1. The petitioner is a Public Ltd., Company and carries on the business of Manufacture of sugar. The petitioner-company owns extensive sugarcane farms. The Sub-Divisional Officer, Sehore, who is the competent authority under the Madhya Pradesh Ceiling on Agricultural Holdings Act, 1960 (Act No 20 of 1960) (hereinafter referred to as the Act), served a notice on the petitioner-company calling upon it to submit a return in terms of Section 9 of the Act. In reply to the said notice, the Company submitted that it held only 'exempted land' and that under the scheme of the Act the company was not required to submit a return This contention was accepted by the competent authority and the proceedings were dropped.
The Commissioner, Bhopal Division, however, in exercise of his revisional jurisdiction, called upon the company to show cause why the order of the competent authority should not be revised and that authority be directed to proceed with the enquiry contemplated under Section 10 of the Act. After hearing the company, the Commissioner came to the conclusion that every holder of land was bound to submit a return irrespective of the kind of land he held. The Commissioner, therefore, directed the competent authority to proceed with the enquiry. In appeal, the Board of Revenue also took the same view. By this petition under Article 226 of the Constitution, the petitioner-company seeks a writ of certiorari for quashing the order of the Commissioner, dated 30th, September 1964, and that of the Board of Revenue, dated 6th August 1965.
2. To appreciate the contentions of the parties, it is first necessary to refer to the relevant provisions of the Act. The purpose of the Act is to provide for the imposition of ceiling on agricultural holdings, acquisition and disposal of surplus land and matters ancillary thereto Section 2 defines certain expressions used in the Act. The relevant definitions are:
''2. (d) 'ceiling area' means the maximum area of land which a holder is entitled to hold under Section 7;
(g) 'exempted land' means land exempted from the provisions of this Act under Section 3;
(h) 'holder' means a tenure-holder or an occupancy tenant of land within the State and the expressions 'to hold land' or 'holding land' shall be construed accordingly:
(k) 'land' means land held for an agricultural purpose but does not include land diverted to or used for non-agricultural purpose:'
Section 3 describes the various categories of lands which 'shall be exempted from the provisions of the Act' It says-
'3. Exempted lands.--The following lands shall be exempted from the provisions of this Act, that is to say,--
* * * * (f) land held by an industrial or commercial undertaking (other than a co-operativesociety) which in the opinion of the State Government bona fide carries on any industrial orcommercial operation and which is approvedby the State Government:
* * * * (h) land used as 'sugar-cane farms operated by sugar factories;'
Section 7 (1) prescribes the maximum limit upto which a person can be allowed to hold land. It reads thus-
'7 (1). Subject to the provisions of this Act, no holder shall, as from the appointed day, be entitled to hold land, other than exempted land, in excess of twenty-five standard acres.'
Sections 9 and 10 deal with the submission of returns and collection of the information by the competent authority. The relevant portions of Sections 9 and 10 are as under:
'9. Submission of return by person holding land in excess of ceiling.--Every holder who on the appointed day holds land in excess of the ceiling area shall in respect of all landheld by him including exempted land, if any,furnish within a period of three months fromthe appointed day to the competent authoritya return containing the following information:
* * * * 10. Collection of information.--(1) If any person holding land in excess of the ceiling area fails to submit the return under Section 9, the competent authority may, by a notice in such form and served in such manner as may be prescribed, require such person to furnish the return within the time specified in the notice and on his failure to do so obtain the necessary information in such manner as may be prescribed. (2) * * * *
Section 11 makes a provision for preparation of statement of land held in excess of the ceiling area. Section 12 provides that all surplus land as determined under Section 11 shall be deemed to be needed for public purpose and shall vest in the State absolutely free from all encumbrances. The other provisions of the Act deal with payment of compensation, settling the claims of the creditors, allotment of surplus land vested in the State and management of the land vested in the State in the interim period before allotment. Section 47 of the Act empowers the State Government to make provisions not inconsistent with the purpose of the Act for giving effect to the provisions of the Act in case of any doubt or difficulty.
3. It was argued by Shri Chitale, learned counsel for the petitioner, that the scheme of the Act was to exempt altogether from the provisions of the Act lands enumerated in Section 3. Under Section 9 of the Act it was only a person who held a land, other than the exempted land under Section 3, in excess of twenty-five acres was required to file return of the land he held. If, therefore, a person holds only 'exempted land', or land less than twenty-five acres excluding the exempted land, then he is under no obligation to file a return under Section 9. It was said that under Section 10 a person can be called upon to furnish a return only if he is one required to file a return under Section 9, and if he fails to do so. If, therefore. Section 9 does not apply to a person, then Section 10 cannot be invoked against him.
4. Learned counsel proceeded to say that the land held by the petitioner-company was all exempted land falling under Clauses (f) and (h) of Section 3; and that consequently it was under no obligation to file any return, and the provisions of Section 10 could not be set in motion against it for determining the extent and kind of the land held by it. It was further contended that even if some land held by the company was in excess of its requirements and could not, therefore, be treated as 'exempted land', the competent authority under Section 10 could not hold any enquiry into the matter.
Learned counsel pointed out that in the determination of the question whether any land ten under Clause (g) or Clause (j) of Clause (m), it was the approval of the Government that mattered, and the question whether any land fell under Clause (f) or Clause (k) had to be determined in accordance with the prescribed rules; that no such provision had been made in regard to land falling under Clauses (f) and (h) and other clauses; and this omission could, no doubt, be remedied by the State Government by nominating the appropriate authority for an enquiry into the lands falling under the categories of Clauses (f) and (h) in the exercise of its powers under Section 47 of the Act; but till then no enquiry could be held in regard to exempted lands falling under Clauses (f) and (h), learned counsel also added that the determination of the question of the land requirement of an industrial concern like the petitioner-company could not be left to a mere Sub-Divisional Officer but could only be done properly by experts in the matter.
5. We are unable to accede to the contentions advanced on behalf of the petitioner. The scheme of the Act is to impose 8 ceiling on agricultural holdings and deal with the disposal of surplus land and matters ancillary thereto. Unless, therefore, the holders of land file returns and give information as regards the extent and kind of land held by them, and an enquiry is made into their holdings, it is clearly not possible to determine whether any holder of a land possesses land in excess of the ceiling prescribed by Section 7. The effect of Section 3 read with Section 7 is that in the computation of twenty-five acres of land which a person can hold, the lands falling under Section 3 shall not be included. It is noteworthy that Section 3, at the beginning, uses the words 'The following lands shall be exempted' and not the words 'The following lands are exempted'. The former expression embodies an instruction to the competent authority which he is bound to follow, and implies an enquiry into the question whether any land is or is not exempted under Section 3 while determining the extent of land held by a person That expression does not connote that the Act is no! at all applicable where a person holds only 'exempted land' falling under Section 3 and so such a person is relieved of the obligation under Section 9 of filing a return.
6. Now, Section 9 of the Act says that ''Every holder who on the appointed day holds land in excess of the ceiling area shall in respect of all land held by him including exempted land, if any, furnish. . . to the competent authority a return.' The words 'ceiling area have no doubt been defined by Section 2(d) as meaning the maximum area of land which a holder is entitled to hold under Section 7, that is to say, twenty-five acres of land excluding 'exempted land'. But the words 'ceiling area', as used in Section 9, have not this definition meaning. In the context of Section 9, and having regard to the purpose and object of the Act, the words 'the ceiling area' occurring therein mean only 'twenty-five acres'. With that meaning of the words 'ceiling area' Section 9 means that every holder who on the appointed day holds land in excess of twenty-five acres shall in respect of all land held by him, including exempted land, furnish a return to the competent authority.
The definition given in Section 2 of the Act can have no applicability if the 'context otherwise requires'. This is made clear by Section 2 itself. That the expression 'ceiling area', as used in Section 9, means only 'twenty-five acres' becomes clear by the use of the words 'shall in respect of all land held by him including exempted land' in Section 9. On the construction sought to be put by the learned counsel for the petitioner on the words 'ceiling area' as used in Section 9, it would become a provision laying down that 'Every holder who on the appointed day holds land in excess of twenty-five acres, excluding the exempted land, shall in respect of all land held by him including exempted land furnish a return to the competent authority'. The provision would then become meaningless and defeat altogether the very purpose of the Act.
If the contention of the learned counsel were to be accepted, then the ipse dixit of the holder of a land that he holds only exempted land or that the land he holds is less than the permissible limit of twenty-five acres must be accepted as correct without any enquiry. Clearly such a strange result is not contemplated by the Act. In our opinion, under Section 9 every holder, who holds land in excess of twenty-five acres, no matter whether the land he holds is wholly or partly exempted, is required to file a return in respect of all land held by him including exempted land. The petitioner-company was, therefore, under a duty to file a return under Section 9 and when it failed to do so the competent authority could initiate proceedings against it under Section 10 of the Act.
7. The contention that as in Clauses (f) and (h) of Section 3 the authority to make an enquiry into the nature and extent of the lands said to be exempted has not been indicated, therefore, the competent authority has no jurisdiction to make any enquiry under Section 10 into those matters cannot be accepted. Merely because in relation to Clauses (g), (i), (j), (k) and (m) of Section 3 the authority and the procedure for investigating into a claim of 'exempted land' under those clauses has been indicated, it does not follow that the competent authority has no jurisdiction to make any enquiry into a claim about exempted land said to be covered by other clauses. A Sub-divisional Officer, functioning as the competent authority, may not be well-versed in the land requirements of an industrial concern like the petitioner company. But there is nothing to prevent the applicant from placing before him all the material necessary for enabling the Sub-Divisional Officer to come to a conclusion to the best of his ability with regard to the land requirement of the company.
8. For the foregoing reasons, our conclusion is that there is no ground whatsoever for disturbing the order of the Commissioner, Bhopal Division, and of the Board of Revenue upholding the Commissioner's order. The result is that this petition fails and is dismissed with costs. Counsel's fee is fixed at Rs. 200. The outstanding amount of security deposit, if anyafter deduction of costs, shall be refunded tothe petitioner.