S. Ramachandra Iyer, C.J.
1. This appeal which is tiled under Cl. 15 Letters patent against the judgment of Venkatadri J. has been referred to this Bench on account of the importance of the question involved in. it. The question can be stated thus:
'Whether in respect of a debt incurred by an agriculturist after the coming into force of the Madras Agriculturists Relief Act, it is necessary before the debtor can. be given relief Under Section 13 thereof that he should prove that his qualification as an agriculturist subsisted on the date when it is sought to be enforced against him?'
The facts which have given rise to this reference are these.
The respondent who owned agricultural lands outside the Municipal limits of Karur created two mortgages over them on 19-7-1947 and 17-11-1947 in favour of the appellant's assignor and the appellant respectively to secure two sums of Rs. 3000 and Rs. 4000 advanced on that day. The mortgage document stipulated payment of interest at nine per cent per annum on the loans. Apart from the right he had in the mortgaged property, the debtor had no interest in any other agricultural land. On the dates of the mortgages, the respondent, it is concedea, was an agriculturist entitled to the benefit of the Act, as the lands were situate outside municipal limits. But subsequently and before the date of the present action, these lands were brought within the Karur Municipal limits. It is not disputed that on that account the respondent ceased to be an agriculturist. This was the position on the date of the suit on the two mortgages. Nevertheless, the respondent claimed that he was entitled to a reduction of interest on the loans in accordance with Section 13 of the agriculturists Relief Act. The learned Subordinate Judge rejected the plea for reduction of interest as in his view, relief Under Section 13 would be given only to debtors who were agriculturists on the date of suit. This view has net been accepted on appeal by Venkatadri J. who held that me only crucial date for the applicability of the section, was the date of the loan itself.
2. To my mind, the construction of Section 13 floes not present much difficulty. The Act, as is well-known, is intended to give relief to indebted agriculturists in respect of interest accrued or accruing on their liabilities. the! extent and mode of relief given under it differs according to the date on which the loan had been contracted, there being a broad division between debts incurred prior to and those to be incurred after the' Act. The former category is again divided into two (i) those debts incurred prior to 1-10-1932, but outstanding when the Act came into force, and (ii) those debts incurred between 1-10-1932 and 11-3-1938, 1938, the date of commencement of the Act and outstanding on the latter date. Section 7 winch deals with all cases of debts due by agriculturists as on 22-3-1938, (sic) that all such debts shall be scaled down in. accordance with the subsequent provisions of the Act and no further sum shall be recoverable from the debtor. Sections 8 and 9 are respectively the machinery provisions prescribing the mode and extent of scaling down. The former which governs debts contracted prior to 1-10-1932, statutory wipes out the entire amount of outstanding interest on the debt, the latter section, that is, Section 9 which governs debts contracted between 1-10-1932 and 22-3-1938 does so only prating, allowing interest to run at 5 per cent per annum where the rate of stipulated interest is higher than that rate. it is unnecessary to refer to the further details of the provisions contained in these sections regarding specific cases like renewals, application of the rule of damdupet etc. section 10 provides that in respect of debts scaled down one rest at the contract rate or at 61/4 per cent per annum, whichever is lower, will run from the date of scaling down that is, 22-3-1938. These provisions do not now ever apply to the present case; but a reference to them has to be made to deal with the contentions raised in this appeal.
3. Section 13 deals with debts incurred, as in the instant case, by an agriculturist after the commencement of this Act. That says-.-
'In proceedings for recovery of a debt, the court, shall scale down all interest due on any debt incurred by an agriculturist after the commencement of this Act, so as not to exceed a sum calculated at 5 1/2 per cent per annum simple interest.'
The terms of the section show that unlike 5. 7, there is no automatic discharge of the debt; the scaling down to the statutory rate of interest, is to be crone only by court when proceedings for recovery of the debt come up before it Quite recently a Full Bench of this court had held in S. M. Tharaganar v. Sankarapandia Mudanar, : AIR1959Mad96 that the Act as such does not render the payment of or the contract to pay interest at a rate higher than the statutory rate, megar only the excess interest is made irrecoverable: This view was reiterated in Chellammal v. Abdul Gattur sahib 1961 1 MLJ 222, another Full Bench decision, which has pointed out the difference in scope between Sections 8 and 3 on the one hand and Section 13 on the other. There are therefore, two outstanding factors to be taken note of (i) that the Act aims at giving relief to agriculturist debtors (ii), that a contract to pay interest at a rate higher than that sanctioned by statute, is not per se illegal; interest due to excess of the statutory rate is only liable to be scaled down, when proceedings are taken for the recovery of the debt. The logical outcome of these principles will be that the material date for the grant of relief is the date when it: is sought, and that therefore the debtor should continue to satisfy the requirements as to his being an agriculturist. then.
4. It is somewhat strange that this question has not come up before the courts till now. its decision rests on untrue interpretation of Section 13, which cannot be said to be very happily worded. The section speaks of proceedings for recovery of 'a debt' and invests a power in the court to scale down 'any debt incurred by an agriculture. As pointed out by Subba Rao C. J. (as he then was) in Pundarikaksnudu v. Venkatakrishna, AIR 1957 Anch 204
'.......the use of the word 'any' instead of the definite article 'the' qualifying the word 'debt' in the opening line of the section is used in general terms with out being limited to a debt incurred after the Act'.
This interpretation of the section which was accepted in : AIR1959Mad96 will show that the Debt that is referred to in the beginning of the insertion for recovery of which proceedings are taken before a court, must be the same as the debt referred to later in the section, viz., that incurred by the agriculturist.
The term 'agriculturist' has been defined in Section 3 (ii) as 'a person who has a saleable interest in any agricultural . . land . . . not being. land situate within a municipality'. | need not refer to o the exceptions enacted to that definition. That defination by the use of the verb 'has' implies that the debtor should have a subsisting interest in agricultural lands. This is indeed made clear when the statute in Section 3 (iii) defines the word debt as 'any liability-due from an agriculturist'. The word 'due' as used in the Act has been the subject of judicial interpretation in Chellammal v. Abdul Gaffoor Sahib, : AIR1962Mad1 (FB)) where one of us (Srinivasan J.) delivering the judgment on behalf of the full bench, observed that that expression 'has undoubtedly a sense of something to be performed in future as distinct from . something that has happened in the past'. therefore, a debt by its very definition under the Act implies that at the time when it is due it must be due from an agriculturist. It is therefore clear from the terms of the section trial in order to entitle a debtor to claim relief Under Section 13, He must be an agriculturist as defined in the Art on two crucial dates (1) on the date of the loan, as otherwise it will not be a debt incurred by an agriculturist, and (2) on the date of recovery thereof through the process of court, as other wise, there would be no proceeding for recovery of a debt as defined by the Act.
5. But it has been contended on behalf of the respondent by Mr. T. R. Mam, that the section makes a distinction between a debt at its inception by describing it as...incurred by an agriculturist and the debt which is sought to be recovered, where it would be sufficient if it were merely a debt only and that it is not further necessary that on the date of the suit that it should be due from an agriculturist.
This argument is based on the further contention that the term 'debt' used at the beginning of the section should embrace a wider category of liability than the one occurring later in the section as that is qualified by the words 'incurred By an agriculturist'. I have pointed out earner In the judgment that there is no distinction between the two debts specified in the section. A debt always implies a liability of a person, whether such liability is personal to him or limited to the property in his hands therefore, in any definition of a debt contained in a statute intended to give relief to a class of debtors against their own contract, it is essential that there should be a reference to the person liable. Now, Section 3 (Hi) says mat the person liable should be an agriculturist. That status is an essential pan of the definition as otherwise the scope of the statute would stand extended.
6. There is plenty of authority on this matter, It is however sufficient to refer to the earliest of the cases which held that the use of the word 'debt' in the various provisions of the Act cannot be taken to be, any other than a liability of an agriculturist.
In Krishnaswami Aiyar v. Nagalinga Mudallar, (1940) 2 Mad LJ 1 : AIR 1940 Mad 836, a question arose as to the right of an indebted agriculturist to go behind a debt and trace it to the original liability of which it was a renewal. Explanation III to Section 8 gave a right to the 'Debtor to trace back the liability 'where a debt has been renewed. In that case the original liability was by A, a non-agriculturist. That was renewed by a fresh promissory note by A and B, the latter being an agriculturist. B claimed that he would be entitled to go behind the promissory note executed by him and obtain relief under the Act on the basis of the original liability of A, of winch the latter liability was a renewal. The contention then was precisely the same as it has now been advanced before us. the learned judges rejected that contention holding that the Explanation to Section 8 while referring to the earlier liability as a debtor, postulated that it must have been a debt due from an agriculturist. this view has been accepted in several cases that followed that decision.
7. But it is argued for the respondent that there is no general rule that the meaning of a term given in an enactment for a particular word need always be adopted for it at every place where that expression occurs. stated in. that broad form, no objection can be taken to the argument, indeed in all modem statutes, the definition section generally commences like this:
'in this Act, unless there is anything repugnant in the subject or conext', the particular term will mean etc...'
But, the rule will be the same even if there is no such saving provision. Viscount Maugham referring to the ansence of such a provision in a definition section, in Knights bridge Estates Trust Ltd. v. Byrne, 1940 A. C. 613, spoke:
'I attribute little weight to this fact, for, in my opinion some such words are to be implied in all statutes where the expressions which are interpreted by a definition clause are used in a number of sections with meanings sometimes of a wide and sometimes of an obviously limited character'.
8. The purpose of a definition clause in a statute is two-fold (i) to provide a key to the proper interpretation of the enactment (ii) to shorten the language of the enacting part of the statute to avoid repetition of the same wants contained in the definition every time the legislation wants to refer the thing contained in the definition. The definition clause therefore speaks no more than this: that when you find the word defined in the statute it shall be understood in the sense defined unless there is. something repugnant in the context, in other words, the existence of a definition normally facilitates the ascertainment of the scope and operation of the Act; at the same time it is not the rule that the word defined should have a hide-bound meaning as it were wherever it occurs in the Act. In Arunachala Chettiar v. Annamalai Chettiar 1961 2 M. L. J. 587, a question arose in a somewhat inverse form, viz., whether the apparently wide terms of the word 'agriculturist' in the Madras indebted Agriculturists (Temporary Relief) Act, 1954 would be capable of enlarging the benefit conferred by the Act, so as to profit persons not in the contemplation of the legislature. It was observed-
'It may be accepted as a general rule that the wants occurring in an Act should be interpreted in terms of the definition contained therein. At the same time if the scope of the enactment itself is limited the terms of the definition cannot enlarge it'.
In the present case, the scope of the enactment is undoubtedly limited; the definition of the term debt is consistent with it. What the respondent seeks to do before us is to enlarge the scope of the Act by discarding the definition and adopting the wider dictionary meaning of the word 'debt'. That can hardly be permitted, particularly so in an expropriatory legislation of the kind before us, when any extension of the meaning would be to concern benefits on persons not intended to be benefited by the legislature and at the expense of the creditors.
9. Learned Counsel has drawn my attention to the following passage in the judgment of Lord Denman C. j. in the Queen v. The Justice of Cambridgeshire, (1838) 112 E. R. 551-
'.....an interpretation clause is not to receive so rigid a construction; that it is not to be taken as subsisting one set of words for another, nor as strictly defining what the meaning of a word must be under all circumstances. We rather think that it merely declares what persons may be comprehended within that term, where circumstances require that they should'.
But that was a case where the definition clause if it were to be adopted would have led to an absurdity, making the application of the statute difficult.
10. It must not be forgotten that the Act itself is confined to affording relief to certain class of debtors alone and that limited application has been brought about by giving a restricted meaning to the word 'debt'. in such a case to give that word its natural or ordinary meaning for interpreting the Act, would undoubtedly result in extending the provisions thereof to cases not contemplated by me legislature.
11. But it has been contended that the context in which that word is used and the intent and the sheme or the legislation require that the word 'debt' cannot be applied to Section 13 as defined in the Act. A few decisions were cited; my attention has also been invited in this connection to Sections 19 and 23 to show that whenever the legislature required that the debtor should possess We requisite qualification as an agriculturist it said so in express terms. Reference has also been made to Sections 19 (2) and 19-A to show that benefits conferred by the Act were extended to persons who are not agriculturists when they applied to the court for relief.
12. this contention proceeds on an imperfect appreciation of the various provisions of the Act. For a proper understanding of the provisions referred to above, and of the cases cited, it is necessary to advert briefly to ma Scheme adopted by the: Act to provide relief to indebted agriculturists. Two matters have to be noted first, the word 'debt' as used in the Act does not require that the applicant for relief should be personally liable; see Perianna v. Sellappa, ILR (1939) Mad 218 : AIR 1939 Mad 186. Secondly, in regard to debts contracted prior to the coming into force of the Act, the statute wipes out under S. / outstanding interest either wholly or in part according as the debt was incurred prior to 1-10-1932 or subsequent there to but before 22-3-1938. That scaling down was on. we date of the Act.
13. Section 7 expressly requires that the debtor should have been an agriculturist on the date of the coming into operation of the Act. Section 10 further requires that he should have been so, even on 1-10-1937 the date of publication of the bill which subsequently became the Act, to avoid non-agriculturist debtors acquiring interest in agricultural property after coming to know of the impending legislation and thereby to defeat their creditors, once the debtor satisfies that he was an agriculturist on these two dates the interest outstanding on the loads stood discharged vi status either wholly or in part, according as the case came within Section 8 or Section 9. In such cases there was no need therefore for him to have continued to be an agriculturist on any later date.
14. This provision brought fortuitous benefits to non-agriculturists as well. For example, if a non-agriculturist purchased a property owned by an agriculturist subject to a mortgage created prior to the Act by the latter, the former was held liable to pay only the scaled down mortgage amount as the excess stood discharged by the operation of Section 7 on the coming into force of the Act. therefore, in the case of a debt incurred prior to the Act, there is really no need to require that the person claiming the benefit should be an agriculturist on the date when he seeks relief in a court (except in cases governed by Sections 19 and 23), as the debt stood wiped out as on 22-3-1938. Hence, it was held that the crucial dates for ascertaining the agriculturist status of the debtor were 1-10-1932 and 22-3-1938, in such cases. This was the actual decision in Pappammal v. Ramaswami Chettiar, 1942 M. L. J. 498 : AIR 1942 Mad 726 although I may nave to refer later to an obiter contained in that decision which in my opinion is net accurate.
15. But the statute for reasons of policy does not treat decrees obtained and sales effected in execution of such decrees, on the same footing. Section 19 (1) provides the machinery for scaling down decree obtained against an agriculturist prior to the commencement of the Act. Section 23 provides for setting aside of court sales of property belonging to a judgment debtor. Both the provisions require that the applicant for the amendment of the decree as when as the one for setting aside the sale should have been an agriculturist en the date of the application as well. These two cases therefore are exceptions to the rule of statutory discharge of debts as on 22-3-1938. in those cases relief will not be given to the debtor merely because he was an agriculturist on the two dates he should also possess that qualification on the date of application, this has been so held by Rajagopalan J. in Sashi Ammal v. Arunachalam Chettiar : (1949)1MLJ658 .
16. Thus, if will be seen that in the case of non-decree debts incurred prior to 22-3-1938, the matter stands on a distinct principle; there was no need for the applicant to prove his status as agriculturist as on the date of suit; because the statute has already effected the discharge. But the case where such debts have merged in decrees, Section 19 prescribes that the debtor should prove an agriculturist's status on the date of the application as well. This exception proves an intention on the part of the legislature that except in the case where a fortuitous benefit is secured by Section 7 in the case of a non-decretal debt the person seeking the benefit under the Act should be an agriculturist on the day he approaches the Court for relief.
17. Section 19(2) also applies only to cases of decrees in respect of debts contracted prior to the Act. Section 19-A has been relied on as an instance where the legislature does not require that an applicant thereunder should possess the required qualification on the date of application. But it will be seen that that provision applies only to debts incurred prior to the Act and conformably to the principles stated above, it requires the applicant to prove his status as agriculturist on 1-10-1937 and 22-3-1938 only, one cannot therefore imply from the several provisions in the statute to which I have referred any legislature intent to dispense generally with the essential qualification for relief under the Act, i.e. of being an agriculturist when relief is sought.
18. In : AIR1942Mad726 , the learned Judges observed in passing that in regard to debts incurred after the Act, the date of the debt was the one important date and there was no need for a debtor to prove his agriculturist status on the date when the matter was brought before the Court. That observation was not necessary for the purpose of the case before them and I must respectfully dissent from it.
19. There is thus nothing in the scheme of the Act, to depart from the plain terms of Section 13. that means that if in respect of a debt incurred after the Act and coming Under Section 13, a debtor seeks relief, he should prove that he possessed the status as an agriculturist both on the date of incurring the debt as well as when it was sought to be recovered from him. in other words, agriculturist debtor who ceased to be an agriculturist within the meaning of the Act by the time the suit for recovery of the debt had been filed against her will not be entitled to claim any relief Under Section 13. My answer to the question propounded at the beginning will be in the affirmative. be allowed with costs. agree with the judgment just
20. The appeal will be allowed with costs.
21. I agree with the judgment just now delivered by my Lord, the Chief Justice.
22. I have perused the pre-delivery judgment prepared by my Lord, the Chief Justice. With great respect, I am unable to concur with the conclusions reached therein.
23. The point that has to be decided is whether in a proceeding to recover a debt incurred by an agriculturist after the coming info force of the Madras Agriculturists Relief Act, Madras Act IV of 1938, (hereinafter called the Act) it is necessary for the debtor to prove that he was an agriculturist not only on the date when the debt was incurred but he continued to be so even on the date of the proceeding. The measure of relief granted by the Act to the indebted agriculturists, may be divided, as indicated in the scheme of the Act itself, into three categories:
(a) Debts incurred during the period of acute Depression prior to 1932;
(b) Debts incurred between October 1932 and before the commencement of the Act, and
(c) Debts incurred after the commencement of the Act. Section 13 of the Act runs as follows:
'In any proceeding for recovery of a debt, the Court shall scale down all interest due on any debt incurred by an agriculturist after the commencement of this Act, so as not to exceed a sum calculated at 6 1/4 per cent per annum, simple interest, that is to say, one pie per rupee per mensem simple interest, or one anna per rupee per annum simple interest;
Provided that the State Government may, by notification in the Official Gazette, alter and fix any other rate of interest from time to time.
Explanation: For the purpose of this section, the definition of 'agriculturist' in Section 3(ii) shall be read as it-
(i) in proviso (A) to that section, for the expression 'the financial years ending 31st March 1938' the expression 'the financial years ending on the 31st March immediately preceding the date on which the debt is incurred were substituted; and
(ii) in provisos (B) and (C) to that section, for the expression 'the four half years immediately preceding the 1st October, 1937' the expression 'the four half years ending on the 31st March or the 30th September (whichever is later) immediately preceding the date on which the debt is incurred' were substituted'.
The language employed in the section is plam, precise and unambiguous and the proper construction of me section is primarily to be sought in the words used in the statute itself rather than from any notions which may be entertained by the Court as to what is just or reasonable or expedient, based upon We presumed intentions of the legislature not however declared. That the canon of the construction is the primary rule to adopt none will deny. In my approach to the solution to the question, I prefer to follow the note of warning contained in the classical statement of Lord Watson in Salomon v. Salomon and Co. Ltd., 1897 AC 22-
'Intention of the legislature is a common but very slippery phrase, which popularly understood, may but very anything from intention embodied in positive enactment to speculative opinion as to what the Legislature probably would have meant, although there has been, an omission to enact it. In a Court of law or equity, what the legislature Intended to be done or not to be done can only be legitimately ascertained from what it has chosen to enact, either in express words or by reasonable and necessary implication. After expounding the enactment, it only remains to enforce it, notwithstanding that it may be a very generally received opinion that it does not produce the effect which the legislature intended or might with advantage be modified.'
24. It should be noticed at the outset that the section refers to recovery of a debt incurred by an agriculturist and not to recovery of a debt due from or payable By an agriculturist incurred by him after the commencement of the Act. Giving the words their plain grammatical meaning, it is enough that at the time when debt was Incurred the debtor was an agriculturist. The further condition that he should be an agriculturist on the latter date, does not flow from the plain meaning of the words contained in the section. In striking contrast to the language in Section 13, in the other provisions of the Act granting relief to the debtor, the legislature has expressly and deliberately provided that the debtor should be art agriculturist at the time when he seeks relief in a court or law. Vide Sections 19, 23 and 23-A. it cannot be readily assumed that the omission to refer to such a condition in Section 13 Is a mere slip or inadvertent mistake on the supposed view that the legislature has adopted a uniform policy throughout the framework of the Act.
25. Learned counsel for the appellant at one stage of his argument, recognised that the plain words of the section do not require that the debtor should be an agriculturist on the latter date as well. He therefore contended that the word 'debt' in the section should receive a restricted meaning and that if its natural meaning were to be given, it would result in extending the operation of the Act to cases not contemplated by the legislature. In other words, according to learned counsel, the intention of the legislature was to grant relief to indented agriculturists, only if he satisfied the conditions of the definition of 'agriculturist' on the date on which the dent was incurred as also on the date when a proceeding is instructioned to recover the debt.
He argued that in that background Section 13 should be so interpreted as to effectuate the purpose of the enactment and every effort should be made to avoid an interpretation which would defeat that intention of the legislature so clearly manifested in the other provisions of the am. He elaborated his argument by contending that Section 13 should not be divorced from the definition clause, that the scope and effect of the definition of the terms 'debt' and 'agriculturist' should be fully imported into Section 13 and that if so done, the word 'dent' in Section 13 would apply only to a debt due from an agriculturist as on the date of the suit.
26. Learned counsel for the respondent contended that from the scheme of the Act, it is impossible to discern any such general or uniform policy or object as contended by the appellant and that the word 'debt' in Section 13 is used only in its general and popular sense as merely specifying the liability sought to be enforced in a proceeding. He also contended that the legislature has not used the word 'debt' in the various provisions of the Act in such a manner as necessarily to take in the definition of the word 'agriculturist'.
27. We have first to examine the several provisions. of the Act granting relief to the debtor and determine, whether (a) the legislature has, in the framework of this. Act, laid down a clear uniform intention in the Act that. the debtor should be an agriculturist when he actually seeks relief and (b) whether a reading of Section 13 in. the background of the definition clause of the words 'debt' and 'agriculturist' necessarily requires the condition that the debtor should be an agriculturist on the latter date as well.
28. Chapter II of the Act provides for the scanning down of debts and the regulation of future rate of interest payable by a debtor. Section 7 is general in terms and It provides that all debts payable by an agriculturist at. the commencement of the Act shall be scaled down in. accordance with the provisions of chapter 11, and that no sum in excess of the amount as scaled down snail be recoverable from the debtor.
Section 8(1) provides that in respect of all debts incurred before 1-10-1932 all interest outstanding as on 1-10-1937 in favour of any creditor of an agriculturist shall be deemed to be discharged and that only the principal or such portion. thereof as may be outstanding shall be deemed to be the amount repayable, by the agriculturist. Section 9 provides that in respect of debts incurred after 1-10-1932 interest shall be calculated upto the commencement of the Act, either at the rate fixed under the contract, or at 5 per cent per annum simple interest whichever is less, and that after giving credit for all sums paid towards interest the debtor will be liable only for such interest calculated at the rate mentioned above.
Section 10(1) provides that a debtor should be an agriculturist on 1-10-1937. Section 10 (2) provides the liabilities, which are exempted from the operation of Sections. 8 and 9. Section 12 provides that whatever amount remains payable and due by the debtor after the debts have been scaled down under the provisions of this Act shall carry interest at the rate previously applicable under the law of contract of 6 1/4 per cent per annum simple interest whichever is less. Then comes Section 13 which provides that in respect or debts incurred by an agriculturist after the commencement of the Act the rate of interest shall not exceed 6 1/4 per cent per annum simple interest.
Section 19 provides for the scaling down of decrees passed before the commencement of the Act. Section 19-A provides the machinery by which a Court can determine the amount due and payable by an agriculturist after the scaling down of the debt in accordance with the provisions of the Act either at the instance of the debtor or of the creditor. Sections 23 and 23-A provide for the setting aside of a sale held in execution of decrees obtained against a debtor.
29. On an analysis of these provisions, it is impossible to hold that the legislature has followed any uniform rule or principle regarding the status of the debtor at the time when the matter comes to Court. The significance and the importance of the difference in the language employed in Section 13 and Sections 19, 19-A, 23 and 23-A is clearly brought out in the Bench judgment in : AIR1942Mad726 in which the question directly arose whether the debtor should be an agriculturist at the time of the proceeding. Wadsworth J. delivering the judgment of the Bench, observed as follows at p. 499 (of Mad LJ): (at p. 72/ of AIR):
'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 upto 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.'
This statement of the law has been applied in a later case in 1919 1 MLJ 658 : AIR 1949 Mad 814 by Rajagopalan J. Vide also Venkata Subbayya v. K. venkataseshagiri Rao, 1955 1 Andh WR 70. The question is whether there is anything in principle or authority as to why this statement of the law in : AIR1942Mad726 which has held the field for over 20 years should not be accepted as correct.
30. On this aspect of the matter, the argument of learned counsel for the appellant was that the main scheme and the basis under which relief is granted to a debtor Under Sections 8 and 9 is completely different from the scheme provided in Section 13. He argued that under Sections o and 9 there is an automatic reduction or extinguishment of a portion or the whole of the liability of a debtor, and that different considerations would apply to Section 13. Relying upon the recent Full Bench decision in Muthuswami Odayar v. Savirimuthu Odayar 1963 1 MLJ 171 he contended that a contract to pay Interest at a rate higher than that mentioned In Section 13 is not per se illegal, that it is open to the debtor to pay at the contract rate and that it is only it any proceeding is initiated that the occasion for invoking Section 13 would arise and that until then, the rate of interest fixed under the contract is fully subsiting and operative between the parties, without any reduction of extinguishment.
31. I see no force in this contention, whether it is Under Sections 8 and 9 or Under Section 13, the machinery for griming relief is essentially the process of scaling down and scaling down only. The foundation of relief Under Sections 8 and 9 is not solely based upon the conception of wiping out or automatic extinguishment of a portion of the liability. This is only one aspect of the matter. In the matter of debts covered by Sections 8 and 9 it has been held in several cases that subsequent renewals and execution on ' fresh bonds by the debtor after settlement of accounts ignoring the benefit of scaling down Under Sections 8 and 9 would be binding upon him, and the debtor will not be allowed to reopen those transactions thereby emphasising that there is a continuous and subsisting process of scanning down involved in the application of Sections 8 and 9. It is unnecessary to burden the judgment by a citation of the numerous cases which have arisen in the application of Sections 8 and 9 under various aspects.
32. I only wish to emphasise that the rationale underlying the stream of case law in which it has been held that renewals and settlements of accounts by the debtor waiving or in derogation of the provisions of Sections 8 and 9 are binding upon the debtor cannot be reconciled with Sections 8 and 9 on the theory of an automatic reduction or extinguishment of the liability. If there is an automatic wiping out there cannot be renewals and settlements of accounts.
33. Before I proceed further it is necessary to advert to the close inter-relation between Sections 8 and 9 and Section 19-A of the Act.
Section 19-A as amended earner, provides the machinery for the Court to determine the liability of the debtor after scaling down the debt Section 19-A Sub-section 1 is clear and unambiguous, it is enough if the debtor is an agricultures on 1-10-1937 and 22-3-1938, even though the application for relief may be filed by the debtor years later, Under Section 19-A no application shall be presented or be maintainable if a suit for recovery of the debt is pending; similarly no Court shall entertain a suit by the creditor it an application Under Section 19-A had already been filed. The section provided that after an order is passed determining the amount payable by the debtor a decree can be passed for that amount on payment of the requisite court-tee, including the court fee so paid in the amount so decreed. In their actual working and operation the provisions for scaling down contained in Sections 8 and 9 are mutually complementary to the provisions contained in Section 19-A constituting one integral scheme. It should be obvious and it stands to common sense that whether it is a suit in which the machinery of Sections 8 and 9 is applied or whether it is an application Under Section 19-A in which the same machinery is invoked, the debtor should get the same measure of relief, if therefore Under Section 19-A, it is not necessary for the debtor Still to continue to be an agriculturist on the date of the application, it necessarily follows, that if a Suit were to be filed the position must be the same.
34. It may be that because the matter has come to Court and resulted in a decree the legislature has delebrately provided that the debtor should be a agriculturist even on the later date Under Section 19, 23 and 23-A But, whatever may be the reason the legislature has made in clear terms specific provisions to that effect. These aspects of the matter are sufficient in my opinion, to repel the argument of learned counsel for the appellant that there is any general and uniform intention disclosed in the provisions of the Act to cut down the plan meaning of the words in Section 13. In short, I may as well refer to the following trenchant observations of Jessel M. R. in Bentlay v. Kotherham, (1876) 4 Ch. D. 588
'There is no doubt a rule, applicable to Acts of Parliament as well as to other legal instruments, that you may control the plainest words by reference to the context. But then, as has been said very often, you must nave a context even more plain, or at least as plain as the words to be controlled.'
35. Having thus disposed of the appellants arguments about the general scheme or policy of the Act, I shall consider whether any special or particular significance is to be attached because of the use of the word 'debt' in Section 13.
In Maxwell on Interpretation of Statutes, 11th Edn. page 30, the law relating to the use of the definition section in the interpretation of the provisions of a Statute is stated as follows:
'Even where an Act contains a definition section it does not necessarily apply in all the contexts in which a defined word may be found. It a defined expression is used in a context, which the definition will not fit, the context must be allowed to prevail over the 'artificial conceptions' of the definition, clause, and the word must be given its ordinary meaning,'
On the same aspect the law is stated at page 93 of (sic) on Statutes in these words:
'But this rule of construction is never allowed to alter the meaning of what is of itself dear and explicit; it is only when, as the Court said in Palmer's case, any part of an Act of Parliament is penned obscurely and when other passages can elucidate the obscurity, that recourse ought to be had to such context for that purpose'; for, as the Judges said in the House of Lords in Warbutton v. Loveland, (1832) 2 Dow & Cl. 480, no rule of construction can require that when the words of one part of a statute convey a clear meaning it shall be necessary to introduce another part of a statute for the purpose of controlling or diminishing the efficacy of the first part.'
The tact, that in the definition, of an 'agriculturist' the words 'has a saleable interest' connoting a present interest, are used, in my opinion does not advance the appellant's contention, because they are clearly referable to the status of the debor as an agriculturist when the debt is incurred. In my opinion, the use of the present tense in the definition clause only signifies that the debtor should be an agriculturist on the crucial date, me present tense 'has a saleable interest' has been used only to denote that the status of an agriculturist at some earlier point of time will not avail. I fail to see how it carries with it the idea that throughout the same status should continue.
In a Full Bench decision of the Allahabad High Court, Ganeshilal v. Shiamlal, : AIR1943All190 , the question arose under the analogous provisions of a statute in pari materia i.e., the U. P. Agriculturists Relief Act, Act XXVII of 1934. the question arose whether the debtor should be an agriculturist an the date of the suit or on the date when the debt was incurred, and it was held that it was not necessary that the debtor should he an agriculturist on the date of the suit. The following head note clearly brings out the Idea, touching the importance of the use of the present tense In the definition clause;
'Where a definition is expressed in the present tense and without any qualification, the Court has to look at the Act as a whole and more particularly at the context in which the word occurs in order to ascertain the point of time to which the definition is referable......A debtor who claims the benefit of Section 30 must show that he was an agriculturist at the date of the advance. Hence for a person falling Under Section 2(2) (f) the criterion is whether he was assessed to income tax for the year in which the loan was advanced and to what amount he was. thus assessed.'
Reference may be made to the following observations in that judgment at p. 191:
'The controversy before us is as regards the point of time at which the law requires that the debtor should have been an agriculturist. Mr. Jagdish Sarup for the respondent relies inter alia on the tact that the (sic) and the proviso are in the present tense but we do not think that this circumstance necessarily leads to the conclusion which he asks us to draw, where a definition is expressed in the present tense and without any qualification the Court has to look at the Act as a whole and more particularly at the context in which the word occurs in order to ascertain the point of time to which the definition is referable.'
36. The further question still remains as to how far the use of the word 'debt' in Section 13 should take its full colour and meaning from the definition clause. Here again the argument of learned counsel overlooks that me word 'debt' has not been used in the several provisions of the Act necessarily meaning a debt payable by an agriculturist. On the other hand, it clearly appears that the word 'debt' has been generally used, simply to specially and denote the pecuniary liability of the debtor and whenever it is intended to specify the liability of a debtor as an agriculturist the legislature has taken care to use sufficient inseparable words to bring out that idea. Reference may be made to Sections 11, 15, 15-A, apart from Sections 19-A, 23 and 23-A referred to earlier. Again a careful reading of Sections 8, 9 and 12 shows that the word 'debt' is used only for denoting the pecuniary liability.
Let us take for instance a suit filed in 1944 to recover a debt incurred prior to October 1932. By reason of Section 8(1) of the Act, the automatic extinquishment or wiping cut or the interest is only the interest as outstanding on 1-10-1937. The liability for future interest, i.e., for the intervening period from October 1937 till 1944, when the suit is. filed has to be determined only Under Section 12 at the statutory rate. If the same argument of Section 13 about the use of the word 'debt' therein were to be accepted, it might well be argued that after the coming into forces of the Act a debtor could obtain relief of reduced rate of interest Under Section 12 only if he is an agriculturist in 1944i when the matter comes before Court, in other words, 'all debts' in Section 12 can be argued as meaning 'an debts payable by an agriculturist' by reason of the definition clause. Such an argument cannot be advanced is (sic) from Section 19-A. I am therefore of the opinion that the 'debt' is not used in the several sections as meaning 'debts' payable by an agriculturist at the time when the matter comes to Court.
37. Even though decisions rendered on the interpretation of other Statutes may not be decisive or in pari materia I would like to refer to the decision in London Brick Co. v. Robinson (an infant), 1943 A. C. 341, in which a somewhat similar argument was advanced but repelled. In that case the question arose Under Section 8 or the Workmen's Compensation Act, 1925. A workman died as a result of an accident in We course of his employment, leaving a widow and an infant child The widow recovered compensation under the Fatal Accidents Act and so she was debarred from making any claim under the Workmen's Compensation Act. The infant child applled Under Section 8 of the Workmen's Compensation Act for payment of the lump sum as provided there in. In that Act Section 8 provided that the children will be entitled to the children's allowance, if the workman had died leaving a widow wholly or partially dependent upon his earnings. the argument was that as the widow had obtained compensation under the Fatal Accidents Act, the words it the workman leaves a widow' in Section 8 should be read as it the workman leaves a widow who is claiming compensation under the Act.' At page 348 Viscount Simon observed as follows;
'...... but I agree with the court of appeal that the words which we have to interpret are not in themselves obscure or ambiguous, and there is no justification for construing the phrase 'if the workman leaves a widow as though it ran 'if the workman leaves a widow who is claiming compensation under the Act'.
At p. 350 Lord Thankerton made the following observation:-o
'Counsel for the appellants admitted that his construction required the words 'leaves a widow' to be read as meaning 'leaves a widow who is claiming under this Act, and the same construction would equally apply to the words 'or other members of his family'. I can find no justification for the insertion of the additional words by the court, as the words of the section are clear and unambiguous'.
Adopting the same reasoning I am of opinion the word 'debt' used in Section 13 is plain, simple and un qualified and I do not find sufficient context to read it as 'a debt payable by an agriculturist'. When the words are clear and unambiguous it is not a sound rule of construction to interpret the words in the light of an alleged background of the statute and to attempt to say that then interpretation conforms to that background. It only remains for me to wind up this portion of the discussion by referring to the statement of the law in Crales on statutes page 8/:-
'But the consequences of any other mode of construction would be to defeat the purposes of the Legislature. And in Lathama v. Lafone (1867) 2 Ex. jus 121, Martin B said '! trunk the proper rule for construing this statute is to adhere to its words strictly; and it is my strong belief that, by reasoning long drawn interences and remote consequences, the courts have pronounced many judgments affecting debts and actions in a manner that the persons who originated and prepared the Act never dreamed of. And in Coxhead v. Mullis, 1878-3 C. P. D. 439, Lord Coleridge C. J. said, the tendency of my own mind.........always is to suppose that Parliament meant what Parliament has clearly said, and not to limit plain words in an Act of parliament by consideration of policy, if it be policy, as to which minds may differ and as to which decisions may vary'.
38. I have so tar dealt with the points urged by learned counsel for the appellant in support of his arguments. There is However one very important aspect . of the matter to which the attention of learned counsel was also drawn in the course of the arguments. in my opinion that aspect clinches the issue against the contention advanced by the appellant. Under the scheme of the Act, a debtor can get relief as an agriculturist only it two main conditions are concurrently satisfied; (a) (Positively) a debtor should have a saleable interest in any agricultural or horticultural lands; (b) (Negatively) he should not suffer the disqualification of being an assessee to income-tax for the two relevant financial years or be assessed to property tax. for the relevant four half years immediately preceding 1st October 1937. :
39. Seeing that the definition of agriculturist in Section 3 (2) which is referable to the state of affairs exiting at the commencement of the Act cannot possibly apply to a period after the commencement of the Act the legislature has specially inserted Explanations 1 and 2 making the necessary substitutions in Section 3(11), with the result that the debtor should have been assessed to income-tax for two financial years immediately preceding the date on which ma debt was incurred or assessed to property tax for four had years immediately preceding thereto. The aforesaid Explanations in Section 13 unmistakably show that the Legislature regarded the date on which the debt was incurred as the only crucial date. It, however, the intention of the legislature was that the date of the suit was also another equally crucial date in the sense that the debtor should be an agriculturist on that date, it would have certainly made a corresponding provision in the explanations in regard thereto. The absence of any such date referable to we latter date cannot be explained on any other hypothesis except that the Legislature did not consider the later date as of any consequence or relevance at all. It cannot us denied that the basic idea which runs through the enure scheme of the Act is that the debtors who are assessed to income-tax or property tax during the relevant period on not require and should not get the benefit of the Act, i.e., they are not regarded as 'indebted agriculturists in respect of a post-Act debt a debtor may own an interest in agricultural lands but at the same time be a big business magnate paying heavy income tax at the time of the sun It is obvious that under the scheme of the Act he must get no benefit. But yet Under Section 13 as there is no data rot the disqualification at the time of the suit he will be entitled to the protection. Such a situation would lead to absurd results and great anomalies if the contention of the appellant were to be accepted. I am clear in my mind that: the legislature never intended such whimsical results.
40. The question also arises about the status of the debtor in the interim period. Let us fake an illustration of a debt being incurred in 1943, and a suit being filed in 1954. It may be that the debtor may be an agriculturist in some years but not an agriculturist in some years with indiscriminate gaps during this period of 12 years. How is the debtor's status to be determined and how is the relief to be worked out? If the appellant's argument is accepted the debtor is entitled] to the benefit of Section 13 during the particular years when he satisfied the definition of an agriculturist. In this very case itself the debt was incurred in 1947 and the suit was filed in 1957. It floes not stand to common sense that in respect of the same debtor certain years the debtor should be liable to pay at the statutory rate of interest and for certain years at the higher rate namely the contractual rate. I am not prepared to accept the appellant's argument as it involves a duty upon the court to embark upon an enquiry about the varying activities of a debtor from stage to stage and period to period i.e., between the date of the debt and the date of the suit. The reasonable and proper construction of Section 13 is that the legislature has fixed the date of the debt as the crucial date, to fix the measure of relief and the quantum of liability once for all without there being any fluctuations by reason of the change of circumstances.
41. This aspect of the matter touching the taxation provisos came up for decision in Devarayan Chettiar v. Subramania Iyer : AIR1941Mad829 . In that case the question, arose whether in scaling down a debt of the year 1932, which was subsequently renewed, Under Section 8 Expranation II, the debtor should have been an agriculturist even on the date when the debt was incurred. The learned Judges held that it was not necessary but that it was sufficient if the debtor was an agriculturist on 1-10-1937 and 22-3-1938. The learned Judges while adverting to the impossibility of applying the disqualifying provisions relating to assessment of income-tax and property tax in 1932, when the debt was incurred disserved as fellow at page 260:
'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 raw, 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 nave Been an agriculturist at all. That is to say it involved the application of a different criterion for the status of an agriculturist to that contemplated in the Act by rendering inoperative the taxation provisos'.
The rationale underlying these observations clearly apply to the Instant case.
42. In : (1940)2MLJ174 It was held that to grant relief Under Section 9 the prior debt must satisfy the definition of a 'debit' and therefore should have been a debt due from an agriculturist even at Its inception. The scope of the observations in this decision was however explained by the same learned Judges in : AIR1941Mad829 referred to earlier in which the learned Judges held that it was not necessary that the debtor should be an agriculturist on the date when the debt was originally incurred. Reference may Be made to the following observation in that case at
P. 259 : (of Mad LJ) : (at p. 830 Of AIR):
'We held in : (1940)2MLJ174 , that the explanation to Section 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 due from an. agriculturist, at an. There are, however, very serious difficulties in the way of adopting this view'.
I may refer next to one other feature which, runs through the entire scheme of the Act. An analysis of the various provisions would show that the scheme of the Act is to fix the measure of relief available to the debtor on the date when the debt is incurred and avoid altogether changes and fluctuations.
43. In Kamala Bai Ammal v. Ineetachari : AIR1951Mad345 it was held that Under Section 4 (b) of the Act to get an exemption it would be enough if the debt was due to a woman on 1-101937 provided that she did not possess property of the value mentioned in that clause, and that it did not matter mat on the date of the suit the debt was claimed by some other person claiming through that woman, Subba Rao J. observed as follows:
'Indeed, there would be obvious anomalies even it we accepted the argument of the learned counsel. a creditor may be a woman on 1-10-1937. She may assign the debt to a man who in his turn may assign it to a woman. Assignments may be made even pending a suit. We do not think that the exemption should be made to depend upon such changing circumstances.'
This reasoning, in my opinion, applies with full force to the interpretation of Section 13. The amount which the creditor is entitled to recover should not be made to depend upon the fluctuating activities and the changing circumstances of the debtor, of his possessing and losing, and again regaining the status of an agriculturist from time to time between the incurring of the debt and the tiling of the sun. thus principle has been applied in cases arising under Section 4 (d) of the Act. Section 4 (d) exempts a mortgage debt from the operation of the Act if the security is of a house property alone in a Municipality.
In Muthukaruppan Chettiar v. subblah Chettiar : AIR1942Mad34 , the mortgage debt was incurred in 1931 on the security of a house property situated within a municipality. subsequently some agricultural lands were also added as additional security. It was held that the material date was the date on which the original security was created and not the date on which the question of scaling down was raised in a proceeding in court.
The same view was followed in Subbarayulu setti v. Venkataramanamma, : AIR1953Mad540 holding that the material date on which the question has to be decided was the date on which the security was created on the house property and not a subsequent date.
44. This principle that the crucial date is the date of the incurring of the debt has again been applied in proceedings to recover balance of unpaid purchase price. Vide Varadaraja Perumal v. Planimuthu, : AIR1941Mad118 . Again in Umnapanamu v. Imperial Bank of India, AIR 1954 Mad 75, a Bench held that in order to determine whether Section 4 (e) applies or not the crucial date is the date when the debt was incurred regardless of the subsequent changes. It was held that if the debt was originally held in favour of the scheduled bank the debtor cannot claim the benefit of scaling down merely because at the time of the proceeding some other person, the plaintiff, had taken the place or the scheduled bank, the original creditor. The learned Judges reviewed the entire case law touching on an me analogous aspects of the matter and held that the intention of the legislature was to fix the liability of the debtor on the date when the debt was incurred, so that there won't be any fluctuations by reason of changes either on the part of the creditor or on the part of the debtor. It is unnecessary to refer to other cases dealing with similar aspects.
45. My conclusions therefore are: (a) in respect of debts incurred after the Act, the Act has not made any provision for the necessary data to determine whether a debtor is an agriculturist on the date of the suit mere by unmistakably pointing to the conclusion, that the legislature does not regard the date of the suit as of any relevance at all; (b) There is no uniform policy indicated in the Act that the debtor should be an agriculturist on the date of the suit; (c) Equally there is no warrant for the view that the word 'debt' is used in the several sections in the Act as necessarily meaning 'debts payable by an agriculturist'; (d) The entire frame work of the Act clearly manifests the intention of the legislature that there should be no fluctuations and changes in the measure or quantum of relief available to the debtor and with that end in view the date of the debt has been fixed as the crucial date.
46. I therefore with respect agree with the view taken by Verkatadri J. and answer the question propounded in the negative.