(1) This is a petition under Article 226 of the Constitution in which the facts may be shortly stated.
(2) The erstwhile State of Pepsu enacted an Act called the Pepsu Tenancy and Agricultural Lands Act, 1955, (hereinafter called the Act) which has from time to time been amended and it now extends only to the areas formerly comprising the State of Pepsu. The said Act inter alia fixed a ceiling of 40 standard acres in the case of allottees of land, i.e., displaced persons from Pakistan and 30 standard acres in the case of other persons and also empowers the State Government to acquire such land of the land-owners as is in excess of the said ceiling. In the petition it is claimed that the petitioner is the karta of a joint Hindu family consisting of himself and his four sons and as such is the owner of 48.96 standard acres of land in village Bishanpura in the district of Patiala. According to him the land held by each member of the family does not exceed the permissible limit prescribed by the Statute and the provisions relating to the ceiling on holding of land could not apply to his case.
The other matter raised is that out of the said land 55 bighas and 1 Biswa of land comprising certain khasra numbers is under an Orchard. The petitioner claimed an exemption for this area and the proceedings were taken in connection therewith before the Pepsu Land Commission, respondent No. 2. The petitioner's case was fixed for production of evidence on the 16th May 1960 but as he fell ill, he was prevented from appearing and adducing his evidence before the Commission on that date. The petitioner informed his counsel about his inability and asked for an adjournment but the Commission declined to give any further opportunity and disposed of the petitioner's case solely on the report of the Naib Tehsildar Agrarian Reforms dated the 13th March 1960 who had expressed his opinion that the Orchard appeared to have been planted 1 1/2 years earlier. For these reasons the Commission refused to grant any exemption on the ground that the Orchard had not been planted within the statutory period.
On the 25th May 1960 the petitioner applied to the Commission to review its earlier decision but the review application was also dismissed with the observation that illness was not a sufficient cause for adjourning the case. Another matter agitated in the petition was that certain transfers had been effected by the petitioner in the years 1956 and 1957 and as these transfers were of small land owners, the holding of the petitioner did not exceed the permissible limit. The constitutionality of the Act has also been assailed on various grounds.
(3) In the written statement which has been filed on behalf of the respondents, it is denied for want of knowledge that the petitioner is the karta of a joint Hindu family. It is mentioned that on the date of enforcement of the Act, i.e., the 21st August 1956 the entries in the revenue record showed that the petitioner was the land owner of the entire land. Moreover he had made a statement before the Naib Tahsildar (Agrarian) that the entire land was under his personal cultivation on 21st August 1956. According to section 32B of the Act it is stated that the petitioner is entitled to retain only 30 standard acres of land for his personal cultivation because he is not a displaced person. As regards all the other allegations, they were controverted.
(4) The first matter that has been strongly pressed by the learned counsel for the petitioner is that the Act is ultra vires the Constitution as it is applicable only to such parts of the present State of Punjab as comprised the former State of Pepsu while another Act known as Punjab Security of Land Tenures Act applies to the other part of the Punjab State and there was no basis for this discrimination. It is further pointed out that there is discrimination between the people in the same State; the ceiling of land holding in case of displaced persons being 40 standard acres and in case of others, 30 standard acres. The main attack is based principally on the ground that section 32-A provides:
'............... no person shall be entitled to own or hold as land owner or tenant land under his personal cultivation within the State which exceeds in the aggregate the permissible limit.'
It is said that the provisions in the Punjab Act are of a different nature and do not debar a person from owning land beyond the permissible limit and that this is violative not only of Article 19(1)(f) but also of Article 14. It is unnecessary to mention the arguments addressed in detail for the simple reason that if Article 31A of the Constitution is applicable then the Act would be immune from all change under Articles 14, 19 and 31. In Atma Ram v. State of Punjab, AIR 1959 SC 519, the validity of the Punjab Security of Land Tenures Act, as amended, was impugned and it was held that it came within the purview of Article 31A and it saved it from any attack based on the provisions of Article 14, 19 and 31.
In a more recent decision in Sonapur Tea Co., Ltd. v. Deputy Commissioner, AIR 1962 SC 137, where validity of the Assam Fixation of Ceiling on Land Holdings Act (1 of 1957), came up for consideration their Lordships have laid down that the Act conforms to the pattern usually followed by the several States in the country for giving effect to agrarian reform and the attack against its validity must fail both because it was not a colourable piece of legislation and because it was protected by Article 31A. The provisions in the Assam Act relating to ceiling on holdings is very similar to the one contained in the Act and the learned counsel for the petitioner has not been able to show how Article 31A will not render the Act immune from all challenge under the Article on which reliance has been placed. The lands which are affected by the provisions of the Act are admittedly an estate as defined in the Article and, therefore, there can be no escape from the conclusion that the validity of the Act cannot be assailed on the grounds given in the petition.
(5) Coming now to the other points raised in the petition, it is true that the question of ceiling in the case of holding of a joint Hindu family has to be decided in accordance with the rules laid down by a Division Bench of this Court in Jagan Nath v. State of Punjab, 1962-64 Pun LR 22, but it is not open to the petitioner to raise that matter before this Court in a writ petition as an investigation on facts would be necessary and it may be open to the petitioner to still approach the proper authority in that behalf. As regards the question of a proper opportunity having been given to show that the Orchard was planted before 31st August 1958, the order of the Commission is clear that an opportunity had been given but when the counsel stated that his client had fallen ill and that another opportunity should be given, the Commission, however, thought that since the petitioner has had ample opportunity to bring or summon witnesses and as he had not done anything in the matter it was not a fit case for granting adjournment.
It is true that the report of the agrarian Naib Tahsildar who visited the petitioner's land on the 13th March 1960 was to the effect that the garden had been in existence in about 10 standard acres for about 1 1/2 years which would indicate that it had been planted very near the material date, i.e. the 31st August 1958. The petitioner is certainly going to be deprived of a fairly large area and since the report of the Naib Tehsildar was ex parte it would have been a proper exercise of discretion by the Commission to have given a little more latitude to the petitioner to prove his case but the difficulty is that the question was one of exercise of discretion and the Commission chose not to give any more latitude to the petitioner in the matter of production of evidence and the finding that no garden had been planted within the statutory period was given on the basis of the report of the Naib Tahsildar. The finding being one of fact it is difficult to see how it is possible to interfere in a petition under Article 226 with that part of the order of the Commission.
It cannot be overlooked that the petitioner made another effort to approach the Commission for review of the order but failed there also. In other words the Commission felt that the petitioner had been at fault and had not taken proper care to adduce his proof. As stated before the result had been unfortunate for the petitioner, more so, when the report of the Naib Tahsildar on which the Commission acted indicated that the date of planting of the Orchard was very near the material date, namely, the 31st August 1958.
(6) The other points are then taken with regard to transfer having been effected in favour of certain persons in the years 1956 and 1957 which cannot be entertained for the simple reason that this matter could have been raised before the Commission but there is no indication that it was ever sought to be raised there. In these circumstances such a question which involves investigation of matters of fact cannot be allowed to be agitated for the first time in a writ petition.
(7) For all the reasons the petition fails and it is dismissed but I leave the parties to bear their own costs.
(8) Petition dismissed.