1. These civil revision petitions arise out of two small cause suits for recovery of debts, in which the defendants pleaded that they were entitled to relief under Madras Act IV of 1938 as agriculturists and it was objected that they were landholders of a shrotriam paying a jodi of Rs. 169-3-10 and were therefore excluded from the benefit of the Act with reference to Proviso D to Section 3(ii). The defendants, while admitting that they were shrotriamdars, contended that they were entitled to only a half share in the shrotriam and had alienated considerable portions of that half share and that the jodi payable in respect of their half share was less than Rs. 100, so that they were not excluded from the definition of 'agriculturist'. The lower Court found that the alienations by the defendants were irrelevant as they had sold only their kudivaram right and that with reference to the division of the shrotriam into two halves this did not affect the liability to the Government which can impose the burden of the jodi on any portion of the shrotriam and that therefore more than Rs. 100 was payable by the defendants as jodi and that they were disentitled to be considered as agriculturists.
2. The shrotriam in question was originally held by one Venkataramaniah who was the father of the defendants. After his death it came to be owned by the defendants and their cousins and they divided the shrotriam into two shares. One of the cousins who has given evidence, said that he is the proprietor of the estate. Presumably he is the person recognised by the Government, but it does appear that each of the two branches of the family owns a localised share in the village. Proviso D to Section 3 (ii) excludes from the definition of 'agriculturist' a person who is the holder of an estate under the Madras Estates Land Act; or of a share or portion thereof, in respect of which estate, share or portion any sum exceeding Rs. 100 is paid as jodi. The question is whether in interpreting these words we must have regard to the liability of the share to the Government or to its proportionate liability having regard to the rights of the sharers inter se. It is no doubt true that when, as in this case, the whole of the village is liable for the whole of the jodi, the Government can recover the full amount of the jodi by the sale of a portion of the village, so that in this sense there is a liability imposed on each of the shares for the whole of the jodi. But we doubt very much whether that fact was in the contemplation of the Legislature when they enacted this proviso. The object of the proviso is clearly to exclude from the category of agriculturists those who are big landholders and to include those who are only petty landholders. The use of the words 'estate, share or portion' seems to contemplate (a) a whole estate (b) a fractional share and (c) a localised portion. In the ordinary case of a permanently settled estate, if part of it is alienated and the alienated portion is separately registered, then each of the separately registered portions becomes an estate so that there would be no point in talking of a separately registered portion of an estate as a portion. It is moreover to be noted that the words 'is paid' are used, not the words 'is payable.' Without laying too much emphasis on this distinction, it may perhaps be said that the use of the word 'paid' instead of the word 'payable' may indicate an intention to adopt as the criterion not so much the theoretical liability to the Government, as the practical apportionment of that liability between the sharers. To interpret this proviso as saving only those whose share of the estate has been separately registered, would in fact rob the words 'share or portion' of most of their practical effect. It does not seem likely that the Legislature intended, in the case of a shrotriam paying a jodi of a little over Rs. 100 but held by a large number of shrotriamdars in fractional shares, to determine whether or not each of these shrotriamdars is an agriculturist by reference to the jodi of the shrotriam as a whole and not by reference to the proportionate share of the jodi payable by the particular sharer. We have little doubt that the use of the words 'in respect of which estate, share or portion any sum exceeding Rs. 100 is paid as jodi' was intended to exclude from the definition of 'agriculturist' the landholder of an estate or of a share or portion of an estate in respect of which estate a jodi of over Rs. 100 was paid or in respect of which share or portion the proportionate jodi paid was over Rs. 100, regardless of whether the revenue authorities had separately registered this share or portion or not. It is also to be remarked that to adopt the view that the share or portion of a shrotriam village means only the separately registered share or portion would have very little meaning in view of the fact that the Madras Land Revenue Assessment Act (I of 1876) provides only for the separate assessment of alienated portions of permanently settled estates and it is doubtful whether this Act has any application to shrotriams not covered by the Permanent Settlement. We are therefore of opinion that on the assumption that the defendants are owners of only a half of this shrotriam and that the proportionate jodi payable by them is less than Rs. 100, they are not excluded from the category of agriculturists, even though there may be a theoretical liability for the whole of the jodi laid upon each of the two halves so far as Government is concerned.
3. We therefore allow the civil revision petitions with costs and remand the suits to the trial Court for fresh disposal in the light of this judgment.