1. This civil revision petition raises questions relating to proviso (c) to Section 3 (ii) of the Madras Agriculturists' Belief Act. The petitioners applied under Section 19 to scale down a decree. It was held that they were not agriculturists by reason of their having been assessed within the two years preceding the 1st October, 1937, to property tax in respect of buildings of an annual rental value exceeding Rs. 600.
2. The facts established are that at the beginning of 1936, the petitioners were the owners of properties which stood in the name of somebody else in the municipal register and were valued at,Rs. 15,000, which according to the method of calculation laid down in the Act would imply a rental value of Rs. 750. On the basis of this valuation, tax was actually demanded from the petitioners for the second half year of 1935-36. The petitioners filed an application Ex. C, dated 15th February, 1936, wherein they prayed the Commissioner to cancel the tax on the ground that two of the buildings were unoccupied. On 20th May, 1936, no orders having apparently been passed on Ex. C, the petitioners paid the tax at the rate demanded. On 15th June, 1936, the Commissioner appears to have inspected the premises; at any rate he passed an order on Ex. C, directing the re-valuation of the properties at a rate which would bring down the capital value to Rs. 4,500 and the rental value to Rs. 135. For the rest of the period contemplated in proviso (c) the petitioners paid property-tax on this reduced valuation. The only arguments of substance which have been placed before us relate firstly to the date with effect from which the rental value is to be calculated under proviso C and secondly to 'the question whether the petitioners can be said to have been assessed when the properties stood in the municipal register in the name of somebody else.
3. The first argument is based on the precise language of proviso C. This proviso excludes a person from the category of an 'agriculturist' if he has within the two years immediately preceding the 1st October, 1937, been assessed to property or house tax provided that the aggregate annual rental value of such buildings and lands is not less than Rs. 600. Emphasis is laid on the tense of the verb 'is' in the subordinate clause and we are asked to hold that this valuation relates not to the period covered by the assessments in question, but to the date when the Act came into force, namely, the 22nd March, 1938. It is no doubt possible to read the clause in this way and perhaps it may be said that a purist in the English language would so read it. When the main verb, is in the past and the verb in the subordinate clause is in the present, a strict grammatical interpretation of the subordinate clause would relate the subordinate verb to the time at which the writer is actually writing. But it cannot be denied that the tenses in subordinate clauses in English are frequently used-otherwise than according to the strictest rules of grammar and it seems to us that to apply the strict grammatical interpretation to proviso C would make proviso C mean something which clearly the Legislature never intended. Each of the provisos A, B and C relates to the exclusion from the category of agriculturists of persons who pay some form of taxation during the period immediately preceding the time when this Act was under discussion, the rate at which the tax was paid indicating that the payer is a person of some wealth apart from his agricultural income. 01.-A relates to the payment of income-tax in either of the two financial years ending 31st March, 1938, which tax would be estimated on the basis of the income for the years ending 31st March, 1937. 01. B is based on the payment of profession-tax within the two years preceding the 1st October, 1937, on the basis of an income above a certain specified rate. 01. C also appears to be based on assessment to property or house tax within the same two years and it seems to us reasonable to conclude that when the Legislature laid down a minimum rental value, on the basis of which the property was assessed, as disqualifying the person assessed from claiming to be an agriculturist, they had reference to the period for which the tax was imposed and not to some subsequent date outside the period of the assessment. If the view contended for were accepted, it would result in the position that a person, whose assessment was on, a very low rental value during the whole of the two years, might be disqualified by the subsequent construction of an elaborate building on his property for- which he never' paid tax at all. Surely if the Legislature had intended the criterion to be the mere possession of house property of a certain value at the time when the Act came into force, it would not have cumbered the clause by reference to the assessment during the two years preceding the 1st October, 1937. We are therefore of opinion that the verb 'is' in the final clause must be read as being equivalent to 'was' and that the period during which the rental value is to be not less than Rs. 600 must be the same two years within which the assessment is to disqualify the person who claims to be an agriculturist. Seeing that in this case there was an assessment during the first half year of this period on a rental value exceeding Rs. 600, primes facie it would seem that the petitioners are disqualified.
4. It is, however, contended that the petitioners are not so disqualified because the property stood in the municipal registers in the name of one Venkatappayya. It is admitted that the petitioners owned the property during the whole of the relevant period, that they regarded themselves as responsible for the tax, that the tax was demanded from them, that on their representation the assessment was reduced and that they are the persons who actually paid the tax. On such admitted facts it seems to us impossible to hold that the petitioners are not the persons who were assessed to property tax in respect of this property, even though the municipal demand register had not been brought upto date by the substitution of their names for that of some former owner.
5. The petition is therefore dismissed with costs.