Updated: Feb 14, 2022
The Protection of Backward classes especially in tribal belts, important provision enumerated in the Assam Land Revenue Regulation, 1886, for securing the rights of the people residing in the Tribal belt, in the State of Assam.
Chapter X of the Regulation was brought in and added to the Regulation by the Assam Land and Revenue Regulation (Amendment) Act, 1947. This chapter is intended for the protection of the interests of certain backward classes inhabiting an area constituted into a belt or block.
All rights inland, including the restrictions in the transfer and possession of land, within the belt so constituted, are governed by the provisions of this chapter and the Rules made thereunder.
1. Classes of people entitled to protection (Section 160-161):
The provisions of Chapter X are intended for the protection of the interests of certain classes of people who are lacking in education, and socially and economically backward, and whose welfare depends upon their having sufficient lands for their maintenance.
The classes of people who are entitled to the protective measures are to be notified by the State Government in the Official Gazette; and accordingly, the following classes of people have been notified as persons entitled to the protection:
Scheduled Castes, and
Nepali cultivator-graziers (since excluded).
2. Protective measures under Chapter X:
The protective measures provided in Chapter X include the following:
(a) constituting compact areas into belts or blocks, the areas predominantly inhabited by the backward classes notified by the Government;
(b) laying down guiding principles for the settlement of wastelands by lease for ordinary cultivation;
(c) defining the rights that may be acquired inland within the bel modifying the existing rights, and providing for termination or forfeiture of such rights; and also restricting transfers of land by sale, mortgage, lease, agreement, exchange or otherwise, and limiting the right to acquire or possess lands within the belt; and
(d) providing for ejectment of persons in unauthorized occupation of land within the tribal belt.
(A) Constitution of Tribal belt or blocks (Section 161-161):
For the protective measures under Chapter X, the State Government may constitute the areas, predominantly peopled by the notified classes of persons, into belts or blocks. The belts or blocks are so constituted that these may be easily distinguishable, and generally constituted to coincide with the Mauza boundaries.
The belts or blocks thus created are commonly called Tribal belts or blocks.
After the creation of the belt or block the provisions of Chapter X are made applicable in the areas constituting the belt by notification in the Official Gazette.
On such application the special provisions of Chapter X will govern all matters relating to rights in land, settlement of wasteland by lease for ordinary cultivation, ejectment of persons in unauthorized occupation and such other allied matters; and where it is not possible, the Deputy Commissioner will be guided by the spirit of the general provisions of the other Chapters of the Regulation.
The provisions of Chapter X will not, however, apply to the following lands:
Land settled for special cultivation or purposes ancillary to special cultivation (including grants made for tea cultivation); and
Lakhraj, Nisf-Khiraj or special estates settled with non-cultivators for their maintenance.
The State Government may also by notification declare withdrawal of the provisions of Chapter X from any area or areas to which they were applied.
(B) Disposal of wastelands under Section 163:
Lands at the disposal of the Government within the tribal belts are to be settled with the following classes of persons only, considering their bona fide needs:
(i) persons who are permanently residing in the area on the date of the notification by which the provisions of Chapter X are made applicable in the area;
(ii) persons who are settlement-holders within the area, and though temporarily residing in the area on the date of the notification enforcing the provisions of Chapter X, are likely to become permanent residents therein;
(iii) persons of the notified classes residing elsewhere in the district; and
(iv) persons residing in the neighbourhood of the belt, in case large areas are available for settlement. In this case, persons having their mode of life, religion and agricultural customs and habits more akin to the notified classes are to be preferred over others.
(C) Rights over land and termination or forfeiture of such rights (Section 164):
The rights of a person in land held under annual and periodic leases within the tribal belt are restricted by the provisions of Chapter X and the rules made thereunder:
(i) Land held under an annual lease:
An annual lease means a lease granted for one year only. In the case of land held under an annual lease, the settlement-holder does not acquire any right beyond such as are expressed in his settlement lease.
The settlement-holder under annual lease has only a right of use for the year for which it is given. He has no right to transfer or sub-let the land, and on his death, his heirs can inherit the property only for the remainder of the term.
The lease automatically terminates on the expiry of the term, and no non-renewal notice is necessary. The lease is also liable to cancellation if such land is transferred or sub-let. If, however, the land is mortgaged to the Government or a State-sponsored Co-operative Society, the Government may allow the renewal of the lease.
(ii) Land held under a periodic lease:
A periodic lease, except in the case of the townland, means a lease granted for a period longer than one year, and in the case of the townland, for a period longer than three years.
A periodic lease, the term of which is not less than ten years, conveys to the lessee the rights of a land-holder under the Regulation.
In the tribal belt, the land-holder has a right of use and occupancy in the land subject to the restrictions and modifications prescribed in the rules made under Chapter X and to the provisions of Section 9.
The right to transfer, or sub-let the holding or any part thereof, is limited only to the following classes of people:
(a) a person who at the time of the notification by which the provisions of Chapter X are made applicable, is permanently residing in the area, or is a settlement-holder in the area and though temporarily residing is likely to become a permanent resident therein; and
(b) notified classes of people, i,e., notified under Section 160 (2), residing elsewhere in the district.
He can, however, mortgage the land to the Government or a State-sponsored Co-operative Society functioning within such belt or block. When transfers are made contrary to it, the periodic lease is liable to cancellation with the State Government's approval. In that event, the land-holder will forfeit his rights and status in respect of the land so transferred.
Further, the rights of a land-holder, who obtained a settlement of land before application of Chapter X in the area, will be subject to the same limitations.
No person can acquire on possess land within the tribal belt by transfer, lease, exchange, mortgage, agreement or settlement made in contravention of the provisions of Chapter X or the rules made thereunder; and no document evidencing such transaction is to be registered under the Indian Registration Act, 1908.
(D) Eviction of unauthorized occupiers under Section 165:
Person in unauthorized occupation of any land within the tribal belt is liable to be evicted therefrom. Different procedures are laid down for eviction from different classes of lands, namely:
(i) unsettled lands, i.e., lands at the disposal of Government;
(ii) lands held under an annual lease; and
(iii) lands held by a land-holder under a periodic lease.
(i) Unsettled Lands-
In the case of unsettled land, i.e., wasteland at the disposal of the Government, any person found to be in unauthorized occupation is to be evicted forthwith.
If, however, the land is found to be in occupation of-
(a) any member of the notified classes or
(b) a person residing permanently in the area, or a settlement-holder in the area, at the time of the notification enforcing the provisions of Chapter X, the Deputy Commissioner or the officer empowered may, after considering his bonafide and eligibility of the claim offer settlement of the land by the rules on realizing the back revenue to be assessed from the date of his occupation.
In case of eviction of such occupants, the Deputy Commissioner will issue a notice requiring the encroacher to vacate the land within a specified time and may allow or disallow him to remove the structure and harvest the crops standing on the land within the time so specified.
(ii) Land held under an Annual Lease-
In the case of land held under an annual lease any person, other than the settlement-holder, members of his family and his hired servants, found in occupation of the land is liable to be evicted forthwith.
The Deputy Commissioner or the officer so empowered will, however, make a summary enquiry and if he is satisfied that the occupation is unauthorized, he will proceed to evict the encroacher, and any structure or crops found on the land will be liable to forfeiture to Government.
(iii) Land held under a Periodic Lease-
In the case of land held under a periodic lease, a person is liable to be evicted if he is found to occupy it without a valid authorization from the landholder, or if his occupation is inconsistent with the provisions of Chapter X and the rules made thereunder.
The eviction, in this case, is to be preceded by the service of notice requiring him to vacate the land and remove the structures and crops on the land within a period not exceeding one month from the date of receipt of the notice.
If the occupant fails to vacate the land, the Deputy Commissioner may forcibly enter into, and take possession of the land and destroy the structures and crops found thereon.
After the eviction, the Deputy Commissioner may take the land under his own management, or let it out in the farm, and direct the land-holder to give an undertaking in writing that in future he will prevent unauthorized occupation, and to agree in writing that on his failure to do so, he will forfeit his rights and status of land-holder.
The Deputy Commissioner in that case will restore possession of the land to him. If the landholder subsequently contravenes the undertaking, he will be liable to forfeiture of his rights and status in respect of the land, and the land will be available for settlement afresh subject to any lawful encumbrances.
(E) Whether provisions of Chapter X are discriminatory:
Chapter X has been enacted, as expressed in Section 160, to protect the interest of those classes of people who are lacking in education and socially backward, and whose welfare depends upon their having sufficient lands for their maintenance.
The persons, who are entitled to the protection, are to be notified by the Government who can be presumed to be aware of the needs of these people.
To promote the welfare and economic progress of the notified classes, Chapter X has provided measures that will prevent lands, on which these people depend so much for their welfare and maintenance, from passing to more affluent persons residing outside the belt.
Chapter X has defined the nature and extent of the rights conveyed by annual or periodic leases and has imposed restrictions in the acquisition or possession of lands within the tribal belt by transfer, exchange, lease, agreement or settlement.
A person acquires rights in land under a lease granted by or on behalf of the Government, and his rights are subject to the conditions of the lease. While granting the lease, the Government can impose conditions in the lease thereby restricting the rights inland.
Chapter X has also made provisions for the guidance of the State Government concerning the settlement of wastelands by lease for ordinary cultivation.
In the matter of settlement of wastelands and acquisition or possession of lands within the tribal belt, a classification has been made in which the following classes of people are brought under a separate group, namely:
Classes of people notified under Section 160 (2);
Persons who are permanently residing within the tribal belt; and
Persons who are settlement-holders within the belt, and though temporarily residing in the area are likely to become permanent residents therein.
This classification, it appears, has been made considering the needs of these people grouped in one class being similarly situated. Different status or circumstances of people require differentiated treatments, and an equitable approach, rather than focusing solely on the principle of equality.
"It is well settled that a legislature to deal with the complex problems that arise out of an infinite variety of human relations, cannot but proceed upon some sort of selection or classification of persons upon whom the legislation is to operate.
The consequence of such classification would undoubtedly be to differentiate the persons belonging to that class from others, but that by itself would not make the legislation obnoxious to the equal protection clause"
Article 14 of the Indian Constitution, read with Mukherjee J. in Kathi Ranging Rawat vs State of Saurashtra, provides that equality before the law or the equal protection of the law, as provided in Article 14 of the Constitution "does not mean that every law must have universal application, for all persons are not, by nature attainment or circumstances in the same position".
A classification is permissible if it is not "palpably unreasonable and arbitrary". To pass the test of permissible classification two conditions, as laid down by the Supreme Court, must be fulfilled, namely,-
That the classification must be founded on an intelligible differentia which distinguishes persons or things that are grouped from others left out of the group; and
That the differentia must have a rational relation to the object sought to be achieved by the particular legislation.
What is necessary is that it must be based upon a real and substantial distinction bearing a reasonable and just relation to the object sought to be attained. If the law deals equally with all persons belonging to a well-defined class, it cannot be regarded as objectionable or open to the charge of denial of equal protection.
The equality clause of the Constitution does not forbid classification which rests upon reasonable grounds of distinction.
Further, under Article 54(4) of the Constitution, it is permissible for the State to make provisions to advance the interests of the socially and educationally backward classes or for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Governments of the States can specify as to who are backward classes that need special protection.
Where the purpose of classification is the advancement of the weaker sections of people, it will not amount to discrimination within the meaning of Article 15 of the Constitution of India.
Applying the above principles of law, the provisions of Chapter X cannot be said to be discriminatory. Chapter X does not make any discrimination between the members of the class which is well-defined by the Act itself. This particular enactment itself gives reasons for the legislation.
The object of this legislation is to promote the interests of the classes of people who are socially and economically backward, and whose interests can be protected by making provisions so that they may have sufficient land for their welfare and maintenance.
The protective measures as laid down in Chapter X conform with and are made toward achieving this object.
3. Power of Revenue Officers under Section168:
All powers under Chapter X are to be exercised by the Deputy Commissioner. The State Government can, however, by notification in the Official Gazette, invest any Revenue Officer with powers of the Deputy Commissioner, and also withdraw the powers so conferred on him.
4. Appeals under Section169:
Section 169 provides appeals against the orders passed by the officers under the provisions Chapter X. An appeal will lie:
To the Deputy Commissioner from any order passed by an officer subordinate to him;
To the Assam Board of Revenue from any original order passed by Deputy Commissioner; and
To the Assam Board of Revenue against an appellate order of the Deputy Commissioner if the order is in respect of land held under a periodic lease.
An appeal to the Board of Revenue will not lie against the order of the Deputy Commissioner passed in an appeal in respect of land held under an annual lease. In such a case the order of the Deputy Commissioner in an appeal is final.
Thus a second appeal to the Assam Board of Revenue will lie against an order passed by the Deputy Commissioner in an appeal only when the order is in respect of a periodically settled land.
5. Revision under Section170:
Section 170 of this Chapter is similar to the provisions of Section 151, and it gives powers to the Assam Board of Revenue and the Deputy Commissioner to call for the proceedings held by a subordinate officer, and to pass necessary orders.
The Assam Board of Revenue and Deputy Commissioner, in the exercise of their power of revision under this section, can call for the record and see to the legality or propriety of the proceedings held by the subordinate officers.
6. Exclusion of the jurisdiction of the Civil Court (Section167):
Section 167 has expressly excluded the jurisdiction for the Civil Court in any of the matters covered by Chapter X.
Section 171 has empowered the state government to frame rules to carry out the provision of Chapter X. Accordingly, a separate set of rules has been framed.
The rules so framed related to rights-in-land, including termination or forfeit of such rights, settlement of wastelands, and eviction of persons in unauthorized occupation of lands within the tribal belt.
The State of Assam has through amendments in 1947 to the Regulation of 1886, which was towards securing the welfare of the tribal population in the State as well as securing their land rights, so as to prevent any infringement of their rights and punish those who have illegally or wrongfully occupied such lands or rights.