1. The petitioners Darya Singh applied under S. 8 of the Haryana Relief of Agricultural Indebtedness Act, 1976 (hereinafter called 'the Act') against Gillu Ram,, Respondent NO. 3 for settlement of debt of Rs. 1400/- and interest thereon. The Debt settlement Officer, Charkhi Dadri holding that Gillu Ram's annual income exceed Rs. 2500/-. passed a decree against him and in favour of the petitioners Darya Singh for Rs. 1400/- as principal amount and Rs. 434/- as interest, total decretal amount being Rs. 1834/-. A copy of the order of the Debt settlement Officer is Annexure P.1 Gillu Ram filed an appeal under S. 14(2) of the Act which was heard by the collector, Bhiwani. The Collector held that the amount of debt should have been first got determined from a civil Court by Darya Singh and only thereafter he could have applied under S. 8 of the Act. On this finding the order of the Debt Settlement Officer (Annexure P.1)was held to be without jurisdiction and it was set aside. A copy of the order of the appellate Court is annexure P.2.
2. In this writ petition Darya Singh has challenged the validity of the appellate order (Annexure P.2) and has prayed that this order be quashed.
3. On hearing the learned counsel for the parties I find that the impugned order (Annexure P. 2) is patently illegal and deserves to be quashed. The Debt settlement Officer was well within his jurisdiction to pass the order (Annexure P. 1) and the appellate Court erred in setting it aside as an order without jurisdiction.
4. It is provided in S. 8 of the Act that a debtor or any of his creditors may apply to the Debt settlement Officer to effect a settlement between the debtor and the creditor. Debtor, according to S. 2(g) means an agricultural labourer, a marginal farmer, a small farmer or a rural artisan, who owes a debt. The term debt is defined in S. 2(f) meaning all liabilities owing to a creditor in cash or kind, secured or unsecured, payable under a decree or order of a civil Court or otherwise and subsisting on the date of commencement of the Act. Some exceptions are mentioned in this clause but we are not concerned with them. There is no dispute that Gillu Ram falls within the definition of debt. In such circumstances the petitioners was undoubtedly entitled to file an application under S. 8 of the Act for settlement. The Debt settlement Officer was, therefore, empowered to adjudicate upon the matter under S. 14 of the Act. He had the requisite jurisdiction to determine the outstanding amount of debt and to allow interest at the rate of 6 per cent there on to the creditor. The appellate Court has held the order of the Debt Settlement Officer as without jurisdiction on the interpretation of S. 3(11) of the Act, which reads as under:--
'13(2). Every creditor submitting in compliance with a notice issued under sub section (1) of S. 12 a statement of the debts owed to him shall furnish along with such statement, full particulars of all such debts and shall at the same time produce all documents (including entries in books of account) on which he relies to support his claims, together with a true copy of every such document:
Provided that a decree or order of a civil Court shall be conclusive evidence as to the amount of the debt to which the decree relates, but the amount may be reduced if it exceeds double the principal loan or has been made up by including simple interest at a rate higher than six per cent per annum.'
This provision of the Act does not envisage that the amount of debt should first be determined by a civil Court and only thereafter the Debt Settlement officer becomes competent to settle the dispute between the debtor and the creditor. It only talks of 'debt' which not only includes a liability payable under a decree or order of a civil Court but also the liability owning to a creditor otherwise. The appellate Court seems to have been misled by the proviso. But the proviso only lays down that if it a case of liability under a decree or order of a civil Court then such a decree or order shall be conclusive evidence as to the amount of debt. The proviso certainly does not lay down that an application for settlement under S. 8 of the Act can be entertained by the Debt Settlement Officer only if the debt has first been determined by the civil Court.
5. For the reasons stated above, the impugned order dated August 23, 1978 of the Collector, Bhiwani, (Annexure P. 2) is hereby quashed. Since the order of the Debt Settlement Commissioner (Annexure P. 1) had been set aside only on the point of jurisdiction and the appeal was not heard on merit the case is sent back to the collector, Bhiwani, for deciding the appeal against Annexure P. 1 on merits after issuing notice to the parties. No order as to costs.
6. Petition allowed.