Abdul Rawoof Vs. Pichamuthu & Ors  INSC 48 (10 February 2000)
M B Shah.,
D E R
The only question which arises for consideration in this appeal is as to what is
the meaning of the expression "not less than Rs.1200" occurring in
the Timal Nadu Debt Relief Act, 1979 (hereinafter referred to as 'the said
father of the respondent had executed a usufructuary mortgage deed in respect
of a property in favour of the appellant herein for a sum of Rs. 10,000/- on 25-12-1967. This property was given on lease to some tenants
for more than 10 years. Under the provisions of the said Act the respondents
filed an application seeking direction that the usufrucuary mortgage had been
completely discharged. The respondents claimed to be debtors within the meaning
of the Act.
appellant herein contended that the respondents could not be regarded as
debtors within the meaning of section 3 (3) of the said Act inasmuch as the
rental value of the respondent's property was as much if not more than what is
required under the Act. The District Munsif dismissed the respondents
application which was affirmed in appeal.
second appeal owever the High Court came to the conclusion that the respondents
were debtors within the meaning of Section 3(3) of the Act. It came to the
conclusion that the annual rental value of Rs. 1200/- was not enough to deprive
them of the benefit of being regarded as debtors.
admitted fact being that the annual rental value of the property belonging to
the respondents being Rs.
the question is whether the respondents can be regarded as debtors. The
relevant provision of Section 3(3) of the said Act reads as under:- "3(3)
debtor's means any person from whom any debt is due:
that a person shall not be deemed to be a debtor if he, (i) has in both the
financial years ending on the 31st March, 1977 and the 31st March, 1978, been
assessed to -- (a) income-tax under the Income tax Act, 1961 (Central Act XLIII
of 1961) or under the income tax law in force in any foreign country; or (b)
agricultural income-tax under the Tamil Nadu Agricultural Income-tax Ac, 1955
(Tamil Nadu Act V of 1955) or under any law in force in any other State or
Union territory in India) or (ii) has, in both the financial years ending on
the 31st 1978, been assessed to sales ta under the Tamil Nadu General Sales
1959) or under the Central Sales Tax Act, 1956 (Central Act LXXIV of 1956); or
(iii) has in all the four half years immediately preceding the 1st March, 1978
been assessed to property or house tax in respect of buildings or lands other
than agricultural lands, underr the Tamil Nadu district Municipalities Act,
1920 (Tamil Nadu Act V of 1920), the Madras city Municipal Corporation Act,
1919 (Tamil Nadu Act IV of 1919), the Madurai city Municipal Corporation Act,
1958 (Tamil Nadu Act XXXV of 1958), the cantonments Act, 1924 (Central Act II
or 1924) or any law governing municipal or local bodies in this State or in any
other State or Union Territory in India. provided that the aggregate annual
rental valule of such buildings and lands wheter let out or in the occupation ofthe
owner, is not less than repees one thousand and two hundred." the On a
careful reading f the said provision, it appears that any person from whom debt
is due is regarded as a debtor. The proviso to sub-section (3) exclused certain
categories of persons from being regarded as debtors.
to sub clause (iii) a person who owes money shall not be deemed to be a debtor
if he has in all the four halft years preceeding 1st March 1978 been assessed to property of house tax provided the
aggregate annual value of such buildings or lands in not less than Rs.
Owner of a property is thus sought to be excluded from the definition of
debtor, but not every owner is excluded as persons whon own property having
less rental value will continue to be regarded as debtors.
already noticed what has to be seen is as to what is the meaning of the
expression is " not less than Rs.1200/-" occurring inthe aforesaid
proviso, According to the High Court the respondents would get the benefit and
would be regarded as debtors even though the annual rental value of the
property owned by them is Rs. 1200/- The implication of the decision of the
High Court is that it is only if the rental value was more than Rs. 1200 that
the proviso would have been attracted.
read the said proviso it appears to us that the expression "not less than
Rs. 1200/-" means that the minimum amount of rental value if it is Rs.
1,200/- then the personn would be covered by the proviso and would not be
regarded as a debtor. In stroud's Judicial Dictionary 5th Edn. at page 1200 it
is noted that " Where a statue prescribes a penalty for an offence of
"not less" than a stated amount, that is the minimum penalty that justices
can impose, notwithstanding that the section, prescribing the penalty, says
that the offender "shall be liable" thereto; and the power to
mitigate given by the Summary Jurisdiction Act 1879 (c.49) s.4, was in such a
case qualified so that mitigation could not go below such minimum (Osborn v.
Wood (1897) 1 Q.B. 197)." 384 a question arose regarding the recognition
of a trade union. Section 13 of the Bombay Industrial Regulation Act, 1946
provided that a representative union should have a membership of "not less
than 15 per cent of the total number of employees." Whillllllle
interpreting this provision it was observed at page 390 that "the statute
lays down a minimum qualification of 15 per cent of membership to enable the
union to be called a representative union......" After laying down the
test of not less than 15 per it was perfectly resonable "not to allow any
other union such as the appellants to interpose in a dispute on behalf of the
textile workers when they did not command the minimum percentage or when their
membership fell below the prescribed percentage." The view which was
expressed in Raja Kulkarni case (Supra) clearly was that when the statute used
the expression not less than a particular figure then that figure is the
court was required to interpret section 52 of the Income tax Act 1961 where in
sub-section (2) the Income tax officer would get jurisdiction to acquire a
capital asses if the fair market value of that asset exceeded the full value of
consideration "by an amount of not less than 15 per cent of the value
declared........" Analysing this provision it was held that according to
sub-section (2) the difference between the fair market value and the
consideration declared will have to be 15 per cent or more to enable the Income
tax Officer to exercise jurisdication under that section. To the same effect is
the decision of this court in Karnail Singh & Ors. vs.
Singh & Ors., 1995 Supp (1) SCC 760. Section 4 of the Punjab Grampanchayat
Act, 1952 enables the Government to declare any village or the group or
contiguous villages to constitute one or more sabha area if they had population
of "not less than 500." Interpreting this provision it was held that
what was required for the exercise of powers under said Section 4 was that
there should be a minimum population of 500. In other words, the expressing
population of not less thn 500 was interpreted to mean that minimum population
should be 500.
High Court has referred to the decision of this Court Council, Nagercoil (1961)
3 SCR 609 where the expression was, which was benging interpreted, "not
being less than one month." This Court held that in order that a notice
should be valid the expression not being less than one month would mean that
there must be notice of 30 clear days. This would be possible only if the 1st
and the last day on which the notice is ussed is excluded.
than helping the respondent in our opinion the said decision fortifies the view
which we have taken namely, that the period specified is the minimum perriod.
less than one month meant that 30 clear days notice had to be given and it is
only in order to ensure that 30 clear days notice is given that, basing on
section 9 of the General Clauses Act, it was observed that the 1st and the last
date should be excluded.
in C.I.T. Calcutta vs. M/s. Braichwaito & Co. Ltd. (1993) 2 SCC 262 where
the court had to consider the expression "of a period not less than 7
years" it was held that the period cannot be even one minute less than 7
years. The ratio of this decision is not different than the decision of this
court in Karnail singh, K.P. Varghese and Raja kulkarni (supra). To the same
effect is the decision of this Court in Saketh India Ltd. & Ors. vs. India
Securities Ltd. 1999 (3) SCC 1.