The Bhoodan Movement was spearheaded by Gandhian Vinoba Bhave to persuade wealthy landowners to donate some of their land for distribution to landless poor persons or for public purposes. Several states passed Bhoodan or Gramdan Acts to govern such donation and distribution. In this article, we look at a judgment of the Gujarat High Court in Heirs and Legal Representatives of Deceased Topandas Kundanmal V/s State of Gujarat and others1 which held that land parcels voluntarily donated to the Bhoodan Samitis towards the Bhoodan Movement for the benefit of the landless persons cannot be transferred or sold to third parties and such land parcels that are sold will now be vested with the State Government.
- Certain land situated at Rajkot city (“Land”) was initially donated by the father of one Hirabhai Hadabhai to the Bhoodan Yagna Committee.
- The purpose of parting with the Land was to use the Land for beneficiaries namely those persons without any agricultural land and to be used only for cultivation.
- However, the beneficiaries of the Land, sold a part of the land to one Topandas Kundanmal and partly to Valiben Hirjibhai (collectively referred to as the “Purchasers”) by a registered sale deed, thus committing breach of Rule 14 (2) of the Bhoodan Yagna Rules framed under The Saurashtra Bhoodan Yagna Act, 1953 (“Act”).
- A Show-Cause Notice dated 21st October 2004 was issued by the Assistant Collector, Rajkot on the ground that the Land was sold in breach of conditions of the Act. Pursuant to the reply filed by the Purchasers, the Assistant Collector, Rajkot withdrew the Show-Cause Notice.
- However, the Collector, in exercise of revisional power, issued a Show-Cause Notice dated 30th June 2005 for initiating appropriate proceedings against the Purchasers. The Purchasers filed a reply and contended belated exercise of powers by the authority after forty-one (41) years and that the Land was purchased with bona fide intentions and therefore the proceedings initiated against them should be withdrawn.
- The District Collector, Rajkot quashed and set aside the order passed by the Assistant Collector, Rajkot on 30th November 2005 and directed that the Land in question be confiscated to the Government forthwith (“Impugned Order”).
Contentions of the Petitioners:
- It was the contention of the Petitioners that the Collector and the District Collector do not have the power under the Act to initiate any action in the present matter and that the action is taken after a period of almost forty-one (41) years. They further stated that it is their constitutional right to own and possess a property under Article 300A of the Constitution of India.
- It was also argued that the Land was covered by the Town Planning Act and it was not possible to cultivate the Land and therefore the Impugned Order of the District Collector requires to be quashed and set aside.
- The Petitioners stated that since the Bhoodan Samiti was not recognized by the State Government, the provisions of Bombay Land Revenue Code 1879 (“BLRC”) had no application to such Land.
- The Petitioners had challenged the show-cause notices issued to them under Section 79A of the BLRC on the ground that the authority issuing notices did not have the jurisdiction.
- The Petitioners contended that as per Section 123 of the Transfer of Property Act, a gift of immovable property must be effected by a registered instrument signed by or on behalf of the donor and be attested by atleast two witnesses. It was argued by the Petitioners that in the instant case, the Bhoodan Lekh e., a document of gift was not registered and therefore there was no gift or transfer of the property made in favor of the Bhoodan Samiti. In view of the aforesaid, it was prayed by the Petitioners to the Hon’ble Court that they were entitled to the resumption of the Land donated to the Bhoodan Samitis in the Bhoodan Yagna, after the summary eviction of the unauthorized occupants under Section 79A of the BLRC.
- The Petitioners contended that there was no provision of law whereunder the State would become the owner of the Land and in absence of such provision, the ownership of the Land had continued with the Petitioners. It was argued by the Petitioners that the Land did not belong to the Government and since the Land was given away as charity to the Bhoodan Samiti, the Government could not have taken any action in respect of the Land.
Contentions of the Learned Assistant Government Pleader (“AGP”)
- The Learned AGP placed reliance into the decision by this Hon’ble Court in Arvind Surti V/s the State of Gujarat and 14 others2 and allied matters and submitted that the issue in the present petition is covered by the aforementioned petition where similar contentions were raised, which came to be negatived.
- The Learned AGP stated that the State was duty bound to take necessary action under the provisions contained in the BLRC since there was a breach of the express conditions annexed to the tenure or holding of the Bhoodan land under the grant recognized by the Bombay Tenancy and Agricultural Lands Act, 1948 (now known as Maharashtra Tenancy Agricultural Lands Act, 1948) (“BTAL Act”).
- It was contended that the fact that the Land in question was covered by the provisions of the Town Planning Act does not prevent the authority from taking action under the BTAL Act.
- It was further argued that the very object of the Bhoodan Movement was frustrated as the original allotees who were given the Land for their personal cultivation in the form of new tenure land had sold the same in violation of the conditions of the Bhoodan Lekh and therefore the State Government was required to withdraw exemption granted under Section 88A of the BTAL Act, in exercise of the power conferred under Section 88 (1) (ii) of the said Act.
- It was further argued that in the Bhoodan Movement spearheaded by Gandhian Vinoba Bhave, the original owner had lost his right, title and interest in respect of the Land and therefore after the summary eviction of the unauthorized occupants or whoever was in occupation or possession of the Land in question under section 79A of the BLRC, the Petitioners have no right to claim the Land.
With this background, we now set out the main issues and the views of the Hon’ble Gujarat High Court thereon.
- Issue 1:Whether the Gujarat Bhoodan Samiti was recognized by the then Bombay Government or by the Government of Gujarat for the purposes of Section 88A of the BTAL Act?
As per Section 88A of the BTAL Act, nothing contained in the said Act therein shall apply to the land transferred to or by a Bhoodan Samiti recognized by the State Government. Such land is exempted from the applicability of the provisions of the BTAL Act.
The Hon’ble Court was of the opinion that there was nothing on record to suggest that the Gujarat Bhoodan Samiti was recognized by the then Bombay Government or by the Government of Gujarat for the purposes of Section 88A of the BTAL Act. It was further held that if no such Samiti was ever recognized by the State Government for the purpose of Section 88A of the BTAL Act, the question of granting exemption from the BTAL Act would not arise and the Court would have presumed that the provisions of the BTAL Act were applicable to all such lands which were applicable lands.
However, the Hon’ble Court observed that it was not oblivious of the fact that a Bhoodan Lekh i.e., a document of gift in respect of the lands donated by the original owner in favor of the Gujarat Bhoodan Samiti through the intervention of State machineries was executed and pursuant to the aforesaid, the said Samiti had donated lands to the landless persons at the relevant time. It was held that under the circumstances, it was required to be presumed that such Samitis must have been recognized by the State Government and such lands must have been exempted from the provisions of the BTAL Act as per Section 88A thereof.
- Issue 2:Whether the State Government could take any action under the BLRC or the BTAL Act against the wrong doers i.e., against the donees or allotees or against the subsequent Purchasers or the illegal occupants of such lands donated in the Bhoodan Yagna?
Relevant provisions under the BTAL Act:
The land transferred to or by the Bhoodan Samiti recognized by the State Government was exempted from the applicability of the BTAL Act under Section 88A thereof. Section 88D(2)(ii) empowered the State Government to withdraw such exemption if it was satisfied that the lands transferred by a Bhoodan Samiti were not cultivated personally by the transferees or were alienated.
The Hon’ble Court held that as a consequence of non-applicability of the BTAL Act in view of Section 88A, the rights of the tenants and the landowners under the BTAL Act did not survive and stood determined in respect of the lands transferred to and by the respective Bhoodan Samitis.
Relevant provisions under BLRC:
With respect to the provisions of BLRC, the Hon’ble Court observed that the agricultural lands donated by the original owners under the Bhoodan Yagna to the Bhoodan Samitis recognized by the State Government were allotted to the landless persons for their personal cultivation and were subject to the conditions that such lands would be of new tenure and though heritable, were inalienable. Such allotment with conditions came to be recorded in the revenue records also.
The Hon’ble court laid emphasis on Section 65 and Section 68 of the BLRC which is akin to Section 42 and Section 37 respectively of Maharashtra Land Revenue Code, 1966 (“MLRC”). Section 65 of BLRC states that, if the occupant wishes to use the agricultural land for any other purpose, he is required to obtain the permission from the Collector. Further, Section 68 of BLRC, inter alia states that such rights are conditional, and the occupant would be entitled to the use and occupation of his land subject to the fulfillment of the terms or conditions lawfully annexed to his tenure.
It was held that the conjoint reading of Section 65 and Section 68 of the BLRC makes it clear that the occupant of the agricultural land cannot use it for any other purpose except with the permission of the Collector and is entitled to use such land subject to the terms and conditions lawfully annexed to the tenure.
- Issue 3:Whether a person in possession of the Land by virtue of illegal transfer or sale is liable to be evicted under Section 79A of the BLRC?
The Hon’ble Court held that the agricultural Land which was otherwise subject to the provisions of the BTAL Act, was deemed to have been granted exemption from the applicability of the BTAL Act and the same has been transferred to the Bhoodan Samiti recognized by the State Government. The Land was allotted by the Samiti to the landless persons on the conditions that (i) The Land will be of new tenure, (ii) Shall be cultivated personally by such allotees/donees and (iii) will not be transferred or alienated by them. The conditions were annexed to their tenure as mentioned in the Bhoodan Lekh.
The Court further observed that in view of the aforesaid, though the allotees/grantees had acquired the rights in respect of the Land and incurred liabilities as occupants subject to the terms and conditions lawfully annexed to their tenure, such allotees/occupants instead of cultivating the Land personally, had transferred to third parties without prior permission of the Collector and to be used for the purpose other than agriculture. The occupants had therefore committed a breach of the conditions annexed to their tenure and had contravened the provisions under Section 65 and 68 of BLRC (corresponding Section 42 and Section 37 of MLRC).
In case of breach of such terms and conditions, Section 79A of the BLRC (corresponding to Section 59 of MLRC) empowers the Collector to evict summarily the person wrongfully in possession of any land.
In view of the aforesaid, the Hon’ble Court held that if the original donee of the land allotted to it by the Bhoodan Samiti was not cultivating it by himself or has alienated the same in the favor of the third party in contravention to the conditions attached to the allotment and in the contravention of the provisions of BLRC, would be the person wrongfully in possession of such lands under section 79A read with Section 65 and 68 of BLRC (corresponding to Section 59 read with Section 42 and Section 37 of MLRC).
The Hon’ble Court further held that any person in possession of such land by virtue of such illegal transfer or sale made by the original donee would also be an unauthorized occupant liable to be evicted under section 79 A of BLRC.
- Issue 4:Whether the original owners of the Land are entitled to resumption of the Land donated to the Bhoodan Samiti in the Bhoodan Yagna?
The Hon’ble Court did not accept the contention of the Petitioners that the Bhoodan Lekh was not registered and there was no gift or transfer of the property made in favor of the Bhoodan Samiti. The Hon’ble Court observed that as per the Bhoodan Lekhs produced on record, the documents were signed by the donor, by the authorized person of the Bhoodan Samiti and by two witnesses, whereby the Land was transferred to the landless person, subject to the conditions mentioned therein.
The original donor never objected to the execution of such document nor challenged the revenue entries at any point of time, on the ground that such transfer was not valid for want of registration. The Hon’ble Court held that the Land was donated or sacrificed in the Bhoodan Yagna atleast fifty (50) years back by the original owner/donor and therefore it does not lie in the mouth of the legal heir of such donor i.e., the Petitioners herein to say that such transfer was not valid for want of registration.
It was held that since the original donor had sacrificed and relinquished his right, title and interest in the Land in favor of the Bhoodan Samiti for the benefit of the landless persons, the State could not be directed to handover possession of the Land even if resumed from such allottee or unauthorized occupant.
In view of the aforesaid facts and circumstances, the Hon’ble Court came to the following conclusion:
- The Hon’ble Court admitted the fact that the Land was purchased by the predecessors of the Petitioners i.e., the Purchasers in contravention to the breach of the Bhoodan Yagna Committee and therefore exercise of the powers by the concerned authority relatively will not come in the way of passing an appropriate order.
- The Hon’ble Court further held that the allotment to the original donee was conditional and merely because the Land was covered by the provisions of the Town Planning Act, it will not prevent the authority from taking action under the BTAL Act.
- The Hon’ble Court was of the opinion that whenever the occupant of the agricultural land uses such land for the purpose other than agricultural, without the prior permission of the Collector and/or commits breach of terms and conditions lawfully annexed to his tenure, he would not be entitled or he would be ceased to be entitled to the use and occupation of such land and is liable to be summarily evicted under the relevant provisions of the BLRC.
- Any person using and occupying such land i.e., to say the subsequent purchasers, in violation of the aforesaid provisions of the BLRC, would also be the unauthorized occupant or in wrongful possession and would be liable to be evicted summarily under the relevant provisions of the BLRC.
- The allottee/donees in utter violation to the terms annexed to their tenure and in utter disregard to the provisions of BLRC have transferred or sold the Land to third parties.
- The third party/Purchasers could not be said to have acquired any legal right, title or interest in the Land donated by way of bhoodan to the Bhoodan Yagna.
- When the allottee/donee of the Land granted to him by way of Bhoodan did not have any title over the Land, his status being only of an occupant subject to the conditions and not of an owner, he could not have transferred any title to any third party or the Purchasers herein.
- Under the aforesaid circumstances, the Purchasers also could not be said to be the legal owners or legal occupants of such Land.
- The use and occupation of the Bhoodan land by the donees is conditional and cannot be used for non-agricultural purpose and cannot be sold/transferred to any third parties.
- The original donor or their legal heirs would not be entitled to resumption of the Land donated in Bhoodan Yagna, after summary eviction of the unauthorized occupants under Section 79A of the BLRC. Further, the Purchasers of the Land being unauthorized occupants would not acquire any legal right, title or interest in such Land.
1. SCA/1453 of 2006
2. SCA/6157 of 2011
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