1. The plaintiff, an absentee ryot owning a large extent of land, sues to recover a sum of money alleged to have been unlawfully collected from him by the Revenue Department as a contribution in lieu of customary labour for the repair of an irrigation source, leviable under the Madras Compulsory Labour Act I of 1858 Section 6 of that Act says:
Whenever by local custom any work for the purpose of irrigation or drainage or connected therewith is usually executed by the joint labour of a village community, any person bound by such custom to contribute labour to such work who neglects or refuses without reasonable cause to comply with a requisition for such customary aid made to him by the head of the village under the orders of the Tahsildar or other superior revenue officer shall be liable to pay a sum equal to twice the value of the labour which he is bound to contribute.
2. It is established that on 1st June, 1929, a requisition for customary labour was published in the village by beat of tomtom and by affixture in the village chavadi and temple and that signatures in token of knowledge of this requisition were taken from a large number of ryots including the tenants of the plaintiff who himself lives in Srirangam. The work was not done in accordance with the requisition and it was carried out depart-mentally. On 6th June, 1930, the plaintiff received an unofficial intimation that the proportionate amount due from him in respect of this work was being demanded. He took no action until on 15th June, 1931, the payment was actually demanded from him whereupon he paid under protest and followed his payment with notice of suit.
3. The Courts below have found that there is a lotal custom whereby compulsory labour can be exacted in respect of this tank and I do not think that it is open to the appellant in second appeal to go behind that finding which is a finding of fact. It is, however, contended that before any levy under Section 6 can be made it must be proved that there has been a requisition made to the ryot himself and that on the evidence in this case it cannot be held that any such requisition has been made to the plaintiff. There are no provisions under the Madras Compulsory Labour Act for the framing of statutory rules. But the Board of Revenue in its Standing Orders (vide B.S. Order 86, Sub-rule 5) has promulgated the following orders:
In the case of an absentee ryot it is desirable that he or his local agent should be advised of a requisition for customary labour in some unmistakable way, especially where the holding is a large one. Notice of such requisitions should always be posted at the village chavadi in addition to publishing by tom-tom.
4. It has not been shown that this order has statutory force and in so far as the first sentence of that order is concerned, it certainly cannot be taken to be mandatory. There must obviously arise cases in which it is not practicable to give notice to an absentee ryot or his agent of the demand for labour, but that is certainly not the case with reference to the present demand. Notice could have been given to the plaintiff personally but was not given. The question therefore resolves itself into this. There has been a compliance with the mandatory portion of the Board's Standing Order. There has not been a personal requisition made to the plaintiff himself but there has been wide publication of the requisition and it was served personally upon the plaintiff's tenants. Can it be said under such circumstances that there has been no requisition made to the plaintiff sufficient to render him liable under the penal provisions in Section 6 of the Act?
5. It is pointed out that though Section 6 provides for the recovery of twice the cost of the labour, the amount demanded from the plaintiff was only the actual cost of the execution of the proportionate share of the work which he himself by custom was bound to do. Seeing that the Act itself does not require that the requisition should be made to the villager concerned personally, I consider that it would be a sufficient compliance with the Act if the requisitions were made in such a form as would ordinarily bring the matter to the notice of the persons concerned. Here it is proved that the plaintiff himself lived in another town and had no resident local agent other than his tenants and that the tenants were the persons who paid the kist to Government. There was also some evidence, that, on a previous occasion when contribution for compulsory labour had been recovered, it was the tenants who brought it to the plaintiff's, notice that the amount to his credit in respect of excess contribution recovered had not been taken into consideration in claiming the kist. It seems to me that these was sufficient evidence to justify the findings of the Courts below that the tenants of the plaintiff were his agents for matters connected with the liabilities of the plaintiff to Government in respect of the lands in that village. Since they were the persons to whom the Government looked for the payment of its revenue with the approval of the plaintiff, I am of opinion that the officers of Government were entitled to treat the tenants as the persons upon whom this requisition should be served. It was served upon them. There is every probability that the plaintiff knew all about it, he made no protest whatever until the money was actually recovered although he had known the facts certainly for a year and probably from the beginning of the proceedings. I do not consider that he has any right to demand back that which has been lawfully recovered from him for the execution of works for which he himself should have paid. The result therefore is that the appeal is dismissed with costs.