Patanjali Sastri, J.
1. The question for determination in this Revision Petition relates to the construction of Section 4(h) of the Madras Agriculturists' Relief Act, 1938. The petitioner claiming to be an 'agriculturist' applied under the provisions of the Act for the scaling down of the debt due by him under a decree obtained by the respondent. It was not denied that the petitioner was an agriculturist within the meaning of the Act, but the respondent being a woman claimed the benefit of the exemption under Section 4(h) of the Act and the question is whether, on a proper construction of that provision, her claim is sustainable.
2. It is not in dispute that, besides the decree-debt now sought to be scaled down, the respondent is entitled to a half share in a mortgage debt due from another person but has no other property, and that the principal amount of these debts both of which were due on the 1st October, 1937, did not exceed Rs. 3,000. On these facts it is argued for the petitioner' that the respondent is not entitled to the exemption claimed, as she owned on the material date 'other property', that is, her half share in the mortgage debt referred to above, besides the debt sought to be scaled down; while the respondent contends that the words 'other property' must be taken to refer to property other than the debt or debts sought to be scaled down but not any debt or debts due to the woman from agriculturists [see the definition in Section 3(iii)]. The provision is not happily worded and is hot free from ambiguity, but on the whole we are of, opinion that the contention of the respondent is correct. There is nothing to indicate that the words 'any debt or debts' in Clause (h) refer to the debt or debts in respect of which the application for scaling down has been made. On the other hand the opening words of the section 'Nothing in this Act shall affect debts and liabilities of an agriculturist falling under the following heads' show that the exemption relates to certain classes of debts and has no particular reference to the debt sought to be scaled down. The exemption under Section 4(h), as we understand the provision, covers a particular category of debts, limited in regard to their nature and extent, while insisting as a condition of its application that the creditor woman should not have owned on the date specified any other property that is to say, property not falling under that category apart from property excluded by the explanation. In other words debts due from agriculturists to a woman on the 1st October, 1937, are not to be scaled down under the Act if on that date the principal amount of such debts did not exceed Rs. 3000 and the woman did not own any property other than such debts apart from her personal belongings.
3. Learned Counsel for the petitioner objects that on the above construction, the inquiry on an application under the Act would have to relate not only to the character of the applicant as an agriculturist but also to the similar character of the various debtors from whom debts might be due to the creditor woman and such a 'roving' inquiry extending beyond the subject-matter of the proceeding could not have been contemplated by the Legislature. The objection is not without force, but, on the other hand, it is to be observed that if the provision were to be construed in the manner suggested for the petitioner, the exemption under it would become practically illusory. For example, it a woman having no other property had two claims, each for a small sum, say, Rs. 100 and an application was made to scale down one of the debts the existence of the other debt would exclude her from the benefit of the exemption; while if she had only one claim for just under Rs. 3,000, the exemption would apply. A construction which leads to such startling and anomalous results cannot be accepted unless the language used by the Legislature is so clear and unambiguous as to compel its acceptance. It is no doubt true that even on the construction indicated by us above, there would be the anomaly that while a woman owning jewellery or other personal belongings worth a large sum could claim the benefit of the exemption for a debt of, say, Rs. 2,500 due to her, a woman having a claim for a smaller sum but owning one or two cents of land yielding may be next to nothing would be excluded from such benefit. This result is no doubt regrettable and was perhaps not intended, but it is unavoidable on the present wording of the provision. That, however, is no reason for adopting the petitioner's construction which would render the exemption more illusory and the anomalies involved in its application more glaring, especially when there is nothing in the language employed to support such construction. Learned Counsel for the petitioner relied on the decision of Krishnaswami Aiyangar, J., in C.R.P. No. 1072 of 1938 (not yet reported), where the learned Judge appears to have construed Section 4(h) in the manner suggested for the petitioner. The question does not appear to have been fully considered and the learned Judge gives no reasons in support of his conclusion and, with due respect, we are unable to agree with it.
4. As it has not been ascertained whether the mortgage debt due to the respondent and another is a debt due from an agriculturist, the case will have to go back for an inquiry on that matter. If it is found that the debt is also a debt due from an agriculturist, the respondent will be entitled to the benefit of the exemption; if not, such debt must be regarded as 'other property' within the meaning of the provision and the respondent will be excluded from it. Costs throughout will abide and following the result.