1. The appellant was the plaintiff in a suit for redemption of a pledged jewel and claimed to be entitled to the benefits of the Madras Agriculturists' Relief Act IV of 1938 by virtue of the possession of a leasehold interest in agricultural land. The trial Court came to the conclusion that she had not established the truth of the lease. The lower appellate Court, assuming but not deciding that the lease did exist for the period from 1st March, 1937 to 22nd March, 1938, held that at the date of the suit the appellant had no interest in agricultural lands sufficient to satisfy the definition of an agriculturist and that she was therefore not entitled to relief. The suit was filed in 1939.
2. It is contended in second appeal that the question whether the appellant was or was not an agriculturist at the time of the suit is immaterial having regard to the wording of Section 7 which prescribes that all debts payable by an agriculturist at the commencement of the Act shall be scaled down in accordance with the provisions of Chapter II. In Palani Goundan v. Peria Goundan : AIR1941Mad158 ., a case under Section 19 of the Act, we had occasion to consider what were the crucial dates with reference to which the applicant had to prove his agriculturist status and we held that having regard to Section 10 of the Act he must be an agriculturist on 1st October, 1937, having regard to Section 7 of the Act he must be an agriculturist on 22nd March, 1938, and having regard to the terms of Section 19 in cases falling under that section he must be an agriculturist at the time of the application. Section 19, however, has no reference to cases in which relief under the Act is sought in the trial of the suit itself. The respondent has quoted, our decision in Devarayan Chettiar v. Subramania Aiyar : AIR1941Mad829 . as suggesting that the debtor must also be an agriculturist on the date of the suit. The headnote to the report of this decision contains the words:
The relevant period apart from the date of the suit when a debtor has to be an agriculturist ***
This phrase in the headnote is somewhat misleading. It seems to be based on a passage at the end of the judgment which says:
Applying this criterion to the present facts, the first 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;
that is to say, we pointed out that he was an agriculturist both before the crucial date 1st October, 1937; and after the crucial date 22nd March, 1938, which is the date of the commencement of the Act. We had no occasion on the facts of that case to consider whether it was necessary that he should have been an agriculturist on the date of the suit and the case is not authority for the proposition in support of which it has been quoted.
3. It seems to us that apart from Section 19 and Section 23 where the Act expressly requires that the debtor should be an agriculturist at the time of the application and Section 13 dealing with debts incurred after the Act where the date of the debt is made the important date, there is nothing in the Act which requires the debtor to prove his agriculturist status as on the date on which the matter is brought to the notice of the Court. Section 7 contemplates the application of the provisions of the Act to all debts payable by an agriculturist at the commencement of the Act but this is subject to the qualification in Section 10 that the provisions of Sections 8 and 9 shall not apply to a person who was not an agriculturist on 1st October, 1937. Reading these two sections together, in the absence of any provision requiring proof that the debtor must continue to be an agriculturist also up to the time when the matter comes before the Court, we are of opinion that the debtor in cases where his claim to relief is put forward during the trial of the suit, will be entitled to relief if he can show that he was an agriculturist on 1st October, 1937 and on the commencement of the Act, 22nd March, 1938.
4. In the result therefore we allow the appeal and set aside the order of the lower appellate Court and remand the case to the lower appellate Court for fresh disposal in the light of this judgment after recording findings on the status of the appellant as on 1st October, 1937 and 22nd March, 1938. Costs to abide the result. The appellant will be entitled to a refund of the court-fees in second appeal.