(1) This revision proceeding involves a question of great interest, upon which there are few authorities, the present context of this question being the interpretation of S. 17(4) of the Madras Buildings (Lease and Rent Control) Act, 1960. It may be convenient, at the outset itself, to set forth the sub-sections.
"If the controller on enquiry finds that the tenant has been in enjoyment of the amenities and that they were cut off or withheld by the landlord without just or sufficient cause or if the landlord was in any way responsible for the amenities being cut off, or withheld, he shall make an order directing the landlord to restore such amenities"
(2) The facts of the present matter are not in dispute. One K. V. Rajaram (first respondent here) was a tenant of one of the rooms in premises No. 81, C. N. Krishnaswami Road, Triplicane, Madras. The history of this building is as follows. It originally belonged to the estate of a certain Audikesavalu Naidu, and it vested in the Official Trustee, who is the second respondent here, and who is not contesting these proceedings in 1943. Admittedly there are twenty one rooms in the building occupied by ten tenants, all of whom are members of the Brahmin community. The petitioner before the Rent Controller (K. V. Rajaram) was the tenant of rooms Nos. 8 and 9. Room No. 1 was in the tenancy of S. Subramaniam, the revision petitioner. Room No. 21 which is the focus of the dispute, is adjacent to room No. 1, with an inter-connecting door. This room No. 21 was subsequently allotted by the Official Trustee to S. Subramaniam (revision petitioner), as additional accommodation for a slight enhancement of rent.
(3) The simple case of the petitioner before the Rent Controller was that room No. 21 was an "amenity" within the scope of S. 17(4), enjoyed in common by all the tenants of this building, and that the allotment of this room to S. Subramaniam (revision petitioner) as additional accommodation, has effectively deprived all the other tenants of the enjoyment of this "amenity". The learned Rent Controller went into the facts of the evidence at some length, and came to the conclusion that this room was an "amenity", to be enjoyed in common by all the tenants of this building; he ordered the landlord (Official Trustee) to restore this room as an "amenity" to all the tenants under S. 17(4) of the Act. The Official Trustee himself took the matter in appeal to the Second Judge of the Court of Small Causes, functioning as an Appellate Authority under the Act. The judgment in appeal refers to one citation now available upon this particular point, Ullal Dinkar Rao v. Ratna Bai, AIR 1958 Mys 77 to which I shall make reference a little later. The order of the Rent Controller was confirmed and the appeal dismissed. The revision proceeding is filed by S. Subramaniam, the tenant to whom the room was allotted as additional accommodation. The Official Trustee, as earlier mentioned, has not participated in this proceeding.
(4) There are only two simple questions for determination. The word "amenity" is not defined in Madras Act 18 of 1960. Hence, the problem arises, what exactly is an "amenity"? The Explanation to S. 17 states that the expression "amenity" as used in the section, includes "supply of water, electricity, passages, staircases, light, lavatories, lifts and conservancy or sanitary services". There are two points to be noticed here. Firstly, the Explanation, in its terms, is inclusive, and does not define the expression 'amenities'. Secondly, may be permissible to contend that because such strictly essential facilities, like water, electricity, light and lavatories are included by a statutory explanation, the legislature desired to leave no room for a possible argument that the expression "amenities" will not normally include actual necessities of that kind. The related question is, what is the precise nature of the "amenity" furnished by room No. 21, on the present facts? The record is here clear. This room appears to have been segregated for use by the ladies of the tenements, as a separate accommodation affording privacy during certain days in a month, when, by customary observance and social habit, these ladies wished to be separate. On other occasions, probably when the room was not being so used by any lady in the building, it was also used as a "quarantine" room for any case of infectious illness. Sometimes, it was used as a room for confinement and delivery; it has also been used, for a very short time, as a room where a dead body was kept pending the removal for the funeral. In other words, all the tenants would appear to have experienced a great need for a separate room of this kind, for essential and common purposes. By mutual consent and usage, it was so segregated and being utilised. The record is overwhelmingly clear on this point.
(5) The question is, whether this kind of user would render the room an "amenity" within the scope of S. 17(4) of the Act. It is interesting to note that the very same question arose with regard to a bathroom and a cowshed in AIR 1958 Mys 77. The learned Judge (Somnath Iyer J.) referred to a passage in 3 Corpus Juris Secundum, 1044, being a definitive description of the word "amenity". The relevant part of this paragraph reads:
"........such circumstances.... as enhance the pleasantness or desirability of an estate for purposes of residence, or contribute to the pleasure and enjoyment of the occupants, 'rather than to their indispensable needs'.......(emphasis mine (here into ' ').
(6) The learned Judge pointed out that whether anything claimed as an 'amenity" would or would not be so, would have to be decided on the facts of each case. He also referred to a decision of this Court which has been briefly reported, namely, Narayana v. Appukutti, 1955-2 Mad LJ (SN) 31, in which Ramaswami, J. took the view that a bath was an "amenity" within the meaning of the Act. He came to the conclusion that a bathroom was such an amenity, as well as a cow-shed. The mere fact that it might also from an indispensable need does not take away from it the character of "amenity". In other words an "amenity" is generally something which enhances the desirability or pleasantness o the property, in the context of its enjoyment; thus, it is different from something which is merely a strict necessity, but a necessity could also be and "amenity", depending on the circumstances of the case. We must take it that the Legislature has enacted the explanation to S. 17, that I have earlier extracted, so that it may be clear beyond doubt that such essential utilities and services, as water or sanitary conveniences, should also be regarded as an "amenity" for the purpose of relief to the tenant under S.17. in the present case, we have a converse instance of a spare room, which is not a necessity at all, in any sense. The tenants cannot claim that the landlord should provide such a spare room, for privacy and segregation to ladies during certain occasions in the month, or that such a room should be made available for its rare use as a "quarantine" room, or as a room for confinement and delivery. But the question is, in the light of the established user of this room, is it not an "amenity" within the meaning of the Act?
(7) As regards a satisfactory definition, in the dictionary sense, I find that the most clear and comprehensive definition to be that available is in Funk and Wagnall's New Standard Dictionary of the English language. It runs as follows:
"Amenity: agreeableness; as of situation, climate condition; disposition or manner (also usually in the plural) anything characterised by such agreeableness; as the amenities of association. By extension, such appurtenances to a home as central heating, refrigeration, electric elevations, telephones, hot water service delivery etc."
(8) In Burrows' Words and Phrases, Judicially defined, Volume I, Lopes, C.J. made the following interesting observations upon what might constitute an architectural amenity in Re: Gerard (Lord) Settled estate, 1893-3 Ch 252:
"I do not think that the legislature intended that the capital money was to be employed in respect of matters which I will describe as mere amenities; matters of mere luxury not, for instance, in the indulgence of architectural taste, and many of the things in this case really may be summarised under matters involving architectural taste. If I am correct in that view, it disposes of several of the things in respect of which capital moneys are sought to be applied here. It disposes, for instance, of the chapel: it disposes of the towers, it disposes of the wings and it disposes of the vestibule, for, to my mind, there are all matters of architectural amenity"
(9) In Maxwell on the Interpretation of Statutes, 11th Edn., p. 275 the principle of construction, or the canon is set forth in the following form:
"The effect of the rule of strict construction might almost be summed up in the remark that, where an equivocal word or ambiguous sentence leaves a reasonable doubt if its meaning which the canons of interpretation fail to solve, the benefit of the doubt should be given to the subject and against the legislature which has failed to explain itself."
(10) In the present context, I am inclined to feel that the omission to furnish a comprehensive definition of "amenity" or "amenities" in the Act itself, is significant, and revelatory of the intention of the legislature not to narrow down the expression to certain categories alone, or to one class of cases. The inclusive character of the explanation also points to the same inference. On the record here, I have no doubt that the segregated user of this room for the beneficial purposes that I have already described, renders it an "amenity", namely, something which enhances the value of the tenancies of the building, and renders such tenancies agreeable and pleasant. It is indeed possible to speculate upon many instances that might occur to the mind. For instance, would an open terrace, at which the lodgers were accustomed to take the air and enjoy the benefit of unconfined space, be an "amenity" of this kind? Would a small garden constitute such an "amenity" The obvious answer is that no rigid rule can be laid down; it will entirely depend upon the history and facts of the individual case. I am satisfied, in the present case, that the courts below were right, and that the revision petition has no merits. It is accordingly dismissed: I make no order as to costs.
(11) Petition dismissed.