1. The plaintiff is the petitioner and the suit was on a pro-note. The pro-note which had been executed by the defendants-respondents on 23rd May,, 1951 had been renewed on 21st May, 1954. The suit having been filed on 25th June, 1958, the defendants contended that the suit was barred by limitation. The learned District Munsif of Devakottai upheld this contention, rejecting the plea of the plaintiff that the period from 21st May, 1954 to 30th June, 1955 should be excluded from the computation of the period of limitation. In coming to this conclusion, the learned District Munsif construed Explanation I to Section 2 of Madras. Act I of 1955 to mean that, where a joint Hindu family is an. agriculturist, every coparcener thereof should be deemed to be an agriculturist only in a case where the joint family is not liable to pay land revenue exceeding Rs. 150 per annum. As, in the instant case, the joint family liability in respect of land revenue was in excess of this figure, the learned District Munsif took the view that the period of four months during which a suit against an agriculturist was barred by Section 3 of the abovementioned Act was not liable to be excluded. The result was that the suit was held to be barred by limitation.
2. When the Revision Petition came up before Venkataraman, J., he was of the : view that the two decided cases upon the point expressed contrary views. In a. case dealt with by Rajagopalan, J., namely, Narayanaswami Iyer v. Ramier : (1959)2MLJ420 , wherein a. similar point arose the learned Judge thought that the Explanation referred to did not deal with the converse case, that is, where a joint family was not an agriculturist within the meaning of Section 2(a), and that, in the absence of anything to show that the defendant-member of the joint family in his individual capacity paid anything beyond the monetary limit fixed by Section 2(a)(i), the claim of the plaintiff that the defendant was an agriculturist had to be upheld. In a later case decided by Ganapatia Pillai, J., namely, Paramasivam v. Sevasami Nadar : (1960)1MLJ44 , a claim was put forward that, though the joint Hindu family was not an agriculturist within the meaning of Section 2(a) of the Act, since the defendant-member of the joint family was liable to pay only a proportionate share of that land revenue, which would be : less than the limit of Rs. 150 per annum, he should be regarded as an agriculturist. The learned Judge rejected this contention, holding that the liability to pay kist on lands owned by the joint Hindu family was an entire one, and that, if such a family was assessed to land revenue exceeding the statutory limit, every member of the family would be excluded from the benefit of the Act. In view of the difference : of opinion on the question, Venkataraman, J. thought it necessary to have the matter placed before a Bench, and that is how this Revision Petition comes up for disposal by us.
3. The date of the execution of the pro-note was 21st May, 1954. On that date,. Madras Act V of 1954 was in force. Section 2 of that Act defines an ' agriculturist' to mean:
a person who owns an interest in land, and, who, by reason of such interest; is in possession of such land or is in receipt of the rents or profits thereof, and shall include a lessee;....
Certain disqualifications not relevant for the present are attached to the definition..
The Explanation to that section reads:
where a joint Hindu family...is an agriculturist, every coparcener...shall be deemed to-be an agriculturist, provided that he has not been assessed to income-tax in any of the year's 1951-52, 1952-53 and I953-54.
4. Though a ' person ' would not normally include a joint Hindu family, the context of the provision requires that interpretation. Under that Act, therefore, a joint Hindu family would be an agriculturist, if it owned an interest in land or was in receipt of rents or profits thereof. There was no limit upon the quantum of land. revenue which such a family was liable to pay. Section 3 of that Act provided that no suit for the recovery of a debt shall be instituted against any agriculturist in any civil or revenue Court before 1st March, 1955. Since the joint Hindu family composed of the two defendants (respondents) was an agriculturist within the meaning of that Act; the bar of Section 3 applied and the plaintiff was prevented from filing the suit till 1st March, 1955. As this Act was in force even on the date of renewal of the promissory note, the period of limitation did not start to run till 1st March, 1955. The result would accordingly be that the suit had to be filed before 1st March, 1958, i.e., within 3 years from 1st March, 1955. As the suit was actually filed on 25th June, 1955, the plaintiff claimed that he could rely on the provisions of Act I of 1955, which came into force on 1st March, 1955. Section 3 of this Act provided that:
No suit for the recovery of a debt shall be instituted...against an agriculturist in any civil or revenue Court before the expiry of four months from the commencement of this Act.
If this provision applied, the plaintiff would have been entitled to a further period of four months computed from 1st March, 1958, and the suit instituted on 25th June., 1958 would be within time.
5. The defendants, however, contended that they were not agriculturists within the meaning of this Act. Section 2 of this Act made certain important changes in the definition of an ' agriculturist'; and in contrast to the corresponding provision in Act V of 1954, it placed an upper limit on the amount of land revenue paid by a person claiming to be an agriculturist. Excluding the other portions of the provisions which contain disqualifications, dependent upon the payment of profession tax, income-tax, sales tax, etc., an 'agriculturist' is defined in Section 2(a) to mean:
a person who has an interest other than interest as a simple mortgagee in any agricultural or horticultural land, not being a land appurtenant to a residential building, but shall not include (a) any person liable to pay land revenue (which shall be deemed to include peshkush and quit rent) exceeding Rs. 150 per annum in any year after 1952-53.
Explanation I to this section reads:
Where a joint Hindu family...is an agriculturist, every coparcener...shall be deemed to be an agriculturist, provided that he does not fall under any of the categories specified in Sub-clauses (1) to (5).
In the present case, the joint Hindu family composed of the two defendants is liable to pay land revenue in excess of Rs. 150. The joint family as such would not therefore be an agriculturist. Explanation I would come into operation only in a case-where the joint Hindu family is an agriculturist, in which event every coparcener will individually be entitled to be deemed to be an agriculturist, provided that he, in his individual capacity, does not attract any of the other disqualifications specified. But, what was contended by the plaintiff-petitioner was that Explanation I did not deal with a case where a joint Hindu family was not an agriculturist and that the status of a member of such a joint family as an agriculturist or otherwise could. not be inferred by a process of exclusion on the basis of the abovesaid Explanation. In effect, he purported to rely on the decision of Rajagopalan, J., referred to. According to the plaintiff, therefore though the joint family might be liable to pay land revenue exceeding Rs. 150 per annum, a coparcener of that family cannot be denied the status of an agriculturist, and if such coparcener is not affected by any of the other disqualifications provided in Section 2(a) of the Act, he must be regarded an an agriculturist. It is true that Rajagopalan, J., observed:
As the learned Counsel for the petitioner points out, that Explanation cannot be extended to cover a converse case, that is, where the joint family ceased to be an agriculturist because of the operation of Section 2(a) (i), every member of that joint family also ceased to be an agriculturist within the meaning of Section 2(a). It should be remembered that the joint family as such is a separate juristic entity, and the individual coparcener in relation to his individual liability is a distinct juristic entity, distinct from that coparcenery. As I said, the learned Counsel for the petitioner is well-founded in his contention that Explanation I does not cover the case of the defendant. Now, we are left with this position, that the joint family of which the defendant is a member pays more than Rs. 150 as land revenue. But there is nothing to show that the defendant himself in his individual capacity paid anything beyond the monetary limit fixed by Section 2(a) (i). There was the claim of the plaintiff that the defendant was an agriculturist. That claim was not as such resisted. Only the defendant pleaded he came within the scope of the exclusion specified in Section 2(a). That has not been made out in this case.
In dealing with an exactly similar situation, Ganapatia Pillai., J., observed thus:
Section 2(a) (i) is an exception to Section 2(a). That clause takes out of Section 2(a) the class of agriculturists who would otherwise fall within Section 2(a). The test is payment of kist; land revenue, peshkush or quit rent exceeding Rs. 150 per annum in any year after 1952-53. Mr. Rama Ayyangar's argument is that since the defendant owns notionally only a half share in the family properties, he is liable to pay only a half share of the land revenue due on the lands. This runs counter to accepted notions of liability for payment of kist due to Government. A number of lands are entered in one patta and the land revenue payable for all those lands is totalled up. Yet it could not be said that the liability to pay such land revenue could be distributed on the various lands included in the holding under that patta. Similarly, even though the defendant may, if a partition were to be effected, be entitled to a half share of the family lands, he could not contend that he would pay a half share of the land revenue payable for the family lands. Certainly, so long as he remains joint, he is under a liability to pay the entire land revenue due upon the family lands to the Government. It follows that the defendant is a person who is liable to pay land revenue exceeding Rs. 150 per annum. He is therefore, hit by Section 2(a) (i) of the Act.
Of the two views expressed above by the two learned Judges, we are of the view that the latter has to be preferred. We have already pointed out that, under Act V of 1954, a joint Hindu family became an agriculturist if it had an interest in land or was deriving rents and profits therefrom regardless of the quantum of land revenue payable upon such lands. A joint Hindu family owning hundreds of acres and paying land revenue running into thousands of rupees would still be an agriculturist, and every member of that family would also be entitled to be regarded as an agriculturist, provided of course the joint Hindu family or the member thereof was not otherwise disqualified under that Act. Act I of 1955 made a significant departure and laid down that a joint Hindu family would not be an agriculturist if it paid or was liable to pay land revenue exceeding Rs. 150 per annum. In the case of a joint family which was an agriculturist, every member thereof was also accorded the benefit of being deemed to be an agriculturist, provided that the member was otherwise not disqualified. There is a clearly expressed intention of the Legislature that no joint family liable to pay land revenue in excess of a specified figure shall be regarded as an agriculturist. The difficulty, no doubt, arises in applying the Explanation to a case where a joint family is not an agriculturist. Two views are possible. If the patta in respect of the joint family lands is a joint patta in the name of the members of the family, or, in the name of one of the members as the kartha of the family, it seems to us that every member of the family must be regarded as liable to pay the entirety of the land revenue. It is not open to any member to say that he is liable only to the extent of his proportionate share of the land revenue. If this view is the correct one, then, it should necessarily follow that Ganapatia Pillai, J., was right in holding that, the liability of a member being in excess of Rs. 150 per annum that member would cease to be an agriculturist. On the other view that a joint Hindu family is a juristic entity distinct from the individual members thereof if the interest in the lands is that of the joint family one might very well say that the individual members composing the family do not have an interest in the land, and if that is postulated, it should follow that that member would not be an agriculturist at all, having no interest in any agricultural or horticultural land. This may no doubt, appear to be an extreme view. The Explanation introduces a fiction; its underlying implication is that but for it, the coparcener would not be an agriculturist, personally for the reason that the joint Hindu family and the coparcener are distinct juristic entities.
6. But, even otherwise, one cannot postulate that any member of the joint Hindu family would be entitled to any portion of the land at all on a division taking place. It might well be that a member might be allotted, as his share of the joint family properties, properties other than agricultural or horticultural land. The view taken by Ganapatia Pillai, J., that it is not open to a member of the joint Hindu family to claim that he is liable to pay a proportionate share of the land revenue which would be less than the limit of Rs. 150, seems to us to be the correct view. Having regard also to the progress of the legislation in this regard as established by the corresponding provisions in Act V of 1954 and Act I of 1955, we are of the view that the Legislature deliberately left the case of a coparcener of a joint Hindu family paying land revenue in excess of Rs. 150 unprovided. If, solely by reason of the absence of any provision, the view should be taken that such a member can yet be regarded as an agriculturist, we would in effect be trespassing upon the legislative field.
7. We are accordingly of the view that the defendants in this case are not agriculturists and that the plaintiff is not entitled to have the advantage of the period of four months provided in Section 3 of the Act. It follows that the suit was barred by limitation. The petition is dismissed, but, in the circumstances without costs.