G. Ramanujam, J.
1. The appellant herein is the decree-holder in O. S. No. 575 of 1972 and he obtained a decree in the said suit on 9th March, 1973. The respondent herein who is the judgment-debtor, filed an application on 25th December, 1973, for amendment of the decree and for scaling down the debt under Section 15(1) of Tamil Nadu Debt Relief Act (XXXVIII of 1972) hereinafter referred to as the Act), which had been published on 16th December, 1972. The said application was resisted by the decree-holder contending that the judgment-debtor is not a debtor as defined in the Act and therefore, be is not entitled to claim the benefits of the Act and the decree is not liable to be scaled down.
2. The Court below held that the respondent-judgment-debtor was a debtor as defined in the Act and therefore, he is entitled to maintain the application under Section 15(1) of the Act for amendment of the decree and for scaling down the debt. The decision of the Court below has been challenged in this appeal by the appellant, who is the decree-holder on the ground that the application having been filed by the judgment-debtor more than six months after the date of the publication of the Act, the same should be taken to be barred by time. Though this point does not appear to have been raised before the Court below, the point being one related to limitation, the same has to be considered by this Court.
3. According to the learned Counsel for the appellant, the period of six months prescribed in Section 15(1) of the Act, applies both to the judgment-debtor as well as to the decree-holder while the contention on behalf of the respondents is that the limitation of six months prescribed in the said section applies only to the decree-holder and not to the judgment-debtor. Having regard to these rival submissions, it is necessary to scan through Section 15(1) of the Act, which is as follows-
15(1). Where before the publication of this Act a Court has passed a decree for the repayment of a debt, it shall, on the application of any judgment debtor who is a debtor within the meaning of this Act, or in respect of a Hindu joint family debt, on the application of any member of the family whether or not he is the judgment-debtor or on the application the decree-holder within six months from the date of publication of this Act, apply the provisions of this Act to such decree and shall, notwithstanding any thing contained in the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 amend the decree accordingly or enter satisfaction, as the case may be.
Under Section 15(2), the said limitation of six months applies even to decrees passed after the date of publication of the Act. Construing the said provision, N. S. Rama-swami, J. held in Ramakrishna v. Randasami Thevar (1975) 88 LW 255. that the limitation of six months prescribed therein applies only to an application by a decree-holder and not to an application by the judgment-debtor or a member of a joint family in the case of a Hindu joint family debt. According to the learned Judge, a true grammatical construction of Section 15(1) would lead to this conclusion, as there is no comma after the words 'on the application of a decree-holder' which, means that the subsequent clause 'within six months from the date of publication of Act' has to be tacked on to the clause on the application of the decree-holder and therefore the said six months period would not be attracted to the earlier clause in the said section which deals with applications by judgment-debtors.
4. Construing the same provision, Balasubrahmanyan, J. in an unreported decision, Annmalai v. Saraswathi Ammal 91 LW 642 : (1978) 2 MLJ 447. held, differing from N. S. Ramaswami, J. that the normal construction of the provision does not make a distinction or discrimination between an application filed by a judgment-debtor and an application filed by a decree-holder and the absence of a comma cannot be relied on for imputing any such discrimination to the Legislature.
5. The conflict in the above two decisions has since been resolved by a Division Bench of this Court in Panthanam Ammal v. Srinivasa Iyengar : AIR1979Mad241 . The Bench expressed the view that a reading of Section 15(1) of the Act will clearly show that the section prescribed a period of limitation of six months for filing an application under that provision for amendment of the decree, that there is absolutely nothing in the section or in the Act, to indicate as to why there should be a discriminatory treatment between an application by a judgment-debtor and an application filed by a decree-holder and that on the other hand, a perusal of the different provisions of the Act will show that it is the scheme of the Act itself which provides a period of six months as the period of limitation for a judgment-debtor to file an application for amendment the decree. After dealing with the scope of Section 14 and Section 18 of the Act, the Bench observed that the period of limitation prescribed in Section 15(1) will apply not only to an application filed by a decree-holder but also to an application filed by a judgment-debtor. The Bench also took the view, that the absence of presence of a punctuation mark cannot have the effect of distorting the statutory provision, that though a punctuation mark may be of assistance in the case of ambiguity, it cannot have a controlling effect in the construction of a statutory provision and that so long as the language is clear and the purport of the statutory provision is unambiguous the absence or presence of a punctuation mark is immaterial. In this view the Bench approved the view of Balasubrabmanyan, J., and disagreed with the view expressed by N. S. Ramaswami, J.
6. Having regard to the said decision of the Bench, the application filed by the respondent-judgment-debtor on 25th December, 1973, under Section 15(2) of the Act, which is admittedly beyond the period of six months from 15th December, 1972, the date of the publication of the Act as provided in Section 15(1) should be taken to be barred by time. In this view of the matter, it is unnecessary to go into the question as to whether the respondent judgment-debtor is a debtor as defined in the said Act. Even if the respondent is found to be a debtor as defined in the Act since the application filed by him under Section 15(2) of the Act is barred by time, he cannot get any relief. In this view of the matter, the appeal has to be allowed and the order of the Court below has to be set aside. The appeal is accordingly allowed. No costs.