1. Gulab Singh, Bishnath Singh, Chatar Singh and Baldeo Singh are accused of an offence under Section 225B, Indian Penal Code. On the 19th of March these four men were arrested and locked up in the tahsil lock-up. A warrant against them had been issued by the Tahsildar on the ground that they were defaulters and had not paid the Government revenue due from them. On the 20th, these four men escaped whilst still in custody. There is no dispute about the facts. All the necessary ingredients constituting the offence have been admitted by the accused or on their behalf. The learned gentleman, who appeared on their behalf in the Court below, contended that even on the face of the admitted facts the accused were not liable to any punishment. He based his argument upon Rule 9, Clause (2) of the rules of Board of Revenue relating to recovery of arrears of land revenue under the N.W.P. and Oudh Land Revenue Act, 1901. The learned Magistrate admitted the force of his argument and acquitted the accused. From this order of acquittal a petition of appeal has been filed by the Local Government and it is contended that the Deputy Magistrate's interpretation of the law is wrong. Under Section 142 of the Local Act No. Ill of 1901 all the proprietors of a mahal are jointly and severally responsible to Government for the revenue assessed thereon. When any instalment of such revenue falls in arrears, as in the present instance before us, that arrear of revenue, as Section 146 shows, may be recovered by one or more of the processes set out in Section 146. One of those processes is the arrest and detention of the defaulter as defined in Section 143 of the Act. The rules relating to recovery of arrears of land revenue do indeed lay down that in a mahal in which a lambardar has been appointed, process shall ordinarily issue against the lambardar in the first instance, but it would be straining the proper meaning of the word ordinarily to hold that the intention of the Board was and the intention of these rules was that in every case process should issue against the lambardar in the first instance. The very use of the word 'ordinarily' shows that occasion may arise when it is found expedient to issue process in the first instance against the defaulter. It is for the Tahsildar to determine whether he shall, in order to recover the arrears, have recourse to the lambardar in the first instance or shall proceed against the defaulter direct. Whichever course he may adopt, his warrant is legal and the arrest under it is legal and the escape from there is an offence.
2. A further contention is put forward that the intention of the legislature in enacting Section 146 was that the arrest and detention of the defaulter should follow and not precede the serving of writ of demand. We find ourselves unable to follow this contention. The words of Section 146 are wide enough to authorise the issue of both processes against the defaulter, and there is nothing to limit the order in which they should issue. In many cases the service of the writ of demand would result in the escape of the defaulter and in such cases the Tahsildar would use ordinary prudence if he had resort to arrest instead of serving a writ of demand.
3. For a defaulter to escape from a custody in which he has been locked and detained is not a very grievous offence; still it is an offence in which the authority of the officer who issued it is set at defiance and that authority must be maintained. The sentence, which we propose to pass, is not to be looked upon as a sentence which is generally passed in such cases. We take this more or less to be a test case and we trust that when it is known that escape from such custody is an offence, the commission of such an offence will be avoided. We direct that under Section 225B of the Indian Penal Code, Gulab Singh, Bishnath Singh, Chatar Singh and Baldeo Singh, suffer, each and all of them, simple imprisonment for seven days from the date of their arrest.