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Appunni Vs. Nani - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectTenancy
CourtKerala High Court
Decided On
Case NumberC.R.P. No. 1452 of 1972
Judge
Reported inAIR1973Ker281
ActsKerala Land Reforms Act, 1964 - Sections 125(3); Kerala Land Reforms (Amendment) Act, 1969
AppellantAppunni
RespondentNani
Appellant Advocate T.R. Govindawarrier and; K. Rama Kumar, Advs.
Respondent Advocate K. Kuttikrishna Menon, Adv.
DispositionRevision allowed
Cases ReferredNaravanan Nair v. State of Kerala
Excerpt:
.....- interpretation of section 125 (3) - petitioner challenged order not allowing referring case to land tribunal for question relating to tenancy rights and staying proceedings in civil suit - no ambiguity in wording of section 125 (3) conferring adjudication of tenancy rights on land tribunal - taking meaning other than its plain meaning totally unjustified - court not entitled to go into question as to see prima facie case of tenancy - question pertaining to tenancy right to be referred to land tribunal - held, revision petition allowed and lower court ordered to refer disputed question of tenancy rights to land tribunal and stay further proceedings pending receipt of decision thereof. - - if the court is satisfied that the conditions laid down in section 3 (1) (a) or section 3..........in the suit and pleaded that the question relating to tenancy right had to be referred to the land tribunal for decision and the suit stayed pending receipt of the decision of the land tribunal.3. issue no. ii in the suit reads:-- 'whether the suit is liable to be staved and referred to the land tribunal under section 125 (3) of act 1/64?'4. this revision is directed against the finding of the court below that the suit was not liable to be staved and that it was not necessary for that court to refer the dispute relating to the tenancy to the land tribunal. the conclusion reached by the court below is as extracted below:'the section can only be interpreted to mean that the reference to the land tribunal has to be resorted to when there is a bona fide dispute between the parties.....
Judgment:
ORDER

K. Bhaskaran, J.

1. This revision is by the defendant in the suit and it involves the interpretation of Sub-section (3) of Section 125 of the Kerala Land Reforms Act (Act 1 of 1964) as amended by Act 35 of 1969, hereinafter referred to as the Act.

2. The suit as originally framed was one for injunction. But it was subsequently amended to be one for recovery of possession on the strength of title. After the amendment, in his additional written statement, the defendant raised the contention that the Civil Court had no jurisdiction to decide the question regarding his rights as a tenant arising in the suit and pleaded that the question relating to tenancy right had to be referred to the Land Tribunal for decision and the suit stayed pending receipt of the decision of the Land Tribunal.

3. Issue No. II in the suit reads:-- 'Whether the suit is liable to be staved and referred to the Land Tribunal under Section 125 (3) of Act 1/64?'

4. This revision is directed against the finding of the court below that the suit was not liable to be staved and that it was not necessary for that court to refer the dispute relating to the tenancy to the Land Tribunal. The conclusion reached by the Court below is as extracted below:

'The Section can only be interpreted to mean that the reference to the Land Tribunal has to be resorted to when there is a bona fide dispute between the Parties regarding the status of the person who claims to be in possession of the property. So I am not able to accede to the contention of the defendant that the Civil Court will be obliged to refer the matter to the Land Tribunal once the defendant sets up a tenancy. That will have to be referred to the Land Tribunal only if the defendant is able to make but a prima facie case that he is a tenant.'

In arriving at the above conclusion the Court below sought support of the ruling of a Division Bench of this Court in Chovi v. Kunhiraman (1971 Ker LJ 509). Referring to the scope of Section 3 of the Cultivators and Tenants (Temporary Protection) Act. 1970 (Act 20 of 1970). the Division Bench in that, case held as follows:--

'The legislature could not have intended that all suits or proceedings in respect of a land have to be staved the moment a statement is filed. There is therefore some ambiguity in the wording of Section 3 (1) of Act 20 of 1970 and a reference to the preamble or the statement to the objects and reasons can be resorted to for interpreting the said provision. If so interpreted the protection is intended only for persons in occupation of the land which is the subject-matter of the suit or proceedings. If the Court is satisfied that the conditions laid down in Section 3 (1) (a) or Section 3 (11 (1) (b) of Act 20 of 1970 are present then only it is necessary for the Court to stay a suit. It is not open to a Court or Tribunal to stay the suit or proceedings the moment a statement is filed by a party thereto even though the suit or proceeding is in respect of any land without, any enquiry regarding the possession of the land which is the subject-matter of the suit and without satisfying about the conditions in Section 3 (1) (a) or (1) (b) of Act 20 of 1970. If a plaintiff claims to be in possession of the land and wants to restrain the defendant from interfering with his possession. it will not be open to the Court to act under Section 3 of the Act- If the plaintiff's possession is not found the suit has only to be dismissed. If it is found that the plaintiff is in Dossession and that the defendant has no possession the Court has to decree the suit and restrain the defendant from interfering with plaintiff's possession. There is nothing in Section 3 of Act 20 of 1970 preventing the Court from doing so. To such cases Section 3 can never apply as no occupation or Possession of the defendant is sought to be disturbed. Even in cases where the possession or occupation of the defendant is admitted the Court will have to be satisfied prima facie that the conditions in Section 3 (1) (a) or 3 (1) (b) are present to stay the suit. If a plaintiff files a suit in ejectment and traces the possession of the defendant to trespass, we do not think that the legislature intended such suits to be staved merely because of a statement of the defendant. It is therefore necessary for the defendant to satisfy the Court prima facie that the requisites in Section 3 (1) (a) or 3 (1) (b) are satisfied.'

5. At this juncture it would be convenient to look at the orovisions contained in Sub-sections (1) and (3) of Section 125 of the Act which read:

'125. Bar of jurisdiction of Civil courts-- (1) No civil court shall have jurisdiction to settle, decide or deal with any question or to determine any matter which is by or under this Act reauired to be settled, decided or dealt with or to be determined by the Land Tribunal or the Appellate Authority or the Land Board or the Government or an officer of the Government:

Provided that nothing contained in this sub-section shall apply to proceedings pending in any court at the commencement of the Kerala Land Reforms (Amendment) Act. 1969. (3) If in any suit or other proceeding any Question regarding rights of a tenant or of a kudikidaDDukaran (including a question as to whether a person is a tenant or a kudikidapDukaranl arises the civil court shall stay the suit or other proceeding and refer such question to the Land Tribunal having jurisdiction over the area in which the land or Dart thereof js situate together with the relevant records for the decision of that question only.'

6. Sri T. R. Govinda Warrier. The learned counsel for the, revision petitioner, submits that there is real distinction between provisions contained in section 3 of Act 20 of 1970 and Section 125 of the Act. It is pointed out that the object of enacting the Kerala Cultivators and Tenants (Temporary Protection) Act Act 20 of 1970, was to afford temporary protection to the tenants, and was occasioned mostly by the striking down by this Court of particular provisions of the Act conferring fixity of tenure on certain classes of persons in occupation of land, and that it was rather in the nature of a stop-gap measure. On the other hand, the learned counsel submits, the Act is intended to bring about radical land reforms as a lone term measure, to make the tiller of the soil the owner of the land, doing away with landlordism once for all.

7. The counsel further submits that analoey of the reasoning in (1971 Ker LJ 509) cannot be applied to the present case involving an interpretation of Sub-section (3) of Section 125 of the Act, as there is no ambiguity in the wording of the Sub-section. Relying on certain passages in Craies 'A Treatise on Statute Law' (Seventh Edition) the counsel submits that where the meaning is plain, there is no question of the court importing some idea which is not warranted by the plain meaning of the words while interpreting such statutory provisions. The passages relied on by the learned counsel are main-Iv the following.:--

'The cardinal rule for the construction of Acts of Parliament is that they should be construed according to the intention expressed in the Acts themselves. If the words of the statute are themselves precise and unambiguous, then no more can be necessary than to expound those words in their ordinary and natural sense. The words themselves alone do in such a case best declare the intention of the lawgiver.' (Pages 64 and 65).

'Even though a court is satisfied that the legislature did not contemplate the consequences of an enactment, a court is bound to five effect to its clear langugaee.' (Page 67).

'The rule of law upon the construction of all statutes is to construe them according to the plain literal, and grammatical meaning of the words'. (Page 83)-

'It is not however, competent to a iudee to modify the language of an Act of Parliament in order to bring it in accordance with his own views as to what is right or reasonable.' (Paee 91).

8. While construing the provisions in section 3 of Act 20 of 1970. the Division Bench found that 'There is therefore some ambiguity in the wording of Section 3 (1) of Act 20 of 1970.' It is not necessary for me at the moment to go into the question as to what led the Division Bench to take the view that there was some ambiguity in the wordinp of Section 3 (1) of the said Act. For the purpose of deciding whether the analogy drawn from the decision of the Division Bench by the Court below is appropriate, it is sufficient to note that the Division Bench had taken the view that there was some ambiguity in the wording of the section. Therefore, that analosv can hold good only if it is found that there is some such ambiguitv in the wording of Sub-section (3) of Section 125 of the Act. I do not find any such ambiguity in the wording of the sub-section. The meaning is rather plain and to take the view that the legislature meant to convey something other than the plain meaning of the words would be totally unjustified.

9. Sri K. Kuttikrishna Menon. the learned counsel for the respondent, sup-ports the conclusion reached by the Court below. His contention is that the provisions contained in Sub-sections (1) and (3) of Section 125 of the Act are to be read together and the meaning gathered taking into account the intention of the legislature. According to him, it was never the intention of the legislature to confer any jurisdiction on the Land Tribunal with respect to the questions of tenancy right. for example, it is pointed out that Sections 22. 31 etc. of the Act do not confer any power on the Land Tribunal to decide the question of tenancy. It is further argued that Section 125 (1) takes away the jurisdiction of the Civil Court only with respect to matters which are to be settled, decided or dealt with or to be determined by the Land Tribunal or the appellate authority or the Land Board or the Government or an officer of the Government. Reliance is placed on the observation of a Division Bench of this Court in Gopalakrishnan Nair v. Padmavathy Amma (1970 Ker LT 888) which reads as follows:--

'A decision on a dispute whether a person is a tenant or kudikidappukaran is covered by Section 125 (1) as well. In view of the proviso the jurisdiction of the civil court to deal with that question in a pending matter has not been affected. Section 125 (3) covers only a category of cases referred to by Section 125 (1). If the plea that Section 125 (3) applies to pending cases is accepted there will be a conflict between Sub-sections (1) and (3) of Section 125.'

It may be noted that the question that came up for consideration before the Division Bench in the case cited above was whether Sub-sections (3) and (7) of Section 125 had retrospective effect. Interpreting the relevant provisions of the section, the Court came to the conclusion that the provisions have only prospective effect. The argument that in terms of Sub-section (1) or Section 125 of the Act the Land Tribunal cannot go into the question of tenancy, as nowhere in the Act the Dower to decide the Question of tenancy has been specifically conferred on the Land Tribunal doe; not appear to be correct. The fallacy lies in the fact that while putting forward such a contention the provision contained in Sub-section (3) is ignored. Sub-section (3) in terms unequivocally confers exclusive jurisdiction on the Land Tribunal to decide questions, if any in suit or other proceeding regarding rights of a tenant or of a kudikidaopukaran (including a question as to whether a person is a tenant or a kudikidappukaran). The further contention of the learned counsel that this jurisdiction is confined to decidinp whether the particular person is a tenant or kudikidappukaran also does not appeal to my mind. It is only by way of abundant caution that the legislature thought it fit to make it clear that the question retarding the right of a tenant or of a kudi-kidapoukaran would not only relate to questions relating to persons who are admitted to be tenants or kudikidap-pukars. but also would relate to questions regarding persons whose status as tenants or kudikidappukars is in dispute. I do not think that any other interpretation is possible with respect to this provision contained in the sub-section.

10. The next Question raised by Sri K. Kuttikrishna Menon. the learned counsel for the respondent, is that resort should not be made in a case like this to give literal or grammatical interpretation which would lead to absurd consequences, not desired or intended by the legislature. The learned counsel places reliance on certain passages in C. K. Alien's 'Law in the Making' (7th Edition) Some of the important passages brought to mv notice read as follows:--

'The imperfections in the statute law arising from mere generality, laxity or ambiguity of expression, are too numerous and too well known to require particular specification. They are the natural result of negligent, desultory and inartifieia1 legislation: the statutes have been framed extemporaneously, not as parts of a systern, but to answer particular exigencies as they occurred.' (Page 4841.

'But if the statute, as printed, 'leads to an unintelligible result', it will be construed intelligibly, even to the extent of substituting 'or' for 'and', and even though the effect is detrimental to the individual. If statutory language makes no sense whatever, semble it can be treated as pro-non scripto; but the Court cannot escape the duty of interpretation merely because the language is difficult or ambiguous.' (Page 488).

'Much may turn on the presence or absence of a comma. In all such cases, which are constantly arising, the great danger is that strict literal interpretation may produce a result which is manifestly contrary either to common sense or to the general intention of the statute; and we shall see that our law has not vet succeeded in finding a perfect balance between the ratio verborum and the ratio legis-- indeed, with the predominance of legislation in modern times, eauilibrium becomes increasingly difficult to attain.' (Page 490).

- 'It is a very useful rule in the construction of a statute to adhere to the ordinary meaning of the words used, and to the grammatical construction, unless that is at variance with the intention of the Legislature to be collected from the statute itself, or leads to any manifest absurdity or repugnance, in which case the language may be varied or modified so as to avoid such inconvenience, but no further.' (Page 491).

'Courts will therefore sometimes take great liberties with the language of a statute in order to fulfil its obscurely expressed intent, or even to make sense of it when, grammatically, it makes nonsense. A modern Lord Justice does not hesitate to say: 'When the purpose of an enactment is clear, it is often legitimate, because it is necessary, to put a strained interpretation upon some words which have been inadvertently used, and of which the plain meaning would defeat the obvious intention of the Legislature. It may even be necessary, and therefore legitimate, to substitute for an inept word or words that which such intention requires.'' (Page 521).

11. The main question is whether there is any ambiguity in the words employed in Sub-sections (1) and (3) of Section 123 of the Act, and whether by adhering to the plain meaning of the words any absurd conseauences would follow. I find no such ambiguity nor do I think that the literal interpretation of the words employed in the sub-sections would lead to any absurd conseauences not intended by the legislature. The legislature seems to have wanted questions relating to tenancy to be decided by an expert bodv or tribunal. It is not necessary for the court to examine whether this approach was correct or not: apart from that. I do not find anything wrong with this approach. With respect to this view I take. I find considerable support in the observations of Raman Nayar C, J. in Naravanan Nair v. State of Kerala (1070 Ker LT 659) = (AIR 1971 Ker 98 (FBI). In paragraph 67 of the iudgment the observation is as follows:--

'The Act sets up a special tribunal namely die Land Tribunal, to decide certain matters. These matters are specified by the Act itself and are not left to the will and pleasure of any executive authority. That being so, the vesting of exclusive jurisdiction in the Land Tribunal to decide these questions and the ousting of the jurisdiction of the civil courts under Section 125 (1) seem to us unexceptionable. So also the provision in Sub-section (3) by which questions regarding the rights of tenants and kudikidaopukars including the question whether a person is a tenant or a kudikidaopukaran are to be referred by a civil court to this special expert tribunal if such a question arises in any proceeding before it and the court is to decide that question in accordance with the decision of this tribunal although the provision seems to us rather cumbrous and to make for protraction. It is also to be noticed that, under Sub-section (6). the decision of the Land Tribunal on the question referred to it can be canvassed in appeal from the decree the court might pass.'

Dealing with the same question in the case referred to above. Mathew J.. in paragraph 24 of his dissenting judgment. has observed as follows:--

'...............I think, it is open to the legislature of a State having power to enact a law on a subject to enact a provision making finding on questions of fact by an agencv other than a court, final. And so long as the jurisdiction under Article 226 cannot be taken away by a law passed by a State legislature. I do not think it open to any person to complain even if the Land Tribunals or other agencies are invested with exclusive jurisdiction to decide all Questions of law arising in the process of adjudicating on the right of the parties under the Act. It is not clear how the setting ud of a tribunal for adjudicating rights and liabilities arising out of provisions of the Act is violative of the fundamental right of the petitioners either under Article 14 or 19.'

12. In the light of the foregoing discussion I do not think there is any legal basis for upholding the view of the learned Munsiff that he is entitled to go into the question as to whether a prima facie case of tenancy has been made out. and it is only where he is satisfied about the existence of such a tenancv right that the proceeding in his court need be staved and the disputed question pertaining to the tenancy right need be referred to the Land Tribunal. I. therefore, allow this revision petition and set aside the order that has been passed by the learned Munsiff. The learned Munsiff will at once refer the disputed question to the Land Tribunal and stay further proceeding in his court pending receipt of the decision of the Land Tribunal.

The revision is allowed as above. There will be no order as to costs.


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