JOSEPH THOMAS Vs. TALUK LAND BOARD
LAWS(KER)-1978-9-13
HIGH COURT OF KERALA
Decided on September 01,1978

JOSEPH THOMAS Appellant
VERSUS
TALUK LAND BOARD Respondents

JUDGEMENT

- (1.) THE first petitioner was holding 34. 50 acres of land as a lessee from the Vaikom Vadayar Brahmana Samooham. On 30121969, he gifted it to petitioners 3 to 6. In ceiling proceedings against the Ist petitioner, the Taluk Land Board treated the gifts as invalid, and included the said extent of land in the declarant's account. His case that the lands are exempted from ceiling provisions, under S. 81 (I) (t), was rejected. In this revision petition against the Board's order, the question of exemption alone is raised.
(2.) S. 81 (1) exempts certain classes of lands from the ceiling provisions of Chapter III of the Act. Lands owned or held by the government, lands comprised in mills, factories etc. , house sites, commercial sites, building sites, private forests, plantations, lands occupied by educational institutions and lands granted to defence personnel are all included in the exemption. The exemption in clause (t) with which we are concerned, is in the following terms: "81 (1 ). The provisions of this Chapter shall not apply to: (t) lands owned or held by (i) a University established by law; or (ii) a religious, charitable or educational institution of a public nature; or (iii) a public trust (which expression shall include a wakf): Provided that (i) the entire income of such lands is appropriated for the University, institution or trust concerned; and (ii) where the University institution or trust comes to hold the said lands after the commencement of this Act, the Government have certified previously that such lands are bonafide required for the purposes of the University, institution or trust, as the case may be. " It is said that the Brahmana Samooham is a religious or charitable institution of a public nature. The owner of the land is (was) this institution and the rent paid by the petitioners is (was) being appropriated for it. The argument is that clause (t) covers both ownership and holding in the alternative, with the result that the lands in question, admittedly belonging to the institution, should stand outside the fold of the ceiling provisions, even if they are in the possession and enjoyment of another who cannot claim the status of a religious or charitable institution. What is exempted is the land; a religious or charitable institution may be its owner, or it may have only a tenancy right over it. In either case, (and even where the institution is the owner, but possession is with a lessee) it is to be exempted. Reference was made to the definition clauses in S. 2 (40) and 2 (59 ). If these are treated as the dictionary for construing the words in clause (t), all that is required to claim exemption is to show that the proprietor of the land is an institution of the character referred to. This was shown and it was undisputed. The exemption should therefore have been granted. So goes the argument. Chapter III deals with "restriction on ownership and possession of land in excess of ceiling area and disposal of excess lands". The heading furnishes the clue to the legislative scheme therein. S. 82 prescribes the ceiling area applicable to all persons, including statutory families and other artificial persons. S. 83 prohibits the holding of land in excess of the ceiling. S. 84 and part of S. 85 invalidate certain transfers for the purpose of computing the extent of land held by a person as on 1-1-1970. The latter Section also provides for filing of returns, computation of extent, and surrender of excess lands. All lands held as excess, in proceedings under s. 85, vest in the Government under S. 86. S. 87 deals with acquisition of excess lands after 1-1-1970. S. 88 to 93 provide for fixation and payment of compensation for the excess lands assumed by the State. S. 95 and 96 enumerate the classes of persons among whom the excess lands are to be distributed. S. 97 prescribes the rate of purchase price payable by the above, for their getting assignment from Government. Thus, the Key provisions of the Chapter are those contained in S. 82 and 83 on the one hand, laying down the policy that none should have lands beyond a certain extent; and S. 95 and 96 on the other, earmarking the excess for distribution among the landless and the small cultivators. S. 81 with which we are here directly concerned is only ancillary to the working out of the above legislative scheme; and its provisions cannot therefore be read in isolation or in a technical manner likely to defeat the very purpose of the Chapter. Even the definition clauses in S. 2 can only be understood in this context. In Govinda Pillai v. Taluk Land Board (1977 KLT. 258), an argument was advanced that lands in the possession of a mortgagee could not enter the reckoning of ceiling limit for the purposes of S. 84, because that section concerned itself only with persons "owning or holding land in excess of the ceiling area". The definitions in Clause. 2 (40) and 2 (59)were pressed into service to contend that possession of a mortgagee was not the same thing as "owning or holding" the land, within their meaning. The division Bench repelled this contention by taking note of the scope and purpose of Chapter III and the context in which the words "owning" and "holding" were used. The well-known rule that definition clauses can be applied only "unless the context otherwise requires" was invoked; and it was held that the word "hold" in S. 84 could not be understood in the restricted sense indicated by the language of S. 2 (59 ). Said the division Bench: "the learned Advocate-General referred to S. 83 of the Act, which prohibits the owning, holding or possessing under a mortgage lands in the aggregate, in excess of the ceiling area. This is the basic provision with respect to which the liability to surrender and the extent of lands to be surrendered had to be decided. It is for the purpose of reckoning this ceiling area that transfers are avoided under S. 84. After avoiding such transfers and bringing to account the transferred lands, the total extent of land owned or possessed by a person is calculated; and, in the light of the ceiling provisions of the Act, the excess lands are caused to be surrendered and to vest in the Government under S. 86 of the Act. It will thus be seen that the provision as to ceiling area, the declaration of unlawfulness of possession or ownership of lands in excess of the ceiling area, the vesting of lands in excess of the same and the liability to surrender lands in excess of the ceiling area, are all part of an integrated scheme under the Land Reforms Act of enforcing the ceiling provisions to determine the extent of lands which a person is lawfully entitled to retain and to enforce the vesting and surrender of the excess lands. It would, in the nature of things, defeat the very object of these provisions and the Act, if the possession of a mortgagee were to be taken into account for the purpose of some of the Sections and left out of account for the purpose of the others. We do not think such would have been the intendment or purpose of the Act; and except for compelling reasons, would be reluctant to conclude that a mortgagee's possession is covered by some of the sections, but not by S. 84 or S. 85 (9 ). It appears to us that the context requires that the definition of the term 'hold' given in S. 2 clause (59) cannot regulate or govern S. 84 or 85 clause (9) of the Act. For the purpose of these sections we think the expression'hold' must be given a wider meaning and connotation. "
(3.) THUS, the integrated scheme in Chapter III rests on the computation of the extent of land a person is entitled to retain; and the exemptions in S. 81 (1) have to be construed in this context, and this context alone. If the various clauses in S. 81 (I) are examined in this background, a broad classification emerges: the exemptions are either based on the character of the land itself, or the character of the person who should be permitted to retain it. Private forests, plantations, sites of building and house sites are exempted because the legislature thought that these classes of lands should not be affected by the ceiling provisions, irrespective of the question as to who holds them. Similarly, lands owned or held by Government, lands under the management of court of wards, lands purchased by the Land Mortgage Bank and the financial Corporation, lands belonging to or held by industrial or commercial undertakings, and lands occupied by educational institutions are instances where the exemptions are geared to the nature or character of the persons holding them. In other words, certain kinds of lands are to be kept out of the ceiling limits without an enquiry as to who holds them or for what purpose; while lands of all kinds are to be exempted if they are held by certain persons, and for certain purposes. It appears to me that clause (t) falls into this latter group; and though its language may indicate that the exemption is for the land, it is really for the university, institution or trust mentioned therein. Clause (t) can be invoked only by them, in ceiling proceedings relating to them, when the question arises what extent of land they should be permitted to hold. A person other than a university, institution or trust cannot claim exemption under this clause from the operation of S. 83, on the ground that the land held by him is owned by the former. The purpose of clause (t) is to ensure that a university, institution or trust depending wholly or in part on the income from their lands, are not adversely affected by the ceiling provisions. They should be able to carry on and they should continue to get the income, as is clear from the proviso. Though the ceiling provisions are to be worked out with reference to 1-1-1970, the exemptions are to enure not only for that day, or for the period prior to it, as contended for by counsel, but for all time to come. Admittedly hi this case, the right, title and interests of the Samooham in respect of the lands in question had vested in - Government. The Samooham had lost the lands for ever and it was hot deriving any income therefrom. It is not possible to conceive even for a moment that the legislature exempted the lands of a university or other institutions like the Samooham, on condition that they should be able to enjoy the income therefrom, so that the exemption could benefit a lessee entitled to cut away not only the income, but also its source. The legislature was aware that lands belonging to such institutions, but outstanding on tenancies, would cease to be theirs under the other provisions of the Act, and that they would be getting no income thereafter. The significance of the first proviso to clause (t) cannot be lost sight of in construing the clause. Literal construction, grammatical approach and other rules of interpretation have all their place, though often condemned as strong-holds of conservatism; but they are but tools for the discovery of the legislative intent, and not for its frustration. It is well-known that churches, temples, devaswoms, wakfs and other religious and charitable endowments own extensive lands throughout the State and that such lands are often in the possession of tenants entitled to fixity. If these lands are excluded from ceiling provisions, the benefit goes not to the institutions, but to the lessees; and to construe clause (t) in such a manner will certainly undermine the purpose behind S. 82, 83, 95 & 96. The letter cannot be permitted to kill where the spirit gives life.;


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