(1) This petition by a tenant under Section 115, C.P.C. is to revise an order of the District Court, West Tanjore, by which it reversed an order of the Rent Tribunal, Valangiman at Kumbakonam, fixing fair rent for the holding, and restored the order of the Presiding Officer, Rent Court, Kumbakonam. The application for taxation of fair rent was originally made under the provisions of the Madras Cultivating Tenants (Payment of Fair Rent) Act 1956. Along with this application were tried 158 other similar applications for fixation of fair rent. When these applications were pending disposal, the Madras Public Trusts (Regulation of Administration of Agricultural Lands) Act, 1961 was enacted, which came into force from 2-10-1961. Section 62 of this Act made a partial repeal of the provisions of the Madras Cultivating Tenants (Payment of Fair Rent) Act 1956 in so far as they related to a cultivating tenant in respect of any land held by him under a Public Trust. All these applications were, therefore, by agreement of the parties, treated as filed under the provisions of the Madras Public Trusts (Regulation of Administration of Agricultural Lands) Act 1961. For the purpose of convenience all the applications were clubbed together, common evidence was recorded and were disposed of by a common order. The rent under the contracts between the landlords and tenants varied between 6 and 71/4 Kalams for a mah. On behalf of the tenants, only two of them gave evidence; a number of witness were examined for the Trust. In 1961, at the direction of the Rent Court, a test harvest was made to find out the yield from certain lands. The Rent Court was not prepared to act on the oral evidence directed for the applicants. Nor was it satisfied that any reliance could be placed on the result of the test harvest. On a consideration of the rest of the oral evidence for the Trusts, it came to the conclusion that the existing rent represented fair rent. On that view, it dismissed all the applications. It does not appear the, in making the disposal, any efforts was made either by the Rent Court or by the parties to differentiate one type of holding from another for the purpose of fixation of fair rent. On appeals by the tenants, the Rent Tribunal agreed with the Rent Court that neither the evidence for the applicants nor the result of the test harvest was useful in determining fair rent. It also agreed with the Rent Court that there was no evidence on record about the actual yield from each of the lands. It thought, however, that to remit all the applications would involve considerable hardship and delay. In view of that, the Rent Tribunal proceeded to consider the evidence on behalf of the trusts and on the supposition that there was no appreciable difference between the various lands, fixed fair rent for two broad classes of lands, single and double crop lands. In coming to that conclusion the Rent Tribunal in the main relied on R. Ws. 3 and 8. Against this order, the Trust filed revision petitions to the District Court of West Tanjore. So did some of the tenants, apparently feeling aggrieved by certain observations against their interests in the Rent Tribunal's order. The District Court set aside the Rent Tribunal's order on the main ground that the Rent Tribunal went on the worm assumption that all single and double crops lands in the village were of the same quality, and that there was no evidence on the evidence on the yield from the particular lands involved in each of the applications so as to enable the Court to fix fair rent for the same. The District Court also observed that there was nothing in the evidence on record to justify the inference that the fair rent for the lands would be far less than the contract rate. It was of the view that responsibility lay on the tenants to prove what the fair rent would be and it was lesser that the contract rate, and that the tenants failed to establish this. The District Court made further observations that the Rent Tribunal had overlooked the fact that the fair rent fixed by it was in some cases larger than the contract rate. It was on those considerations the District Court allowed the petitions of the landlords. That is how the tenants come before this court.
(2) On behalf of the tenants, Mr. Mohan Kumaramangalam has contended that the order of the District Court should be set aside on three grounds--(1) the duty of fixing fair rent under the provisions of the Act lay on the Rent Court and it would not, therefore, be a proper disposal that because there was no evidence on record, as it stood, the applications for fair rent should be dismissed; (2) the onus to prove what is fair rent was wrongly thrown by the District Court on the tenants; and (3) the grounds of interference by the District Court are contrary to the actual findings of the Rent Tribunal. While answering these grounds, Mr. Alagirisami, learned counsel for the respondents, contends that the petition under Section 115 C.P.C. raises no question of jurisdiction or material irregularity, and that in any case no revision under that provision is competent.
(3) Before dealing with the rival contentions, reference may be made to the relevant statutory provisions. The Madras Public Trusts (Regulation of Administration of Agricultural Lands) Act 1961 was enacted to provide for regulating the administration. either by personal cultivation or by lease, of agricultural lands held by Public Trusts and for regulating the relation of Public Trusts and their cultivating tenants in the State of Madras. Chapter I of the Act deals with preliminary matters, including definitions of a cultivating tenant and fair rent. Fair rent is defined to mean the rent payable under Chapter IV. Chapter II relates to regulations of cultivation of lands held by Public Trusts and under Section 4 it is provided that, on and after the date of the commencement of the Act, no Public Trust shall personally cultivate, or lease out land held by such Trust except in accordance with the provisions of the Act. A ceiling is placed on personal cultivation by such Public Trust by the following sections. Under Section 8, the Public trusts are to lease out the lands reverted to them under Section 7. The rest of the provisions in the Chapter are not relevant for our purpose. Chapter III contains provisions relating to tenancies. Section 18 secures tenants against eviction except on certain grounds indicated in Section 19. Right to restoration of possession in certain circumstances is provided for by Section 20. Then comes Chapter IV which by Section 23 enjoins that every cultivating tenant under any Public Trust shall be bound to pay to the Public Trust and every Public Trust shall be bound to pay to the Public Trust and every Public Trust shall be entitled to collect from the cultivating tenant fair rent payable under this Chapter. Sub-section (7) of this section directs that no Public. Trust shall, after the date of the commencement of the Act, claim or stipulate for payment of any amount by the cultivating tenant in excess of the fair rent or in excess of the Public charges which are expressly made payable by the cultivating tenant by this Chapter or the delivery by the cultivating tenant of any article or thing, in addition to fair rent. Sub-section (3) of Section 24 is to the effect that, where the contract of tenancy provides for payment of a rent lower that the fair rent, the former alone will prevail during the contract period. Sub-sec, (1) defines what is fair rent. It is a certain percentage of the normal gross produce or its money value in respect of different types of lands with different facilities of irrigation. Section 28(1) makes provision for constitution of Rent Courts and Rent Tribunals for the purpose of Chapter IV. Then follow Sections 29, 32 and 56:
"29(1) Notwithstanding any agreement between a public trust and the cultivating tenant, or any decree or order of a Court, either party may apply to the Rent Court for fixation of fair rent or for deciding any dispute arising under this chapter;
(2) From every decision of a Rent Court, an appeal shall, within such time as may be prescribed, lie to the Rent Tribunal whose decision shall be final, subject to revision, if any, under Section
(32) The District Court may call for and examined the record of any Rent Tribunal in respect of any proceeding under this Chapter to satisfy itself as to the regularity of such proceeding or the correctness, legality or propriety of any decision, or order passed thereon; and if, in any case, it appears to the District Court that any such proceeding, decision or order should be modified, annulled or reversed or remitted for reconsideration, it may pass orders accordingly;
Provided that the District Court shall not pass any order prejudicial to any party unless he has been given a reasonable opportunity of being heard."
(58) Except as otherwise provided in this Act, no Civil Court shall have jurisdiction to decide or deal with any question which is by or under this Act required to be decided or dealt with by the authorised officer, the Registrar, Rent Court, the Rent Tribunal or other authority".
Section 59 contains rule--making power and in exercise of the power, rules have been framed. Rule 23 provides for the procedure of Rent Courts and Rent Tribunals. By Rule 24, the provisions of the Civil Procedure Code are made applicable to proceedings of Rent Court and Rent Tribunals as far as possible. Under Rule 28, in hearing an application under the Act, the Rent Court may also depute any officer of the Revenue department to make local enquiry and inspection and to collect relevant date. For the purpose of determining the normal gross produce, the Rent Court or Rent Tribunal under Rule 30 may take into consideration certain specified records which may be of assistance.
(4) In the context of the foregoing statutory provisions and rules, Mr. Mohan Kumaramangalam argues that a duty is cast by them on the Rent Court to fix fair rent, that it cannot, therefore, dispose of the applications merely on the ground that the evidence on record is not sufficient to enable it to come to a conclusion, and that in that case, it is obliged to institute further investigation in order to collect material and data with reference to which fair rent can be fixed. On that view, learned counsel says that if the fixation of fair rent by the Tribunal was not supported by any evidence in relation to the particular buildings involved in each application, it should have remitted the application, for fresh disposal in the light of the further evidence to be collected and placed on record. It was not, according to learned counsel, justified in merely allowing the petitions of the landlords and restoring the order of the Rent Court. In support of this contention, reliance is placed on Pranesh Chandra v. Banwarilal, AIR 1925 Cal 898 and Dharam Paul v. Yograj, . In my view, this contention cannot be accepted and the decisions relied on by learned counsel do not assist him. As I understand the statutory provisions and rules, they cast no such duty on the Rent Court or the Rent Tribunal. They do not contemplate that their duty goes further than the disposal of the applications for fair rent on the evidence placed before them. In fact, the jurisdiction of the Rent Court and the extent of it are not in so many terms expressly provided for by the Act. On the other hand, the jurisdiction of the Rent Court to fix fair rent is left to be inferred from Section 29(1) which enables the landlord or tenant to apply to the Rent Court for fixation of fair rent or for deciding any dispute arising under Chapter IV. That is the manner in which the jurisdiction on the Rent Court is indicated. It is true that a landlord cannot or has no right to collect more than the fair rent and if the contract rate is in excess, the former should prevail. But that by itself does not, in my view, cast an obligation on the Rent Court that, notwithstanding the parties not placing before it proper material to enable it to fix fair rent, it should, suo motu and irrespective of failure or parties, make all possible efforts to collect further materials and fix fair rent. I can find no justification for casting such a duty or obligation on the Rent Court either from the provisions of the Act or rules made thereunder. It is entirely within the discretion of the Rent Court, whether in particular circumstances it may dispose of the application for fixation of fair rent on the material available before it or it will direct further investigation to be made either by inspection or report as provided by the rules or by other means through the parties. The question in each case would be whether the discretion which it possesses has been properly exercised. In AIR 1925 Cal 898, which was under the Bengal Tenancy Act and related to a suit for enhancement of rent under Sec. 30(a) of that Act, it was held that if the Court was not satisfied with the report of the Revenue Officer, it should direct a further enquiry setting our what further materials were wanted to come to a proper decision and the fact that the suit had been pending for a long time was no ground for not taking steps to bring it to a satisfactory termination and for declining an order for further enquiry. On facts there, the lower appellate Court had reversed the order of the first Court on the ground that the report of the revenue officer was not satisfactory, Mukheriji J., was of the view that, in the circumstances of that case, that was not a proper way of disposing of the appeal and the appellate Court must have indicated what further materials were wanted for coming to a proper decision and remitted that matter. In the present case, right through before all the three Tribunals, the oral evidence for the applicants and the result of the test harvest were not accepted. No one suggested, as far as can be gleaned from the record, that a fresh test harvest should be made or the applications should be remitted for fresh disposal. The argument before the District Court would appear to have been confined to whether the Rent Tribunal was justified in fixing fair rent on the basis of the evidence directed for the landlords. There is no indication in the order of the District Court that anything like a request for remitting or an opportunity for adducing further evidence was made or asked for. In such circumstances, I fail to see what duty is cast on the District Court by the provisions of the Act or by the rules made thereunder to make a further effort to get fresh evidence which the parties themselves did not offer to adduce, and to remit the applications for fresh disposal. It should be remembered that, when there were as many as 159 applicants, only two of them gave evidence before the Rent Court.
(5) , was decided in the light of Section 4 of the
East Punjab Urban Rent Restriction Act 1949. Sub-sec (1) of this section provided that the Controller shall on application by the tenant or landlord of a building or rented land, fix the fair rent for such building or rental land after holding such enquiry as the Controller though fit. The Punjab High Court was of the view that in cases where on an application for fixation of standard rent the parties omitted to produce necessary evidence, the Controller was not expected to be a mute spectator of the events which took place before him and to make his order solely on the basis of the evidence which the parities had chosen to lead. Bhandari C. J. was of the view that the law (apparently the learned Judge was having in mind Section 4) required the Controller to make an enquiry and it was his duty to make one by calling additional evidence if he found that the evidence produced by the parties was inherently defective or was insufficient to enable him to assess the fair rent or to pronounce judgment in the case. But there is no provision in Madras Act 57 of 1961 analogous to Section 4 of the East Punjab Urban Rent Restriction Act, 1949. I do not say that the District Court could not have, in the exercise of its discretion, remitted the application for fresh disposal, if it thought that the circumstances required that course. But it is quite a different matter if it said that as a matter of law or duty imposed by law, it should have resorted to that course, though, as I said, no requires was made or further opportunity asked for to adduce further evidence. The first ground for the petitioners, therefore, fails.
(6) The next ground of Mr. Mohan Kumaramangalam relates to what he calls placing of onus wrongly on the tenants by the District Court. The District Court, in the course of its order, stated--
"Notwithstanding the fact that the petitioners on whom the responsibility lay prove that the fair rent was different and lesser than the contract rate grossly failed in establishing the same, the learned Rent Tribunal has attempted to guess as to what should be the fair rent and has without any basis come to the conclusion".
It is with reference to this the argument relating to onus is addressed. In my view, there is no substance in this ground either. There is no presumption that a contract rate is not fair rent. The ordinary rule of evidence is that the party who assets a fact should establish it to the satisfaction of the Court. The tenants being applicants for fixation of fair rent, it was primarily for them to show what the fair rent was said it was lesser than the contract rate. I think the onus to prove the fact will be on the applicants in the first instance. But in the circumstances of this case, I do not think, the question of onus is of any importance, and that observations of the District Court in any way affect the validity of its order. It does not appear from its order that it has rested merely on the ground of onus. On the other hand, it applied its mind to the entire material on record and came to the conclusion that there was evidence to support the finding of the Rent Tribunal that the contract rate was more than the fair rent in respect of any particular holding. In any case, I am not persuaded that the observations of the District Court above referred to involve any misdirection in law.
(7) The last ground for the petitioners does not also impress me. At one stage of the argument, Mr. Mohan Kumaramangalam suggested that the District Court misread the order of the Rent Tribunal. He contended that the grounds of interference by the District Court were contrary to the actual findings of the Rent Tribunal. The main ground, as I have already indicated, of the District Court interfering with the Tribunals's order is that while the lands my be of different quality, no evidence was directed either by the applicants or by the Trusts in relation to the yield from particular holdings involved in each of the applications so as to fix fair rent for the same. The District Court, no doubt, was right when it said that the Rent Tribunal committed an error in trying to rely on the evidence of R. Ws. 1, 2 and 8 for, what the Rent Tribunal evidently relied on for its decision was the evidence of R. Ws. 3 and 8. But this error on the part of the District Court does not seem to make any difference in its conclusion.
(8) On this view, it may not be necessary to deal with the other legal contentions. But, since I have listened to the arguments in respect of them. I shall briefly deal with those questions. Anticipating the first ground of Mr. Alagirisami, it is argued by Mr. Mohan Kumaramangalam that the petitions do raise a question of jurisdiction and fall with the scope of Section 115 C.P.C. That section is directed against error of jurisdiction and not against errors of law not involving jurisdiction. That proposition is well settled vide Balakrishna Udaya v. Vasudeva Iyer, ILR 40 Mad 793: (AIR 1917 PC 71), and Venkatagiri v. H. R. E. Board, Madras ILR (1950) Mad 1: (AIR 1949 PC 156). In the first of these cases, Lord Atkinson, speaking for the Judicial Committee, defined the scope of the section in these terms:
"...... the section applies to jurisdiction alone, the irregular exercise, or non-existence of it, or the illegal assumption of it. The section is directed against conclusions of law or fact in which the question of jurisdiction is not involved".
That view of the section was retired by the Privy Council in the second case. Sir John Beaumont, for the Board, stated--
"The section empowers the High Court to satisfy itself upon three matters: (1) that the order of the subordinate Court is within its jurisdiction (2) that the case is one in which the Court ought to exercise jurisdiction, and (3) that in exercising jurisdiction the Court has not acted illegally, that is, in breach of some provision of law, or with material irregularity, that is, by committing some error of procedure in the course of the trial which is material in that it may have affected the ultimate decision."
Putting it in another way, this amounts to saying that the section will apply only if the High Court is satisfied that the subordinate Court acted without or in excess of its jurisdiction, or failed to exercise a jurisdiction vested in it, or committed a procedural error. None of these grounds will apply to the petition before me. The jurisdiction of the District Court is under Section 32. The power given to it is to call for and examine the record in order to satisfy itself as to the regularity of any proceeding or the correctness, legality or propriety of any decision, or order passed by the Rent Tribunal. Where it appears to that Court that any such proceeding or decision or order should be modified, annulled or reversed or remitted for reconsideration, it has. under that section, power to pass such orders accordingly. The power conferred upon the District Court in Such terms is quite wide. It is not suggested that the District Court was not competent to entertain the revision petition; nor was it suggested that in the exercise of its powers under Section 32, it could not have thought fit to reverse the order of the Rent Tribunal. But what is contended is that while exercising its powers under S. 32, the District Court committed errors of the type covered by the three grounds urged for the petitioner and that this meant an irregular exercise of jurisdiction on the part of the District Court. But a Court of competence or with jurisdiction, while acting within its competence or jurisdiction, may come to a conclusion which may be right or wrong, but on that account it cannot be said that ipso juri there was an error of jurisdiction or material irregularity. The error in relation to the merit falling within the jurisdiction can hardly be described as an error of jurisdiction. An error of jurisdiction is one which relates to the competence or power of the Court to deal with the subject matter. The District Court, as I said, had the competence to entertain the revision petition, and if that is the case, merely because it committed errors, it cannot be said that it acted without jurisdiction. It is true that in Sasivarna Thevar v. Ponnu, 1957-1-Mad LJ 158, it was held that a Judge of a Tribunal exercising revisional jurisdiction was not ordinarily competent to interfere with the findings of facts arrived at by the inferior Tribunal. Rajamannar C. J., referred to a decision of Rajagopala Aiyangar J., who, with reference to the powers of revision under the Madras Buildings (Lease and Rent Control) Act, observed that such jurisdiction would not enable interference with findings of fact, unless" viz; if (a) there were no other materials on which such a finding could be based; or (b) the finding has been reached by a consideration of irrelevant or inadmissible matter or (c) it is so perverse that no reasonable person could have reached that conclusion; or (d) the finding had been reached by an erroneous understanding of the law applicable to the matter". This statement of the law was referred to by Rajamannar C. J. apparently with approval. Though normally a factual finding may not be open to interference in revisional jurisdiction, still, as have been observed in that case, it can be reviewed by the court of revision on the limited ground which may in a sense, be regarded as legal grounds, which, if exist. would vitiate the finding of fact. The District Judge in this case found that the fixation of a flat fair rent, irrespective of the quality of the lands, was not supported by any evidence. That was within its competence. Further, the power under S. 32 of Madras Act 57 of 1961 appears to be wider that the power under Sec. 12-B of the Madras Buildings (Lease and Rent Control) Act 1949 with which, 1957-1-Mad LJ 158 was concerned. I am of the view, therefore, that the petition raises no question of jurisdiction or material irregularity. On that ground too the petition must fail.
(9) There remains for consideration the question whether a revision petition under Section 115 C.P.C. is at all maintainable, in view of Section 29(2) read with Section 58 of the Madras Act 57 of 1961. The contention of Mr. Alagiriswami for the respondent is that the effect of a combined reading of the two provisions is to bar totally the jurisdiction of the Civil Court, except as provided in the Act. He contends that the order of the Rent Tribunal is made final by Section 29(2) and that this finality operates except for Section 32. He says that where a statue creates a liability not existing at common law and prescribes remedies in respect thereof, making orders made thereunder final, the implication is that jurisdiction otherwise than what is comprehend by the Act is barred. On this view, he urges that Section 29(2) itself will bar the application of Section 115 C.P.C. against orders made by the District Court under Section 32. But I am unable to accept this contention. The finality provided by Section 29(2) has only the effect of barring further appeal. Section 29(2) does not make the order of the District Court made under Section 32 final. Once the District Court qua such Court is given jurisdiction under the Act to make an order, the consequence will be that its procedure will be governed by the Civil Procedure Code and that means, the remedy revision provided by that Code against the order of the District Court will be available. But the further contention of Mr. Alagiriswami that the effect of Section 58 is to make Section 115. C.P.C. inapplicable against an order made under Section 32 of Madras Act 57 of 1961 appears, to my mind, to be well founded. Section 58 bars jurisdiction of Civil Courts except as otherwise provided in the Act. The opening words of this section, in my view, give effect to that intention. The purpose of the section seems to be that no Civil Court should have jurisdiction to deal with any question which is under the Act required to be decided or dealt with by the authorised officer, the Rent Court and the Rent Tribunal, except as provided in the Act. In other words, there is a general exclusion of the jurisdiction of the Civil Court subject exception provided by the Act. The question of the type comprehended by Section 58 will, therefore, be outside the jurisdiction of Civil Court except to the extent to which the Act enables it to deal with it.
(10) The Supreme Court in S. A. Industries (P) Ltd. v. Sarup Singh, , while dealing with the scope of Section 43 of the
Delhi Rent Control Act 1958 held that the effect of the words used in that section, namely, "save as otherwise expressly provided in this Act" was to emphasise the fact that the finality of the order could not be questioned by resorting to something outside the Act. The question was whether an appeal lay under Cl. 10 of the Letters Patent for the High Court of Lahore against the judgment of a learned singled Judge of that Court in a second appeal under S. 39 of the Delhi Rent Control Act. The Supreme Court held that the appeal did not lie. This was in view of the opening words of Sec. 43, which distinguished Maunga Ba Thaw v. Ma Pin, 61 Ind App 158: AIR 1934 PC 81. Though the order of the District Court under Sec. 32 is not made final, the opening words of Section. 58, in my opening words of Section 58, in my opinion, have that effect, and in view of it, no revision would lie under Section 115 C.P.C.
(11) Mr. Mohan Kumaramangalam, however, argues that Section 43, with which the Supreme Court was concerned is essentially different from Section 58 of Madras Act 57 of 1961. Learned counsel argues that while Section 43 is concerned with an order passed on appeal, which is made final and shall not be called in question in any original suit, application or execution proceeding, in Section 58 of Madras Act 57 of 1961 the bar is confined only to a question which is, under the Act, required to be decided or dealt with by the specified authority. He says that once Sec. 32 of Madras Act 57 of 1961 provided for a revision from the order of the Rent Tribunal, and the order under Section 32 is not made final, then such an order will be open to revision under Section 115, C.P.C. He contend that the jurisdiction under Section 32 being entrusted to the District Court qua District Court and not as a persona designata and as an order passed in exercise of such jurisdiction is not made final, the remedies open against that order under the Civil Procedure Code can well be restored to and that Section 58 does not act as a bar. According to him Section 58 does not touch an order made under Section 32 and bar S. 115 C.P.C. I do not think that this construction of Section 58 is sound. The words "except as otherwise provided in thus Act" clearly, to my mind, indicate that the intention of Section 58 is to totally bar the jurisdiction of the Civil Court and confined its jurisdiction only to the extent to which it is saved by the provisions of the Act in respect of any question of the nature indicated by the section. I hold, therefore, that the petition under Section 115 C.P.C. is not maintainable.
(12) The petition is dismissed with costs.
(13) Petition dismissed.