Iqbal Ahmad, C.J.
1. This is an application in revision by three persons, Piarey Lal, Ganga Din and Bhaggo Lal against the appellate decision of the Sessions Judge of Pilibhit affirming their conviction by a Magistrate of the First Class under Rule 90(3), Defence of India Rules. Rule 90(2)(e) provides that
no person shall possess small coin to an amount in excess of his personal or business requirements for the time being
and Sub-rule (3) of that rule prescribes punishment for the contravention of sub-r. (-2)(e). The facts are not in controversy and are as follows : On 24th July 1943, the three applicants, along with certain other persons, were proceeding in a tonga from Bisalpur to Bilsanda bazar in Pilibhit district when they were overtaken by Muhammad Umar, the Station Officer of Bilsanda Police Station. All the three applicants were in possession of small coins and the charge against them was that the coins in their possession were in excess of their personal or business requirements. The small coins in possession of Piarey Lal, Ganga Din and Bhaggo Lal were of the value of Rs. 6-2-3, Rs. 7-5-0 and Rs. 22-8-0, respectively.
2. The trial Magistrate found all the three applicants guilty and sentenced Piarey Lal and Ganga Din to three months' rigorous imprisonment and to a fine of Rs. 20 each, while Bhaggo Lal was sentenced to six months' rigorous imprisonment and a fine of HS. 150. The conviction and the sentences were, on appeal, affirmed by the Sessions Judge. Piarey Lal is the servant of a confectioner and the defence put forward by him was that he was going to Bilsanda to purchase khoya (milk preparation) for the sweetmeat shop of his master. Ganga Din, who is the servant of a contractor, pleaded that he was going to Bilsanda to bring his family members from there. Bhaggo Lal is a merchant and he alleged that he was proceeding to Bilsanda to purchase grain. All the three applicants contended that the small coins in their possession were not in excess of their personal or business requirements and as such they were not guilty. The trial Magistrate accepted the assertion of Pearey Lal that he was going to Bilsanda to purchase khoya but observed that, as there were 'no rulings on the point to show what amount of small coins can be said to be in excess of one's personal or business requirements,' the decision of the question whether there was a contravention of Sub-rule (2)(e) must 'depend only on the personal judgment of the Courts.' He did not discuss the defence put forward by the other two applicants, Ganga Din and Bhaggo Lal and contented himself with the observations that in his judgment all the three applicants were guilty. This conclusion of the Magistrate was, as already stated, affirmed by the Sessions Judge.
3. The question which falls for consideration is the interpretation to be put on the expression 'in excess of his personal or business requirements for the time being.' I propose to dwell upon this question at some length, as the Magistrate rightly observed that there is no judicial pronouncement of this Court on the question for the guidance of the Courts below. The law has been enacted for the benefit of the society. The social machinery, already complex enough, is getting more and more complicated with the march of time. In fact, trade and commerce are throwing into shade all other professions and callings, and the attention which this enactment should receive must be commensurate with their magnitude and importance. The expression 'in excess of his personal or business requirements for the time being' may be split up into two: 'personal or business requirements' may be construed separately from 'for the time being.' The rule under consideration has been framed by the Central Government in exercise of the powers vested in it by Section 2, Defence of India Act (33 of 1939). In construing the phrase 'personal or business requirements,' it is therefore not only permissible but desirable to refer to the object of the Defence of India Act as disclosed by the Preamble to that Act. It aims at providing 'special measures to ensure the public safety and interest and the defence of British India....' It is therefore a special measure with a special purpose and designed to meet a special situation.
4. It is one of the axioms of law that first things come first. There can be nothing more important than the safety of the realm. It follows that anything which has a subversive tendency or has the effect of disrupting or endangering society, must be severely dealt with by Courts of law. But making every allowance for these fundamental principles, the fact still remains that the rule is a special piece of legislation and enacts a penal provision. While it is true that it, in one sense, aims at the protection and preservation of society, it is equally true that it makes a serious inroad upon individual liberty. I have emphasized the above in order that the equally important principle that a law which aims at the curtailment of human liberty must be strictly construed, may not be lost sight of.
5. Now, the term 'personal or business requirements' has not been defined in the rules. The requirements of a man - personal or business - must necessarily be determined by a variety of circumstances. To take up the 'personal requirements' first, they will depend upon the size and the circumstances of the individual's family, his own habits as well as those of the other members, the environments in which he lives and his social status. Social status, again, is a very elastic term and confronts us with a vast problem. What may be a luxury for one may be a necessity for another. It is all a question of personal equation. What may be a luxury to-day may be a necessity tomorrow. It is a question of the ever-changing needs of society. If 'personal requirements' could be so many and could present problems so vast in their complexity, 'business requirements' must necessarily defy human calculations and foresight. To consider the matter from just a few out of the countless points of view, they depend upon the condition of the market, the condition of the city, the province, the country, and perhaps on the international commercial situation. The fluctuations in the market, the eccentricities of trade and commerce are not mere platitudes; they are expressions which mean what they should mean. Not to go very far, what was available the day before yesterday for a few pice may have cost yesterday more than a few pice, and to-day even more; a week hence it may cost a number of small coins. It is not an overdrawn picture, but a situation which we have to face every day - not only as regards 'business' but the very necessaries of life. To expect the businessman to be precise in his calculation is to expect the impossible from him. The above view receives countenance from the qualifying words 'for the time being.' The expression clearly connotes 'period of time' as distinguished from 'point of time.' This again introduces not only an element of complexity but also of uncertainty. Truly speaking, it is impossible to define or limit the period. It may mean a day, or two days or three days. No one can foresee, with exactitude, what his needs - personal or business - will, during the next few days, be. He can, at the very best, speculate and even make miscalculation.
6. In construing the rule, yet another aspect of the case ought also to be borne in mind. One has, for that purpose, to visualize the scene in a village isolated from the rest of the world. Such a scene is not rare. It is so common in the rural areas of the country, at least of these provinces. Let us assume that a villager happens to get small coins in excess of his immediate needs. There is no bank in his village; there is no treasury; there is no other public place of safe custody. His only alternative is to get into the urban areas and surrender them. Towns and cities are so far away from his home that there is no guarantee that if he undertakes a journey to them, he will be able to return to his scene of labour for days and days. By the time he returns home he may find that he requires for his 'personal or business requirements for the time being' many more coins than he originally had, let alone the balance in his hands. I do not mean to suggest that this amounts to presenting an individual with a free charter to defy the law or to circumvent its effect. In every case the Court will have to take into consideration all the above factors, and then decide whether the amount recovered is so out of proportion to the 'personal or business requirements' of the accused 'for the time being' as necessarily to lead to the inference that he was defying the law.
7. In the present case the amounts involved cannot be said to be so large or so heavy as to be out of all proportion to the needs, probable or even positive, of the applicants. They appear to be petty traders and have fallen victims to a law which was, to my mind, designed to free the society from the evils resulting from wrongs perpetrated on a much larger scale. The poor businessman who, after all caters for the needs of the society, cannot do it much harm if he keeps just a few more coins than are perhaps strictly necessary for his needs. Society really suffers at the hands of those who, under the mask of an extensive business, make preposterous profits and hoard large sums. They are the real pests and the rule was, in my judgment, intended to be a check on their nefarious activities. By these observations I do not desire to suggest that the comparatively small businessmen or the villagers should not be strictly dealt with if the amount of coins recovered from their possession is so out of proportion to their personal needs as necessarily to lead to the conclusion that they had violated the rule. All that I mean is that in such cases convictions should not be so hastily recorded as the Magistrate in the present case appears to have done. The words used in the rule are very elastic and this counsels caution. For the reasons given above I allow this application, set aside the conviction and sentences passed on the applicants. The fines, if paid, will be refunded. The bail bonds are discharged.