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Sri Sitaramaswami Temple Vs. Chunduri Satyanarayana Murthy - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectTenancy
CourtAndhra Pradesh High Court
Decided On
Case NumberSecond Appeal Nos. 804, 834, of 1977 and 72 of 1978
Judge
Reported inAIR1983AP374
ActsAndhra Pradesh Tenancy Act, 1956 - Sections 3 and 8
AppellantSri Sitaramaswami Temple
RespondentChunduri Satyanarayana Murthy
Appellant AdvocateM. Audinarayana Raju, Adv.
Respondent AdvocateT. Durgaprasada Rao and ;C.V.N. Sastry, Advs.
Excerpt:
.....rent by landlord - high court observed that section is only concerned with question of quantum of rent payable - scope and purpose of an inquiry under section 8 are entirely different from one in civil court - failure of tenant to go before rent court under section 8 would not disable tenant from pleading in civil court about invalidity of term in lease and resist landlord's suit for recovery of rent. - - but the tenant failed to pay rent for the fasli year 1379. the tenant pleaded that his crops failed in 1379 fasli due to heavy cyclone but according to the terms of the lease deed. the rent was payable by the tenant even when crops failed due to excessive rains (ativrusti and anavrushti). 2. the suit was filed on the basis that the tenant failed to keep those corents as agreed to...........is indirectly opposed to the provisions of the andhra pradesh tenancy act of 1956 which fixes the rent payable not absolutely but only as a percentage of the crop yield. the preamble of the above act makes it clear that the act is enacted to provide for the payment of fair rent and to prevent the collection of excessive rent for the purpose of fixing fair rent section 3 of hte act declares that the maximum of rent payable bya cultivating tenant to a landlord should not exceed 30% of every crop grown on any irrigable land other than a land irrigated by baling of water and should not exceed 25% of every crop grown on any other kind of land. crop grown on any other kind of land the legal effect of this provision of the statute is to make the tenant's obligation to pay rent in absolute.....
Judgment:

P.A. Choudary, J.

1. S. A. No. 804/77 is by a landlord against his tenant. He filed this second appeal complaining against a judgment a decree of dismissal of his suit O.s. No. 663 of 1973 passed by the District Munsif's Court. Tadepalligudem. In O.s. No. 663 of 1973 the landlord sued his tenant for recovery of an amount of Rs. 1,081-95 representing the arrears of rent. The landlord claimed the rent as payable to him by the respondent-tenant for three faslies of 1379 1380 and 1381 with respect to the plaint scheduled temple lands under the terms of a lease dated 19-8-68. The tenant boudn himself to pay to the landlord rent of eight bags of paddy for each acre for each fasli before 31st January of each succeeding fasli. But the tenant failed to pay rent for the fasli year 1379. The tenant pleaded that his crops failed in 1379 fasli due to heavy cyclone But according to the terms of the lease deed. The rent was payable by the tenant even when crops failed due to excessive rains (Ativrusti and Anavrushti).

2. The suit was filed on the basis that the tenant failed to keep those corents as agreed to. To the suit claim the tenant set up a defence of invalidity of the term of absolute liability contained in the lease deed. The tenant pleaded that as in the fasli year of 1379, there was a total failure of crops due to a devastating cyclone in the coastal area of andhra the rent for that year had not become payable. The tenant pleaded that he appended his signature to a printed paper purporting to be a lease deed without his fully knowing what he was doing and it would therefore not bind him. The tenant pleaded that due to a heavy cyclone of that fasli of 1379. There was a total loss of crop in the coastal districts of Andhra pradesh. He also said that the Revenue authorities accepting these facts had also granted to the farmers remission of and revenue payable to the Government for that year. The defendant-tenatn also stated that the Executive officer of the plaintiff-temple inspected the suit land immediately after the cyclone and satisfied himself of the total failure of crops on account of cyclone. He further pleaded that he requested the commissioner of Hindu Religious and charitable Endowments Department through a written application to grant remission of maktha for the 1379 fasli.

3. The above factual pleas of the tenant wer found by the courts below to be substantially correct.

4. The plaintiff-temple mainly relied upon the above stipulation of the lease deed to deny any claim of the tenant for remission of rent on the ground of excessive rain or drought . the plaintiff-temple also argued that no remission could be granted by the civil Court to the defendant-tenant contrary to the stipulation abovementioned which expressly provided for a situation of failure of crops brought about by drought or excessive rains. The plaintiff-temple argued that the right of the defendanttenant to claim any remission of rent on the ground of failure of crops caused by cyclone etc. Might be available to the tenatnt only under sec. 8 of the A.P. Tenancy Act. For the grant of such a relief, sec, 8 of the A.P. Tenancy Act provided the only forum of a tenancy Court and as the tenant had failed to raise any such dispute before the tenancy Court and as the tenant had failed to raise any such dispute before the tenancy Court he could not get remission of rent from a civil Court. As no such petition under sec. 8 of hte Act claiming remission of rent for fasli 1379, the landlord-plaintiff argued that the civil Court had no jurisdiction to grant any remission of rent to the defendant tenant in an action diled by him for recovery of rent on the basis of the lease agreemtn.

5. The concurrent findings of facts recorded by the courts below are that the crop for the fasli year of 1379 had totally failed due to a devastating cyclone of that year and the tenant could not reap whre he had sown. We accept these concurrent findings of fact which are not assailed before us and examine the rival legal contentions on that basis.

6. When this second appeal (804/77) first came up for hearing before our learned brother jeevan Reddy J. Along with S. A. Nos. 834/77, and 72/78 raising similar questions of law. The learned Judge referred all these appeals to a Bench as the learned Judge thought that the two important questions of law arising in these appeals namely (a) whether the term in the lease obliging tenant to pay the rent notwithstanding any damage done to the crop due to cyclone flood or similar cause is not unconscionalbe, required resolution by a division Bench and (b) whether a tenant who had not applied under S. 8 of the Act for remission of rent can resist the suit for rent by the landlord on the ground that there has been a total failure of crop on account of cyclone.

7. The suit filed by the temple is clearly for the enforcement of the above terms of the lease making the obligation of the tenant to pay rent absolute the question is whether the above referred to clause, obliging the tenant to pay rent even during a fasli year of 'Athivrusti or Anavrusti' when crops had failed totally is valid and enforceable by any organ of the state. An agricultural lease is only one form of an ordinary contract. Legally competent individuals are free to enter into such contracts and agree to change their mutual legal relations. But law may deny an individual's freedom to contract and change inter se legal relations by inhibiting his ability to contract and making it subject to a higher legal norm laid down by a statute. For its validity and enforceability no contract should run foul of any statutory prohibition . Examining from the above angle it clearly appears that that part of the clause in the present lease deed that obliges the tenant to pay rent even when the crops had totally withered or wilted due to unforseen natural calamities, such as flood fire orcyclone, is indirectly opposed to the provisions of the Andhra pradesh Tenancy Act of 1956 which fixes the rent payable not absolutely but only as a percentage of the crop yield. The preamble of the above Act makes it clear that the Act is enacted to provide for the payment of fair rent and to prevent the collection of excessive rent for the purpose of fixing fair rent section 3 of hte Act declares that the maximum of rent payable bya cultivating tenant to a landlord should not exceed 30% of every crop grown on any irrigable land other than a land irrigated by baling of water and should not exceed 25% of every crop grown on any other kind of land. Crop grown on any other Kind of land the legal effect of this provision of the statute is to make the tenant's obligation to pay rent in absolute terms unlawful. The landlord therefore cannot demand from his tenant to pay any rent higher than 30% of gross produce of the crop in one case and 25% of gross produce of the crop in another case. In other words. The liability under the statute to pay rent would not arise when crops fail totally. But the above referred to clause in the present lease deed clothes the landlord with a right to demand from his tenant to pay rent without any reference to the crop grown in a particular year. The imposition of an absolute liability on the tenant. As contained in the lease deed to pay rent without reference to 'Ativrusti or Anavrusti' is to get round and defeat the very purpose underlying S. 3 of hte above Act. In any year when crops have totally failed due to say cyclone, the totally failed due to say cyclone the tenant should not be made liable to apy any rent for that year, according to S. 3 of the Act. But under the terms of the lease he would be oliged to pay rent even in such a fasli year. This is so because the tenant's liability under the Act ot pay rent which is made conditional upon the successful growing of crops on the land is turned into an absoulte (liability0 by the leade deed. The rent agreed to under grown crops is not even the whole crop grown. It is even the crop grown (sic). The objection is not to the excessive nature of eight bags but to the excessive nature of eight bags but to the whole nature of the rent made payable under the lease S. 3 of the Act applies to the rent fixed for every single crop and not to the aggregate of all the crops grown during the lease period. Any covenant in a lease deed imposing absolute liability to pay rent would be void. No matter how fair the agreed rent fixed for every single crop and not to the aggregate of all the crops grown during the lease period . any covenant in a lease deed imposing absolute liability to pay rent would be void no matter how fair the agreed rent might otherwise appear to be. It should therefore be held that the above referred to clause in the lease deed obliging the tenant to pay rent without reference to the gross produce grown,is null and void andis therefore unenforceable. The suit filed by the landlord on that basis should also fail.

8. In Kotu pichayya v. K.S. Charyulu : AIR1968AP311 . A division Bench of this be varied only in the manner prescribed under the provisions of S. 6 of the Act'. In that case the landlord sued the tenant on the foot of a bond executed by the latter in consideration of the rent payable. One of the contentions of the tenant in that suit filed on the foot of a bond was that the agreed rent under S. 5 was in excess of the maximum rent that can be fixed under s. 3 of the Act. It does not appear from the judgment that in pichayya's case (supra) the nature of lease was attacked. The division Bench construed the tenant's plea as amounting ato asking for a variation of the agreed rent. The Division Bench held that the can be done only by a rent Court under S. 6 of the Act. Reasoning thus, the Division bench ruled that under s. 6 of the Act such a dispute should be settled only by the rent Court. In pichayya's case (supra) the lease deed did not contain an absolute covenant binding the tenant to pay fixed rent under all circumstances. In that case the stipulation as to rent was something which was capable of being corrected by the rent Court. In that case, what was in dispute was only the quantum of rent payable the nature of the rent was never questioned the question was whether the quantum of rent agreed to be paid by the tenant exceeded the maximum rent payable under S. 3 of theact. The division Bench implied that such a question merely raised a principal problem of excessive rent. The derivative question as to the validity of the stipulation was thus made to depend upon not on the nature of the lease. It is on that basis, that the division bench ruled that civil courts have no jurisdiction to decide such a question. If the rent stipulated is excessive the tenant could only get it corrected and reduced by a rent Court under section 6 of the Act, for such a question is a dispute within the meaning of S. 16 of the Act. Ruled the Division Bench was not prepared to rule out the jurisdiction of the civil courts totally to adjudicate upon the validity of a lease under the Act. When the stipulation as to rent payable is null and void, not on the ground of its quantum, but on the ground of the nature of bargain struck by the tenant with the landlord, the division bench did not rule out the jurisdiction of the civil Court ot adjudicate upon the validity of the terms of the lease the division Bench observed,'if the bargain be an unconscionable bargain the matter may be different perhaps it is only in cases where unconscionable bargains have been entered into that the question of interference by the civil Court may arise on that ground'. A stipulation that rent is payable even during athivrusti or anavrusti is to be faulted not for the reason of its quantum but for its quality. The validity of a stipulation that rent is payable by the tenant without any reference to the gross produce grown by him on the soil in a rent year in our opinion can be decided by a civil Court not only because such a stipulation is unconscionable but is also unlawful as being opposed to S. 3 of the Act. It may be for that reason that the village farming community never enforces strictly against the tenant such harsh conditions of agricultural lease. Now this good practice is sanctified by sec. 3 of the Act. Nothing should shock the conscience of a Court more than a stipulation of a lease that makes the tenant liable for payment of rent even when his whole year's labour is lost and wasted due to an Act of go. Law should not add to this misery by upholding the terms of the lease that obliges the tenant to pay rent in absolute terms, Follwing the decision in Pichayya's case : AIR1968AP311 (supra) we take jurisdiction and hold that the clause in the present lease deed that stipulates that the rent is payable by the tenant even during Ativrusti or anavrusti is unconscionalbe and unlawful and is therefore unenforceable. 9. The present suit filed by the landlord-temple seeks the aid of a civil Court for the enforcement of such an unconscionable and unenforceable bargain. It is within the province of a civil court's power and duty to refuse the enforcement of such a covenant in a lease under the Act. A Civil Court before lending its help and its authority for the effectuation of any claim From this normally there can be no escape to a civil Court the argument of the plaintiff-temple that a civil court's duty is merely to give effect to all the covenants found in a lease but without going into the validity of those covenants cannot be supported either on the basis of any authority or on principle The Court cannot give its imprimatur without first finding out whether the clause of a lease under the Act is valid.

9. The plaintiff's learned counsel relied upon several decisions in support of his argument that a civil Court should only enforce such terms of the lease without going into the question of the validity of the terms of the lease. These cases are: P. Neelakanteswaralu v. Jaddu Mangamma : AIR1970AP1 (Fb) S. Venkatramaiah v. K. Venkataswamy : AIR1976AP402 (FB) Raizada Topandas v. Gorakhram : [1964]3SCR214 Bhimaji v. Dundappa : [1966]1SCR145 surpat singh v. Sheo prasad Air 1945 pat 300. Suramma V. Sitaramaswamy AIR 1957 AP 71. We find on examination that these cases are no authority for that position. These cases are not the cases where the plaintiff sought the help of a civil Court for the enforcement of a covenant contained in an agricultural lease under a particular statute, The two Full Bench decisions arose under the Estates Abolition Act. In one case i.e. P. Neelakanteswaralu v. Jaddu Managamma (supra) the question whether the A.P. Estates Abolition and conversion into Ryotwari Act has the effect of ousting the jurisdiction of a civil Court to entertain a landlord's suit for recovery of possession and profits arose for consideration. The full bench held that the Estates Abolition Act has no such effect. In the second case i.e.s Venkatramaiah v. K. Venkatswamy (supra) the point decided was that a civil Court has jurisdiction even after the Estates abolition Act to entertain a mortgage suit filed by an erstwhile landlord for redemption of mortgage and possession. In neither of these case, the question whether the civil Court can go into the validity of a covenant in a lease under a statute arose for consideration. Nor did such a question arise in the two above referred to judgments of the Supreme Court. Similarly the decisions reported in surpal singh v. Sheo prasad (supra) and suramma v. Sitaramaswamy (supra) did not raise the present question of a civil court's competence to invalidate the terms of a lease. They are cases under S. 108 of the T.P. Act. They are therefore clearly off the present point. In fact a statute that provides a remedy of a civil Court to the landlord for the enforcement of a term of a lease while shutting out the right of the tenant to question the legality of such a term of the lease in a civil Court would clearly be unconstitutional under the authority of Truax v. Corrigan 91921-66 L ed 254). We accordingly find no substance in the contention of the appellant.

10. It follows that the clause obliging the tenant to pay rent even where crops had been totally lost cannot be enforced by the landlord. Such a term of the lease is not only unconscionable, but is also unlawful. The suit filed by the landlord for the recovery of rent for fasli 1379 must accordingly fail.

11. But it is alternatively argued by the plaintiff-temple that this plea of the tenant can only be entertained by a Rent Court under S. 8 of the Act. S. 8 of the Act reads thus:-

'Where there has been a total or partial failure of crops in any year due to widespread calamities such as cyclone drought or flood the cultivating tenant may make an application to the Tahsildar for the remission of rent due by him and the Tahsildar shall after making an inquiry in the manner prescirbed order such remission of rent as he may consider just in the circumstances of the case. Every such application shall be made at least fifteen days before the crop is cut and removed and a copy of such application shall also be served on the landlord by the cultivating tenant.

Explanation:

Any neglect or failure on the part of the cultivating tenant to raise any crop shall not disentitle the landlord to the collection of the rent due'.

A reading of the above section makes (it clear) that this argument of the plaintiff cannot be sustained. Sec. 8 arms the tenant with a remedy in the Rent Court and has nothing to say about the scope of the defence available to a tenant in a suit filed by the landlord for the recovery of rent In the rent Court the validity of a term of the lease cannot be gone into under S. 8 of the Act. S. 8 of the Act is based upon an assumption that no term of the lease per se is invalid and unenforceable. That section is only concerned with the question of quantum of rent payable. Thus the scope and purpose of an inquiry under S. 8 of the Act are entirely different from the scope and purpose of an inquiry in the civil Court the failure of the tenant to go before the Rent Court under S. 8 of the Act would not in our view disable the tenant from pleading in a civil Court about the invalidity of a term in the lease and resist the landlord's suit filed for recovery of rent.

12. As no other point is raised or argued we dismiss this second appeal and affirm the decree of the lower Court. The appellant shall pay costs of the defendants.

S.A. No. 834/77 and 72/78

13. Following the Judgment delivered in S. A. No. 804 of 1977 we dismiss these second appeals with costs.

14. Appeals dismissed.


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