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C. Rajammal Vs. V.P. Chinnakannu Ambalam - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectTenancy
CourtChennai High Court
Decided On
Reported in(1962)2MLJ39
AppellantC. Rajammal
RespondentV.P. Chinnakannu Ambalam
Cases ReferredIn Parkiston (Sir Lindsey) & Co. v. Commissioners of Works L.R.
Excerpt:
.....the apparent incongruity between them 5. both sub-section (1) and sub-section (3) use the term 'cultivating tenant' which has been defined by the act. the definition of the term 'employee 'in that enactment only covered existing employees and an extended meaning of that term so as to include past employees as well was adopted in that case. that rule will be the same in regard to the construction of statutes as well. they would seem rather to establish that the judicial interpreter may deal with careless and inaccurate words and phrases in the same spirit as a' critic deals with an obscure or corrupt text, when satisfied, on solid grounds, from the context or history of the enactment, or from the injustice, inconvenience, or absurdity of the consequences to which it would lead, that..........opinion as the repugnance which will result as a consequence of applying the same meaning to the words ' cultivating tenant' in sections 4a(1) and 4-a(3) can be avoided only if the restricted construction of the meaning of the term when it occurs in section 4a(3) is adopted in a way i have suggested, a cultivating tenant who enjoys more than 6 2/3 acres of land would not be entitled to resist the application of the landlord under section 4a(1) of the act for personal cultivation.12. it is contended on behalf of the respondent that it has not been found in the instant case that the respondent is actually in possession either as owner or as a lessee of any extent of land in excess of 6 2/3 acres. before final orders can be passed on the application of the landlord, it is necessary to.....
Judgment:

Ramachandra Iyer, J.

1. The petitioner owns an extent of 4/26 acres of wet land in Thodaneri village in Madurai district. The lands were held on lease by the respondent at a rent of 40 bags of paddy, each bag measuring 48 Madras measures, and some bundles of hay per year. The respondent is stated to be in possession of 20 acres of land, either as owner or as tenant, in addition to the 4.26 acres belonging to the petitioner. There can be no doubt that, comparatively speaking, the tenant is in more affluent circumstances than the landlord. The petitioner filed an application before the Revenue Divisional Officer, Madurai, under Section 4A(2) of the Madras Cultivating Tenants' Protection Act (Act XXV of 1955) for permission to resume for personal cultivation half the property leased to the respondent. The latter countered the application by offering to pay one-half of the contractual rent (as the rent stood on 27th September, 1955) for the property sought to be resumed. This was under Section 4A(3). The offer in the circumstances of this case is a meaningless one,. for the respondent would always be bound to pay the contractual rent. It is not the case of the respondent that the rent as it stood on 27th September, 1955 was higher than the rent payable on the date of application so that it can be said that the landlord would obtain something as quid pro quo for being deprived of the statutory right conferred on her under the provisions of Section 4-A(1) of the Cultivating Tenants' Protection Act. The provisions of the Fair Rent Act (XXIV of 1956) do not apply to the respondent, as he has been enjoing more than 6 2/3 acres of wet lands at all material times. No question of the respondent being entitled to pay only fair rent arises in the case. The Revenue Divisional Officer rejected the petitioner's application on the ground that the provisions of Section 4A(3) of the Cultivating Tenants' Protection Act were mandatory and that the landlord would not be entitled to resume possession of half the land when once the tenant offered to pay the contractual rent therefor. Aggrieved by the order, the petitioner has. filed this Revision Petition.

2. The question that arises for determination in this case depends on the construction to be given to Section 4A, Sub-clauses (1) and (3) I shall set out the provisions of those sub clauses and also indicate briefly the provisions contained in the other sub-clauses of the section.

3. Section 4-A(1) reads:

Notwithstanding anything contained in any other provisions of this Act, a landlord shall be entitled to resume possession from any cultivating tenant possession for purposes of personal cultivation of lands not exceeding one half of the extent of lands leased out to the cultivating tenant.

Sub-section (2) provides the machinery for enforcing the right declared in Sub-section (1). It enables the landlord desiring to resume any land under that provision to apply to the Revenue Divisional Officers for appropriate direction to the tenant; the Revenue Divisional Officer will be competent to impose such conditions as may be just and reasonable while making an order under this sub-section Sub-section (3) states:

Any cultivating tenant from whom any land is sought to be resumed by the landlord for purposes of personal cultivation may offer to pay to the landlord in respect of the extent of the land which the landlord is entitled to resume for personal cultivation the rent at the rate which was payable to him before the 27th September, 1955, and the Revenue Divisional Officer shall thereupon pass an order permitting him to continue in possession on payment of such rent. The cultivating tenant shall, as long as he continues to cultivate that land, be bound to pay rent accordingly.

Sub-sections (4) to (6) specify and impose certain limitations on the class of landowners who would be entitled to the rights declared by Sub-section (1). They also provide that in a case where the landlord resumes possession, but does not personally cultivate the land within a year following the resumption, the land would, on the application of the tenant, be restored to the latter.

4. The provisions in Sub-sections (4), (5) and (6) of Section 4A make it clear that the right declared by Sub-section (1) is intended to apply only for the benefit of a small landholder who wants the land bona fide for personal cultivation. Sub-section (3), if read literally in the light of the definition of the term ' cultivating tenant' in Section 2(a) of the Act, would practically nullify the right granted under Sub-section (1) : the machinery provided under Sub-section (2) would have practically no duty to perform. To put it more clearly, the landlord's application for resumption of land under Sub-section (1) can be defeated by the tenant by offering to pay contractual rent; that virtually means that the landlord cannot exercise the right conferred on him under Section 4-A(1) unless the tenant is willing to concede him his right. If that was the intention of the Legislature, they would have expressed this more clearly by stating that a landlord wishing to have personal cultivation could resume half the lands with the tenant's consent. No legislation is indeed necessary for the purpose as the parties could by agreement always enable the landlord to resume possession either of the whole or of the part of the land; there would even be less necessity (if the literal interpretation were to be adopted) for the machinery under Section 4A(2). It stands to reason, therefore, that when the Legislature declared in Section 4A(3) that a tenant could by agreeing to pay the contractual rent for half the property sought to be resumed, he offers thereby an advantage to the landlord as a quid pro quo for denying him the right under Section 4-A(1), or at least in making that offer the tenant would suffer a disadvantage which will be a deterrent against needless opposition to a landlord's bona fide application. This will be so only if the contractual rent payable on 27th September, 1955, is higher than the one payable on the date of the application. The Cultivating Tenants Protection Act, 1955, prevents eviction of tenants entitled to the benefits of the Act so long as the tenant pays the rent. That Act however does not contain any provision to regulate or fix the rent. No tenant who is given the security of tenure will agree to any enhancement of rent : it would be equally an unusual feature for a landlord to have voluntarily agreed to take a lesser rent after that Act came into force. It can therefore be taken that if the Cultivating Tenants Protection Act had remained alone, the contractual rent payable on 27th September, 1955, will not be higher than what it would be on the date of application under Section 4-A(1) Therefore an offer to pay the contractual rent under Section 4A(3) means only that the tenant is willing to perform existing obligations. If that were so, Section 4A(3) would lead to absurd and certainly unintended results. It has therefore to be seen whether it is possible, consistent with the well-settled, rules of statutory interpretation, to reconcile the provisions of Section 4-A(1) and Section 4A(3) so as to avoid the apparent incongruity between them

5. Both Sub-section (1) and Sub-section (3) use the term 'cultivating tenant' which has been defined by the Act. If the definition of the term were to be adopted, both the provisions will apply to the same class of tenants. The normal rule is that when a term is defined in an enactment, that definition should be adopted in understanding or interpreting the term wherever it occurs in the statute. This however is not an absolute rule. It is not unusual to find in a statute unguarded use of words : it cannot be assumed that the Legislature used any word after foreseeing every possible result that may ensue on a literal understanding of the words used therein. The section in the statute which enacts the definition clause itself generally states that the definition contained therein would apply ' unless the context otherwise requires or uses phrases to a similar effect. This would enable the Court in appropriate circumstances to depart from the normal rule of interpreting the terms used in the enactment in the light of the definition, and to give a restricted or extended meaning of the word as the context may require and thus avoid an anomaly or repugnance (see Vanguard Fire and General Insurance Co., Ltd. v. Fraser and Ross : AIR1959Mad336 . Recently in a matter arising under the Minimum Wages Act, I had occasion to consider whether it would be possible to give an extended meaning to a word statutorily defined so as to give full effect to the intention of the Legislature. The definition of the term ' employee ' in that enactment only covered existing employees and an extended meaning of that term so as to include past employees as well was adopted in that case. See Proprietor Murugan Transports v. Radhakrishnan (1961) 1 M.L.J. 251. Now we have a converse case, that is, whether a restricted definition can be adopted for the term ' cultivating tenant' when it occurs in Sub-clause (3) of Section 4A, while at the same time adopting the statutory definition for interpreting Sub-clause (1) of that provision. I can see no difference in principle between a case where a meaning different from that given in the definition is given to certain sections in the Act and a case where a departure from the normal rule has to be adopted in interpreting various sub-clauses of a single section. In either case, the meaning to be given to a word will have to depend on the context, the collocation of words and the object which the words are intended to achieve in relation to the subject-matter dealt with by the statute. The rule would apply equally to both. There being thus power in a Court to give a restricted meaning to a term defined in an Act, if the context or purpose of the Act so requires it, it has next to be seen in what cases a restricted meaning can be given.

6. The primary rule of interpretation is that a statute should be construed according to the intention of the Legislature that enacted it. Such intention is to be found where the terms employed in a statute are precise and unambiguous in the words of the statute as understood in the light of the statutory definitions, and where there is no such definition, in the ordinary sense. Where a statutory provision is expressed in general language, it would apply and cover all cases coming within its terms regardless of the inconveniences or even injustice that may result by adopting a literal meaning of the terms. The rule is one for the ascertainment of the intention of the Legislature. Where, however, such an ascertainment is not possible on account of the obscurity of the words employed or on account of the repugnance between the various statutory provisions etc. it is not unusual to restrict or qualify the literal meaning of the terms of the statute so as to make it apply to the subject or class of persons to whom the statute is intended to apply. In American Jurisprudence, Volume, 50, at page 218, Article 230, it is stated:

However, general terms are not necessarily to be regarded as of universal application, and a statutory provision is not necessarily unlimited because expressed in general terms without words of limitation. In particular cases, it may appear that a statute, or section thereof, was intended to be limited, restrained or restricted. The precise words of a statute may be restricted where it is necessary to obviate repugnancy and inconsistency, and give effect to the manifest intention of the Legislature, as discovered by the application of sound principles of interpretation, and to carry out the general scope and purpose of the Act.

But it must be remembered that mere absurdity or hardship in the operation of the statute will not justify the Court in not giving effect to the plain words of a statute where such words are clear and unambiguous. This rule is stated in Craies on Statute Law, 5th edition, at page 82, thus:

It is clear that if as Jervice, C.J., said in Abeley v. Dale (1851) 20 L.J.C.P. 233, ' the precise words used are plain and unambiguous, we are bound to construe them in their ordinary sense, even though it does lead to an absurdity or manifest injustice. Words may be modified or varied where their import is doubtful or obscure, but we assume the functions of legislators when we depart from the ordinary meaning of the precise words used, merely because we see, or fancy we see, an absurdity or manifest injustice from an adherence to their literal meaning.' And more recently Finnemore, J., said : ' The mere fact that the results of a statute may be unjust or absurd does not entitle this Court to refuse to give it effect, but if there are two different interpretations of the words in art Act, the Court will adopt that which is none of those things.

It is necessary then to consider the kind of absurdity which would entitle a Court to go outside the language of the statute. That is dealt with by the learned author at page 84 thus:

'The general rule' said : Willes, J., in Christopherson v. Lotinga (1864) 33 L.J.C.P. 121, 'is stated by Lord Wensleydale in these terms, viz., ' to adhere to the ordinary meaning of the words used, and to the grammatical construction, unless that is at variance with the intention of the Legislature, to be collected from the statute itself, or leads to any manifest absurdity or repugnance, in which case, the language may be varied or modified so as to avoid such inconvenience, but no further.'...' I certainly ', continued Willes, J., ' subscribe to every word of the rule except the word ' absurdity ', unless that be considered as used there in the same sense as ' repugnance '; that is to say, something which would be so absurd with reference to the other words of the statute as to amount to repugnance.

Thus the mere fact that the giving of the natural meaning to the words employed in a statute which is clear and unambiguous might lead to what in the opinion of a Court would be absurd or unjust or inconvenient results would not entitle it to depart from the normal rule of interpretation; a fortiorari where the statute itself has provided a key far understanding it by giving definitions of terms employed therein. That rule however being one for the ascertainment of the intention of the Legislature cannot obviously apply where the express words create a repugnance, absurdity, etc. In such a case, the Court has to ascertain the intention. Where the words employed are capable of two interpretations one which would lead to repugnance or absurdity or render the Act unworkable and another, though restricted, which would avoid repugnance, etc., the Legislature can be presumed to have intended only the latter meaning. In R. v. Overseers of Tonbridge L.R. (1884) 13 Q.B.D. 339 , Brett, L.J., said:

If the inconvenience is not only great, but what I may call an absurd inconvenience, by reading an enactment in its ordinary sense, whereas if you read it in a manner in which it is capable, though not its ordinary sense, there would not be any inconvenience at all; there would be reason why you should not read it according to its ordinary grammatical meaning.

7. In the case of written instruments, the rule as to adoption of grammatical and ordinary sense of words in the construction thereof gives way where such construction would lead to some absurdity or repugnancy or inconsistency with the rest of the. instruments. In Parkiston (Sir Lindsey) & Co. v. Commissioners of Works L.R. (1949) 2 K.B. 632 , Asquith, L.J., observed:

Where the language of a contract is capable of a literal and wide, but also of a less literal and more restricted meaning, all relevant circumstances can be taken into account in deciding whether the literal or more limited meaning should be ascribed to it.

That rule will be the same in regard to the construction of statutes as well. In Maxwell's Interpretation of Statutes (10th edition), there are two relevant passages which may be usefully referred to in this connection. At page 229, the learned author says:

Where the language of a statute, in its ordinary meaning and grammatical construction, leads to a manifest contradiction of the apparent purpose of the enactment, or to some inconvenience or absurdity, hardship or injustice, presumably not intended, a construction may be put upon it which modifies the meaning of the words, and even the structure of the sentence. This may be done by departing from the rules of grammar, by giving an unusual meaning to particular words, by altering their collocation, or by rejecting them altogether, under the influence, no doubt, of an irresistible conviction that the Legislature could not possibley have intended what its words signify, and that the modification thus made are mere corrections of careless language and really give the true meaning. Where the main object and intention of a statute are clear, it must not be reduced to a nullity by the draftsman's unskilfulness or ignorance of the law, except in a case of necessity, or the absolute intractability of the language used.

Again at page 252, it is stated:

It has been asserted that no modification of the language of a statute is ever allowable in construction except to avoid an absurdity which appears to be so, not to the mind of the expositor merely but to that of the Legislature, that is, when it takes the form of a repugnancy. In this case, the Legislature shows in one passage that it did not mean what its words signify in another, and a modification is, therefore, called for, and sanctioned beforehand, as it were, by the author. But the authorities do not appear to support this restricted view. They would seem rather to establish that the judicial interpreter may deal with careless and inaccurate words and phrases in the same spirit as a' critic deals with an obscure or corrupt text, when satisfied, on solid grounds, from the context or history of the enactment, or from the injustice, inconvenience, or absurdity of the consequences to which it would lead, that the language thus created does not really express the intention and that this amendment probably does.

Thus where a literal adherence to the words in the enactment would result in absurdity or inconvenience or injustice so as to amount to a repugnance to the statutory intention and words used are capable of a more restricted interpretation as well, the Court can adopt a more limited construction of the statute than what the words in their ordinary signification would connote. For that purpose it would be necessary to see : (1) whether the language employed in the statute would be capable of restricted interpretation and (2) whether the intention of the Legislature is clear to show that it must have intended only the restricted interpretation of the provisions.

8. On the first of the two requisites, there can be no doubt in the present case that the terms of Section 4A(3) are capable of a more limited interpretation, i.e., if the term ' cultivating tenant' is read as meaning only those entitled to the benefits of the Fair Rent Act, for the latter class of tenants it is a more limited one than what is contained in the definition of that term in the Cultivating Tenants Protection Act. In Ex parte Walton In re Levy L.R. (1881) 17 Ch. D. 746, a question arose as to the construction of Section 23 of the Bankruptcy Act, 1869. That section declared that whenever any property of a bankrupt was vested in the trustee of him, burdened with onerous covenants, it would be open to the trustee to disclaim such onerous covenants. The terms of the section were such that a literal construction would affect rights of the parties who had derived title from the bankrupt and also the rights of persons from whom the bankrupt himself derived title. The Court of Appeal held that a statute could be construed contrary to its literal meaning, when such literal construction would result in an absurdity or inconsistency, the words being susceptible of another construction, which would carry out the manifest intention of the Legislature. Lush., L. J., observed at page 757:

It seems to me impossible to construe the section literally without defeating its object and creating a manifest absurdity. The obvious intention of the Act was to free the bankrupt from future liability and the object of this section was to free his estate from burden some covenants....and which, if the trustee could not get rid of it, would be a standing burden on the estate. As it was not the object of the Legislature to do more than this, in order to prevent absurdity we must read the word ' surrendered ' in a qualified sense....But the object was to place the trustee in the same position as if the lease had never vested in him, and that is all which is necessary to carry out the intention of the Legislautre. Any qualifying words, therefore, which are necessary thus to restrict the operation of the section may be inserted. The object was only to relieve the bankrupt's estate and the trustee from liability, and it was not intended to affect the rights or liabilities of other persons further than was necessary to effect that object.

The question then is only whether there is sufficient indication of the intention of the Legislature to show that is only a restricted interpretation that was in its mind when it enacted Section 4A. The section was introduced by way of amendment by Act XIV of 1956. To construe that section properly, it will be permissible to take into account the reason and necessity for the enactment and the context in. which it was passed.

9. Act XIV of 1956 received the assent of the President on 29th September, 1956. Almost simultaneously with this Act, the State Legislature passed the Fair Rent Act (XXIV of 1956). That Act also received the assent of the President on 29th September, 1956. The Fair Rent Act provided for payment of rent by a cultivating tenant in respect of the lands let out to him. Section 14 of the Act restricted the application of the Act to a tenant who owns or cultivates land less. than 6 2/3 acres. Therefore, the Fair Rent Act was intended to give benefit only to the smaller tenantry in the Province and not for the larger class of tenants in respect of whom the Cultivating Tenants Act had given protection. The context in which Act XIV of 1956 was passed would show that the Legislature was having; in view only those cultivating tenants who cultivate less than 6 2/3 acres of land. The reason for restricting the benefits of the Fair Rent Act to the smaller tenantry is not far to seek. It is not unusual in this part of the country to find owners of land who do personal cultivation, to obtain on lease from others agricultural lands with a view to augment their own income or for convenience of management of their own lands. Sometimes, it also happens that an affluent landowner creates difficulties in cultivation by neighbouring and helpless owners and practically compels them to lease out their lands. There are also cases where a person takes large tracts of lands from one or several owners on lease for the purpose of personal cultivation. All these lessees would obtain protection under Act XXV of 1955. There is however no reason why this class of tenants should have the advantage of reduction in the contractual rent. The Fair Rent Act therefore with good reason excluded them from its benefits as a fair rent more often than not will be less than the contractual rent.

10. Where a tenant entitled to the benefit of fair rent resists the landlord's application for resumption for personal cultivation, the offer to pay the contractual rent will have an intelligible meaning. He would have to pay more than the fair rent which alone he would be bound to pay; and the landlord who obtains more than the fair rent should have to be satisfied with the additional advantage gained. I have already indicated that an unrestricted interpretation of the term ' cultivating tenant' would render the provisions meaningless if not unworkable. The Fair Rent Act of 1956 which is one in pari materia with the Cultivating Tenants Protection Act gives a clue for the proper understanding of Section 4A which was engrafted into the main Act by Act XIV of 1956. Section 4A is a piece of beneficial legislation intended to remedy the hardship which would result from a rigorous application of Act XXV of 1955. It will be the duty of the Court to give an interpretation which would aid its working; no Court should be astute to defeat it by rigorously applying the rule of literal interpretation, which, as I stated already leads to absurd and unjust results. If Section 4A(3) is limited to those cultivating tenants who would be entitled to the benefits of the Fair Rent Act, there will be no conflict between Section 4-A(1) and Section 4A(3) of the Act. On the other hand, there will be a happy correlation of the provisions with less injustice to the landlord and the greater opportunity to effectively carry out the intention of the Legislature, as expressded in Section 4-A(1). The provisions of Section 4A(2) also will then have real use and operation; instead of the Revenue Divisional Officer merely exercising his jurisdiction at the whim and caprice of the tenant he can exercise a judgment and power to decide the disputed question and grant relief. Adopting the view that Section 14(3) applies only to tenants entitled to the benefit of Fair Rent Act the position will be a (1) a landlord owning less than 5 acres can resume half the lands if he wants the same bona fide for personal cultivation; (2) if the tenant happens to be one who cultivates less than 6 2/3 acres either as owner or tenant or as both, he can successfully resist the landlord's application by agreeing to pay half the contractual rent for the portion sought to be resumed he will have the benefit of the fair rent only for the other half; (3) if the tenant is a person who is not entitled to the benefits of the Fair Rent Act, the statutory right of the poor landlord under Section 4-A(1) will have to be given effect to.

11. In my opinion as the repugnance which will result as a consequence of applying the same meaning to the words ' cultivating tenant' in Sections 4A(1) and 4-A(3) can be avoided only if the restricted construction of the meaning of the term when it occurs in Section 4A(3) is adopted in a way I have suggested, a cultivating tenant who enjoys more than 6 2/3 acres of land would not be entitled to resist the application of the landlord under Section 4A(1) of the Act for personal cultivation.

12. It is contended on behalf of the respondent that it has not been found in the instant case that the respondent is actually in possession either as owner or as a lessee of any extent of land in excess of 6 2/3 acres. Before final orders can be passed on the application of the landlord, it is necessary to ascertain whether the respondent comes within the class of persons who would be entitled to the benefit of the Fair Rent Act, namely, a person who either as a owner or as a tenant or as both, cultivates 6 2/3 acres of land or less.

13. The order of the lower Court is set aside and the matter is remanded for enquiry and final disposal in the light of directions given in the above order. The respondent will pay the costs of this petition.


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