Supreme Court: Overruling the verdict in Appa Narsappa Magdum [Appa Narsappa Magdum v. Akubai Ganapati Nimbalkar, (1999) 4 SCC 443, the 3-judge bench of RF Nariman, R. Subhash Reddy and Surya Kant, JJ has held that the judgment does not square with object sought to be achieved by the 1956 Amendment to the Maharashtra Tenancy and Agricultural Lands Act, 1948 or to the declaration of law in this judgment, it does not state the law correctly.

In Appa Narsappa Case, the division bench had held that the period of one year will have to be counted in accordance with the Sections 32-F and 31 of the 1948 Act and not from the date of the knowledge of the tenant. Under Section 32-F, tenant has right to purchase where landlord was minor or a widow or a person subject to mental or physical disability within one year from the expiry of the period during which such landlord is entitled to terminate the tenancy under Section 31. Amendment in Section 32-F(1)(a) added by Act 49 of 1969 expressly covered a case of landlord who was minor and has attained majority. Intimation by a minor landlord who has attained majority has been made a statutory obligation of the landlord so that tenant may exercise his right of purchase. The other two categories which are a widow or a person subject to mental or physical disability have not been expressly included in the amendment incorporated by Act 49 of 1969.

The Court, hence, noticed that the classification made in favour of tenants of minor landlords as opposed to tenants of landlords of the other two categories is a classification which is arbitrary in nature. This being the case, such classification would ordinarily have to be struck down as being violative of Article 14 of the Constitution of India. It, hence, held,

“instead of striking down such classification as a whole, what can be done is to strike down the words “..of the fact that he has attained majority..”, as a result of which, what is added by the 1969 Amendment to Section 32-F(1)(a) now ceases to be discriminatory, as it is applicable to tenants of all three categories of landlords.”

Hence, the object of the Amendment Act of 1969 is relevant and applicable in deciding the scope of the right to purchase by a tenant of a landlord who was a widow or suffering from mental or physical disability on Tillers’ day.

The Court, further, noticed that an absurd situation would be created by a literal reading of Section 32-F(1)(a). The landlord being a widow is protected until her death. After her death, one year is given to her successors in interest to exercise the right of resumption. When this does not take place one year is granted from the expiry of this first one year to the tenant to exercise his statutory right. This cannot be done because the tenant does not know of the death of the widow. As a result, this very land which was not required by the landlord’s successors in interest for personal cultivation, goes back to the landlord under Section 32-P in cases in which the landlord either has no land within the ceiling limit or some land which does not exhaust the ceiling limit. This anomaly indeed turns the entire scheme of agrarian reform on its head. The Court, hence, held that the successor-in-interest of a widow is obliged to send an intimation to the tenant of cessation of interest of the widow to enable the tenant to exercise his right of purchase.

[Vasant Ganpat Padave v. Anant Mahadev Sawant, 2019 SCC OnLine SC 1226, decided on 18.09.2019]

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