Balkrishna Somnath Vs. Sada Devram
Koli & ANR  INSC 19 (20 January 1977)
CITATION: 1977 AIR 894 1977 SCR (2) 678 1977
SCC (2) 15
Bombay Tenancy & Agricultural Lands Act,
1948 (Bombay Act LXVII of 1948) as amended by Bombay Act Xlll of 1956, section
32--Scope of--Interpretation of the words "disabled person's share in the
joint family has been separated by metes and bounds" occurring in proviso
to s. 32 F(1)(a).
Under s. 32 of the Bombay Tenancy and
Agricultural Lands Act 1948, the. tiller of the land had the right to purchase
the land tenanted to him. Where the landlord is a minor or a widow or a person
subject to any mental or physical disability, the right to purchase such land is
postponed till their disability disappears and one year lapses thereafter.
But this embargo on the exercise' of the
right of purchase by the tenant does not operate as per proviso to s.
32F(1)(a), if the property belongs to a joint
family and there is a partition therein and the land is allotted to the person
In both the appeals, the family owned lands
and other assets and there was a partition confined to agricultural land only.
In one case the share fell to a widow while in the other it fell to a minor,
admittedly a disabled' person within' the meaning of s 32F(1). Before the Tribunal
and the High Court, the landlord claimed, therefore, protection under the
proviso to clause (a) of section 32F(1) of the Act while the respondent contended
that even if the agricultural land had been divided and other assets admittedly
remained joint, the appellant was ineligible to claim the benefit of the
proviso. The High Court decided against the landlord and held: "The
proviso is not satisfied unless the share of a disabled person is separated by
metes and bounds in all the joint family property and unless the agricultural
land allotted to him corresponds to his share in the entire property and is not
in excess thereof'.
Dismissing the appeal to this Court,
HELD: (1) The broad idea is to vest full
ownership in the tenantry. A compassionate exception is made in favour of a
handicapped landlords who' cannot prove their need to recover their land on
approved grounds. The Legislature conditioned the proviso by insisting that the
separation should be from the whole joint family assets and not a tell-tale
transaction where agricultural lands alone are divided and secondly even where
there is a total partition only a fair proportion of the lands is allotted to
the disabled person. [682 C-D-F] What section 32F(1) insists upon is that (a)
share of such person in the joint family has been separated by metes and
bounds; (b). The Mamlatdar is satisfied that the share of the disabled person
in the land is separated in the same proportion as the share of that person in
the entire joint family property and not in a larger proportion. [681 G] (3)
The imperative condition for the operation of the proviso is that there should
be a total separation and so far as a disabled member is concerned, it must
cover all the joint family properties. The usage of the expressions "the
share of such person in the joint .family", "the share of.
such person,, in the land", "the
share of that person in the, entire joint family property in the section the
clear statement in the proviso that the disabled person s share in the joint
family must have been separated by metes and bounds and the statutory exercise
expected of the Mamlatdar by the proviso involving an enquiry into the share of
the disabled person in the land and its value, the share of that person in the
entire joint family properties, the proportion that the allotment of the land
bears to his share in the entire joint family property with a view to see that
there is no unfair manouvre to defeat the scheme of the Act-lead to the necessary
postulate that it is not confined to the share of the land only but really
means his share in the entire joint family property.
[683 E-H, 684 A] (4) In the instant case
there is no division of all the joint family property. Only the landed
properties have been separated. [684-B] Observation:
The reform of the inherited law-making
methodology may save court time and reduce litigation. Our legislative process,
not an unmixed blessing, works under such instant stress and ad hoc
hephazardness that the whole piece of legislation when produced makes
experienced draftsmen blush, as in the instant case, the involved drafting of
s. 32F has had its share in the marginal obscurity of meaning. [682 B-C]
CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION: Civil Appeal
No. 129 of 1968, Appeal by Special Leave from the Judgment and Order dated the
18-8-66 of the Bombay High Court in S.C.A. No. 1299/67 and Civil Appeal No.
2007 of 1969 From the Judgment and Order dated the 18th, 20th June 1968 of the
Bombay High Court in S.C.A. No. 1676 of 1964.
and Special Leave Petition (Civil) No.
3175/75 From the Judgment and Order dated the 31-10-74 of the Bombay, High
Court in Special Civil Appln. No. 2610 of 1970.
V.M. Tarkunde, V.N. Ganpule and P.C. Kapoor
for the appellant in C.A. 129 of 1968.
S.N. Anand for Respondent No. 1 in CA 129/68
V.N..Ganpule for the Petitioner in SLP S.B. Wad and R.N. Nath for the
Appellants in CA 2007 of 1969.
R.B. Datar and S.C. Agarwal for Respondent
No. 1 in CA 2007/ 69 The Judgment of the Court was delivered by KRISHNA IYER,
J. These two appeals raise a short issue of interpretation of the proviso to s.
32F (1) (a) of the Bombay Tenancy and Agricultural lands Act, 1948 (Bombay Act
LXVII of 1948) (hereinafter referred to as the Act). The appellants in both the
cases are the aggrieved landlords, the tenants' right of purchase under the Act
having been upheld by the High Court. The correctness of this view is canvassed
,before us by counsel.
The facts necessary to appreciate the rival
contentions may be are different but the issue is identical and, stated
briefly. The parties so a single judgment will dispose of both the appeals.
680 In Civil Appeal No. 2007 of 1969 the
widow of a deceased landowner, one Dattatraya, is the appellant. The deceased
owned several houses, had a money-lending business and considerable
agricultural lands. He left behind him on his death in 1952 a widow (the second
appellant) and two sons, one of whom is the first appellant. Admittedly the
Act, an agrarian reform measure, was extensively amended by Bombay Act XIII of
1956 conferring great rights on tenants and inflicting serious mayhem on
landlordism. The case of the appellants is that there was a partition among the
mother and the two sons of the agricultural estate where under the second
appellant (the widow) was allotted around 80 acres of land out of which about
15 acres were held by the first respondent as a tenant, On the Tillers, Day
tenants, bloomed into owners by the conferment of the right of purchase. On the
basis that the first respondent had become the owner, a proceeding for the
determination of the purchase-price of these lands was initiated? by the
Tribunal, as provided under s. 32G of the Act. Although notice was not given to
the second appellant, the first appellant appeared before the Tribunal, urged
the case that the land held by the first respondent. was set apart in a family
partition to his mother, the second appellant, and. that since she was a widow she
came squarely within the protective provision of the proviso to cl. (a) of s.
32F(1 ) of the Act. The first respondent, however, contested the partition and
further pressed the plea that even if the agricultural' lands had been divided
since the house and the money-lending business and other assets admittedly
remained' joint, the appellant was ineligible to claim the benefit of the
proviso aforesaid. We need not trace the history of the litigation from deck to
deck but may conclude the story for the present purpose by stating that the
High Court took the view that the second appellant (widow did not qualify under
the said proviso: "The proviso is not satisfied' unless the share of a
disabled person is separated by metes and bounds in all of the joint family
property and' unless the agricultural land allotted to him corresponds to his
share in the entire property and is not in excess thereof."--This was the
construction put by the Court on the proviso and challenged before us by Shri
Wad in C.A. 2007 of 1969 and by Shri Tarkunde in C.A. 129 of 1968.
In Civil Appeal No. 129 of 1968 the legal
scenario is similar. The family owned lands and other assets and there was a
partition on November 7, 1956 confined to agricultural land only, but the house
property remained undivided. The partition deed shows that the land under the
tenancy of the first respondent has been set apart to the share of a minor
appellant. The Tillers' Day arrived'. The tenant claimed to have become owner.
Proceedings under s. 32G of the Act for determination of' the compensation were
commenced and the mantle of protection of the proviso to s. 32F (I) (a) was
pleaded in vain. The High Court having negatived the landlord's contention
summarily, this Court has been approached, the point urged being the same as in
the previous appeal.
In both the appeals we my proceed, for
testing the legal pro. position, on assumed facts. We may take it that there
was a partition in both cases during the period referred to in the proviso,
i.e., before March 31, 1958. We may further take it that the widow and the
minor come within the category specified in s. 32F (1) (a). We have also to
proceed on the basis that the joint family in each case has other assets which
remain joint and undivided.
Before proceeding further with the discussion
it may be proper to read the relevant provision for a break up of the!
"32F. (1) Notwithstanding anything
contained in the proceeding sections(a) where the landlord is a minor, or a
widow or a person subject to any mental or physical disability the tenant shall
have the right to purchase such land under section 32 within one year from the
expiry of the period during which such landlord is entitled to terminate the
tenancy under section 31 and for enabling the tenant to exercise the right of
purchase, the landlord shall send an intimation to the tenant of the fact that
he has attained majority, before the expiry of the period during which such
landlord is entitled to terminate the tenancy under section 31:
Provided that where a person of such category
is a member of a joint family, the provisions of this sub-section shall not
apply if at least one member of the joint family is outside the categories
mentioned in this sub-section unless before the 31st day of March 1958 the
share of such person in the joint family has been separated by metes and bounds
and the Mamlatdar on inquiry is satisfied that the share of such person in the
land is separated, having regard to the area, assessment, classification and
value of the land, in the same proportion as the share of that person in the
entire joint family property, and not in a larger proportion.
X X X X" Where the landlord is a minor
or a widow, as in this case, the tenants' fight to purchase such land under s.
32 is postponed till their disability disappears and one year lapses
thereafter. But this embargo. on the exercise of the fight of purchase by the
tenant does not operate if the property belongs to a joint family and there is
a partition therein and the land in question is allotted to the person under
disability. What the section insists upon is that (a) share of such person in
the joint family has been separated by metes and bounds; and (b) the Mamlatdar
is satisfied that the share of such person in the land is separated in the same
proportion as the share of that person in the entire joint-family property and
not in a larger proportion.
We are dealing with an agrarian reform law
whose avowed object is to confer full proprietorship on tilling tenants and it
is a fact of common knowledge that landlords resort to cute agrarian legal
engineering to circumvent the provisions. The legislature, with local knowledge
of familiar manipulations and manouvres calculated to 682 defeat land reforms,
makes widely-worded provisions the 'why' of it may not be easily discernible to
the Court. We have to give full force and effect without whittling down or
supplying words. Nor can the Court presume the mischief and remedy the evil by
interpretative truncation. A blend of the grammatical and the teleological
modes of construction is the best and that is what has been done by the High
We are free to agree that the involved
drafting of the section has had its share in the marginal obscurity of meaning.
But our legislative process, not an unmixed blessing, works under such instant
stress and ad hoc haphazardness that the whole piece when produced makes
experienced draftsmen blush. Reform of the inherited lawmaking methodology may
save court time and reduce litigation. Be that as it may, we have to wrestle
with the language of the Proviso to decode its true sense.
The broad idea is to vest full ownership in
the tenantry. A compassionate exception is made in favour of handicapped
landlords who cannot prove their need to recover their land on approved
grounds. These disabled categories include infants and widows. But if the lands
belong to joint families of which they are members, the raison d'etre for such
protection does not exist because the manager of this joint family takes care
of its collective interests. Where, however, there has been a partition of the
joint family, then the widow or minor has to stand on her or his own disabled
legs and so the Proviso to s. 32F (1) (a) was brought in by amendment to give
them protection for the period of the disability and a little longer. But every
ruse to save the lands is used by landlords and so, once it was in the air that
minors and widows may be exempted, a spate of partitions perhaps ensued. Joint
living is the dear, traditional Hindu way of life but jettisoning jointness to
salvage ,land is dearer still. Blood is thicker than water, it has been said;
but in this mundane world, property is thicker than blood: So partition deeds,
conveniently confined to land, became a popular art of extrication. And the
Legislature, anxious to inhibit such abuse, while willing to exempt genuine,
total separations, conditioned the Proviso under consideration by insisting
that the separation should be from the whole joint family assets and not a
tell-tale transaction where agricultural lands .alone are divided and secondly,
even where there is a total partition, only a fair proportion of the lands is
allotted to the disabled person.
In this light, we may read the Proviso. To
steer clear of possible confusion we may agree that partial partition may be
legally permissible and the Hindu law does not require investigation into the
motives or motivelessness behind the partition. We also accept that division in
status is good enough to end commensality or jointness under the personal law.
But we are now in the jurisdiction of land reform legislation and the
Legislature, with a view to fulfill its objectives, may prescribe special
requirements. The Court has to give effect to them, in the spirit of agrarian
reform and not read down the wide words on judicial suppositions.
683 Here the Proviso can rescue the widow or
the minor only if the prerequisites are fairly and fully fulfilled. Section 32
states that the tenants shall be deemed to have purchased the tenanted land on
the Tillers' Day. The Tribunal suo motu takes action to determine the purchase
But all this is kept in abeyance if the
landlord belongs to the disabled category and qualifies under s. 32F (1). The
crucial issue is whether the Proviso applies even if the separation of the
widow or minor is restricted to agricultural lands. Shri Wad and, Shri Tarkunde
vehemently urge that it is none of the concern of the agrarian law what happens
to the other assets of the joint family, so long as the lands are divided in
fair proportion. Shri Datar presses what the High Court has laconically
reasoned, viz., that it is possible to defeat the scheme by division of the
lands alone. Fox one thing, in most such partial partitions, inspired by the
desire to avoid the land reforms in the offing, the Legislature can, as a
policy decision, insist on a whole partition, to reduce the evasion. Moreover,
there will be a sudden fancy for allotting all the good lands to the share of
widows and minors, depriving the tenants of their legitimate expectations. And,
if lands and other assets are to be divided, then less lands will go to the
disabled persons or even none. For instance the house may be allotted to the
widow and the lands taken over by adult males. The ornaments may all go to the
woman, the agriculture to the men. We need not speculate, but may content
ourselves with stating that the Legislature has, for some reasons, decided to
lay down conditions and the words of the text must be assigned full effect.
The Proviso clearly states that the disabled
person's share 'in the joint family' must have been 'separated by metes and
bounds'. Separation from the joint family means separation from all the joint
family assets. Otherwise the sharer remains partly joint and, to that extent,
is not separated from the joint family. Notional division or division in status
also may not be enough because the Act insists on separation 'by metes and
bounds'. Ordinarily 'metes and bounds' are appropriate to real property, meaning,
as the phrase does, 'the boundary lines of land, with their terminal points and
angles'. In the context, the thrust of the expression is that the division must
be more than notional but actual, concrete, clearly demarcated. The ineptness
and involved structure and some ambiguity notwithstanding, the sense of the
sentence is clear. The share of a person in the joint family, plainly
understood, means his share in all the joint family properties and not merely
in the real estate part. What is more, the section uses the expressions 'the
share of such person in the joint family', 'the share of such person in the
land', 'the share of that person in the entire joint family property'. Thus it
is reasonable to hold that when the expression used is 'the share of such
person in the point family.', it is not' confined to the share in the land
only. It really means his share 'in the entire joint family property'.
Moreover, the statutory exercise expected of the Mamlatdar by the Proviso
involves an enquiry into the share of the disabled person in the land, and its
value, the share of that person in the entire joint family property, the
proportion that the allotment of the land bears to his share in the entire
joint 684 family property with a view to see that there is no unfair manouvre
to defeat the scheme of the Act. The necessary postulate is that there is a
division in the entire joint family property. Therefore, the imperative
condition for the operation of the Proviso is that there should be a total
separation and so far as a disabled member is concerned it must cover all the
joint family properties.
We are therefore in agreement with the
interpretation adopted by the High Court. In the cases under appeal there is no
division of all the joint family properties. Only the landed properties have
been separated. The appeals therefore fail and are dismissed. In the
circumstances, we direct parties to bear their costs.
S.R. Appeals dismissed.