. In the result therefore, the revision application must fail, though on different grounds. However, in the circumstances of the case there will be no order as to costs.
16. Application dismissed.