1. The petitioner sued the Prattipad Local Board to recover a sum which he alleged had been illegally distrained for non-payment of house-tax. The lower Court dismissed the suit. The question whether the distraint was legal or not depends on a construction of the material provisions of the Madras Local Boards Act and in particular of Rules 32 and 33, Schedule 4 of the Act. Act 14 of 1920 was repealed and re-enacted by the Madras Local Boards Act of 1030. The new Act by Section 100 prescribes that the house-tax should be levied every half-year and should, save as otherwise prescribed in Schedule 4, be paid by the owner within 30 days after the commencement of the half-year. This provision is not substantially different from Section 100 of the old Act. But the old Act contained no rules regarding the period in which the Local Board could recover the tax due; whereas Rules 32 and 33, Schedule 4, contain provisions for recovering the tax by a distress and fixes the limit within which that remedy for non-payment can be exercised. Rule 32(1) requires that when the house-tax has not been paid the President of the Local Board shall serve upon the person from whom it is due, a bill for the sum due before proceeding under Rule 33. And Rule 33(1) says that if the amount due is not paid within 15 days after service of the bill, the President may recover by distraint.
2. Rule 32(3) however provides that no tax for any half-year shall be payable by any person unless the bill is served upon such person either within the half-year in which the tax was payable or in the succeeding half-year. Now what happened here is that house-tax for the year, April 1930 to March 1931, had not been paid by the petitioner. The new Act came into force on 26th August 1930. In October 1932 the Board served a demand notice on the petitioner to pay the tax, and no payment having been made, the amount was collected by a distraint on 5th January 1933. The short question is whether Rules 32 and 33 are retrospective. If they are, then the distraint was not leviable in respect of a tax which had been in arrears for more than the period fixed in Rule 32(3). It has been strenuously contended on behalf of the respondent-Local Board that the amendment made by the new Act affected an existing right. Section 235 of the Act, it has been argued, reserved the right of the Board to recover arrears of tax which had already fallen due before the new Act came into force. And applying the well-known principle of construction that an Act is prima facie not retrospective it has been claimed that the amendment cannot displace the existing right of the Board to recover the tax in arrears. But what is the right It seems to me it is no more than a right of action to recover the sum due as a debt. The rule to be applied has been stated by A. L. Smith, L.J., in The Ydun (1899) Pro. Dn 236 :
When a new enactment deals with rights of action, unless it is so expressed in the Act, an existing right of action is not taken away.. But where the enactment deals with procedure only, unless the contrary is expressed, the enactment applies to all actions, whether commenced before or after the passing of the Act.
3. The right of suit is expressly reserved to the Board by Rule 33(3). Therefore, there is no interference with the Board's' right of action. But the new rule introduces a new procedure. It prescribes a new period of limitation, which of course is a matter of procedure. The presumption therefore applies in favour of this provision having a retrospective effect. For these reasons I must allow the Civil Revision Petition with costs of this petition. The suit must be remanded for decision on the merits. The costs of the proceedings in the lower Court will abide the result of the suit.