1. A writ of prohibition is prayed for in this petition against the assistant inspector of labour, Madras, to prohibit him from proceeding further with the registration of the petitioner as a catering establishment under the provisions of the Madras Catering Establishments Act (Act XIII of 1958) hereinafter referred to as the Act.
2. The petitioner is a society registered under the Societies Registration Act (Act XXI of 1930). It is running a hostel and a canteen at Georgetown and at Mylapore in the city of Madras. The hostel is ran only for the benefit of the members of the association and the expenses incurred are divided amongst them. Only the members of the hostel or their ' authorized guests'' or the members of the association are served with food in the premises of the society. The business of the canteen consists of preparing edibles by the association on behalf of its members and supplying them with their requirements at fixed rates alleged to be fixed on the basis of the cost price and the addition of the cost of the establishment. None but the members of the association or their 'authorized guests 'are supplied with refreshments and drinks in the canteen. It is alleged in Para. 5 of the affidavit in support of the petition that the supply of food in the hostel or refreshments in the canteen is only for the convenience of the members, as part of the amenities provided for them and that no member of the public or any class thereof is permitted to have any food in the hostel or refreshments in the canteen. This is not contradicted by the respondent, the assistant inspector of labour. It is fairly clear that the object and purpose of this association is only to provide lodging, food, refreshments and drinks to its members and to their 'authorized guests,' to afford amenities and convenience to them without any element of commerciality or intention to make profit out of the activities.
3. The assistant inspector of labour, VII Circle, Madras, wrote to the petitioner on 29 September 1959 drawing its attention to alleged contraventions of the provisions of the Act. The petitioner was informed that it would be open to the authorities to take suitable action for the non-compliance of the provisions of the Act, and the rules thereunder. The petitioner sent a reply on 10 November 1959 stating that it was not carrying on business of any kind so as to attract the provisions of the Act. The petitioner further informed the assistant inspector of labour that it was moving the Government for exemption under Section 3(3) of the Act, to exempt the petitioner's establishment from the Act. Actually the petitioner applied to the Minister for Industries and Commerce praying for such exemption by its petition dated 10 November 1959. It must be pointed out that the petitioner was really blowing hot and cold by stating that it was not within the Act, and at the same time applying for exemption to the appropriate authority as if the Act would be applicable, if not exempted. There was a further communication from the respondent to the petitioner dated 5 December 1959. The petitioner was charged with not having submitted ' the notice of dally hours of work, intervals for rest and weekly holidays in form X,' as required by Rule 24(3)(a). The petitioner was called upon to submit form X within three days from the date of receipt of the communication and was Informed that in default suitable action will be taken. Apparently the petitioner did not respond to this communication. On 25 April 1960 the respondent reminded the petitioner that it should apply for registration of the catering establishment for the year 1960-61. It was pointed out in that communication that there has been a delay in the matter of applying for registration as per Rule 6, and that the registration certificate will be renewed only on payment of fee of 25 per cent in excess of the fee payable under Sub-rule (2) of the Madras Catering Establishments Rules, 1959. The respondent was not right in requiring the petitioner to apply for any renewal of registration as the admitted fact is that the petitioner never applied to have itself registered under the Act, and in fact it has not so far been registered. On 27 April 1960 the respondent again wrote to the petitioner in these terms:
The attention of the employers of catering establishments is invited to Rule 27 of the Madras Catering Establishments Rules, 1959. They are requested to send the annual return for the year ending 31 March 1960, so as to reach this office on or before 30 April 1960. Any delay in the submission of return will be viewed seriously by this department and prosecution taken against the defaulters without any notice of warning.
4. The petitioner was apparently awaiting the orders from the Government on the exemption application already filed. The Government by their order dated 26 May 1960 refused to grant the exemption. It is in these circumstances that the petitioner has moved this Court under Article 226 of the Constitution and the main contention urged on its behalf is that the respondent has no jurisdiction to enforce the provisions of the Act in respect of its activities by way of running the hostel and the canteen. On behalf of the respondent the stand taken is that the Act is fully applicable to the petitioner.
5. I shall now briefly refer to the salient provisions of the Act. The object of the enactment is to provide for the regulation of conditions of works in catering establishments. 'Catering establishment' is defined as a restaurant or residential hotel. Section 2(11) defines ' residential hotel' as follows:
Residential hotel means any premises in which the business of providing dwelling accommodation and supply of meals to any members of the public or a class of the public is carried on.
Section 2(12) defines ' restaurant':
Restaurant means any premises in which is carried on the business of the supply of refreshments or meals to the public or a class of the public for consumption on the premises.
The power of exempting permanently or for any specified period any catering establishment or class of catering establishments is conferred upon the State Government under Section 3(3). Within thirty days from the date on which the Act comes into force (the Act received the assent of the President on 1 July 1958 and was published in the Fort St. George Gazette on 9 July 1958) in the case of catering establishments existing on such date, and within thirty days from the date of commencement of work in the case of a new catering establishment every employer should send to the inspector a statement in each form together with such fees as may be prescribed. On receipt of the statement and the fees, the inspectorshelf register the catering establishment in such manner as may be prescribed in the register of catering establishments and shall issue a registration certificate to the employer (Section 4). The substantive provisions of the Act relate to the daily and weekly hours of work in catering establishments, extra wages for overtime work, interval for rest, holidays, wages during leave period, prohibition of employment of children, notice of discharge or dismissal, etc. This is a self-contained code governing the relationship of the employer and the employee in a catering establishment. Section 30 of the Act provides that on and from the date of the commencement of this Act, Weekly Holidays Act, 1942, the Factories Act of 1948 and the Madras Shops and Establishments Act, 1947, shall not apply to catering establishments. Quite plainly this is a welfare legislation designed in the interests of labour. Section 17 provides that no child shall be required or allowed to work in any catering establishment. No woman or young person (a person who is above 14 years and below 18 years) shall be required or allowed to work whether as an employee or otherwise, in any catering establishment between the hours of 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. It is unnecessary to refer in detail to the various provisions of the Act which prescribe the hours of work, wages, holidays and other conditions of services in a catering establishment.
6. The crucial question in this case is whether the petitioner falls within the definition of a residential hotel or a restaurant under Sections 2(11) and 2(12) of the Act. The answer to this question depends upon the proper interpretation of the word ' business' which occurs both in Sections 2(11) and 2(12). Section 2(11) uses the words
business of providing dwelling accommodation and supply of meals to any member of the public or a class of the public.
Section 2(12) uses the words
business of the supply of refreshments or meals to the public or a class of the public.
7. Now the word 'business' has a large import. It has however no technical meaning and it has to be read and interpreted with reference to the object and intent of the Act in which It occurs. It means:
an affair requiring attention and care; that which receives or occupies one's attention and labour as its chief concern ; mercantile pursuit ; that which one does for livelihood; occupation, employment.
8. Before referring to the cases relied upon by learned Counsel on both sides, I shall briefly indicate what, in my opinion, is the proper rule of interpretation of general words occurring in a statute. Words used in a statute, if they are not terms of art, or technical expressions, derive their meaning from the context which means the subject-matter of the legislation, its apparent object and purpose, and the intended advancement of the remedy or the suppression of the mischief. They should be assigned that meaning which would be in harmony with the context and not that which would cripple the statute by narrowing its application to a limited field. Words should receive their plain grammatical meaning; and this is so even in statutes. But words have many uses and have varying nuances and shades of meaning. Any attempt to fix a meaning to a particular word and to import that meaning everywhere it is used, will surely lead to startling results. A strict etymological propriety of the language should not be observed if that would impair the object intended to be achieved by the legislature. Words used with reference to one set of circumstances may convey an intention quite different from what the same set of words used in reference to another set of circumstances, would or might have produced. Lord Blackburn in Edinburgh Street Tramway Company v. Torbain3 A.C. 58 at 68.
9. The rule that the words in the statute should be interpreted in unison with the intention of the legislature is thus stated by Maxwell, 10th Edn., at p. 60 :
However wide in the abstract, they are more or less elastic, and admit of restriction or expansion to suit the subject-matter. It is therefore a canon of Interpretation that all words, if they be general and not express and precise, are to be restricted to the fitness of the matter.
Crawford, in the Statutory Construction, states the rules thus at p. 351:
The words, phrases clauses, sections, sub-sections, provisos, saving clauses, in fact, every part of the statute, must be interpreted with reference to the context. This means that the Court in construing a statute cannot isolate words or give them their abstract meaning, or consider the different parts of the statute separately and independently. Every part of the statute must be considered together and considered as an integral part of the whole, and kept subservient to the general intent of the whole enactment.
10. The following quotation from an American case extracted by Crawford at p. 352 sets out the rule of interpretation quite tersely:
Such an interpretation of the language can only be reached by singling out and giving to the word ' distribution ' the one meaning suggested by appellant whereas It has many meanings and uses and the rules of statutory construction require that statute be construed from its four corners and not by singling out a particular word or phrase.
11. It seems to me that the word ' business ' should be construed in this Act in the light of the foregoing rules of interpretation which are quite clear and authoritative. Learned counsel for the petitioner has relied upon the decisions in Meenakshi Mills, Ltd. v. State of Madras 5 S.T.C. 291 and Deputy Commercial Tax Officer v. Cosmopolitan Club 5 S.T.C. 291 and Bengal Nagpur Cotton Mills Club v. Sales Tax Officer 8 S.T.C. 781 which have interpreted the word 'business' in enactments levying sales tax. Actually the interpretation was of the definition of the term 'sale ' occurring in Madras General Sales Tax Act and Central Provinces and Berar Sales Tax Act. These decisions have interpreted the word 'business' as involving only activities undertaken with profit motive. Considerable stress was laid by the learned Counsel on the observations of Hidayatullah, C.J., as he then was, In Bengal Nagpur Cotton Mills Club v. Sales Tax Officer 8 S.T.C. 781. Under the Central Provinces Act, sale is defined as follows at p. 784:
Sale with all its grammatical variations and cognate expressions means any transfer of property in goods for cash or deferred payment or other valuable consideration, including a transfer of property in goods made in the course of the execution of a contract, but does not include a mortgage, hypothecation, charge or pledge.
12. The word 'business' as such does not occur in this definition. But the learned Judges of the Madhya Pradesh High Court followed the decision of this Court in Cosmopolitan Club v. D.C.T.O., Triplicane 3 S.T.C. 77 on appeal 6 S.T.C. 1, which was a case which arose under the Madras General Sales Tax Act. At p. 785 the learned Chief Justice observed thus:
The word 'business' has a more extensive signification than 'trade.' Jessal, M.R., after referring to several (dictionaries and) decisions, observed in Smith v. Anderson 15 Ch. D. 257 that anything which occupies the time and attention and: labour of a man for the purpose of profit is business.
Again at p. 787:
It will be manifest that the Act seeks to levy tax only on the aggregate of the amounts of sale price and parts of such prices received or receivable by a dealer in respect of the sale or supply of goods. Beading this definition with those of 'sale' and 'dealer' we think that the word ' supply' should not be interpreted in its literal absolute sense, but mast be given a limited and qualified sense ...The words, as they are, take colour and meaning from their context.
13. Apart from the general observations as to the meaning of the word ' business' to which I have already referred and which are no doubt correct If I may say so with respect to the learned Chief Justice, I do not find that case can really help the petitioner to advance its present contention, namely, that the expression 'business' in this Act connotes something in the nature of a trade or an activity of commercial venture.
14.The learned Additional Government Pleader referred me to the decision in Madhava Rao v. Surya Rao : AIR1954Mad103 . That case raised the question as to what is meant by the words, 'touching the business of the society under the. Co-operative Societies Act.' It was contended that the election of directors by the general body was not within the scope of ' business ' so defined. This Court held that every activity of a co-operative society within the ambit of the provisions of the Co-operative Societies Act and the rules and the bylaws of the society, would be a matter 'touching the business' of the society. At p. 346. Satyanarayana Rao, J., observes as follows:
The word 'business' is used in different senses in different contexts. The dictionary meaning of the word includes 'activity, occupation, function and a person's business includes the words to be one on his behalf... It was contended on behalf of the petitioners that the word 'affair' is wider in its import than the word 'business.' But we think that there is no justification for this distinction. The dictionary meaning of the word 'affair' is what in our opinion have been used as interchangeable terms in the Act and are not intended to denote different concepts. The business has to be that of the society, i.e., the corporate activity of the society.
The ratio of that decision is that every activity of an incorporated body permissible within the limits of its articles of association or the memorandum would constitute business in the wide sense of that term.
15. I am unable to accept the contention of the petitioner that the word 'business' occurring in Sections 2(11) and 2(12) necessarily implies or connotes a commercial venture or a trade with a profit motive. In a taxing statute like theincome-tax Act, or the General Sales Tax Act, the word ' business ' is certainly associated with the idea of profit or income, and it would be quite in consonance with the object of such Acts to limit the meaning of the word only to occupations of profit. But the Act with which I am concerned in this case is not a fiscal statute, but is only a welfare legislation for promoting the interests of labour and to prevent its exploitation by employers. I have no doubt that the word ' business' occurring in Sections 2(11) and 2(12) should not be confined and restricted to commercial eating houses, hotels and restaurants. The legislature has used the word ' business ' in this Act to cover any activity or occupation of running of hotels and restaurants irrespective of the question whether the establishment was started with any commercial or profit-making motive. It would be unsafe to tear the word ' business ' out of its context and understand that expression as denoting a commercial activity as such a course might deprive the legislation of It intended purpose. The following observations of Lord Lorehurn in Nrain v. University of St. Andrews 1909 A.C. 147 are quite apposite in this connexion :-
It is a dangerous assumption to suppose that the legislature foresees every possible result that may ensue from the unguarded use of a single word, or that the language used in statutes is so precisely accurate that you can pick out from various Acts, this and that expression, and skilfully piecing them together, lay a safe foundation for some remote Inference. Your lordships are a ware that from early times Courts of law have been continuously obliged, in endeavouring loyally to carry out the intentions of Parliament, to observe a series of familiar precautions for interpreting statutes so imperfect and obscure as they often are.
16. In my opinion, the petitioner's establishment of hostel and canteen falls squarely within the ambit of the Act.
17. The writ petition falls and is dismissed. The rule nisi is discharged. There will however be no order as to costs.