V.R. Krishna Iyer J.
1. These two appeals turn on the construction of Section 19B of the Punjab Security of Land Tenures Act, 1953 (Act X of 1953) (for short, the Act). This legislation was enacted to bring about an agrarian re-ordering so pivotal to the progress of our rural economy. Haryana, happily a granary of our country, is one of the State where land reform laws are likely to generate great changes nut banishing big concentration of Matures bounty in a few feudal hands, creating an enthusiastic sense of distributive justice and exploiting the productive potential of land by the possessive passion of the landless many. So strategic is land reform that special Constitutional concern has been shown for this programme. Naturally, the State enacted the Act whereby ceiling on land-ownership was set, surplus lands were taken over for settling ejected tenants and others and peasant proprietorship created. The scheme of the Act with which we are concerned is fairly simple and somewhat scientific, although its language, what with frequent amendments dovetailed from time to time, has made for ambiguity, obscurity, marginal inconsistency and a rich crop of litigation. Indeed, the conflict of opinion at the High Court level and the bone of contention before us arise from this drafting deficiency.
2. A thumb-nail sketch of the Act is a prefatory necessity. The Act defines 'small land-owers' (Section 2(2), having in mind the optimum ownership in the given conditions. 'Permissible area' (Section 2(3) is a cognate concept limiting the maximum permissible extent a person may hold, and so long as he does not have any excess, he is a small land-holder. He can evict the. tenants from his holding and be in actual enjoyment as provided by the Act. If, however, he has lands beyond the permissible area, he becomes a large land-owner and has to cough up the excess. However, he is given the option to choose the best area he desires to keep, called 'reserved area' (Section 2(4) and then he must make available to the State such excess called surplus area (Section 2(5-A). This creation of a surplus pool or reservoir is vital to the success of the statutory project sicnce, by distribution of such lands rehabilitation of ejected tenants and landless persons is to be accomplished. Maximisation of the surplus pool and suppression of evasion by large holders are of profound legislative concern.
3. Even if a person is a small holder, it is quite on the cards that, by inheritance or other operation of law, or by voluntary transfer, he may acquire lands in excess of the permissible limit. The law takes care to see that such excess is also made available for re-settlement of ejectees and their ilk. In short, the legislative mandate is that every agricultural holder in the State shall hold no more than the permissible area and the surplus in the hands of large holders, whether acquired by voluntary transactions or involuntary operation of law, will go to feed the surplus pool.
4. A semi medieval set-up where considerable estates are cornered by a landed gentry, will naturally resist re-distributive reform measures and try ing enious methodology to defeat the law, But the legislature has to be astute enough to outwit such devious devices and subtle subterfuges. With this end in view, the Act has been amended to block all escape routes unearthed by the law-makers as Often as the High Court has upheld certain patterns of alienations and oblique dealings by interpretative process. A study of the history of the Act and the provocation for and frequency of amendments thereto, suggests an unspoken criticism about judicial approach which we will refer to later. Suffice it to say that the law we are construing is a radical agrarian measure : its basis goals are to cut down large holdings and distribute lands to various landless people according to a design and to foster, according to legislative policy, an agrairan community of peasant proprietOrs. De-hoarding and defeating hide-outs are essential to make the twin objects successful and so Sections 10-A and I9B among others, have been written into the Act. To explore the import and ambit of these two provisions, particularly the former, with a view to see whether it strikes at a gift made by the respondent in favour of his sons whereby he sought to stow away some of his lands, shed some of his excess lands and look slim as a small holder before the law. Language permitting the Court as interpretor, must fulfil, not frustrate, the legislative mission.
5. At this stage it is appropriate to set out the facts in the two appeals which are not in dispute and speak for themselves.
C.A. 123 of 1969 :
6. One Sampuran Singh who owned 450 bighas and 9 biswas of land, acting with forsight, gifted half of it to his mother in 1951, perhaps with a premonition of coming restrictions by way of ceiling ownership. We need not speculate on that point in the light of subsequent happenings. The act came into force on April 15, 1953 but even before that date the owner (who was the petitioner before the High Court under Act. 226 and respondent before us) executed a mort gage with possession over 12 bighas and 5 biswas. There was also some waste land included in his total holding which fell outside the scope of the Act. So much so, on the date when the Act came into force, he was the owner of about 178 bighas which, admittedly, fell safely short of the permissible area of 30 standard acres (vide Section 2(3) Having thus dwarfed himself into a small land owner as defined in Section 2(2). The 'ceiling' provisions held out no threat to him. Certain small extents of land which were legally deductible from his total holding brought down the area in his possession to 138 old big has. Unfortunately for him him mother passed away in February 1958 and, he being the heir, all that he had gifted to her earlier came back to him as successor. The unhappy consequence was that his holding expanded to 363 odd bighas, far in excess of the permissible area asset out in Section 2(3) of the Act. Necessarily, this spill-over became surplus area as in Section 2(5.A) of the Act. Sensing the imminent peril to his property and manoeuvring to salvage it from the clutches of the legal ceiling, the petitioner executed a gift of 182 bighas of land to his son by deed, dated February 11, 1959, He also executed three mortgages with possession. The cumulative result of these shedding operations was to shrink the size of his holding to well within the, permissible area. The Collector, however, investigated into the matter and declared an area of 117 bighas as surplus in his hands. He reached this conclusion by ignoring the tell tale gift of February 1, 1959 in favour of the son and the three possessory mortgages executed in June 1958. The status of 'small land-owner' thus being forfeited, the threat to the surplus lands revived but was sought to be warded off by the petitioner moving an unsuccessful appeal to the Commissioner, and a further fruitless revision to the Financial Commissioner. Eventually, he challenged the Collector's order in a Writ Petition which met with success. There was disagreement between the two learned judges on the Bench and the third learned Judge decided in favour of the petitioner holding that Section 19B, read with Section 10A, did not affect the petitioner's transfers. The two judges, whose opinion upheld the claim of the petitioner, substantially concurred in their reasonings but the scope of the interpretative exercise is somewhat limited. We, therefore propose straight to go into a study of the relevant provisions and may perhaps indicate our c inclusion in advance. We wholly disagree with the High Court and hold that to accept the construction which has appealed to the learned Judges is to frustrate the agrarian reform scheme of the Act and the alternative reading gives life to the law, teeth to its provisions and fulfilment to its soul.
C. A. No. 2023 of 1972.:
7. The facts in this appeal are different but the point of law involved is identical In both the cases the State of Haryana has come up to this Court in appeal, the former by certificate under Article 133(1)(c) and the latter by special leave granted by this Court. Anyway in C.A. 2023 of 1972, respondent No. 1 owned 86 odd ordinary acres of land on April 15, 1953 when the Act came into force. After the commencement of the Act he inherited nearly 30 ordinary acres and thus he held well above the permissible area and ceased to be a small land-owner. Around the year 1957 he transferred 167 bighas of land to respondents Nos. 3 to 6 pursuant to a Civil Court decree passed in 1957 in favour of his sons and wife. We may mention here, parenthetically but pethetically, that the weapons in the armoury of large land owners to defeat the land reform law included securing simulactral decrees from civil courts against themselves in favour of their close relations, thus using the judicial process to have their excess lands secreted in the names of their dear and near. This invited legislative attention and an amendment of the Act was made, viz., Section 10A whereby decrees and orders of courts were to be ignored in deali ng with surplus lands. Thus, the Collector ignoring the transfer of 167 bighas of land by respondent No. 1 (which resulted in civil court decree of 1957 in favour of his sons and wife), declared 38.41 ordinary acres as surplus with respondent No. 1. The statutory remedies did not see the first respondent (writ petitioner) safe ashore and so he sought harbourage by moving the High Court under Article 226 where he urged that the land inherited by him and later transferred to his sorts and wife were not hit by Section 10A and Section 19B of the Act. He succeeded in the Court in view of a certain strict construction adopted by the Court and the State has come up in appeal. Challenging the soundness of the High Court's approach.
8. The key thought that pervades our approach is that if the Constitutionally envisioned socio-economic revolution is not to be a paper tiger, agrarian laws have to be meaningfully enacted, interpreted and executed and the court is not the anti-hero in the drama of limping land reform. Much to the same effect this Court observed in Amar Singh's Case : 3SCR152 .
We have to bear in mind the activist, through inarticulate, major premise of statutory construction that the rule of law must run close to the rule of life and the court must read into an enactment, language permuting, that meaning which promotes the benignant intent of the legislation in preference to the one which perverts the scheme of the statute on imputed legislative presumptions and assumed social values valid in a prior era. An aware court, informed of this adaptation in the rules of forensic interpertation, hesitates to nullify the plain object of a land reforms law unless compelled by its language, and the crux of this case is just that accent when double possibilities in the chemistry of construction crop....
while dealing with a somewhat analogous set of provisions under the same Act. The emphatic importance of augmenting the surplus pool for distribution by the State is brought out Amar Singh (1) thus:
The triple objects of the agrarian reform projected by the Act appear to be (a) to impart security of tenure (b) to make the tiller the owner, and (c) to trim large land holdings, setting sober ceilings. To convert these political slogans into legal realities, to combat the evil of mass evictions, to create peasant proprietorship and to ensure even distribution of land ownerships a statutory scheme was fashioned, the cornerstone of which was the building up of a reservoir of land carved out of the large land-holdings and made available for utilisation by the State for re-settling ejected tenants.
Unfortunately, judicial decisions construing the language of the law have resulted in stultifying the objectives of the enactment leading to further amendments. We are concerned in the present case with Sections 10A and 19B which, in their final form, appeared by an amendment of 1952 (Act XXV of 1952), but retrospective effect was given with effect from the commencement of the Act, viz., April 19 1953.
9. In the context it is convenient to except the observations of this Court in Amar Singh AIR 1974 SC 994; 996, at P. 999:.
The objects and reasons of Punjab Act 14 of 1962, which brought in certain significant restrictions on alienations and acquisitions of large land-holders starts off in the statement of objects thus:
Some of the recent judicial pronouncements have the effect of defeating the objectives with which the Punjab Security of Land Tenures Act, 1953 was enacted and amended from time to time. It was intended that the surplus area of every land-owner recorded as such in the revenue records should be made utilisable for the settlement of ejected tenants.
Certain specific decisions and their impact on the legislative operation were mentioned, and then the statement of objects proceeded :
In order to evade the provisions of section 10-A of the Parent Act interested persons being relations, have obtained decrees of courts for diminishing the surplus area. Clause (4) of the Bill seeks to provide that such decrees should be ignored in computing the surplus area.
The short point which confronts us in both these appeals is as to whether the gifts made by land-owners who exceeded their permissible area having come by additional lands by inheritance are to be ignored or taken in to account when computing the surplus area in their hands, having regard to the specific provision in Section 19B living in fellowship with Section 10-A.
10. It is appropriate to read Sections 10A and 19-B here, before proceeding to the crucial discussion in the case :
10-A.- (a) The State Government or any officer empowered by it in this behalf shall be competent to utilize any surplus area for the resettlement of tenants ejected or to be ejected, under Clause (i) of Sub-section (1) of Section 9.
(b) Notwithstanding anything contained in any other law for the time being in force and save in the case of land acquired by the State Government under any law for the time being in force or by an heir by inheritance no transfer or other disposition of land which is comprised in surplus area at the commencement of this Act shall affect the utilization thereof in Clause (a).
EXPLANATION-Such utilization of any surplus area will not affect the right of the land-owner to receive rent from the tenant so settled.
(c) For the purposes of determining the surplus area of any person under this section, any judgment, decree or order of a Court or other authority, obtained after the commencement of this Act and having the effect of diminishing the area of such person which could have deen declared as his surplus area shall be ignored.
19B. Future acquisition of land by inheritance in excess of permissible area.-
1. Subject to the provisions of Section 10-A, if after the commencement of this Act, any person, whether as land-owner or tenant acquires by inheritance or by bequest or gift from a person to whom he is an heir any land, or if after the commencement of this Act and before the 30th of July, 1958, any person acquires by transfer, exchange, lease, agreement or settlement any land, or if, after such commencement, any person acquires in any other manner any land and which with or without the lands already owned or held by him exceeds in the aggregate the permissible area, then he shall, within the period prescribed form and manner giving the particulars the permissible area which he desires to retain, and if the land of such person is situated in more than one patwar circle, he shall also furnish a declaration required by Section 5-A.
(2) If he fails to furnish the return and select his land within the prescribed period, then the Collector may in respect of him obtain the information required to be shown in the return through such agency as he may deem fit and select the land for him in the manner prescribed in Sub-section (2) of Section 5-B.
(3) If such person fails to furnish the declaration the provisions of Section 5-C shall apply.
(4) The excess land of such person shall be at the disposal of the State Government for utilization as surplus area under Clause (a) of Section 10A a for such other purposes as the State Government may by notification direct.
11. Unclouded by case law; we first study Section 19B. Forgetting Section 10A for a moment, we find that kf, after the commencement of the Act, i.e. April 15, 1953 any person acquires any land by inheritance of bequest or gift which, with the lands already held by him exceed in the aggregate the permissible area, then he shall furnish to the Collector a return indicating the permissible area he desires to retain. This he shall do within the prescribed period (Section 19B(1). If he defaults to make the return, the Collector will select the land fur him 19B) (2). He will suffer a penalty for failure to furnish the declaration 19B 3). The excess land, ie., the surplus area shall be at the disposal of Government for utilisation under Section 10(19B(4). The surplus land will be used for resettlement of tenants ejected or to be ejected under Clause (i) Sub-section (i) of Section 9 of other purpose notified by Government. The profound concern of the law to preserve the surplus stock is manifest from the obligation cast by Sub-sections (1) and (4) of 10-B to declare and deliver excess lands. How you came to hold the excess is not the question, why you should be permitted to keep more than what others can law-fully own is the query. A might have acquired by paying hard cash: B might have received by gift and C by bequest and D by settlement and E by partition. The agrarian policy is equitable ownership and the reform philosophy is redistributive justice, the rural coal being small peasant proprietorship, what difference does it make as to how you came by a large holding, from the standpoint above outlined? The thrust of Section 19B is that even if the source of the excess area is inheritance, bequest or gift. The capacity to own is conditioned by the permissible limit.
12. Section 10A does not militate against this mandate of Section 19B. Indeed Section 198 had to be enacted because the High Court took the view that area which became surplus subsequent to April 15, 1953 was not hit by the ceiling set and land acquired by an heir by inheritance is saved from utilisation by the State. Section 10A(a) is wide in its terms and encompasses all surplus area, however obtained. Even Section 10A(b) strikes no discordant note. All that it says and means is that lands acquired by an her by inheritance are saved in so far as dispositions of such lands are concerned. The drafting of the saving clause is cumbersome but the sense is and, having regard to the conspectus, can only be that although in the hands of the propositus, it is surplus land, if among the heirs it is not then their transfers will not be affected by the interdict of Section 10A(a). The sins of the father shall not set the teeth of the children on edge. If the heirs are otherwise small holders, the fact that their father was a large owner will not deprive the former of their heritage, if it is less than the permissible area. We see no conflict between Section 10A and 19B. Assuming some inconsistency, primacy goes to Section 19B which effectuates the primary object. It is settled law that Courts should favour an interpretation that promotes the general purpose of an Act rather than one that does not.
13. Counsel for the respondents adopted the arguments which found favour with the High Court and pressed two points. The scheme of the Act, according to the learned Judges, was to see that no one held in excess or the permissible area and since by the gift to the son or wife the latter had only lands within permissible limits. There was no frustration of the policy of the law. This reasoning is repugnant to the basic scheme because the surplus pool will be adversely effected if gifts and other transfers which will skim off surplus were to be allowed, Indeed; the flaw in the High Court's argument is that if it were allowed to prevail, there will be no surplus land at all, every large holder being free to screen his surplus in the names of his kith and kin or servants or reliable friends, by going through alienatory exercises. A legislation which has provided for ignoring decrees diminishing surplus lands and has otherwise prevented the escape of excess area by voluntary transfers, cannot conceivably be intended to permit inherited excesses.
14. The second argument which appealed to the High Court is a little curious, and somewhat difficult to follow. Section 19B directs the owner who, by inhertance, comes to own an excess area, to make a declaration of his lands within a prescribed time. This does not mean that the time lag is statutorily given for executing gifts and transfers to defeat the law itself. Such a conclusion would be obviously absurd. What is intended is to give some time to the heir to ascertain the assets he has inherited, make the choice of his received area, which he likes to keep and make the necessary declaration. A processual facility cannot be converted into an opportunity to pervert and to thwart the subject of the law. After all, courts, faced with special case situations, have creatively' or interpret legislation. The courts are finishers refiners and polishers of legislation which comes to them in a state requiring varying degrees of further proceeding', said J., in Corocraft Ltd. v. Pan American Air ways Inc. (92) and indeed it is no secret that courts constantly give their own shape to enactments.
15. We fell that when economic legislation in the implementation of part IV of the Constitution strikes new ground and takes liberties with old jurisprudence, there looms an interpretation problem of some dimensions which Indian jurists will have to tackle. The genre of agrarian reform laws, with special Constitutional statute as it were, warrants interpretative skills which will stifle evasive attempts specially by way of gifts and bequests and suspect transfers. Here Sections 10, 19A and 19B. Inter alia, strike at those tactics.
16. Our conclusion, in conformity with the principles of statutory construction we have projected, is that gifts in both the appeals fail in the face of Section 19B. It follows that the appeals have to be allowed, which we hereby do without hesitation, without Costs however to either party at any stage.