The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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SC word verdict: bullock-cart not a tool

New Delhi, Dec. 7: The Supreme Court has held that a bullock cart cannot be considered an “agricultural tool” if the term is interpreted according to an ancient Indian school of law.

Quoting the Mimansa principle of interpretation used by ancient Indian jurists, the court said an animal-driven vehicle used in the post-harvest phase to transport sugarcane to mills in Uttar Pradesh could not be called an “agricultural tool”.

The Mimansa principle attaches more importance to the popular sense of a word than its etymological meaning. In common parlance, an agricultural tool would be an implement used with the hands, or sometimes, the feet.

“An animal-driven vehicle cannot be an agricultural tool for the obvious reason that in common parlance, implements are usually regarded as tools used by human beings with hands (and sometimes legs)….” the court said.

The ruling came in a dispute between Uttar Pradesh farmers and the UP State Agro Industrial Corporation Limited that had mandated in 1996 that all agricultural tools would have to be bought from the corporation.

When a union of sugarcane growers in Meerut challenged this in the high court, it held that a bullock cart was not an agricultural tool, prompting the agro corporation to move the Supreme Court.

The apex court stood by the farmers, opting to go by the sense of the term than its literal meaning.

“…language is a tool of communication between human beings, and hence that meaning should be given to a word which helps communication between people. If the speaker of a word uses it in one sense but the hearer understands it in another sense, there will be a communication gap,” the court said.

“Hence that meaning should be attributed to a word which everyone would understand as it has acquired a special meaning in common parlance.”

Although the court defined an agricultural tool as one operated by the hands or feet, it did add that the implement “could be driven by animal power”.

So, a plough driven by oxen or horses would be an agricultural implement. Similarly, a hoe or a spade would also be one.

“However, a bullock cart used for carrying produce from the farm to the market or the sugar factory cannot, in our opinion, be regarded as an agricultural implement because, in common parlance, it would not be regarded as an implement,” the court said.

“A bullock cart is surely not a tool, though the plough which it pulls (for furrowing the land) is certainly a tool and therefore, an agricultural implement.”

The court also frowned on the tendency of Indian courts to quote only British legal philosophers.

“Today our so-called educated people are largely ignorant about the great intellectual achievements of our ancestors…. The Mimansa principles are part of that intellectual treasury, but… there has been almost no utilisation of these principles even in our own country.”

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