(1.)IN these cases the validity of Section 11-A of the Kerala Agriculturists Debt relief Act, 31 of 1958, which provides for the premature termination of melpattoms granted by an agriculturist before the commencement of the Act for periods of two years or more on application made by the gran-tors is challenged by the grantees, melpattomdars-as they are called. The original petitions are sack applications withdrawn to this Court under Article 228 of the Constitution while the revision petitions and the appeal are from orders made by subordinate Courts on such applications. The cases-have been referred to a Full Bench because of the-general importance of the questions involved.
(2.)SECTION 11-A runs as follows: ' 11-A. Special provisions regarding certain melpattoms.
(1) This section applies to all subsisting melpattoms granted by an agriculturist before the commencement of this Act for periods of two years or more. (2) Notwithstanding that the period of the melpattom has not expired, the person who granted the melpattom shall, on application, be entitled to terminate the melpattom on depositing into Court one-third of the advance outstanding. Explanation:-- For the purpose of this subsection "advance outstanding" means an amount which bears to the total amount of the advance-the same proportion as the unexpired term of the melpattom bears to its full term. (3) If there is dispute regarding the amount of the advance outstanding, the Court may provisionally determine the amount after such summary enquiry as it deems fit and direct the deposit of the deficit, if any. On such deposit, the rights of the melpattomdar to collect the usufructs shall cease and the person who granted the melpattom. shall be entitled to take the usufructs. (4) As soon as may be after the provisional determination of the amount, the Court shall, after due enquiry, finally determine the amount and pass-orders (i) for the deposit of the deficit or the adjustment or refund of the excess, if any, as the case-may be; and (ii) directing the person who granted the melpattom to deposit the balance amount, if any, in ten-equal half-yearly instalments together with interest which accrued due on such balance outstanding till the date of payment of each instalment at five per cent per annum, simple interest, the first instalment being payable within a period of six months-from the date of the first deposit or the date of the provisional determination of the amount of advance under Sub-section (2) or Sub-section (3) as the case may be. (5) The melpattomdar shall have a charge on-the land, the usufructs from which formed the subject of the melpattom, for the amount due, and such charge shall have priority over all other charges created after the date of the melpattom. (6) Court fees on the amount outstanding after the deposit under Subsection (2) shall be paid by the applicant before the recording of evidence or, where no such evidence is recorded before the final determination under Sub-section (4 ). (7) An order passed under Sub-section (4) shall also direct the sale of the land on which charge has been created under Sub-section (5) lor realising any amount due and such order shall be deemed to be a decree. " and, "melpattom" the Act itself spells tho word differently in different places is thus defined in Sec- "melpattom means any transaction relating only to the usufructs of trees for a specific period In recoupment of an advance made or promised. "
(3.)THE deeds in which the transactions in question are embodied call themselves melpattom deeds and the transaction, a melpattom. A melpattom (literally, a lease of what is above the surface) is a lease of trees with no interest in the land, ordinarily enuring for one year--see Sundara Iyer's, Mala-bar and AJiyasanthana law, pages 290 and 453 and C. Ramachandra Aiyar's, A Manual of Mala-bar Law, page 42, The principal argument advanced on behalf of the melpattomdars is, however, that the transactions we are considering, though called melpattoms, are really sales of goods, namely, coconuts, in one case arecanuts, as well, existing and future. The contention is that the transactions do not come within the definition of melpattom in Section 2 (ff) which pustulates a debtor-creditor relationship between the grantor and the grantee. If, however, they do, then section 11-A is beyond the legislative competence of the State and is also bad for offending Articles 14, 19, 301 and 304 of the Constitution.