1. This is an appeal on behalf of the defendant in an action for rent based on a registered qabulyat executed on the 22nd July 1893. In the Courts below the claim was resisted substantially on two grounds namely, first, that the qabulyat was taken from the defendant by means of undue influence and coercion, and, secondly, that the qabulyat was invalid and inoperative inasmuch as the effect of it was to enhance the rent by more than two annas in the rupee in contravention of Section 29 of the Bengal Tenancy Act. The plaintiff landlord denied that the qabulyat had been obtained by the use of undue influence and coercion, and further contended that the qabulyat, executed as it had been in settlement of a bona fide dispute as to the rent payable in respect of the tenancy, was not affected by the provisions of Section 29 of the Act. The Courts below hive overruled both the objections of the tenant defendant and have held the plaintiff, entitled to realise rent at the rata mentioned in the contract.
2. The defendant has now appealed to this Court, and on his behalf it has been argued that he ought to have been allowed an opportunity to establish that by means of the qabulyat, the rent was as a matter of fact enhanced by more than two annas in the rupee in contravention of the provisions of Section 29 of the Act and that consequently it was inoperative even though it might be proved to have been executed in settlement of a bona fide dispute as to the rent payable. The learned Vakil for the appellant has conceded that the view put forward by him is substantially opposed to the decisions in Sheo Sahoy Panday v. Ram Rachia Ray 18 C. 333 and Nath Singh v. Damri Singh 28 C. 90, but he has suggested that these cases were erroneously decided and has invited us to dissent from them and to refer the question to a Full Bench for decision. In the case before us, there can be no serious dispute that if the cases mentioned are taken to have been correctly decided, they completly cover the matter in dispute between the parties, for it has been found concurrently by the Courts below, that there was a bona fide dispute between the landlord and the tenant as to the amount of rent annually payable in respect of the tenancy. It has indeed been faintly suggested on behalf of the appellant that the application of the decisions to which reference has been made ought to be restricted to cases in which there is a bona fide dispute as to the rate of rent, and that the principle which underlies them does not govern cases of dispute as to the area of the land comprised in the tenancy. In our opinion, if the cases are assumed to have been correctly decided this application cannot be limited in the manner suggested. The amount of rent annually payable may vary not only with the rate of rent but also with the area of the land comprised in the tenancy, and there is no intelligible reason why the principle in question should be restricted to cases of variation of the first element only. The question, therefore, arises whether those cases were correctly decided.
3. Our attention has been invited to the terms of Section 29 of the Bengal Tenancy Act, which it must be conceded are comprehensive enough to include within operation contracts executed in settlement of a bona fide dispute as to the amount of rent annually payable in respect of the tenancy. The learned Vakil for the appellant has contended that the practical effect of the view taken in the two cases to which reference has been made is to incorporate into Section 29 words not to be found there and thus to modify it so as to exclude from its operation contracts made in settlement of disputes. But although this argument is of considerable force, we are not prepared to say that the view taken by this Court in Sheo Sahoy Panday v. Ram Rachia Roy 18 C. 333 and subsequently followed in Nath Singh v. Damri Singh 28 C. 90 is absolutely unreasonable. The learned Judges appear to have made a distinction, perhaps somewhat refined but quite intelligible, between a contract for the enhancement of rent when, as in Probol Chandra Gaugapadhya v. Chirag Ali 11 C.W.N. 62, the initial rent is known, and a contract by which the rent is adjusted or settled in a case of bona fide dispute as to the amount of rent as in Sheo Sahoy Panduy v. Ram Rachia Roy 18 C. 333. If the matter had been res integra, we might perhaps have accepted the view urged on behalf of the appellant. But when we remember that the first of these cases to which we have referred was decided in 1891 and has since then been uniformly followed in this Court in numerous cases, we feel that we ought notto dissent from it at the distance of time. The Courts must always hesitate to overrule decisions which are not manifestly erroneous and mischievous which have stood for many years unchallenged and which from their nature may reasonably be supposed to have affected the conduct of a large portion of the community in matters relating to rights of property; Young v. Robertson 18 C. 333. If we were now to dissent from the decision to which we have referred, the result would be to affect the validity of numerous contracts between the landlords and tenants who might have entered into them on the faith of the correctness of this ruling and acted upon them, as in the present case, for years without any question. Whatever, therefore, our own individual opinion might be, if the question were one of first impression, we must uphold the decision of the District Judge. The result is that this appeal must be dismissed with costs.
4. This decision will govern Appeals Nos. 2326, 2621, 2684 to 2695 of 1907.