1. I agree with the conclusion and reasoning of the judgment which my learned brother is about to deliver. I only wish to add that after hearing a fuller argument and having the benefit of discussion with my learned brother, I am of opinion that my decision in Kanakaraju v. Achutaramanaraju : AIR1940Mad432 , was erroneous.
Patanjali Sastri, J.
2. The question that falls to be decided in this Revision Petition is whether a debt for the repayment of which a decree has been passed after the commencement of the Madras Agriculturists' Relief Act, 1938, is liable to be scaled down in accordance with Section 8 of the Act when the debt is one incurred before the 1st of October, 1932. The facts are simple and not in dispute. The respondent sued the petitioner m S.C.S. No. 4 of 1938 on the file of the Court below for recovery of the principal and interest due on a promissory note executed on 29th October, 1929. The suit was brought on 3rd January, 1938, and the petitioner filed his written statement on 30th January, 1938. Though the Act came into force when the suit was pending, the petitioner failed to put forward a claim to have the debt scaled down in accordance with the Act, and a decree was passed on 18th April, 1938, for the full amount claimed by the respondent. Soon after the passing of the decree, however, the petitioner applied to the Court on 29th April, 1938, to scale down the debt and the application was dismissed on the ground that there is no provision in the Act for scaling down a debt in respect of which a decree has been passed after the Act came into force. The petitioner has preferred this Revision Petition and contests the correctness of that view.
3. It is argued that the non obstante clause in Section 7 and the words 'whether the debt or other obligation has ripened into a decree or not' in Section 8 indicate that all debts incurred before the commencement of the Act should be scaled down irrespective of any decrees passed in respect of them, whether such decrees were passed before or after the commencement of the Act. These provisions are not free from ambiguity and may, at first blush, appear to lend some countenance to the contention of the petitioner. But on a closer examination of these sections in the light of other provisions of the Act and the scheme revealed thereby, it is fairly clear that the reference to decrees is intended only to extend the benefit of scaling down to debts which had ripened into decrees before the Act came into force. The provisions appear to envisage the state of things on the 1st October, 1937, and the reference to contracts obviously relates to contracts made prior to that date. It is therefore reasonable to assume that the word 'decree' which occurs in the same context is also used subject to the same qualification. It is significant that the machinery provided in Sections 19 and 20 for 'amendment' of decrees by scaling them down in accordance with the Act, and for stay of execution pending proceedings for such amendment, are made applicable only to decrees passed before the commencement of the Act and there are no similar provisions in respect of decrees passed after the Act came into force. Similarly, Section 18 provides for 'amendment' of decrees passed before the Act in suits instituted after 1st October, 1937, by a proportionate reduction of costs also. These provisions which, in the case of decrees passed before the Act, expressly supersede the finality which attaches to decrees under the general law seem to indicate that, in the contemplation of the Legislature, the relief which the Act provides for agriculturists should be claimed and obtained before decree, where such decree happens to be passed after the commencement of the Act, and that the principle of finality should operate unimpaired in such cases. Indeed, if the Legislature intended to exclude the operation of this principle in the case of all decrees against agriculturists whether passed before or after the commencement of the Act, the provisions of Section 19 and the latter part of Section 18, Sub-section (1) relating to 'amendment' of decrees passed before the commencement of the Act would be meaningless and otiose.
4. Nor is there any apparent reason to suppose that the Legislature intended to introduce into the Act such a startling-departure from the basic principle of all judicial proceedings, namely, that all available pleas in answer to a claim should be made the subject of enquiry before the Court passes the decree. It is one thing to provide relief to agriculturists by way of scaling down their debts even when such debts had already ripened into decrees before such relief was thought of, but it is a different thing to declare that even if they failed to claim, when they could have claimed, such relief before a decree was passed, they should nevertheless be entitled to claim it at any time afterwards. It may be laudable to rehabilitate agriculturists by a compulsory scaling down of their debts but it could be no part of this object to condone, and thereby encourage, their laches in the conduct of legal proceedings. On the other hand, having regard to the ex-proprietary nature of the provisions, Courts should watch with a jealous eye attempts to have the scope of the Act extended, under colour of interpretation, beyond what its terms expressly warrant. I am therefore of opinion, reading the Act as a whole, that the word 'decree' in Sections 7, 8 and 9 must be taken to refer to decrees passed before the commencement of the Act.
5. The petitioner's learned Counsel placed reliance upon the decision of my learned brother Wadsworth, J., in Kanakaraju v. Achutaramanaraju : AIR1940Mad432 , as supporting his contention. The judgment is very brief and the question does not appear to have been fully argued and considered and my learned brother is now inclined, in the light of the fuller argument before us, to agree with the view expressed above. In Somasundaram Chettiar v. Peria Karuppan Chettiar (1940) M.W.N. 412, the suit was dismissed by the trial Court as barred by limitation but was decreed by this Court on appeal. An application for scaling down the debt was made to this Court before the decree was drafted and issued, along with another application to stop the drafting of the decree pending the disposal of the former application. This Court held that in those circumstances the judgment-debtor was entitled to have the debt scaled down. The broader question arising for decision in the present case was raised but the learned Judges observed that it was not necessary to deal with it on the facts before them. This decision therefore does not assist the petitioner. A decision of the Allahabad High Court in Abdul Noor v. Brijmohan Saran I.L.R. (1938) All. 305 was also brought to our notice but it relates to the construction of differently worded provisions in the United Provinces Agriculturists' Relief Act and has no bearing on the interpretation of the provisions of Madras Act IV of 1938.
6. This Revision Petition fails and is dismissed with costs.