Atma Ram Vs. The State of Punjab &
Ors  INSC 126 (8 December 1958)
SINHA, BHUVNESHWAR P.
DAS, SUDHI RANJAN (CJ) BHAGWATI, NATWARLAL H.
CITATION: 1959 AIR 519 1959 SCR Supl. (1) 748
CITATOR INFO :
R 1960 SC 796 (3) R 1960 SC1080 (17,69,75) E
1961 SC 954 (23) R 1962 SC 137 (8) R 1962 SC 694 (26,27,67) R 1962 SC 723 (42)
R 1965 SC 632 (4) R 1967 SC1110 (11,12) R 1967 SC1373 (40) R 1972 SC 425 (31) F
1972 SC 486 (13) R 1985 SC 236 (46) RF 1988 SC1708 (15)
Land Tenure-Modification of landlord's rights
in land-Enactment-Competence of State Legislature-Constitutional
validity--Punjab Security of Land Tenure Act (Punj. X of 1953),as amended by
Act XI of 1955, s. 18-Constitution of India, Arts. 14, 19, 31, 31A, 246(3),
Entry 18,List 11, Seventh Schedule-Punjab Land Revenue Act (Punj. XVII of
1887), ss. 3(1), 3(3).
The point in controversy in these petitions
was the constitutional validity of the Punjab Security of Land Tenure Act
(Punj. X Of 1953), as amended by Act XI of 1955, which sought to "provide
for the security of land-tenure and other incidental matters ". The
impugned Act which admittedly dealt with holdings as defined by the Punjab
Land-Revenue Act, 1887, limited the area which might be held by a landowner for
the purpose of self-cultivation and thereby released surplus area to be
utilised for resettling ejected tenants ; and by s. 18 conferred upon the
tenants the right to purchase from the land-owners the lands held by them and
thus themselves to become the landowners on prices which would be below the
market value. It was contended on behalf of the petitioners, who were landowners
affected by the impugned Act, that under Entry 18 in List II of the Seventh
Schedule to the Constitution, the State Legislature was incompetent to enact a
law limiting the extent of the land to be held by a land-owner and that the
provisions of the impugned Act contravened the petitioners' fundamental rights
under Arts. 14, 19(1)(f)and 31 of the Constitution.
Held, that the contentions must fail.
The words " rights in or over land
" and " land tenures occurring in Entry 18 in List 11 of Seventh
Schedule to the Constitution were sufficiently comprehensive to include
measures of land-tenure reforms, such as the impugned Act, that sought to limit
the extent of land in cultivating possession of the landowner in order to
release larger areas of land to be made available for cultivation by tenants
and that Entry read with Art. 246(3) of the Constitution gave the State
Legislature exclusive power to enact such measures.
Such determination of the relation of
landlord and tenant as was contemplated by s. 18 and other provisions of the
impugned Act, which sought to convert a tenant into a landowner, was well
within the ambit of Entry 18.
749 The United Provinces v. Mst. Atiqa Begum,
 F.C.R. 110 and Megh Raj v. Allah Rakhi, (1946) L.R. 74 I.A. 12, referred
It was beyond doubt that the impugned Act
substantially modified the land-owner's rights to hold and dispose of his
property in any estate or portion thereof and thus fell within the purview of
Art. 31A(1)(a) of the Constitution and was immune from any attack on the ground
that it contravened Arts. 14, 19and 31 of the Constitution.
The observations made by this Court in Thakur
Raghubir Singh v. Court of Wards, Ajmer,  S.C.R. 1049, in connection with
another Act, with absolutely different provisions, must be limited to the facts
of that case and were wholly inapplicable.
Thakur, Raghubir Singh v. Court of Wards,
Ajmer,  S.C.R. 1049, distinguished and held inapplicable.
The words " any estate or of any rights
therein " occurring in Art. 31A(1)(a) read in the light of Art. 31A(2)
included any kinds of rights either quantitative or qualitative in the area
encompassed by an estate or any portion of it and thus included holdings as
defined by the Punjab Land-Revenue Act, 1887, and any shares or portions
Regard being had to the legal maxim that the
greater must include the less, it was, inappropriate to suggest that the
Constitution should have specifically mentioned "portion of an
estate" in Art. 31A if it intended to give that Article such a
Bhagirath Ram Chand v. State of Punjab,
A.I.R. 1954 Pun.
State of Punjab v. S. Kehar Singh, (1958)
60P.L.R. 461, disapproved.
Ram Narain Medhi v. The State of Bombay,
 SUPP. (1) S.C.R. 489, applied.
Hukam Singh v. The State of Punjab, (1955) 57
P.L.R. 359, referred to.
ORIGINAL JURISDICTION: Petitions Nos. 176,
177 and 253 of 1956; 34, 35, 51-53, 69, 70, 75, 94 & 137 of 1957 ; 34, 58,
72, 90, 92, 106, 109 & 115 of 1958.
Petitions under Article 32 of the
Constitution of India for.
enforcement of Fundamental rights.
C.B. Aggarwal and Naunit Lal, for the
petitioner (In Petition No. 176 of 1956).
Achhru Ram and Naunit Lal, for the petitioner
(In Petition No. 177 of 56).
Naunit Lal, for the petitioner (In Petitions
Nos. 253/ 56;
34, 35, 51-53, 69, 70, 75, 94 and 137/57; 34,
58, 92, 106, 109 & 115/58).
750 Radhey Lal Aggarwal and A. G.
Ratnaparkhi, for the petitioner (In Petition No. 90/58).
H. N. Sanyal, Additional Solicitor-General of
India, S.M. Sikri, Advocate-General for the State of Punjab, Gopal Singh and T.
M. Sen, for respondent No. 1 (In Petition No. 176/56).
S.M. Sikri, Advocate General for the State of
Punjab, and T. M. Sen, for respondent No. 1 (In Petitions Nos. 177 &
253/56; 34, 35, 51-53, 69, 70, 75, 94 & 137/57; 34, 58, 72, 90, 92, 106,
109 & 115/58).
R.S. Gheba, for respondent No. 3 (In Petition
Dipak Dutta Chowdhury, for respondent No. 3
(In Petition No. 176/56).
Udai Bhan Chowdhury, for respondent No. 7 (In
59/57) and respondent No. 3 (In Petition No.
Harnam Singh and Sadhu Singh, for the
Interveners (In Petition No. 176/56).
1958. December 8. The Judgment of the Court
was delivered by SINHA, J.-These petitions under Art. 32 of the Constitution
impugn the constitutionality of the Punjab Security of Land Tenure Act (Punj. X
of 1953) (which will be referred to hereinafter as the Act), as amended by Act
XI of 1955. The petitioners are land-owners of the lands affected by the
provisions of the impugned Act. The State of Punjab and its officers, besides
persons claiming benefits under the Act, are the respondents in these several
The impugned Act has a history which may
shortly be set out.
With a view to providing for the security of
tenure to tenants, the Punjab Tenants (Security of Tenure) Ordinance IV of 1950,
was promulgated with effect from May 13, 1950.
That Ordinance was replaced by the Punjab
Tenants (Security of Tenure) Act XII of 1950, which came into force on November
6, 1950, on the date on which it was first published in the Punjab Government
Gazette. The Act prescribed a limit of one hundred standard acres of land
(equivalent to two hundred ordinary acres) which could be 751 held by a
land-owner for his " self-cultivation "; and it was termed"
permissible limit "-(s. 2(3) ). Any landowner having land in excess of the
" permissible limit was authorized by s. 3 to select for "
self-cultivation land out of the entire area held by him in the State of.
Punjab, as land-owner, and reserve it for his own use to the extent of the
" permissible limit ". This " right of reservation " had to
be exercised, first, in respect of land in his self cultivation; and if the
extent of such land fell short of the " permissible limit ", he
could, under s. 4, make up the deficiency by ejecting tenants under him in
respect of such lands as fell within his reserved area. Section 5 fixed the
minimum period of tenancy as four years, subject to certain exceptions set out
in s. 6. These were some of the salient features of the Act of 1950, which
itself was amended by the Punjab Tenants (Security of Tenure) Act (Punj. V of
1951), which came into force on December 24, 1951. By the amending Act, the
" permissible limit " was reduced to 50 standard acres equivalent to
100 ordinary acres, and the minimum period of tenancy was raised to five years.
It also made provisions for preferential right of pre-emption-(s. 12A), and
conferred a right of purchase on the tenant in respect of land in his
possession-(s. 12B), subject to certain exceptions(s. 12C). Another legislation
in this series was the Prevention of Ejectment (Temporary Powers) Ordinance No.
1 of 1952, which came into force on June 11, 1952. Then, came the Punjab
Security of Land Tenure Act (Punj. X of 1953), now impugned, which repealed the
aforesaid Acts XII of 1950 and V of 1951. It came into force on April 15, 1953.
This Act itself was amended by Act LVII of 1953 and Act XI of 1955. Though.
this Act has undergone subsequent amendments in 1957 and 1958, we are not
concerned with those amendments, because they came into existence after this
Court was moved under Art. 32 of the Constitution. We are concerned with the
state of the law as it stood after the amendment of 1955, aforesaid.
Before dealing with the grounds of attack
urged against the impugned Act, it is convenient to set out, 752 in a
nut-shell, the salient provisions of the Act, which have given rise to the
present controversy, and which give an idea of the scope and nature of the
legislation now under examination. The Act has a short Preamble, namely, "
to provide for the security of land tenure and other incidental matters ".
The Act further reduces the " permissible area " (s. 2(3) ) in
relation to a landlord or a tenant, to 30 standard acres equivalent to 60
ordinary acres, thus, releasing a larger area for re-settlement of tenants
ejected or to be ejected under the provisions of the Act. So to say, it creates
a pool of "surplus area" (s. 2(5-a)), meaning thereby the area other
than the "reserved area" in excess of the "permissible
area" as aforesaid.
"Reserved area" means the area
lawfully reserved by the landlord under the provisions of the two Acts
aforesaid, which were repealed by the Act-(s. 2(4)). The definition of a tenant
under the Act, includes a sub-tenant and a self cultivating lessee-(s. 2(6)).
As already indicated, a tenant also may be liable to be ejected from any area
which he holds in any capacity whatever in excess of the " permissible
area ". Section 10-A authorizes the State Government or any officer
empowered by it in this behalf, to utilize any " surplus area " for
re-settlement of tenants ejected or to be ejected under the provisions of s.
But a tenant inducted on to such "
surplus area ", holds the land under the land-owner, who, thus, becomes
entitled to receipt of rent from the tenant. Section 12 lays down the maximum
rent payable by a tenant. Section 17 recognizes the rights of certain tenants
to pre-empt sales or fore-closure of land. Section 18, which formed the
subject-matter of the most vehement attack on behalf of the petitioners, confers
upon the tenants of the description given in the several clauses of the Act,
the right to purchase from the landowner the land held by them, subject to
certain exceptions, and subject to the payment in a lump sum or in six monthly installments
not exceeding ten, of the purchase-price to be determined in accordance with
cls. (2) and (3) of s. 18.
Section 23 invalidates any decree or order of
any. court or authority, or a notice 753 of ejectment, which is not consistent
with the provisions of the Act. Thus, the Act seeks to limit the area which may
be held by a land-owner for the purpose of self-cultivation, thereby, releasing
" surplus area " which may be utilized for the purpose of resettling
ejected tenants, and affording an opportunity to the tenant to become the
land-owner himself on payment of the purchase-price which, if anything, would
be less than the market value. It, thus, aims at creating what it calls a class
of " small land-owners " meaning thereby, holders of land not
exceeding the " permissible area "-(s. 2(2)). The utmost emphasis has
been laid on self-cultivation which means " cultivation by a landowner
either personally or through his wife or children, or through such of his
relations as may be prescribed, or under his supervision "-(s. 2(9) ).
The arguments at the Bar, on behalf of the
petitioners may be put under three main heads, namely, (1) that the Legislature
had no legislative competence to enact the Act, (2) that the provisions of the
Act contravene the petitioners' fundamental rights enshrined in Arts. 14,
19(1)(f) and 31 of the Constitution, and (3) that certain specified provisions
of the Act amount to unreasonable restrictions on the petitioners' rights to
hold and dispose of property.
At the outset, it is necessary to deal with
the question of legislative competence, which was raised on behalf of some of
the petitioners, though not on behalf of all of them.
This argument of want of legislative
competence goes to the root of the impugned Act, and if it is well-founded, no other
question need be gone into. It has been argued that Entry 18 in List II of the
Seventh Schedule to the Constitution, should not be read as authorizing the
State Legislature to enact a law limiting the extent of the land to be held by
a proprietor or a landowner. Entry 18 is in these words:" 18. Land, that
is to say, rights in or over land tenures including the relation of landlord
and tenant, and the collection of rents; transfer and alienation of
agricultural land improvement and agricultural loans; colonization." 754
It will be noticed that the Entry read along with Art.
246(3) of the Constitution, has vested
exclusive power in the State to make laws with respect to " rights in or
over land tenures including the relation of landlord and tenant........ The
provisions of the Act set out above, deal with the landlord's rights in land in
relation to his tenant, so as to modify the landlord's rights in land, and
correspondingly, to expand the tenant's rights therein.
Each of the expressions " rights in or
over land " and " land tenures ", is comprehensive enough to
take in measures of reforms of land tenures, limiting the extent of land in
cultivating possession of the land-owner, and thus, releasing larger areas of
land to be made available for cultivation by tenants.
Counsel for some of the petitioners who
challenged the legislative competence of the State Legislature, were hard put
to it to enunciate any easily appreciable grounds of attack against Entry 18 in
List II of the Seventh Schedule.
It was baldly argued that Entry 18 aforesaid,
was not intended to authorize legislation which had the effect of limiting the
area of land which could be directly held by a proprietor or a land-owner. It
is difficult to see why the amplitude of the words " rights in or over
land " should be cut down in the way suggested in this argument. A similar
argument was advanced in the case of The United Provinces v. Mst. Atiqa Begum
(1). In that case, the United Provinces Regularization of Remissions Act, 1938
(U. P. XIV of 1938), was challenged. One of the main provisions of that Act had
validated remission of rent. It had been argued that the United Provinces
Legislature was not competent to legislate about the remission of rent, when
the relevant words in Entry 21, relating to land in the Provincial List of the
Seventh Schedule to the Constitution Act of 1935, were " collection of
rents ". Entry 21 relating to " land " bad added certain words
by way of explanation and illustration of the intention of the Constitution-makers,
,so as to indicate that the word " land " was meant to be used in its
widest connotation. A member of the (1) F.C.R. 110.
755 Full Bench of the Allahabad High Court,
in his judgment which was the subject-matter of the appeal to the Federal Court,
had come to the conclusion that Item No. 21 aforesaid, including the words
" collection of rents ", had not authorized the Provincial
Legislature to validate remission of rent. That conclusion was not upheld by
the Federal Court which held that remission of rent was a matter covered by
Item No. 21, and it was, therefore, within the competence of the Provincial
Legislature to enact the impugned Act; and Gwyer, C. J., in the course of his
judgment observed that the Items in the several lists of the Seventh Schedule,
should not be read in a narrow or restricted sense, and that each general word
should be held to extend to all ancillary and subsidiary matters which could
fairly' and reasonably be said to be comprehended in it.
The same Item 21 in List II (Provincial List)
of the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution Act of 1935, came up for
consideration before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council on appeal from
the Federal Court of India in Megh Raj v. Allah Rakhi (1), affirming the
judgment of the Lahore High Court. In that case, the Punjab Restitution of
Mortgaged Lands Act (Punj. IV of 1938) had been challenged as ultra vires. By
that Act, the Legislature had provided for redemption of mortgages on terms
much less onerous than the terms of the mortgage-deeds. Their Lordships of the
Judicial Committee of the Privy Council repelled the contention raised on
behalf of the appellants that the words of Item No. 21, were not wide enough to
comprehend the relationship of mortgagor and mortgagee in respect of agricultural
land. Their Lordships observed that Item 21 aforesaid, forming a part, as it
did, of the Constitution, should, on ordinary principles, receive the widest
construction, unless, for some reasons, it is cut down either by the terms of
that item itself, or by other parts of the Constitution, which have, naturally,
to be read as a whole; and then proceeded to make the following very
significant observations :(1) (1946) L.R. 74 I.A. 12.
756 " As to item 21, " land ",
the governing word, is followed by the rest of the item, which goes on to say,
'that is to say'. These words introduce the most general concept-' rights in or
over land'. Rights in land' must include general rights like full ownership or
leasehold or all such rights. Rights over land' would include easements or
other collateral rights, whatever form they might take. Then follow words which
are not words of limitation but of explanation or illustration, giving
instances which may furnish a clue for particular matters: thus there are the
words relation of landlord and tenant, and collection' of rents ".
Thus, their Lordships concluded that the Item
21 relating to land, would include mortgages as an incidental and ancillary
Another branch of the same argument was that
Entry 18 could not cover the determination of the relation of landlord and
tenant, which is envisaged by some of the provisions of the Act, particularly
s. 18, which has the effect of converting the tenant into a land-owner himself,
by virtue of the purchase. This argument is also disposed of by the judgment of
the Federal Court in United Provinces v. Atiqa Begum (1).
It was next contended that Entry 18 has got
to be read with Art. 19(5), in order to determine the legislative competence in
enacting the impugned statute. In other words, it was contended that cl. (5) of
Art. 19 of the Constitution, is in the nature of a proviso to the Entry ; and
that the Entry so read along with Art. 19(5), lays down the test of the
legislative competence. This argument is easily disposed.
of with reference to the provisions of Art.
31-A of the Constitution. If it is held that the provisions of the impugned
statute lay down the law for the modification of rights in estates, as defined
in sub-Art. (2) of Art. 31A, none of the grounds of attack founded on any of
the provisions of Arts. 14, 19 or 31, can avail the petitioners. As will
presently appear, the Act lays down provisions which are in the nature of
modifications of rights in estates within the meaning of Art. 31A(1). That being
(1) (1940) F.C.R. 110.
757 so, Art. 19(5) is wholly out of the way
in this case. In view of all these considerations, it must be held that there
is no legal foundation for the contention that the impugned Act is beyond the
legislative competence of the State Legislature.
Having dealt with the question of legislative
competence, we have to deal with the several contentions raised on behalf of
the petitioners, with reference to the provisions of Arts. 14, 19 and 31 of the
Constitution. On this part of the case, it has rightly been conceded on behalf
of the petitioners that if the impugned Act comes within the purview of any of
the clauses of Art. 31A, the law will be immune from attack on any of the
grounds based on the provisions of Arts. 14, 19 and 31. But it has been argued
that the provisions of Art. 31A(1)(a), which are admittedly the only portions
of the Article, which are relevant to the present inquiry, are not attracted to
the impugned Act. It has been conceded on behalf of the respondents that the
Act does not provide for the acquisition by the State of any estate or of any
rights in any estate. Hence, the crucial words which must govern this part of
the controversy, are the words " the extinguishment or modification of any
such rights "; that is to say, we have to determine whether or not the
impugned Act provides for the extinguishment or modification of any rights in
" estates ". Art. 31A(2) defines what the expression II estate "
used in Art. 3 1 A means. According to that definition, " the expression
" estate " shall, in relation to any local area, have the same
meaning as that expression or its local equivalent has in the existing law
relating to land tenures in force in that area, and shall also include any
jagir, inam or Muafi or other similar grant and in the States of Madras and
Kerala, any janmam right". It is common ground that we have to turn to the
definition of an estate, as contained in the Punjab Land-Revenue Act XVII of
1887. Section 3(1) of that Act has the following definition:(1) " estate
" means any area(a) for which a separate record-of-rights has been made;
or 758 (b)which has been separately assessed to land revenue, or would have
been so assessed if the land revenue had not been released, compounded for or
redeemed ; or (c)which the (State) Government may, by general rule or special
order, declare to be an estate ".
Clause (c) of the definition is out of the
way, because it has not been claimed that the State Government has made any
declaration within the meaning of that clause. Estate, therefore, for the
-purposes of the present controversy, means any area or -which a separate
record-of-rights has been made, or which has been separately assessed to land
revenue (omitting the unnecessary words). In this connection, it is also
necessary to refer to the definition of a holding in s. 3(3) in the following
terms:"(3) 'holding" means a share or portion of an estate held by
one landowner or jointly by two or more landowners ".
It was not controverted at the Bar that in
Punjab, there are very few estates as defined in s. 3(1), quoted above, in the
sense that one single land-owner is seized and possessed of an entire estate
which is equated with a whole village. In other words, in Punjab, an estate and
a village are interchangeable terms, and almost all villages are owned in
parcels, as holdings by co-sharers, most likely, descendants of the holder of a
whole village which came to be divided amongst the co-sharers, as a result of
devolution of interest. The parties were also agreed that the impugned Act
deals with holdings, as defined in the Land-Revenue Act, or shares or portions
thereof. The argument on behalf of the petitioners to get over the provisions
of Art. 31A, is that the Act does not deal with any estate or any rights therein,
but only with holdings or shares or portions thereof. This argument proceeds on
the assumption that holdings are not any rights in an estate. If the
petitioners are right in their contention that the immunity granted by Art. 31A
of the Constitution, is available only in respect of entire estates and not
portions of estates, then the argument on behalf of the respondents that the
Act is saved by the 759 provisions of that Article fails in limine. If, on the
other hand, it is held that Art. 31A applies not only to entire estates or any
rights therein, but also to shares or portions of an estate or rights therein,
then all the arguments advanced on behalf of the petitioners, founded on the
provisions of Arts 14, 19 and 31, are thrown overboard.
Therefore, it becomes necessary to consider
the amplitude of the expression " any estate or of any rights therein
" in Art. 31A(1)(a). Rights in an estate may be either quantitative or
qualitative. That is to say, rights in an estate may be held by persons having
different qualities of rights in lands constituting an estate, as a result of
sub infatuation. Generally speaking and omitting all references to different
kinds of land tenures prevailing in different parts of India, it may be said
that at the apex of the pyramid, stands the State. Under the State, a large
number of persons variously called proprietors, zamindars, malguzars, inamdars
and jagirdars, etc., hold parcels of land, subject to the payment of land
revenue designated as peshkash, quit-rent or malguzari, etc., representing the
Government demands by way of land-tax out of the usufruct of the land
constituting an estate, except where Government demands had been excused in
whole or in part by way of reward for service rendered to the State in the past,
or to be rendered in the future. An estate, thus, is an area of land which is a
unit of revenue assessment, and which is separately entered in the Land Revenue
Collector's register of revenue-paying or revenue-free estates. A single
estate, unless governed by the Rule of Primogeniture, would, in course of time,
be hold by a number of persons in the same rights as co-sharers in the estate.
Those several cosharers are all jointly and severally liable for the payment of
the Government demands, if any, though, by an arrangement with the Revenue
Department, they may have had a distribution made of the total Government
demands as payable in respect of aliquot portions of the estate. Generally
speaking, in the first instance, each sharer in an estate is liable to pay his
portion of the landrevenue, but if, for any reasons, the Government 760 demands
cannot be realized from any defaulting share primarily liable for them, the
entire estate, including the shares of those who may not be the defaulting
proprietors, is liable to be sold or otherwise dealt with for the realization
of those demands. Thus, the unity of assessment of land revenue in respect of
the entire estate remains intact. In actual practice, the holder of each
specified portion or share of an estate, holds his portion for his own
exclusive use and occupation. Such a sharer in an estate in Punjab is known as
the land-owner of a " holding ". But such a holding still continues
to be a portion or a share of the estate out of which it has been carved. Such
a division of an estate is quantitative or a vertical division of an estate.
But there may also be a horizontal or qualitative division of the lands in an
estate, effected by the process of sub-infeudation. Continuing the illustration
of the pyramid, generally speaking, the lands in an estate may in their
entirety or in portions, be let out to what, in Eastern India, are known as
tenure holders, for example, patnidars, in areas covered by the Permanent
Tenure-holders were persons who took lands of
an estate not necessarily for the purpose of self-cultivation, but also for
settling tenants on the land, and realizing rents from them. These patnidars
may have darpatnidars under them, and darpatnidars sepatnidars, and in this
way, the subinfeudation went on. All these classes are included within the
terms " tenure-holders ", " sub-proprietors " or "
under-proprietors ". The persons who are inducted on to the land for
bringing it under their direct cultivation, are generally known in Eastern
India as raiyats with rights of occupancy in the land held by them. But
raiyats, in their turn, may have inducted tenants under them in respect of the
whole or a portion of their holding. The tenant holding under a raiyat is known
as an under-raiyat, and an underraiyat may induct a tenant under himself, and
he will be an under-raiyat of the second degree. Thus, in each grade of holders
of land, in the process of subinfeudation described above. the holder is a
tenant under his superior holder, the landlord, and also the 761 landlord of
the holder directly holding under him. Thus, in Eastern India, the interest of
intermediaries between the proprietor of an " estate " at the top and
the actual tiller of the soil at the bottom, is known as that of a "
tenureholder ", and the interest of tenants other than tenureholders, is
given the generic name of a " holding ". A holding in Eastern India,
thus, indicates the interest of the actual tiller of the soilraiyat or
under-raiyat-unlike the " holding " in Punjab where, as indicated
above, its signifies the interest of the holder of a share in an estate. Thus,
holdings in Punjab are vertical divisions of an estate; whereas in Eastern
India, they represent a horizontal division, connoting a lesser quality of an
estate in land than the interest of a tenure-holder in his tenure, or of a
land-owner in his estate or portion of an estate.
It is not necessarily true that there should
be intermediaries in every estate or a portion of an estate. Very often, the
holder of an estate may be holding his entire estate directly in his possession
by way of khudkasht, zeerat, kamath or neezjote, or it may be that the
proprietor has only raiyats under him without the intermediation of tenureholders,
and the raiyats may not have any under-raiyats under them. The process of
sub-infeudation described above, naturally, varies with the size of the estate.
It appears to be common ground in this case that in Punjab, an estate means the
whole village, whereas in Eastern India, an estate may comprise a whole
district or only a cluster of villages, or a single village, or even a part of
a village. The larger the size of an estate, the greater the process of
sub-infeudation and vice versa. In Punjab, as there was no permanent settlement
of Revenue as in Bengal, Bihar, Orissa and other parts of Eastern India, the
unit of revenue assessment has been the village. Thus, a holding in Punjab
means a portion of a village either big or small. That portion may be in the
direct possession of the landowner himself, or he may have inducted tenants on
a portion or the whole of his holding. The interest of the tenant in Punjab,
appears to have been a precarious tenure, even more precarious than that of an
under raiyat in Eastern India. The 96 762 Punjab Legislature, realising that
the interest of a tenant was much too precarious for him to invest his
available labour and capital to the fullest extent so as to raise the maximum
quality and quantity of money crops or other crops, naturally, in the interest
of the community as a whole, and in implementation of the Directive Principles
of State Policy, thought of granting longer tenures, and as we have seen above,
the period has been progressively increased until we arrive at the stage of the
legislation now impugned, which proposes to create a large body of small
land-owners who have a comparatively larger stake in the land, and
consequently, have greater impetus to invest their labour and capital with a
view to raising the maximum usufruct out of the land in their possession.
Keeping in view the background of the summary
of land tenures in Punjab and elsewhere, we have to construe the amplitude of
the crucial words " any estate or of any rights therein " in Art. 31A
(1) (a). Soon after the coming into effect of the Constitution, the different
States in India embarked upon a scheme of legislation for reforming the system
of land-holding, so as (1) to eliminate the intermediaries, that is to say,
those who hold interest in land in between the State at the apex and the actual
tillers of the soil-in other words, to abolish the class of rentreceivers, and
(2) to create a large body of small landholders who have a permanent stake in
the land, and who are, therefore, interested in making the best use of it. As
the connotation of the term " estate " was different in different
parts of the country, the expression " estate " described in el. (2)
of Art. 31 A, has been so broadly defined as to cover all estates in the
country, and to cover all possible kinds of rights in estates, as shown by
(b) of cl. (2) of Art. 31A, which is in these
shall include any rights vesting in a
proprietor, sub proprietor, under proprietor, tenure-holder (raiyat, underraiyat)
or other intermediary and any rights or privileges in respect of land
revenue." The expression " rights " in relation to an estate has
been given an all inclusive meaning, comprising both 763 what we have called,
for the sake of brevity, the " horizontal " and " vertical
" divisions of an estate. A proprietor in an estate may be the proprietor
holding the entire interest in a single estate, or only a co-sharer proprietor.
The provisions aforesaid of Art. 31A, bearing on the construction of the
expression " estate " or "rights" in an estate, have been
deliberately made as wide as they could be, in order to take in all kinds of
rightsquantitative and qualitative-in an area co-extensive with an estate or
only a portion thereof. But it has been suggested that the several interests
indicated in sub-cl. (b), quoted above, have been used with reference to the
area of an entire estate, but knowing as we do, that a raiyat's or an under
raiyat's holding generally is not co-extensive with the area of an entire
estate but only small portions thereof, it would, in our opinion, be
unreasonable to hold that the makers of the Constitution were using the
expression " estate " or " rights " in an estate, in such a
restricted sense. Keeping in view the fact that Art. 31A was enacted by two
successive amendments-one in 1951 (First Amendment), and the second in 1955
(Fourth Amendment)-with retrospective effect, in order to save legislation
effecting agrarian reforms, we have every reason hold that those expressions
have been used in their widest amplitude, consistent with the purpose behind
those amendments. A piece of validating enactment purposely introduced into the
Constitution with a view to saving that kind of legislation from attacks on the
ground of constitutional invalidity, based on Arts. 14, 19 and 31, should not
be construed in a narrow sense. On the other hand, such a constitutional
enactment should be given its fullest and widest effect, consistently with the
purpose behind the enactment, provided, however, that such a construction does
not involve any violence to the language actually used.
Another branch of the same argument was that
if the makers of the Constitution intended to include within the purview of
Art. 31A, not only entire estates but also portions thereof, nothing would have
been easier than to say so in terms, and that in the absence of any specific
mention of " portions of an estate 764 we should not read that article as
covering " -portions of an estate " also. In our opinion, there is no
substance in this contention, because they must be attributed full knowledge of
the legal maxim that " the greater contains the less "-Omne Majus
continet in se minus. In this connection, our attention was invited to the
decision of a Full Bench of the Punjab High Court in the case of State of
Punjab v. S. Kehar Singh (1), to the effect that a holding being a part of an
estate, was not within the purview of Art. 31A of the Constitution. In this
connection, it is necessary to state the conflict of views in that High Court
itself. In the case of Bhagirath Ram Chand v. State of Punjab (2), the validity
of the very Act impugned before us, was challenged on grounds based upon
Articles 14, 19 and 31 of the Constitution. The learned Judges constituting the
Full Bench, unanimously held that the impugned Act did not infringe those provisions
of the Constitution, and the restrictions on the right of land-holding, imposed
by the Act, were reasonable, and that the classification did not exceed the
permissible limit. But they also held that the Act was saved by Art. 31A of the
Constitution, which applied equally to an entire estate or to a portion
Besides giving other reasons, which may not
bear close scrutiny, they made specific reference to the doctrine that the
whole includes the part. Thus, the Full Bench specifically held that Art. 31A
of the Constitution applied equally to portions of estates also. This decision
of the Full Bench was followed by a Division Bench of the same High Court,
consisting of Bhandari, C. J., and Dulat, J., in the case of Hukam Singh v. The
State of Punjab (3). That Bench was concerned with the provisions of another
Act Punjab Village Common Lands (Regulation) Act, 1954. In that case, the
Division Bench, naturally, followed the decision of the Full Bench in so far as
it had ruled that the I whole' includes the part, and that where an Act
provides for rights in an estate, it provides for rights in a part of an estate
also. The later Full (1) (1958) 60 P.L.R461. (2) A.I.R. 1954 Pun. 167.
(3) (1955) 57 P.L.R. 359.
765 Bench case referred to above, was decided
by three Judges, including Bhandari, C. J., who agreed with the judgment of the
Court delivered by Grover, J. Perhaps, the better course would have been to
constitute a larger Bench, when it was found that a Full Bench of three Judges,
was inclined to take a view contrary to that of another Full Bench of equal
strength. Such a course becomes necessary in view of the fact that otherwise
the subordinate courts are placed under the embarrassment of preferring one
view to another, both equally binding upon them. In our opinion, the view taken
by the earlier Full Bench is the correct one. The learned Chief Justice who was
a party to both the conflicting views on the same question, has not indicated
his own reasons for changing his view. The Full Bench has accepted the force of
the legal maxim that the greater contains the less, referred to above, but has
not, it must be said with all respect, given any good reasons for departing
from that well-established maxim. The judgment of the Full Bench on this part of
the case is based entirely upon the definition of an estate, as contained in
the Punjab Land Revenue Act, set out above. It has not stopped to consider the
further question why a holding, which is a share or a portion of an estate, as
defined in the Punjab Act, should not partake of the characteristics of an
estate. Keeping in view the background of the legislative history and the
objective of the legislation, is there any rational reason for holding that the
makers of the Constitution thought of abolishing only intermediaries in respect
of an area constituting one entire estate but not of a portion thereof ? On the
other hand, as indicated above, they have used the expression "
estate" in an all-inclusive sense. They have not stopped at that; they
have also added the words " or any rights therein ". The expression
" rights " in relation to an estate again has been used in a very
comprehensive sense of including not only the interests of proprietors or
sub-proprietors but also of lower grade tenants, like raiyats or under-raiyats,
and then they added, by way of further emphasizing their intention, the
expression " other intermediary ", thus, clearly showing that 766 the
enumeration of intermediaries was only illustrative and not exhaustive. If the
makers of the Constitution have, thus, shown their intention of saving all laws
of agrarian reform, dealing with the rights of intermediaries, whatever their
denomination may be, in our opinion, no good reasons have been adduced in
support of the view that portions or shares in an estate are not within the
sweep of the expression " or any rights therein ". A recent decision
of this Court in the case of Ram Narain Nedhi v. The State of Bombay (1) dealt
with the constitutionality of the Bombay Tenancy and Agricultural Lands
(Amendment) Act, 1956, which contains similar provisions with a view to doing
away with intermediaries, and establishing direct relationship between the
State and tillers of the soil. In that case also, the contention had been
raised that the expression " estate " had reference to only alienated
lands and not to unalienated lands, and this Court was invited to limit the
meaning of the expression in the narrower sense. This Court repelled that
contention in these words: the context of the Code is thus clear and
unambiguous as comprising both the types of lands, there is no reason why a
narrower construction as suggested by the petitioners should be put upon the
expression " estate................... Even if there was any ambiguity in
the expression, the wider significance should be adopted in the context of the
objectives of the Act as stated above." These observations apply with full
force to the contention raised on behalf of the petitioners in the present
Another branch of the same argument as to why
the provisions of Art. 31A do not apply to the Act, is that the Act did not
have the effect of either extinguishing or modifying any rights in any estate,
assuming that the expression " estate " includes reference also to
parts of an estate. In this connection, it is contended that the provisions of
the Act impugned in these cases, did not amount to the extinguishment of (1)
 SUPP. (1) S.C.R. 489.
767 the interest of the land-owners in
estates or portions thereof, and that what the Act did was to transfer some of
the rights of the land-owners to their tenants. In this connection, reliance
was placed on the observations of this Court in the case of Thakur Raghubir
Singh v. Court of Wards, Ajmer (1), where Mahajan, J. (as he then was, speaking
for the Court, observed that the expressions " extinguishment " and
" modification " used in Art. 31A of the Constitution, meant
extinguishment or modification respectively of a proprietary right in an
estate, and should not include, within their ambit, a mere suspension of the
right of management of an estate for a time definite or indefinite. Those
observations must be strictly limited to the facts of that case, and cannot
possibly be extended to the provisions of Acts wholly dissimilar to those of the
Ajmer Tenancy and Land Records Act, XLII of 1950, which was the subject-matter
of the challenge in the case then before this Court. This Court held, on a
construction of the provisions of that Act, that they only suspended the right
of management but did not amount to any extinguishment or modification of any
proprietary rights in an estate. The provisions of the Act then under
consideration of this Court, have absolutely no resemblance to those of the Act
now before us, and it is impossible to put a similar interpretation on these
provisions. In the recent decision of this Court (not yet reported*), this
Court had been invited to apply the observations of this Court referred to
above, to the provisions of the Bombay Act. It was pointed out in that case that
those observations of Mahajan, J. (as he then was), must be read as limited to
an Act which only brings about a suspension of the right of management of an
estate, and could not be extended to the provisions of an Act which either
extinguishes or modifies certain rights of a proprietor in an estate or a
In this connection, it was further argued
that extinguishment of a right, does not mean substitution of (1)  S.C.R.
1049, 1055, 1056.
Since reported as Sri Ram Narain Modhi v. The
State of Bombay,  SUPP (1) S.C.R. 489.
768 another person in that right, but total
annihilation of that right. In our opinion, it is not necessary to discuss this
rather metaphysical argument, because, in our opinion, it is enough for the
purpose of this case to bold that the provisions of the Act, amount to
modification of the landowner's rights in the lands comprised in his "
estate " or " holding ". The Act modifies the land-owner's
substantive rights, particularly, in three respects, as indicated above,
namely, (1) it modifies his right of settling his lands on any terms and to
anyone he chooses;
(2) it modifies, if it does not altogether
extinguish, his right to cultivate the " surplus area" as understood
under the Act; and (3) it modifies his right of transfer in so far as it
obliges him to sell lands not at his own price but at a price fixed under the
statute, and not to any one but to specified persons, in accordance with the
-provisions of the Act, set out above. Thus, there cannot be the least doubt
that the provisions of the Act, very substantially modi the land-owner's rights
to hold and dispose of his property estate or a portion thereof. It is,
therefore clear that the provisions of Art. 31A save the impugned Act from any
attack based on the provisions of Arts. 14, 19 and 31 of the Constitution. That
being so, it is not necessary to consider the specific -provisions of the Act,
which, it was contended, were unreasonable restrictions on the landowner's
rights to enjoy his property, or whether he had been unduly discriminated
against,, or whether the compensation if any, provided for under the Act, was
illusory or, at any rate, inadequate. Those grounds of attack are not available
to the petitioners. In the result, all these petitions are dismissed with
costs, the State of Punjab and its officers being entitled to only one set of
hearing fees in all the petitions.