1. The Estates Land Act received the assent of the Governor of Madras on 25th March 1908, but by virtue of Section 40 of the Indian Councils Act, 1861, (24 & 25 Vict. C. 67) had no validity; that is to say, did not become law before it received the assent of the Governor-General on the 28ch of June 19C8. It came into operation on the 1st of July 1908, two days later.
2. The cause of action for arrears of rent on which the suit was based was more than three years old on the 28th of June 1908. Article 8 of Part A in the Schedule attached to the Estates Land Act provides a limitation period of 3 years for suits by a land-holder to recover arrears of rent, and if this Act applies to the case the suit is barred by limitation as the Courts below have held. The contract by which the tenant holds his land was, however, contained in a registered instrument and, according to the decisions of this Court vide Ambalavana Pandararn v. Vaguran 19 M.k 52 the landlord is given in such cases a period of six years within which he can sue for arrears of rent, the period being that provided by Article 116 of the 2nd Schedule of the Limitation Act for a suit for compensation for breach of a contract in writing registered.
3. The learned Advocate-General argues that this provision of the law is applicable to the present case, and asks us to hold that the Legislature could not have intended to give Section 210 of the Estates Land Act retrospective effect, because to do so would destroy his client's remedy the moment the Act came into operation.
4. The principle for which he contends has been accepted and applied in Khusalbhai v. Kabhai 6 B.k 26 and I am quite content to follow that case where it is applicable. Here it is contended for the respondent that the publication of the provisions of the Act in March 1908 gave an opportunity to persons affected by them of taking measures to protect themselves, and so should prevent us from drawing the inference suggested by the Advocate-General. In March, however, the measure had no validity; it had not become law; till the 28th of June it was possible that Section 210 might never become law; and, that being so, it is difficult to hold that the interval between March and June afforded any real opportunity or was intended to afford an opportunity to persons, affected by the provisions of the Act, of protecting themselves against its effects.
5. It is not, of course, suggested that the interval between the 28th of June and the 1st of July 1908 afforded any such opportunity. If, then, Section 210 of the Estates Land Act curtailed the period of limitation in this case, I should be prepared, following the case in Khusalbhai v. Kabhai 6 B.k 26 to hold that it was not intended to have retrospective effect.
6. But it is suggested by the judgment of the District Judge that the Act does not curtail the period of limitation. Under the Limitation Act of 1877, which was in force in July 1908, suits for arrears of rent had to be brought within three years of the accrual due of rent; but according to the law laid down by this Court the landlord is given the benefit of Article 116 of the second Schedule of the Limitation Act, if he takes a registered muchilika from the tenant, that is to say, he can, for the purposes of limitation, treat his suit for arrears of rent as a suit for compensation for breach of a contract. Registered muchilika or none, he must bring his suit for arrears of rent in the Revenue Court and within the time prescribed by the special law, the Estates Land Act. Before 1st July 1908, a landlord holding a registered muchilika could avail himself of the six years' period. Since that date, as I read Section 189, he cannot do so: and it seems to me mere juggling with words to say that his period of limitation is not curtailed because Article 116 of the Limitation Act does not apply in so many words to a suit for arrears of rent.
7. Rather, therefore, than impute to the Legislature an intention to bar all suits for arrears of rent based on registered muchilikas, where the cause of action was three years old or more on 1st July 1908, I prefer to adopt the principle explained in the Bombay case, to which I have already referred, and to hold that Section 210 of the Estates Land Act was not intended to be treated as having restrospective effect.
8. The decisions of the Courts below should, in my opinion, be set aside and the suit remanded to the Deputy Collector for disposal according to law, the costs being left to abide the event.
9. But as my learned brother differs, that will not be the result and the appeal will be dismissed with costs.
Abdur Rahim, J.
10. The question for decision in the second appeal is, whether the suit instituted by the plaintiff-appellant to recover arrears of rent, which fell due between 15th December 1904 and 15th May 1905, is barred. The suit was filed in the Court of the Deputy Collector of Tanjore under the provisions of Act I of 1908, the Madras Estates Land Act, on 1st October 1909, i.e., more than four years after the accrual of the cause of action. The lower Courts have come to the conclusion that the suit is barred as the matter is governed by Section 210 of the Estates Land Act, which lays down three years as the period of limitation for suits to recover arrears of rent.
11. Against that view, the contention of the learned Advocate-General, who appeared for the appellant land-holder, is that, the muchilika executed by the respondent-tenant being a registered document, his client had six years' time under Article 116 of the Limitation Act of 1877 as held in Ambalavana Pandaram v. Vaguran 19 M.k 52 and Section 210 of the Estates Land Act cannot be given retrospective effect so as to deprive the plaintiff of the right of suit which he undoubtedly had on the date the Estates Land Act came into force, i.e., on 1st July 1908. That Act received the assent of the Governor-General on 28th Jane 1908 and, as it came into operation only three days afterwards, the plaintiff had not sufficient opportunity given to him to save his rights by instituting a suit before the new Act came into force. It must, therefore, be presumed, the learned Advocate-General argues, that the Legislature, in enacting Section 210, did not intend to give it retrospective effect at least so as not to affect cases in which three years, the period of limitation under the new Act, had already elapsed on the day it came into operation, but not six years, which was the period of limitation under the old law, for that would amount to a hardship which the Legislature could not possibly have intended to inflict on persons in the position of the appellant. He relies on Khusalbhai v. Kabhai 6 B.k 26. What is laid down in that case is this: the general rule of construction that an Act of Limitation being a law of Procedure, governs all proceedings to which its terms are applicable from the moment of its enactment except so far as its operation is expressly excluded or postponed, must admit of the qualification that, when the retrospective application of a Statute of Limitation would destroy vested rights or inflict such hardship or injustice as could not have been within the contemplation of the Legislature, that statute is not, any mere than any other law, to be construed retrospectively. It seems to me, if I may say so, that the qualification [suggested hers is well founded on authority. See the observation of Lord Campbell, L.C.J. in the Reg. v. Leeds and Bradford Railway Co. 21 L.J.M.C. 193and Maxwell on Interpretation of Statutes, page 323], but this qualification, it must be remembered, relates to a general rule of construction and can, therefore, have no application whenever the intention of the Legislature is clear that the enactment should have retrospective operation. As to what is the intention of the Legislature in a particular case is to be gathered from the language of the enactment or from other relevant circumstances; for instance, from the fact that the operation of the Act was postponed for some time after the passing of the Act, it might well be inferred that the Legislature, having provided against all hardships that might arise if people were not given sufficient opportunity to safeguard their rights in view of the changes in the law, intended that the enactment should have retrospection, while the fact that the Act was to come into effect immediately would indicate a contrary intention on the part of the Legislature. The question for determination always is, what is the intention of the Legislature. Now, Section 210 of the Estates Land Act is, in my opinion, so specific and clear that it leaves no doubt as to the intention of the Legislature. It says: 'Subject to the provisions of the next following section, every suit instituted, appeal presented and application made after the period specified therefor in the schedule hereto annexed or in Section 191, shall be dismissed, although limitation has not been set up as a defence,' and the schedule referred to lays down three years as the period of limitation for suits for recovery of arrears of rent, counting from the date when the arrear becomes due. Section 211, by its first paragraph, declares that certain sections of the Limitation Act (with none of which we are concerned in this case) shall not apply to suits and applications mentioned in Section 210 and the second paragraph of that section provides that, subject to the provisions of the 1st paragraph and of Section 210, the provisions of the Limitation Act of 1877 shall apply to all such suits and applications. It seems to me that it is not possible in face of such declarations to say that the Legislature did not or could not have intended that the period of limitation provided by Section 210 shall not apply to suits instituted after the fact came into force in which the right of action arose before that date. In fact, as I understand the learned Advocate-General, he was not prepared to go so far, but wanted us to hold that the section would not apply to cases in which three years had already elapsed before the coming into force of the Act. But the real question is whether the enactment is to have retrospective effect or not; if it is to have such effect, then all the oases in which the right to sue came into existence before the Act came into force, must be excluded from its operation, and I do not see how any distinction can, on principle, be made between a case in which the right of action has arisen more than three years before the coming into operation of the Act and a case in which the right to sue arose a day before that date. To exclude any class of suits for the recovery of rent, instituted after 1st July 1908, from the operation of Section 210, would, I think, be clearly refusing to give effect to the plain words of the section. There is yet another fact which to my mind also indicates that the Legislature required the application of three years' limitation to all suits for rent instituted since the coming into operation of the Act. The Limitation Act of 1877, by a specific Article 110, provided the same period of three years, so that, to that extent, no change was made in the law by Section 210 of the Estates Land Act. Article 116 of the Limitation Act, however, lays down a period of six years for suit for compensation for breach of a contract in writing registered, and the Madras ruling already refered to, Ambalavana Pandaram v. Vaguran 19 M.k 52 dissenting from Ramsami Chetty v. Sokkanatha Chetty 1 M.L.J. 737 held that when the contract between the landlord and the tenant was contained in a writing registered, the landlord would have under this Article 6 years within which to bring his suit for rent. I should assume for argument sake that the decision in Ambalavana Pandaram v. Vaguran 19 M.k 52 is correct; but what is the position there? It is this; though suits generally for recovery of arrears of rent are to be brought within three years, the landlord in cases in which the contract between him and the tenant is contained in a registered document would be entitled to ask that his suit might also be treated as a suit for compensation for breach of contract within the meaning of Article 116 of the Limitation Act. Now, Section 189 of the Estates Land Act confers jurisdiction on a Collector or other Revenue Officer to hear all suits for recovery of arrears of rent and expressly excludes the jurisdiction of Civil Courts of original jurisdiction to take cognizance of such suits. The Collector, on the other hand, is not authorized to entertain suits for compensation for breach of contract. This, to my mind, would seem to indicate either that the Legislature in enacting Section 210 was proceeding on the basis that it was making no change in the law so far as the three years' rule was concerned or, supposing Article 116 of the Limitation Act was also applicable to a certain class of suits for rent, the Legislature by removing suits for rent from the jurisdiction of Civil Courts, must be taken to have intended that the special period prescribed under the Article should no longer be applicable.
12. I would, therefore, dismiss the second appeal with costs.