1. The suit out of which this appeal arises was one against the defendant for arrears of rent, claiming at the rate of the full taram assessment on the defendant's lands. The defendant resisted the claim and asserted that his predecessors-in-title from time immemorial had been paying rent at only one-fifth of the taram assessment and that any demand for an enhanced rent such as is claimed in the suit would be an illegal one. A further question was raised whether the defendant is a ryot. It was conceded in the lower appellate Court and is here--that she is. The learned Deputy Collector, after giving a finding that the defendant is a ryot, went on to analyse the documents; and concluding very briefly with a summary of Section 24 of the Madras Estates Land Act, which prevents the landholder from enhancing the rent, held that the plaintiff was not entitled to claim rent at the full taram assessment. The evidence let in afforded very little material upon which the Courts could judge the reasonableness or otherwise of the plaintiff's claim. The defendant had been paying rent at the full taram assessment from 1930 onwards; but from 1904-1905, his predecessors-in-title had been paying only at about one-fifth of the taram rate. There is no evidence to show why the predecessors-in-title of the defendant had been paying such a low rate of rent, and so it is not surprising that the Deputy Collector did not devote very much attention to discussing the conclusions that had to be drawn from such meagre evidence. The learned District Judge felt that same difficulty; and his judgment is a very short one. He, too, briefly analysed the evidence, pointing out that the lower rate of rent had been paid from 1930. He then went on to say:
The Devasthanam cannot invoke Section 26(3) of the Madras Estates Land Act. Section 24 lays down that the rent of a ryot shall not be enhanced except as provided by this Act. That one-fifth of the taram 'assessment was the rent lawfully payable cannot be denied.
2. He therefore agreed with the trial Court and dismissed the appeal.
3. It seems to me that since there was no reason to doubt that the taram assessment on the land was what it was stated to be in Ex. P-6 and which it was assumed to be in the Courts below, one must conclude that for some reason or other now unknown a remission of rent was granted by the plaintiff at some time or other. The question is whether we must assume that the reason for remission was one that precludes the Devasthanam from ever demanding more than the reduced rate.
4. The learned District Judge seems to be wrong in saying that Section 26(3) could not be applied to a Devasthanam, on the ground that the Devasthanam has; always been, and still is, the landholder. A landholder, according to Section 3(5) includes,
every person entitled to collect the rents...of the estate by virtue of...any provision of law.
A trustee is therefore a landholder; and whenever there is a change of trustee, there is technically a change of landholder; so that the present trustee has a right to invoke Section 26(3) of the Madras Estates Land Act and to claim that he is not bound by any remission granted by his predecessors.
5. It may be reasonable to presume, as contended on behalf of the defendant, that the remission was based on some lawful contract, but assuming that that is so, we do now know what the contract was. The burden lies upon the defendant of proving that the remission once granted to him enures for all time and for the benefit of all persons who may occupy the land, even though they were not the persons to whom the concessions were originally granted. It seems to me that we cannot make these assumptions; and that in the absence of some evidence as to the nature of the contract entered into, the plaintiff is entitled to charge the full taram rent. The provisions of Section 24, prohibiting an enhancement of rent, do not apply to cases where a right to remission does not continue.
6. The second appeal is allowed and the suit decreed with the costs of the plaintiff in this Court and in the Courts below.