V. Balasubrahmanyan, J.
1. This appeal raises a point of interpretation concerning the Tamil Nadu Debt Relief Act, 1972.
2. The Act was enacted by the State Legislature to grant to debtors in this State the benefit of scaling down their debts. Certain categories of debts, however, were not to get this statutory relief. These excepted categories were mentioned in the very forefront of the Act in Section 3, under eight Clauses (a) to (h). Clause (h), in particular contained six subcategories, under Sub-Clauses (A) to (F). The debts mentioned in these Clauses and sub-Clauses were not eligible for relief under the Act; they could not be scaled down.
3. The Nagapattinam Permanent Fund Limited, the appellant in this case, is a public limited company, carrying on business as a permanent fund. The respondent Thirunavukkarasu Mudaliar, owned money to this fund. The appellant sued the respondent on the debt and obtained a money decree for Rs. 1,163.91 on 8th August, 1972. The respondent subsequently applied to the Court for scaling down the decree, invoking the Tamil Nadu Debt Relief Act, 1972.
4. The appellant-company opposed the debtor's application contending that the debtor was not entitled to avail of the relief granted by the Act, because the debt in question stood excluded under Sub-Clause (4) of Clause (A) of Section 3.
5. Sub-Clause (A) relied on by the appellant, referred to debts and liabilities owned to public companies, as defined by the Companies Act, 1956. There was no dispute that the appellant was a public company within the meaning of the Companies Act, 1956. The learned D strict Munsif, therefore, had no hesitation in holding that the debt in the present cast stood excluded from the purview of the Tamil Nadu Debt Relief Act, 1972. He accordingly rejected the respondent's application for scaling down the decree as incompetent.
6. On appeal, however, the learned District Judge took a different view. While doing so, he did not, for one moment, say that the appellant was not a public company. Nor did he hold that the Sub-Clause (4) of Clause (A) of Section 3 did not apply to public companies. His reasoning was quite different. He treated Sub-Clause (A) of Section 3(h) as a mere general provision, as compared to Sub-Clause (B), which he regarded as a special provision. Sub-Clause (A), as already noticed, referred to debts and liabilities owned to public companies as defined under the Companies Act, 1956. Sub-Clause (B), on the other hand, related to debts and liabilities owned to banking companies to which the Banking Regulation Act, 1949 applied. The learned District Judge reasoned that a special provision if it applied, would exclude a general provision. According to his judgment, among the several sub-Clauses in Clause (h) of Section 3, the appellant could rely, if at all, only on Sub-Clause (B), which was a special provision and not on Sub-Clause (.4) which was a general provision but the learned Judge added that the appellant was not entitled to rely even on Sub-Clause (5) for the reason that the appellant had not obtained any licence from the Reserve Bank of India to do banking business. The learned Judge said that a licence of that kind was necessary for a banking company in order to enable it to function as such under the Banking Regulation Act, 1949 In this view, the learned District Judge concluded that the debt in this case cannot be taken out of the purview of the Tamil Nadu Debt Relief Act, 1972.
7. The appellant canvasses the correctness of the District Judge's view. He says that the learned Judge had not understood the scheme of Section 3 of the Tamil Nadu Debt Relief Act, 1972 nor the inter-relation between Sub-Clauses (A) and (B) of Clause (A) of that section.
8. I think this point is well taken, as a matter of statutory construction. To decide this point, however it is not necessary to go into the larger question whether the appellant, while carrying on the business of a permanent fund, is to be treated as a banking company, and whether the appellant was bound to take out a licence from the Reserve Bank of India to enable it to carry on its business even as a permanent fund. I shall assume, for argument's sake, that the appellant fails within the definition of a banking company under the Banking Regulation Act, 1949. I shall further assume that the appellant must be regarded as carrying on banking business in contravention of the law in so far as the appellant had not armed itself with the requisite licence from the Reserve Bank. On these assumptions, the question still would be whether the appellant can claim that the decree debt owed to it by the respondent is not covered by the Tamil Nadu Debt Relief Act, 1972, but stands excluded from its purview, under Sub-Clauses (4) and (B) of Clause (h) of Section 3, because the appellant is a public company as defined under the Companies Act, 1936. When it is found that Sub-Clause (A) applies, the eye need look no further to find out if the appellant comes under any other sub-Clause of Clause (A).
9. I do not accept the District Judge's distinction that Sub-Clause (A) is a 'general' provision and, (B) a 'special provision'. These two sub-Clauses, not to speak of the other sub-Clauses in Clause (h) are all of equal status. All are enumerated exceptions enacted under the statute. They are by no means mutually exclusive although each might turn in its own orbit, as it were. The result is that the moment we find, on examination, that any given debt falls under some particular sub-Clause or Clause in Section 3, we must know that we have reached the end of our inquiry. We do not have to travel beyond to find out what the position might be under any other sub-Clause or Clause of Section 3. That, indeed, would be quite a wasteful quest.
10. The learned District Judge almost placed the appellant on the horns of a diemma when he said that the appellant cannot claim under Sub-Clause (A) because it has got to claim only under Sub-Clause (B) and it cannot claim under Sub-Clause (B) because it is not possessed of a banking licence. This argument, in my judgment, ignores the elementary fact of the appellant's incorporation. Let us assume that want of banking licence from the Reserve Bank would disqualify the appellant from being a banking company. But that would only be a disqualification under the Banking Regulation Act, 1949. It cannot undermine the appellant's undoubted corporate identity as a public company under the Companies Act, 1956. When thus the appellant is comprehended within the coverage of Sub-Clause (A), it matters not that the appellant is put out of Sub-Clause (B).
11. I allow this appeal for the reasons stated above. This means that the learned District Judge's, order is not aside and the District Munsif's order is restored. There will be no order as to costs.