1. The questions for determination in this appeal are whether in the case of an estate taken over by the Court of Wards certain acknowledgments made by the Collector as agent of the Court of Wards and by the Deputy Collector in respect of the debts due by the ward are acknowledgments of liability within the meaning of Section 19 of the Limitation Act so as to give rise to the computation of a new period of limitation from the time of the acknowledgments.
2. As regards the terms of the acknowledgments it was conceded (or at any rate not seriously contested) that if the acknowledgments had been given by the party originally liable they would have been sufficient.
3. It was contended, first, that the Court of Wards had no authority to make the acknowledgments so as to bind the ward, and, secondly, assuming they had, the Collector was not authorised to make them.
4. For the purposes of the questions we have to decide, we do not think any distinction can be drawn (and we do not think Mr. Napier sought to draw any distinction) between the powers of the Collector and those of the Deputy Collector.
5. When the acknowledgments were made the Regulation V of 1804 as amended by Madras Act IV of 1899 was in operation.
6. The preamble to the Regulation recites the expediency of establishing efficient means for the due preservation of the property of incapacitated persons and the education of minors. Apparently the estate in the present case was taken over by the Court of Wards by reason of the minority of the heir to the estate. But it is quite clear, having regard to the general scope of the Act as amended in 1899, that the duties and obligations of the Court of Wards in such a case are not limited to the education of the minor and that they include the due preservation of the estate. Having regard to the preamble and the general scope of the Act as amended, we should certainly be prepared to hold, unless we were precluded from so doing by an express provision of law or by authority, that the Court of Wards has the power to make an acknowledgment of a debt which would bind the ward and give a new starting point for limitation. To hold otherwise might, as it seems to us, work grave injustice. The staving off of a suit may be necessary for the due preservation of an estate, and the creditor might hold his hand and refrain from exercising his right of presenting his claim in Court (see Section 32) relying on the action of the Court of Wards as preventing his suit being time-barred.
7. In Beti Maharani v. The Collector of Etawah I.L.R. (1894) A 196, with reference to this question of acknowledgment, the Privy Council say in so many words: ' It must be taken that the Court's act would bind the ward ' (see p. 208.) (In that case the acknowledgment had been given by the Collector as agent of the Court of Wards.) In Ram Charan Das v. Gaya Prasad I.L.R. (1908) A. 422, Banerjee J. referred to a decision of the Allahabad High Court (Kamla Kuar v. Har Saha (1888) W. N. 187) to the effect that an acknowledgment by the Court of Wards gave a fresh starting point of limitation (page 437.) In our opinion an acknowledgment given by the Court of Wards is binding on the ward.
8. We are also of opinion that an acknowledgment by the Collector as agent of the Court of Wards is equally binding. There is a general power of delegation given to the Court of Wards by Section 2 of the Regulation. 'Where an agent is authorised to pay money for work done for his principal, or where he is referred to, to settle and adjust any account or business, his admissions of the existence of the debt and of its validity, will be sufficient to take the case out of the Statute of Limitation.'- Story on Agency, para. 138.
9. Section 32 of the Regulation V of 1804 no doubt requires the confirmation of the Court of Wards of any decision of the Collector as to the allowance of claims, whilst Section 17 requires the permission of the Court of Wards in writing for the payment of any private debt. But we do not think these provisions restrict the power of the Collector to give an acknowledgment which would save limitation-a power which, in our opinion, comes within the scope of authority as agent of the Court of Wards.
10. It has been argued that the use of the word ' liquidate' in Section 17 of the Regulation gives the Collector an express power to give an acknowledgment which would save the statute. We do not think any inference can be drawn from the word 'liquidate.' We think it is used as synonymous with 'pay' though why the Legislature said ' liquidate' and not ' pay' is not obvious.
11. The present case is clearly distinguishable from the case of Suryanarayana v. Narendra Thatraz I.L.R. (1895) M. 255. There the Collector promised to pay a barred debt; in other words, purported to make a new contract which could not possibly benefit the estate. In the present case we think it may fairly be assumed that the acknowledgments would not have, been given by the Collector unless he thought it was in the interest of the estate that he should do so.
12. It has been held by this Court in Sobhanadri Appa Rao v. Sriramulu I.L.R. (1893) M. 221 and by a majority of the Full Bench in Ram Charan Das v. Gaya Prasad I.L.R. (1908) A. 422. (see too Annapagauda v. Sangadiyyapa I.L.R. (1901) B. 221) that a guardian has authority to acknowledge a debt on the part of the minor, and we think the acknowledgment is equally good if given on behalf of a minor by the Court of Wards or by the Collector as agent of the Court.
13. The question whether a Collector as agent of the Court of Wards has authority to make an acknowledgment for the purposes of Section 19 of the Limitation Act came before the Privy Council in Beti Maharani v. The Collector of Etawah I.L.R. (1894) A. 198. It was held on the facts that the debt in respect of which the acknowledgment had been given by the Collector was not identified with the debt sued on. But there is nothing in their Lordships' judgment to suggest that if the identity of the debts had been proved the acknowledgment of the Collector would not have been good. (As we have pointed out, their Lordships say an acknowledgment by the Court of Wards themselves would be good). In fact the point does not seem to have been even argued by the eminent counsel who appeared for the Collector.
14. In this Privy Council case a doubt is expressed as to whether a 'Sarbarkar' or manager could be authorized to admit a fresh liability. We do not think it is necessary to consider this point because, as we understand from the judgment of the District Judge, the acknowledgment by the manager on which the appellant relies was confirmed by the Collector.
15. We think the District Judge was right and that this appeal should be dismissed with costs.