UNDERSTANDING THE INTERPRETATION OF STATUTES THROUGH: STATE OF PUNJAB V. AMAR SINGH by -Aparna Tripathy1
For the true interpretation of an Act, it becomes extremely necessary to take into consideration the objectives that the act was aimed at achieving. Every rule of law requires application based on the rule of life, because in the absence of such an application, the Act fails to achieve its intent. Through the following case analysis, the author tries to justify these statements by providing a detailed study and Analysis of the case State of Punjab v. Amar Singh2. Through this case study the author studies the facts of the case, analyses the judgment given by the court, gives her own analysis to justify the points made earlier and finally, through the observations made concludes the study. She also, during the process of analyzing this case, puts forward a detailed analysis of various provisions of the Punjab Security and Land Tenures Act, 1953, by understanding the goal of the statute and thereby providing the readers with the method used by the courts to interpret various provisions of a statute by taking the present case under study as an example.
Mst. Lachhman, during the time of commencement of Punjab Security and Land Tenures Act, 1953, owned three pieces of land which were beyond her reserved-area and therefore did not form a part of her “permissible area” under the Punjab Security and Land Tenures Act, 1953.
One of these three pieces of land was under Mst. Lacchman’s self-cultivation, while the other two pieces of land were under the tenancy of Chandu and Shri Chand. Chandu and Shri Chand who were the tenants for two pieces of land later gave up their possession of the land and abandoned it. After this, in the year 1955, Mst. Lacchman tried to gift all the three pieces of land to her daughter Shanti Devi. Subsequently an application for the purchase of the pieces of land was moved by Shanti Devi’s Husband Amar Singh and his brother Indraj, under Section 18 of the Punjab Security and Land Tenures Act, 1953, on the ground that those pieces of land were under their continuous possession for 6 years during the filing of the application. The application was granted by the Assistant-collector because of a compromise between the parties, before any inquiry in the matter, and the pieces of land were purchased by the Defendants. However, later the Collector (Surplus Area), not taking this arrangement into consideration, declared the pieces of land to be Surplus Area of Mst. Lacchman on the ground that Amar Singh and Indraj were not in continuous possession of the pieces of land for 6 years and therefore declared the compromise to be a collusive one. Consequentially, Amar Singh and Indraj filed a writ petition in the High Court against this decision by the Collector (surplus Area), which resulted in the restoration of their purchases and the state losing the pieces of land from the surplus pool. This decision of the High Court was then appealed to the Supreme Court by the State of Punjab (the case under study).
In the case under study, the appeal was made before the Supreme Court on the following issues:
- Whether the expressions “transfer” or “other disposition of the land” under Section 10A (b) of the Punjab Security and Land Tenures Act, 1953, includes involuntary transfer of a part of the land owner’s land by operation of an order, causing the land owner to sell the piece of land to a tenant under Section 18 of Punjab Security and Land Tenures Act, 1953?
- Whether the “order of any other authority” mentioned under Section 10A (c) of the Punjab Security and Land Tenures Act, 1953, is inclusive of the Orders of the Authorities mentioned under the Act, passed under Section 18 of the Punjab Security and Land Tenures Act, 1953 in the favor of the tenant, considering the order to have become final either at its original state or appellate or revision stage?
- In case of a conflict between the Section 10A and Section 18 of the Punjab Security and Land Tenures Act, 1953, which provision would override the other?
- Whether land occupied by the tenants, under their permissible area, as on the day the Punjab Security and Land Tenures Act, 1953, came into force, can be included under the “surplus area” of the landowner, if the Collector (Surplus Area) finds the land to be compromised in the tenancy of persons other than the original tenants?
LAWS INVOLVED (RULES)
The laws which were decided upon in the case under study are:
1. Section 10A of the Punjab Security and Land Tenures Act, 1953;
“10-A. (a) The State Government or any officer empowered by it in this be half, shall be competent to utilize any surplus area for the resettlement of tenants ejected, or to be ejected, under clause (I) of sub section (1) of section 9.
- Notwithstanding anything contained in any other law for the time being in force [and save in the case of land acquired by the State Government under any law for the time being in force or by an heir by inheritance] no transfer or other disposition of land which is comprised in surplus area at the commencement of this Act, shall affect the utilization thereof in clause (a).
Explanation – Such utilization of any surplus area will not affect the right of the land-owner to receive rent from the tenant so settled.
- For the purpose of determining the surplus area of any person under this section. Any judgment decree or order of a court or other authority, obtained after the commencement of this Act and having the effect of diminishing the area of such person which could have been declared as his surplus area shall be ignored”3
2. Section 18 of the Punjab Security and Land Tenures Act, 1953;
“18. Rights of certain tenants to purchase land – (1) Not withstanding anything to the contrary contained in any law, usage or contract, a tenant of a land-owner other than a small land-owner –
- Who has been in continuous occupation of the land comprised in his tenancy for1 [a minimum period of six years], or
- who has been restored to his tenancy under the provisions of this Act and whose periods of continuous occupation of the land comprised in his tenancy immediately before ejectment and immediately after restoration of his tenancy together 1[amounts to six years or more], or
- who was ejected from his tenancy after the 14th day of August, 1947, and before the commencement of this Act, and who was in continuous occupation of the land, comprised in his tenancy for a period, 2[of six years or more immediately before his ejectment],
Shall be entitled to purchase from the land owner the land so held by him but not included in the reserved area of the land-owner in the case of tenant falling within clause (I) or clause (ii) at any time, and in the case of tenant falling within clause (iii) within a period of one year from the date of commencement of this Act:
Provided further that if the land intended to be purchased is held by another tenant who is entitled to pre-empt the sale under the next preceding section, and who is not accepted by the purchasing tenant, the tenant in actual occupation shall have the right to preempt the sale.”4
In the case under study, the Sections of the Punjab Securities and Land Tenure Act, 1953 are at question. This act was basically enacted as a mean of agrarian reform, with the object of even distribution of land, security of tenure, providing ownership rights to the tenants who cultivate the fields and also rehabilitation of the tenants who have been evicted from their lands. To ensure this last object, the concept of Surplus-land was introduced by this Act, which secured the extra land-owning of the landowners of the state, which was later to be used for the rehabilitation of evicted-tenants.
While analyzing the first issue under this case it can be said that, the words stated under Section 10A(b) such as “transfer” and “any other disposition” indicate voluntary transmission, therefore it can be safely stated that involuntary transfer of property doesn’t come under the ambit of Section 10A(b). Besides the Explanation provided under this Section, right that a tenant holds on the surplus-land of the landowner doesn’t take away the right of the landowner to gain rent from such land, which further supports this argument. By clarifying the same again with respect to the object of the Act, which is, agrarian reform and even distribution of land, it can be stated that the expressions “transfer” or “other disposition of the land” under Section 10A(b) don’t include involuntary transfer of a part of the landowners land by operation of an order, and hence don’t cause the landowner to sell the piece of land to a tenant under Section 18 as, if such transfer was allowed under this provision then it would contravene with the purpose of the provision which is to prevent diminishing of land under surplus area in the view of agrarian-reforms and rehabilitation of the evicted tenants.
While analyzing the second issue, it can be said that, the purpose of Section 10A(c) is to ensure the invulnerability of surplus land areas when falling under the order of judicial and quasi- judicial authorities and thereby maintain the agrarian-reform-aimed object of the Act. To ensure the same, it becomes very important to interpret this clause in the widest form possible thereby facilitating the purpose of the Act. Therefore, it can be safely said that the term “other authority” mentioned under this section is inclusive of the authorities mentioned under this Act. Hence confirming that when an order given by any authority (whether mention inside the act or not) goes against the basic goal of the Act then the said order irrespective of the stage of finalization can be safely ignored. Therefore in the present case, the order passed by the Assistant-Collector can be effectively “ignored” under Section 10A(c) as the order (due-to-lack-of-investigation) permitted a transfer which would result in the reduction of surplus-area and was against the objective of the act i.e., agrarian-reform and even distribution of land. Hence the transfer of Land to the defendants was rightly declared invalid by the Collector (Surplus-area).
While analyzing the third issue, it can be said that, while interpreting any statute or act it is very important to interpret it in such a manner that the fundamental objective of the Act is fulfilled. The provision under Section 10A promotes agrarian reforms by ensuring security of tenure in the form of surplus-areas; therefore, the protection of this provision becomes necessary for the protection of the objective of the Act. Even though the provisions of Section 18 are extremely crucial to the act, it can be said that the application of Section 18 can only be done keeping the objectives of the Act in mind i.e., it should be deemed applicable only in the case of a person lawfully inducted on the land as a tenant. Therefore, it can be safely stated that in the case of a conflict arising between the two provisions, Section 10A would override Section 18. In the present case, not only did the defendants fail to satisfy the conditions under Section 18 but also violated the purpose of Act altogether as the surplus-land was not used to benefit any agrarian reform or to secure tenancy. Hence, under these grounds the transfer of land to the Defendants could be declared invalid.
While analyzing the fourth issue, it can be stated that, a piece of land cannot be said not to be a part of the landowner’s surplus-area merely based on the fact that it was under tenancy at the time of commencement of this Act in question. This statement would however stand true if the piece of land leased falls under the permissible area of the tenant. This can be clarified by taking into consideration the objective of the case which is “Agrarian-reform-through-even-distribution- of-land”. But in the present case, there have been no facts mentioned which talk about whether the tenants who were occupying the parts of the land under dispute were the occupants under their permissible area or not. However, after the tenants gave up their tenancy over the land, the landowner had the sole ownership over the piece of land thereby ruling out all the possibilities of the land not falling under the surplus-area. The defendants at no point had the ownership of the said land under any lease and therefore cannot obtain validation on the transfer on these grounds. Hence, in this case the collector would have the power to declare the land as Surplus-area while ignoring the order by the Assistant-collector, as people other than the original tenants were benefitting from surplus-land which was against the objective of the Act.
CONCLUSION AND OBSERVATIONS
It has been observed in this case that for the true interpretation of an Act, it becomes extremely important to take into consideration the objectives that the Act was aimed at achieving. It is observed through this case that every rule of law requires application based on the rule of life, because in the lack of such an application, the Act fails to achieve its intent. It is observed that as far as The Punjab Security and Land Tenure Act, 1953, is concerned, the goal that it intended to achieve was agrarian reforms by means of even distribution of land, security of tenure, rehabilitation of the evicted tenants, etc. Therefore, in the present case wherever a dispute arose as regards to the interpretation of various sections and provisions of the act, the issues were dealt by taking the soul-purpose of the Act into consideration and that is how the wide purview for the interpretation of each provision was determined.
In conclusion it can be said that, in the present case, the three pieces of land were beyond the reserved land areas for Mst. Lacchman which made the pieces of land beyond the permissible area. At the time at which the Act was enacted, one of those pieces of land was under self- cultivation of Mst. Lacchman and was therefore a part of Surplus area (being beyond the permissible area and not on lease or under tenancy) under the Act. The other two pieces of land were under the tenancy of Chandu and Shri Chand and whether they belonged under surplus area or not at that point is difficult to decipher due to lack of information as regards to this situation. However, later, both these tenants gave up their tenancy of the land and the land came directly under the ownership of Mst. Lacchman and as it was beyond the permissible land area, it fell into the surplus pool. Later, Mst. Lacchman tried to gift these three pieces of land to her daughter which was objected to by the defendants of the present case under Section 18 of the Act before the Assistant-collector. The Assistant-collector on the basis of a compromise between the two parties regarding the property, without any inquiry, ordered the transfer of the property to the defendants. This order was rightly ignored by the Collector (Surplus-area) who stated that the pieces of land fell under the surplus-areas. This was questioned in the High-court and the High- court held that the transfer through compromise was valid; this decision of the High-court can be considered to be wrong taking into consideration the various explanations provided by the Supreme Court and through the Analysis made on the same. Lastly, it can be clearly said that in the present case under study, the three pieces of land were surplus areas and the transfer of these lands to the defendant was invalid, which was also concluded by the judgment of the present case where the Supreme Court gave a majority Judgment allowing the appeals made by the state.
1 Second Year BBA LLB student at Symbiosis Law School, Pune
2 (1974) 2 SCC 70.
3 Punjab Security and Land Tenures Act, 1953.
4 Punjab Security and Land Tenures Act, 1953.