1. The plaintiff held a tree patta from the Government for five tamarind trees standing on a house site, Section No. 848. That site had admittedly been vacant for some years; but five or six years ago defendants 2 to 6 came and settled there. Section No. 848 was a site reserved for the houses of Madigas. In accordance with the policy of the Government, set out in Board's Standing Order No. 18, the tree patta to the plaintiff was cancelled when defendants 2 to 6 came to settle on the site and the trees were offered to them. As they could not afford to purchase them, the tree patta was granted to them. The plaintiff was aggrieved at losing his tree patta and has brought this suit for a declaration of his right to enjoy the tamarind trees on his paying tree tax as usual and for recovery of possession and for mesne profits. The Government, as the first defendant, contended that the trees belonged to them and that they had a perfect right to grant the trees to whomsoever they pleased. The respective rights of Government and the tree pattadars were dealt with at great length by the Munsiff, who decreed the suit as prayed for.
2. In appeal, the learned District Judge disposed of the matter briefly by saying that a patta was not a document of title but was a mere bill for rent or tax which, being of little. or no value, proved nothing. As that was the only evidence on which the Government could rely, the plaintiff was entitled to succeed.
3. With due deference to the opinion of the learned District Judge, I do not consider that a patta is quite such a valueless document as he thinks. As was pointed out by Srinivasa Ayyangar, J. in The Official Assignee of Madras v. Badri Narayan Doss (1924) 48 M.L.J. 423: I.L.R. 48 Mad. 454, although a patta is not a title deed, it is a document of title, to which great weight is generally given both by the possessor and by the Government. It is true that a patta is not a title deed in the sense of a document, the grant of which conclusively passes title from the Government to the pattadar; but with regard to a first grant, at any rate, a patta is granted as a matter of course to the person to whom the Government has granted the land. The value of a patta generally comes up for consideration in proceedings between the pattadar and a third party; but as between the Government and the pattadar, a patta clearly has a greater value. The Government cannot say that the pattadar is not entitled to the land or the trees granted under the patta nor can the pattadar say that he is not holding title from the Government. A tree patta, moreover, differs from an ordinary ryotwari patta in being more in the nature of a lease, which was the original meaning hi the word patta.
4. The case on which the plaintiff placed the most reliance in this Court (as in the trial Court) is Chinnappa Naidu v. Raju Goundan : (1927)53MLJ104 , in which Ramesam, J. dealt with the question of the nature of a patta given to a tree pattadar in a case where the land on which the trees were standing was afterwards granted to another person. It is the policy of the Government in such circumstances to offer the tree pattadar the patta for the land also. If he is not willing to take it or if, for any other reason, a grant to that person is not desirable, then the land may be given to another; but in any event the tree patta is cancelled. The trees are then included in the patta of the land pattadar and his rent is fixed according to the value of the land and the trees. Ramesam, J. did not however dispose of the appeal on the ground that the tree pattadar has retained his title; for he finds that the trees were not actually standing on the land in question. I think the wording of Board's Standing Order l8(2) indicates that the Government assert their ownership in the trees. If they do not, it is difficult to see how they can chalge the pattadar of the land rent for the trees. In Sengoda Goundan v. Varadappan (1911) 22 M.L.J. 201: 36 Mad. 148 two learned Judges of this Court were inclined to think that when the Government cancelled.the tree patta, they did not intend to resume their rights in the trees; but to that case the Government were not parties; and the appeal was decided on the ground that even if the Government had intended to cancel the patta and to take away the rights of the former tree pattadar, they did not in fact grant these rights to the pattadar of the land. So the latter acquired no title to the trees at all and the enjoyment of the former tree pattadar could be protected against the land pattadars.
5. In the present instance the tree patta was issued under Board's Standing Order, 18(2), which relates to unoccupied lands. The evidence of P.Ws. 1 to 3 is to the effect that the lands remained occupied until a few years before defendants 2 to 6 came into occupation; but the evidence of these three witnesses is interested, as they themselves attempted to pass title, under sale deeds, of these trees. The plaintiff in paragraph 8 of his claim says:
The said Madigapalli became abandoned several years ago as the Madigas shifted to a different locality. Thereupon, the Government were collecting tree tax at the rate of 12 annas per tree from the persons who owned the said trees from time to time including the plaintiff.
6. I think this must be true, or a patta under Board's Standing Order 18(2) would not have been issued. The relevant date is the 13th November, 1909, the date on which a tree patta was first granted to Babu Sahib. Appendix 20 of Board's Standing Orders says that
if a building...is erected and is subsequently abandoned, that is, left unoccupied and is in disrepair for a period of one year, the Government shall have the right to re-enter forthwith and take possession of the said site or the site and building and shall not be liable to pay any compensation for any buildings or other improvements then existing on the land
7. Although the Government do not ordinarily charge any tax for trees that are raised on unoccupied sites by the occupiers, there is nothing in Board's Standing Order 18 which suggests that the Government do not regard the trees as their property. They may not wish to discourage the Occupiers from making improvements; but they do not thereby give up their rights to these improvements; and it is clear from Appendix 20 just quoted that where a site is abandoned, the Government are entitled to take over anything that remains standing on it, including the building and trees. If, therefore, on the 13th November, 1909, this land was unoccupied, the Government had a perfect right to the trees that were standing on that land and had therefore a right to issue a tree patta for them. The Government are certainly not bound by the various sales that took place from 1885 onwards.
8. Moreover, the plaintiff seems estopped from asserting that the trees do not belong to Government, because he and his predecessors-in-title accepted pattas from the Government which, as I have pointed out, is tantamount to an admission that they held title to the trees from the Government. Even if the payment of tree tax under Ex. 5 does not estop the plaintiff from denying that the land was unoccupied in 1909, it at any rate affords very strong evidence that the land was unoccupied in 1909 and that the Government therefore had a right to take over the land and all that stood thereon. The pattas issued to the plaintiff and his predecessor gave them a right to enjoy the usufruct of the trees, the patta being liable to cancellation at the end of the year or at three months' notice.
9. I am therefore of opinion that the plaintiff had no title to the trees at all and that the Government had a right to resume them and to grant them to defendants 2 to 6.
10. The appeal is allowed with the costs throughout of the 1st defendant and the suit dismissed.