1. In the Court of the Subordinate Judge of Vizagapatam, the respondent sued the first appellant and the Secretary of State for India in Council claiming the sum of Rs. 4,141-0-8 representing the difference between the amount which he alleged he was liable to pay for property tax during the years 1929-1930 and 1930-1931 in respect of his interest in the Anakapalli estate within the precincts of the Municipality and the amount which in fact he had paid. The learned Subordinate Judge decided in his favour and passed a decree for the repayment by the Municipality to the respondent of the above sum together with interest at the rate of six per cent, per annum. Against this decision the first appellant filed this appeal and later the Municipality of Anakapalli was joined as the second appellant. Other claims were made in the suit to which it is unnecessary to refer, as no contest arises in regard to them in this appeal.
2. The respondent is the Zamindar of Chemudu and proprietor of the melwaram interest of the Anakapalli estate which is situated within municipal precincts of the second appellant. The estate comprises ryoti agricultural lands, the ryots being entitled to the kudiwaram interest. To this estate the provisions of the Madras Estates Land Act apply. The respondent was assessed by the second appellant at a sum of Rs. 74,447-0-0 which represents the value of the melwaram and kudiwaram interests and is an amount for which the lands of the estate might reasonably be expected to let. The respondent contended that as the provisions of the Madras Estates Land Act applied and controlled the income from the lands and prohibited enhancement of any rents save as is provided by the Act, the assessment in respect of which he was required to pay property tax should be based upon the actual income he received in respect of his melwaram interest during the relevant years. This income amounted to Rs. 37,698-11-1. There is no dispute in regard to the above figures and it is not suggested that the respondent's income could have been increased at any time. The point for decision is whether the respondent should be required to pay tax upon the higher or the lower of the above figures.
3. The respondent could never be in a position to receive the income from both the melwaram and the kudiwaram interests, the ryots alone being entitled to the latter. The point for decision depends upon the construction of a few of the sections of the Madras District Municipalities Act V of 1920. It is somewhat academic at the present time inasmuch as by the Madras District Municipalities Amendment Act of 1930 the provisions of Section 79 of the Local Boards Act have been incorporated into the statute and provision is also made for the collection of taxes in equal shares from the landholders and tenants.
4. The relevant provisions of the Madras District Municipalities Act, 1920 (hereinafter called the Act) at the time of assessments in this matter, are as follows:
Section 78. (1) Every Municipal Council may levy (a) a property-tax.
Section 81. (1) The property-tax shall be levied at a consolidated rate on all buildings and lands within municipal limits;
Section 82. (2) The annual value of lands and buildings shall be deemed to be the gross annual rent at which they may reasonably be expected to let from month to month or from year to year.
Section 86. The property-tax shall be paid by the owner of assessed premises.
5. The learned Advocate-General on behalf of the appellants contended that the property-tax authorised in Section 78 (1) means a tax upon the totality of the value of the whole of the lands including, in the case of ryoti agricultural lands, both the melwaram and kudiwaram interests. He referred us to the Rajah of Pittapuram v. The Revenue Divisional Officer : (1919)36MLJ455 , a case under the Land Acquisition Act for the ascertainment of the value of lands which included melwaram and kudiwaram interests. At page 646 Sir John Wallis, C.J., pointed out that the amount to be ascertained had to be apportioned among the parties according to their respective interests, and the land to be acquired had to be valued in the first instance by including all interests in it. Later he said that the fact that neither the landlord nor the tenant could utilize the land for building purposes without the concurrence of the other made no difference. The difference between the market value and the value of the tenant's interest would represent the landlord's interest. It is to be seen that a distinction is emphasised between the two respective interests although for the purposes of the Land Acquisition Act and the ascertainment of the total value, all interests were to be grouped together.
6. Before the amendments, which were introduced by the Amending Act of 1930, Section 82 of the Act was not really applicable to agricultural lands and it is probable that the legislature may not have considered the possibility of an estate, like the Anakapalli estate, lying within same municipal limits and therefore provision in regard to taxation of such lands might not have bee contemplated as being required. Learned Counsel on behalf the appellants and the respondents both agree that the owner of the melwaram interest alone cannot let out the whole of the lands but together with the owner of the kudiwaram right the whole of the lands could be so let. That of course would be subject to an agreement between the respective owners of those interests. Section 82(2) of the Act is a means to ascertain the annual rental value which a hypothetical tenant would pay for the whole of the lands. This income could not be obtained by the respondent alone. He is entitled to receive not the income from the whole property but only in respect of his limited interest. By Section 86 of the Act the property-tax is payable by the owner of the assessed premises. To obtain an assessment based upon the letting value of the whole of the property, the respondent's and the ryot's interests would have to be taken together and if that is the basis upon which under this Act the Municipality is entitled to call upon the respondent to pay a tax, then it must follow that in arriving at a sum at which they have assessed him the value of the premises or the interest in the premises of which he is not the owner and in respect of which he is not entitled to the income would have to be taken into account. Whatever may be the effect of Section 82(2) as to the valuation of an estate such as the one of which the respondent is the owner of the melwaram interest, one must look at Section 86 in order to see what could be demanded of the respondent. That section as pointed out, provides that the tax shall be paid by the owner of the assessed premises. Section 3(17) defines 'owner' as including the person for the time being receiving or entitled to receive the rents or profits of the property. It has been contended that by its phraseology this definition may not be exhaustive. But returning to Section 86 of the Act once again, the person liable to pay tax is the owner of the premises. Although perhaps the definition of owner is not exhaustive, it does not extend the definition to a person who is not entitled to receive and does not receive income from property of which he is not the owner. In order to be an 'owner' he must be in the same category as a person receiving or entitled to receive rents and profits of a property. In our view this being a taxing statute it must be construed strictly. If there is any doubt, the doubt must be exercised in favour of the tax-payer. There can be no doubt that a Municipality is not entitled to demand of a subject taxes which legislation has not authorised and has not cast upon a subject a liability to pay. Under the statute the one liable to pay property-tax is the owner of the premises and that is a person who is in a category analogous to someone who is entitled to receive rents and profits of the property. The property in respect of which the respondent is entitled to receive the rents and profits is limited to the melwaram interest. There is no provision in the statute by which a person in the respondent's position could be assessed in respect of the interest of another person and have a right to recoup himself for the tax he has paid in respect of the other person's interest or the other person's property. In our view the wording of Section 86 does not entitle the municipality to demand from the respondent anything more than a tax upon the interest in the premises of which he is the owner, and that the assessment made against him upon the value of the whole of the interests in the property is wrong. The respondent is entitled to recover from the appellants the amount for which he sued in the Court below. The result is that this appeal should be dismissed with costs.