1. These two Revision Cases relating to prosecutions in respect of two different years of assessment raise an interesting point.
2. The facts can be easily followed if we take on hand the sketch marked as Exhibit P-10 in the lower Court, annexed to this judgment for reference.
3. Door Nos. 340 and 341 in Raja Street in Coimbatore are involved. Door No. 341 belongs to a Nadar gentlemen and Door No. 340 belongs to a Mohammadan gentleman. The area covered constitutes one place as will be seen from the annexed sketch, comprising these premises. The Nadar gentleman is running a hotel under the name of Bangalore Briyani Hotel. The Municipality wanted him to take out two licences for running this Hotel at the maximum fee of Rs. 200 for Door No. 341 and at the rate of Rs. 150 for Door No. 340. This owner of the Hotel paid Rs. 200 and disclaimed his liability to pay Rs. 150. Therefore, he was prosecuted before the Second Class Bench of Magistrates, Coimbatore, which singularly is ill-adapted for hearing cases of this nature involving a point of law. The net result was a totally incomprehensible judgment and the conviction of the hotel-keeper and a direction to him to pay the two sets of amounts claimed by the Municipality and a fine of Rs. 10 in each case. Hence these revision cases by the convicted hotel-keeper.
4. Therefore, we have got to construe now Section 249 of the District Municipalities Act and clause (j) of Schedule V thereto. Section 249 states that the Council may publish a notification that no place within municipal limits shall be used for any one or more of the purposes specified in Schedule V without the licence of the executive authority. Clause (j) of Schedule V mentions among other businesses, a hotel. The point which arises for determination is what is the definition of a 'Place'
5. The contention on behalf of the Revision Petitioner by his learned advocate is that the rationale behind the levy is the business that requires a licence and not the premises in which the business is carried on, and which may be composed of more than one door number. On the other hand the contention of the learned Public Prosecutor was that if a person carries on business in more than one door number belonging to different persons, it would constitute different places and therefore, that person will have to take out licenses for all the places so gainfully used.
6. On a consideration of all the circumstances, I have no doubt in my mind that the interpretation which is sought to be put by the learned Public Prosecutor is a forced one. The word 'place', as can be seen from the various lexicons, connotes a particular point or portion of space, especially that part of space occupied by or belonging to a thing under consideration. It will connote an occupied situation or buildings; space regarded as the abode or quarters; a manufacturing place; his place of business. This is the definition given of 'place' in all the standard lexicons of which it is enough to mention Funk and Wagnalls 'New Standard Dictionary' and the 'Shorter Oxford English Dictionary' The accent in the issue of licence must also be on the business, like that of a hotel which is being carried on.
7. In other words, the proper construction of Section 249 read with Schedule V of the Madras District Municipalities Act is that the person who has occupied a place within the ambit mentioned above and carrying on a business thereof the description mentioned in Schedule V, should have to take out a licence and pay fee proportionate to the services rendered by the Municipality and which is fixed according to the table and which in this case would be a maximum of Rs. 200. It would be a forced interpretation to say that because the business is carried on in the same place but for which different door numbers have been given, it should be immediately construed as more than one business in more than one place. One could understand, if for instance a portion of the place comprises of several door numbers and business is run in one portion and another portion is used as a residence, the Municipality can levy a licence fee for that portion in which the business is run and they can also levy residential assessment. In fact such a contingency will not arise even in this case because the licence fee is over and above the house-tax. This fortifies all the more the contention of the learned advocate for the petitioner that the unit for which the licence fee has to be levied is the business in a place, irrespective of the door numbers.
8. This controversy was also the subject-matter of the suit O.S. No. 1099 of 1953, District Munsif 's Court, Coimbatore, wherein the levy imposed by the Municipality was considered to be illegal and unreasonable. But the decision of the learned District Munsif turned on another point, viz., 'Whether what was imposed was tax or a fee.'
9. The net result of this analysis is that the convictions cannot be upheld. They will have to be set aside and the sentences of fine also should be set aside. They are accordingly set aside. In regard to the licence fee, even before the filing of the complaints the petitioner has paid Rs. 200 and after the convictions he has paid Rs. 150 in each case. The petitioner will be entitled to a refund of these fees paid after his conviction.
10. Before parting with this case, the learned Public Prosecutor wants me to make it clear that if the same business is carried on in several places like for instance a hotel being lun in different streets or even across the street or even in non-contiguous places, licence fee can be collected for the businesses carried on in the several places. I find no difficulty in making this clarification because if they are not situated in the same place, naturally they will be liable to take out as many licences as the places in which the business is carried on.