1. This civil revision petition is preferred by the plaintiff in a small cause suit and it raises a question as to the interpretation of the explanation to Section 8 of Act IV of 1938. The debt in question starts with a promissory note executed by defendants 1 and 2 and one Toongan. This was discharged by another note of 1932 executed by the same three persons. On the 29th July, 1935 the suit note was executed by defendants 1 and 2 alone discharging the earlier note of 1932. It is not a case of a joint family debt, the 1st and 2nd defendants being of different castes. We have no information whether Toongan was or was not an agriculturist. It was proved that in May, 1937 the 1st defendant purchased lands which qualify him as an agriculturist under the Act. The 2nd defendant appears to have been an agriculturist throughout. Three contentions have been placed before us on behalf of the petitioner to show that the lower Court was wrong in scaling down the debt as against both the defendants.
2. Firstly it is contended that it is not the same debt as that incurred in 1932, the debtors being different. It seems to us that this contention must be negatived on the authority of the decisions in Doraikannu Odayar v. Veerasami Padayachi : AIR1941Mad59 , and Peria Karuppan Chettiar v. Appaji Naidu : AIR1941Mad202 . The debt of 1932 was apparently due jointly and severally from the defendants and Toongan and it is discharged by another debt due from the defendants. This, according to our rulings is sufficient to make the latter debt an inclusion in a fresh document of the former debt.
3. A further contention is that even if the suit debt is deemed to be a renewal of the debt of 1932, it cannot be a renewal so far as Toongan's share in the debt is concerned, he not being shown to be an agriculturist, and that at the most the debt is to be scaled down only as to two-thirds of this amount. This contention is apparently based on an assumption that the three debtors under the 1932 document were each liable only for one-third of the debt which does not appear to be the case. It seems to be an ordinary case of a joint and several promissory note, each of the debtors being liable for the whole debt. There is therefore no basis for assuming that as to one-third of the amount the new note is a renewal of Toongan's debt and not a renewal of the liability binding the defendants by reason of the earlier note.
4. A more serious contention is based on the assumption that the 1st defendant was not an agriculturist before he purchased the property in May, 1937. There is no finding by the trial Court that he was not possessed of any interest in agricultural land before May, 1937; but assuming this to be the case, can it be said that the 1st defendant is not entitled to claim the benefit of the explanation to Section 8 by reason of the fact that at the time when his prior debt was discharged he had not got the qualifications laid down for an agriculturist We held in Krishnaswami Aiyar v. Nagalinga Mudaliar : (1940)2MLJ174 , that the explanation to S.8 postulated that the earlier debt of which the suit debt was a renewal must itself have been a debt due from an agriculturist. In that case there was no question as to the point of time at which the debtor under the prior debt had to possess the qualifications of an agriculturist. It is, however, argued that in order that the antecedent debt should be due from an agriculturist, it must have been due from an agriculturist, at least at the time of its discharge and there is a certain prima facie plausibility about this argument. It might be contended that if the antecedent debtor only acquired the status of an agriculturist at some later point of time, the antecedent debt was not due from an agriculturist at all. There are, however, very serious difficulties in the way of adopting this view. In the case reported in Palani Goundan v. Peria Goundan : AIR1941Mad158 , which was a case under Section 19 and raised no question of renewals, we pointed out that the essential points of time under the Act at which the person claiming benefits had to prove that he was an agriculturist were 1st October, 1937, 22nd March, 1938 and the date on which the actual matter in question came before the Court. We are asked to add to these points a still earlier point of time namely, the date on which the prior document of which the suit document is alleged to be a renewal came to be discharged. The acceptance of this view involves an inquiry into the property of the debtor at the time when the earlier debt was discharged which may be many years ago. It also involves the application of the definition of an 'agriculturist' to a state of affairs which cannot possibly have been contemplated by the Legislature when this definition was framed. The provisos to Section 3 (ii) of the Act are based on the state of affairs existing during the period immediately anterior to 1st October, 1937. If during this period the alleged agriculturist was assessed to income-tax or to profession-tax for more than a certain amount or to property-tax above a certain rate, he becomes disqualified from claiming to be an agriculturist. It is impossible to apply this definition to a state of affairs existing before the period contemplated in the proviso had begun. The result of attempting to do so would be to treat as an agriculturist in 1932 a person who, had he paid the same taxes some five years later, would not have been an agriculturist at all. That is to say, it involves the application of a different criterion for the status of an agriculturist to that contemplated in the Act by rendering inoperative the taxation provisos. It seems to us that this cannot be correct and it follows that when we say that the debt which is renewed under the explanation to Section 8 must be a debt due from an agriculturist we must necessarily mean that it must be due from a person who is an agriculturist during the period contemplated in the definition, that is to say, the period after 1st October, 1937, having regard to the provisos to Section 3 (ii) of the Act.
5. Applying this criterion to the present facts, the 1st defendant has been proved to have been an agriculturist at the time of the suit and also to have had the necessary qualifications ever since May, 1937. His debt which was discharged by the suit debt was discharged at a time when he may not have had any saleable interest in land or other qualification; but seeing that on the relevant dates he had the qualifications of an agriculturist, we are of opinion that the debt now being scaled down must be treated as a renewal of a previous debt due from an agriculturist.
6. In the result, therefore, we dismiss the revision petition with costs.