B.C. Chakrabarti, J.
1. Thesetwo Rules are directed against an appellate order passed in Misc. Appeal Nos. 87/78 and 88/78 of the 3rd Court of the Id. Additional District Judge, Murshidabad affirming an order of preemption under Section 8 of the West Bengal Land Reforms Act passed in Misc. Case Nos. 19/77 and 20/77 of the 2nd Court of Munsif at Jangipur. The miscellaneous cases were disposed of by a common judgment and the appeals too were heard analogously.
2. Both the courts below having allowed the prayer for pre-emption, the petitioners in these revisional applications have raised a short point in opposing the order, namely whether the court could legally make any order for pre-emption in view of the provisions of Section 14-M of the Land Reforms Act. (hereinafter referred to as the Act), without determination of the ceiling area mentioned in the said section.
3. Section 14-M appertains to Chapter IIB of the Act which was introducedby the West Bengal Land Reforms (Amendment) Act. 1971. The section provides for a ceiling area which the different categories of raiyats referred to in the various sub-sections of Section 14-M, may hold and retain. Lands in excess of such area vest in the State in view of Section 14-S of the Act. With the introduction of Chapter IIB, Section 8 also was amended. The section, in material part now reads as follows:-- '(1), If a portion or share of a holding of a raiyat is transferred to any person other than a co-sharer in the holding, any co-sharer raiyat of the holding may, within three months of the service of the notice given under Sub-section (5) of Section 5 or any raiyat possessing land adjoining such holding, may within four months of the date of such transfer, apply to the Munsif having territorial jurisdiction, for transfer of the said portion or share of the holding to him, subject to the limit mentioned in Section 14-M on deposit of the consideration money together with a further sum of ten per cent of that amount.'
4. In view of this provision the petitioners raised a point before the lower appellate court that no order for preemption could be lawfully made until determination of the question whether the land sought to be pre-empted if added to the land already held by the raiyat would or would not exceed the limit prescribed by Section 14-M. Relying upon a single Bench decision in the case of Asraf Hossain v. Jahangir Hossain reported in (1978) 2 Cai LJ 143, the appellate court overruled the contention.
5. Being aggrieved at the decision the petitioners have moved the present revisional applications. In view of conflicting decisions on the point, the Rules which were previously pending before a learned single Judge of this Court have been assigned to us for disposal.
6. Mr. Roy appearing in support of these applications relying on the authority of a single Bench decision in the case of Pasupati Mondal v. Subhrangsu Mondai reported in (1981) 2 Cal LJ 22, and another single Bench decision in the case of Kalipada v. Dulal (1978) 2 Cal LJ 155, contended that Section 14-M of the Act enjoins a duty on the court to take into consideration the limits mentioned in the said section, the grant of pre-emption being dependant on the limit prescribedtherein, Mr. Roy argued that pre-emption is a very weak right encroaching on the contractual right of a person to acquire or transfer property, and it is incumbent on the court to construe the provisions rather strictly and meticulously. He contended that determination of the ceiling is a condition precedent to the grant of pre-emption.
7. There is indeed some conflict of opinion in the decisions referred to above. Necessarily the point deserves a closer examination. The question that falls for our consideration precisely is whether determination of the ceiling is a condition precedent to the grant and whether the Munsif in seisin of an application for preemption has the requisite jurisdiction to make such determination.
8. We have already indicated that Section 14-M prescribes the maximum quantum of land that a raiyat may hold. Section 14-S provides for vesting of Sands in excess of ceiling area in the State free from all incumbrances. Section 14-T casts a duty on every raiyat owning land in excess of the ceiling area to furnish a return to the Revenue Officer containing a description of the lands he proposes to retain together with a description of the lands which are in excess of the ceiling. Sub-section (3) empowers the Revenue Officer on receipt of a return, to determine the extent of land which is to vest in the State under Section 14-S and take possession of such lands. The proviso to Sub-section (3) lays down that the Revenue Officer may, in appropriate cases even disregard the choice exercised by the raiyat. Sub-section (4) provides for imposition of penalty if a raiyat fails to furnish the return or wilfully makes any omission or incorrect statements therein. Section 14-Y lays down that if any raiyat acquires any land, whether by transfer, inheritance or otherwise, after the commencement of the provisions of this Chapter namely Chapter IIB. and such land, together with the land owned by him, exceeds the ceiling area applicable to him under Section 14-M, the area of land which is in excess of such ceiling shall vest in the State and all the provisions relating to ceiling on holding shall apply to such land. Finally Section 14X provides that no civil court shall have jurisdiction to decide or deal with any question or to determine any matter which is,under the provisions of this Chapter determinable by the Revenue Officer,
9. These are the relevant provisions touching the point now awaiting decision by us. It is clear that acquisition of property is not prohibited by the provisions of Chapter IIB. Pre-emption in substance is also a mode of acquisition of property. Such acquisition is subject to the provisions of Section 14Y which lays down what is to be done in the case of future acquisition meaning thereby acquisitions made subsequent to the introduction of the Amending Act of 1971. The raiyat in such a case would be required to furnish a further return. The Revenue Officer is then required to act in terms of Chapter IIB to determine as to how to deal with the acquired land. In this connection a reference to the Rules framed under the Act may be usefully made. Under Section 80 of the Act the rules made shall have effect as if they were incorporated in the Act. Rule 14C deals with the form and manner of submission of return. Sub-rule (3) lays down that if any raiyat acquires land whether by transfer, inheritance or otherwise after the 15th day of Jan. 1971 and such land exceeds the ceiling he shall within 3 months from the date of such of acquisition furnish a return in triplicate, in Form 7A to the Revenue Officer having jurisdiction in the area. It may be mentioned here that the impugned sales which are sought to be pre-empted took place in 1975. It follows therefore that future acquisition is not prohibited and in case of future acquisition a further return in the prescribed form is requird to be submitted to the Revenue Officer. Acquisition by pre-emption toeing also an acquisition within the meaning of the Act, what is necessary is the submission of a fresh return. If the land pre-empted either in whole or in part exceeds the limit, it is for the Revenue Officer to deal with it. Needless to say that the right to determine the ceiling is with the Revenue Officer.
10. Again, the land pre-empted may be partly within the ceiling and partly outside. The raiyat in such a case can exercise his choice of retention. For the sake of homogeneity and compact ness he may choose to retain the preempted land and give up other lands lying scattered and elsewhere. Under Section 14T it is for the Revenue Officer to decide whether the choice exercised by the raiyat should be accepted or not. The Munsif in dealing with an application for pre-emption cannot require the raiyat to exercise his choice of retention and then assume a jurisdiction to deal with it. The statute does not confer any such powers on him.
11. Now if Mr. Roy's contention is accepted it would mean as if the Munsif dealing with an application for preemption would be required to determine whether 'the pre-empted land or any part of it if added to the land already held by the raiyat would exceed the limit prescribed by Section 14-M. Such determination being in the exclusive jurisdiction of the Revenue Officer, in terms of Section 14X, the Munsif would be incompetent to make any such determination. Even if he does, the Revenue Officer's -jurisdiction would not be fettered thereby. He would still be entitled to determine the ceiling in his own way and under the statute the latter determination should prevail. In such a situation, any determination by the Munsif, before granting pre-emption, apart from being without jurisdiction, would lead to an absurdity which can never be the intention of the legislature. Considered in that light, the use of the expression 'subject to the limit mentioned in the Section 14-M' in Section 8 of the Act can only mean that the order for pre-emption would not be exempt from the operation of Section 14-M or for the matter of that, other provisions of Chapter IIB.
12. The use of the above expression in Section 8 may not be very happy but where the main object and intention of a statute are very clear, it must not be reduced to a nullity or absurdity by the draftsman's unskilful or unnecessary use of words. Even if the expression had not been introduced in the Section 8, the pre-emption would still then have been subject to Section 14Y and therefore to Section 14-M as well. The use of the words 'subject to the limit mentioned in Section 14-M' was clearly redundant but it can never be construed to confer a jurisdiction on the Munsif to determine the ceiling which jurisdiction is exclusively conferred by clear and unambiguous terms on the Revenue Officer. We are therefore inclined to accept the view taken in Asraf v. Jahangir (1978-2 Cal LJ 143) (supra) and respectfully differ with the contrary view expressed in the other cases,
13. It may be that an order granting pre-emption may enable a raiyat to hold lands in excess of the ceiling temporarily but that is inevitable. And if such a situation can arise in the event of acquisition of land in any other mode, we do not see why there should be a departure in the case of acquisition by pre-emption. This apart it will bear repetition that the jurisdiction of the Civil Court and necessarily of the Munsif is expressly taken away by Section 14X, In the result we find that the expression 'subject to the limit etc.' does not require the Munsif to determine the ceiling before making the order. It only means that after the order is made it shall be subject to the limitations pre-scribed by Section 14-M.
14. In this view of the matter, we are unable to accept the contention o Mr. Roy. The revisional applications are thus liable to fail and are hereby dismissed,
15. Rules are discharged. There will be no order for costs.
Anil K. Sen, J.