Updated: Jul 6, 2021
Although land laws may not be considered an essential part and parcel of everyday legal practices, the knowledge of land laws and land rights by extension, is important as the intricacies of these laws vary from state to state and are highly subjective depending on the topic to which they pertain to.
Let us understand and learn about the history of land rights in Assam.
ORIGIN OF LAND RIGHTS IN ASSAM
The Assamese history of land rights, is the summation of chronicles, of the conflux of people from the North, the East, the South and the West. It is also the conflux of the Indo-Aryan, Austro-Asiatic and Tibeto-Burman cultures.
The Ahom Kingdom was unwavering and unfettered from the 13th Century till the 19th Century, up until the Burmese Invasion in 1821, which was later succeeded by the British overtaking administration of Assam from 1826
The history of Assam has been extracted from several sources. The Medieval Kingdom of Ahoms prepared and preserved certain literary and historical documents or chronicles, called the BURANJIS, written in the Ahom and the Assamese language. These chronicles can be summarized into the following points-
In ancient times, people had led nomadic lives
Survival of the fittest and sustenance dominated other goals of living
The primary method of survival was hunting
This was gradually replaced by shifting or JHUM cultivation
This was later succeeded by the Permanent Settlement of Cultivation
Security and Protection for permanent cultivation had become primary requirements
This led to the formation of communities to serve purposes of security and protection, and a leader was chosen to fulfil these duties
The leaders were changed from time to time
In the later part of this civilization, several communities joined together to form a Kingdom, which was led by a King, who was considered to be the absolute owner of all the lands within his territory.
Since the concept of ownership was not prevalent in ancient times, it was later brought into existence with the heralding of Kings and Kingdoms. The Ahom Kingdom allowed no private rights over land in their Kingdom.
LAND RIGHTS UNDER AHOM ADMINISTRATION
However, there were practices whereby the Ahom King used to gift land to certain categories of people and institutions. Such grants of lands were free and devoid of any future transactions.
The following divisions were made under the Revenue-free lands, also known as the Lakhirajdars granted by the King-
1. DEBOTTAR Lands
Lands were granted by the King to be dedicated to religious idols.
2. DHARMOTTAR Lands
Lands that were granted by the King for religious activities or religious institutions
3. BRAHMOTTAR Lands
Lands which were granted by the King to be gifted to the Brahmins, priests, or the Highly-learned.
The above three land grants of Debottar, Dharmottar and Brahmottar was also referred to as "Absolute Proprietary Rights of the Lakhirajdars", which implied complete exemption of land revenue.
During the Ahom rule, the whole male population was divided into KHELs. Each Khel consisted of 1000 to 5000 people and, each Khel was further sub-divided into GOTEs. Each of the GOTEs consisted of, earlier 4 members and later of 3 members. The members of the Gotes were referred to as "PAIKs" or "RAIYATs".
These Paiks or Raiyats were to necessarily serve the Ahom kingdom or administration in rendering a particular service, with one Paik from each Gote serving in rotation.
Through rendering service to any of the High officers in the administration, the Paiks received in return, 3 puras or approximately 2.7 acres of land, which was referred to as 'GA-MATI'- rent-free land for cultivation of crops, and it was utilised by the remaining 2 or 3 members of each of the Gotes in a Khel.
The land rights of the service rendering Paiks were often referred to as "Occupancy Rights of the Paik", which implied land granted instead of service provided to the Ahom kingdom or administration.
EFFECT OF BRITISH COLONIZATION ON LAND RIGHTS IN ASSAM
When the British came to Assam, their Commissioner, David Scott, declared that no land will be revenue-free in Assam. This was met by a formal protest by the owner of such revenue-free lands before Commissioner David Scott.
However, the very cunning British Officer pointed out that even though they were granted the revenue-free lands by the Ahom King, they still had to pay taxes.
Therefore, to gain the maximum advantage of their colonization, David Scott ordered that the owners of the Debottar, Dharmottar and Brahmottar lands must pay land revenue, even if for a stipulated period of time.
The British Government in Assam wholeheartedly welcomed the theory of Absolute Ownership of all lands under the Ahom Kingdom. It also followed the two-fold division of the landholders under the State, namely the Lakhirajdars and the Occupancy Tenants.
The British, however, added other sub-divisions to systematize the various tenures prevailing in different parts of the province.
Until 1886, the British administration in Assam to improve land administration, prepared certain Waste Land Grant Rules, for special cultivation, namely the RULES of 1838, 1854, 1862, 1874 and 1876. They also laid the foundation for the Settlement Rules for Ordinary Cultivation, namely RULES of 1870 and 1883.
Thus, we observe that after the Ahom rule, the British colonizers, further improved upon the system and laid down some equitable measures, irrespective of caste or class or stature.
Even though their primary motive was the collection of maximum revenue and natural resources, they introduced order and structure into the administration of land rights in Assam.
Thereafter, the Assam Land Revenue Regulation of 1886 was enacted by the British Administration to control land administration and rights in Assam. This was a detailed and comprehensive act, which is also referred to as the ‘Magna Carta’ of land reforms in Assam.
Therefore, before the completive systematization of land rights through the Assam Land Revolution Regulation, 1886, the history of land rights in Assam is basically the evolution of land from the times of the Ahom Kingdom that started in 1228 till the advent of the British Colonization of Assam.
KINDS OF LAND RIGHTS UNDER ASSAM LAND REVENUE REGULATION, 1886
With the advent of the Assam Land Revenue Regulation, 1886, the land rights of the people of Assam were further categorised into 3 major categories, doing away with the rules of the Ahom administration. The following rights were recognized under the Regulation-
1. RIGHTS OF PROPRIETOR
As per Section 3(f) of the Regulation, a PROPRIETOR is the owner of any estate that is permanently settled or entered into the Deputy Commissioner's register as a revenue-free estate.
Proprietors under the Regulation are therefore divided into 2 categories-
(i) Proprietors of Revenue Free Lands,
(ii) Proprietors of Permanently Settled Lands
Section 7 of the Assam Land Revenue Regulation,1886 provides that proprietors shall have the same rights and enjoy the same privileges in respect of lands included in their estate as they have at the commencement of this Regulation.
2. RIGHTS OF THE LANDHOLDER
Section 8(1)(a) of the Assam Land Revenue Regulation, 1886 provides that any person who has held any piece of land continuously for 10 years or longer, and on land, which is not included in either Permanently Settled estates or Revenue-free estates and who have paid any due revenue to the revenue to the Government, or land that was held under an express exemption from revenue, and,
Section 8(1)(b) provides that any individual in possession of any land under a lease granted by or on behalf of the government, where the term is of 10 years or greater, will be called a LandHolder.
3. RIGHTS OF SETTLEMENT HOLDERS OTHER THAN LANDHOLDERS
Section 3(h) of the Assam Land Revenue Regulation, 1886 enumerates that any individual other than a proprietor, who has agreed with the Government to take land on lease for less than 10 years or longer, is called a Settlement Holder.
Section 11 of the Regulation, however, enumerates that any Settlement Holder shall have no rights in the land held by him, except those rights which are expressly mentioned in the settlement lease of such holder.
Thus, the evolution of land rights that begin from the beginning of the Ahom Kingdom in the 13th Century and continued to change, wherein, in the 19th Century after the colonization of the British, more comprehensive laws came to light, and land rights became more defined and comprehensive and deviated it towards the advantage of the British rule ultimately, but at the same time, it also gave concrete rights to the people of Assam, especially those rights which were not yet recognized.