1. The tenant is the petitioner herein. The respondent herein filed Petition No. 1043 of 1974 before the Special Deputy Collector (Revenue Court) Tiruvarur, seeking resumption of agricultural land measuring 1.21 acres lying in S. Nos. 148/2, 166/1 and 135/6 of Thattathimulai village Nannilam taluk, for his personal cultivation, under S. 4 -AA (3) of the Tamil Nadu Cultivating Tenants Protection Act, 1955. The respondent was serving in the Armed Forces from 17-10-1962 to 31-8-1967. The suit lands were purchased by him by a registered document in Bo. 761/66 D/- 10-6-1966. After his discharge from the Army on 31-8-1967, the respondent wanted to have personal cultivation of the lands he purchased on 10-6-1966. In order to get the resumption of the lands, the respondent filed a petition under Section 4-AA of the Act. The petitioner herein contended that the respondent was not a 'landlord' on the date of his joining the Armed Forces; that he became a landlord only in 1966, that he has no facility of cultivation in the village and that therefore the petition for resumption should be dismissed.
2. The Revenue Court, overruling the objections of the tenant (who is the petitioner herein) ordered resumption of the lands by the respondent herein. To revise the said order of the Revenue Court, the tenant has preferred this revision petition.
3. Mohan, J. before whom the revision petition came, in the course of his order, interpreting sub-sec. (3) of S. 4 -AA of the Act, observed that the words 'landlord who is enrolled as a member of the Armed Forces' (occurring therein) do merely qualify the landlord, but that does not mean to state that at the time when he is enrolled as a member of the Armed Forces, he should be a 'landlord'. This view of his, Mohan, J. felt will be in conflict with the view expressed by Ramaprasada Rao, J. (as he then was) in C. R. P. No. 2156 of 1975. Ramaprasada Rao, J. (as he then was) field the view that sub-see. (3) of S. 4 -AA makes it clear that on the date when a person joins the Defence Services, he should be a 'landlord' within the meaning of the Act, and then only he has the right to get resumption under sub-see. (3) of Section 4 -AA. Since Mohan, J. felt that he cannot agree with this view of Ramaprasada Rao, J. (as he then was), he directed the papers to be placed before the Honourable the Chief Justice, and the Chief Justice has directed the matter to be posted before a Bench. Thus, the matter has come up before us. Inasmuch as the main revision petition itself could he disposed of apart from solving the conflicting views in regard to sub-section (3) of S. 4 -AA, we feel that the main revision petition itself could be disposed of.
4. It is clear from the facts narrated above, that the respondent has admittedly purchased 1.21 acres of agricultural lands subsequent to his joining the Armed Forces. Sub-sec. (3) of S. 4 -AA reads as follows----
"A landlord who is enrolled as a member of the Armed Forces shall, on discharge or retirement from service or on being sent to Reserve, be entitled to resume possession from any cultivating tenant for purposes of personal cultivation of that extent of land, which together with the extent of land. if any, already in his possession does not exceed the ceiling area which he is entitled to hold under the Tamil Nadu Land Reforms (Fixation of Ceiling on Land) Act 1961 (Tamil Nadu Act 58 of 1961)."
There is no dispute in this case that the lands sought to be resumed by the respondent are well within the ceiling area.
5. According to Mr. Srinivasan, the learned counsel for the petitioner tenant, the benefit of sub-see. (3) of S. 4 -AA is not available to a person who becomes landlord subsequent to his joining the Armed Forces. Apart from this legal submission, the learned counsel submitted that the evidence on record shows that the respondent is intending to sell the lands after resumption and therefore the prayer as if the respondent requires the lands for his personal cultivation is mala fide.
6. Mr. Sethurathnam, learned counsel for the respondent, submitted that sub-sec. (3) of S. 4 -AA confers a special privilege to a person serving in the Armed Forces and that the respondent is entitled to resumption of the lands as prayed for. The learned counsel after reading out to us sub-sec. (1) and (2) of S. 4 -AA, submitted that as per sub-see. (2), a cultivating tenant who is enrolled as a member of the Armed Forces, on discharge or retirement from service or on being sent to Reserve, shall on application for resumption made within the prescribed period, to the Revenue Divisional Officer, be entitled to resume possession of the lands sublet by him under sub-see. (1). Both the sub-secs. (1) and (2) deal with the case of a cultivating tenant joining the Armed Forces. Hence, there is no question of a person serving in the Armed Forces becoming a cultivating tenant subsequent to his joining the Armed Forces. If in that context, sub-sec. (3) is read according to Mr. Sethuratnam, it is clear that a personnel of the Armed Forces can become a 'landlord' eligible to invoke the special privilege under sub-sec. (3) subsequent to his joining the Armed Forces.
7. We are not able to appreciate the argument of Mr. Sethuratnam. Sub-section (3) of S. 4 -AA definitely states that a landlord who is enrolled as a member of the Armed Forces shall, on discharge or retirement, from service or on being sent to Reserve, be entitled to resume possession from any cultivating tenant for the purpose of personal cultivation. No doubt, certain benefits are conferred upon Army Personnel and even in agrarian legislation such benefits have been extended to them so that their voluntary service in the cause of the Nation may no doubt be recognised. But such privileges and entitlements being creatures of statute, they cannot be liberally interpreted but strictly understood and implemented in accordance with the language of the provision creating such a privilege or a right. The Tamil Nadu Cultivating Tenants Protection Act came to be passed to protect 'cultivating tenants' from unjust eviction.
8. Section 4 -AA which gave right to a landlord to resume possession for personal cultivation has since been omitted in order to enable the cultivating tenant to enjoy possession of the land without any interruption or resumption by the landlord. But sub-sec. (3) of S. 4 -AA gives special privilege to the landlord who got himself enrolled as a member of the Armed Forces, to resume lands for personal cultivation after his discharge or retirement from service or his being sent to Reserve from the Armed forces. Strictly interpreted, the language of subsection (3) of S. 4 -AA clearly shows that at the time of joining the Armed Forces, the person who wants to get resumption of lands ought to have been the landlord'; if he becomes landlord subsequent to his joining the Armed Forces, sub-sec. (3) cannot be invoked. Even the 'Statement of Objects and Reasons' for the introduction of S. 4 -AA clearly states that the tenancy legislations should not place armed personnel in any handicap; as compared to those who are able to reside in village and cultivate their lands. The Statement of Objects and Reasons further states that it persons serving in the Armed Forces are owners of land, they should have a right to, lease it, and if they are tenants, they should have a right to sub-let it and that on retirement or discharge Defence Services Personnel should have unrestricted rights to resume their lands for personal cultivation from the tenant or sub-tenant as the case may be, Thus it is clear that the Armed personnel must already be the owner of the land. Inasmuch as the main Act itself is intended to protect the interests of tenants and in view of the fact that a special privilege is given to Armed personnel. the meaning that has to be given for the clause 'if the persons serving in the Armed Forces are owners of land' is that the persons before they were enrolled as members of the Armed Forces, should be owners of the land. That is why, in the Statement of Objects and Reasons it is stated that 'if persons serving in the Armed Forces are owners of land' and not 'if persons serving in the Armed Forces become owners of land'. Even apart from this, sub-sec. (3) begins thus: "A landlord who is enrolled as a member of the Armed Forces.............." This shows that a person must be a landlord before he is enrolled as a member of the Armed Forces, to get resumption under sub-see. (3) of S. 4 -AA. We feel that this is the correct interpretation of sub-sec. (3) of Section 4 -AA,
9. It has been held by the Supreme Court in Mahadeolal v. Administrator General of W. B., -
"The principles that have to be applied for interpretation of statutory provisions of this nature are well established, The first of these is that statutory provisions creating substantive rights or taking away substantive rights are ordinarily prospective; they are retrospective only if by express words or by necessary implication, the Legislature has made them retrospective; and the retrospective operation will be limited only to the extent to which it has been so made by express words or by necessary implication. The second rule is that the intention of the Legislature has always to be gathered from the words used by it, giving to the words their plain, normal, grammatical meaning. The third rule is that if in any legislation, the general object of which is to benefit a particular class of persons, any provision is ambiguous so that it is capable of two meanings, one which would preserve the benefit and another which would take it away, the meaning which preserves it should be adopted. The fourth rule is that if the strict grammatical interpretation gives rise to an absurdity or inconsistency such interpretation should be discarded and an interpretation which will give effect to the purpose the Legislature may reasonably be considered to have had will be put on the words if necessary even by modification of the language used."
Applying the above principles, it is clear that a plain, normal grammatical meaning of sub-see. (3) of S. 4 -AA is that a person who is enrolled as a member of the Armed Forces must be the owner of the land at the time of enrolment to get the benefit of sub-see. (3). Even though sub-sec. (3) confers a special privilege on personnel of Armed Forces, there is no ambiguity in it to give a different meaning than the one which we have given.
10. In our view, a landlord who opts to serve the Armed Forces, is given a special privilege to get his land resumed on his discharge or retirement from service subject to the ceiling area of the land. In short, it is in the nature of restitution, since the landlord who would otherwise enjoy the benefit of personal cultivation gets it suspended in order to serve the country in the Armed Forces. Inasmuch as the legislation is mainly intended to protect the interests of the cultivating tenants, even though a special privilege is conferred upon a landlord serving in the Armed Forces, under sub-sec. (3) of S. 4 -AA, the meaning we have given to the sub-section alone will protect both the Armed Forces personnel and the cultivating tenant. If we give a meaning otherwise that is, the benefits under sub-sec. (3) are available to those who become landlords subsequent to their joining, the Armed Forces, an unscrupulous landlord may sell his land to a military personnel in order to deprive the cultivating tenant of his enjoyment of the land by making the military personnel get the land resumed under sub-section (3) after his discharge or retirement from the Armed Forces. Hence we are of the view that the interpretation given by Ramaprasada Rao, J. (as he then was) in C. R. P. No. 2156 of 1975 to sub-sec. (3) of S. 4 -AA of the Act, is correct. The line of interpretation as submitted by Mr. Sethuratnarn will lead to anomaly and will defeat the object for which the Act has been enacted and the privilege given to landlords who join the Armed Forces.
11. Inasmuch as we hold that sub-section (3) of S. 4 -AA is available only to those persons who were landlords at the time they join the Armed Forces, the respondent herein is not entitled to invoke the said provisions to his aid. Admittedly, the respondent became landlord only on 10-6-1966, whereas he had joined the Armed Forces on 17-10-1962.
12. We do not think it necessary to go into the question of mala fides alleged against the respondent in seeking resumption, inasmuch as the interpretation of ours in regard to sub-sec. (3) of S. 4 -AA protects the petitioner who is the cultivating tenant.
13. In these circumstances, the civil revision petition is allowed, with the result petition No. 1043 of 1974 before the Special Deputy Collector (Revenue Court), Tiruvarur, filed by the respondent herein, will stand dismissed. There will be no order as to costs.
14. Petition allowed.