“If Tata Steel, Heavy Engineering Corporation and Bokaro Steel Plant can come up without amending the CNT Act, why does the Greater Ranchi plan require such amendments?”
This question very clearly sums up the status of implementation of the Chhotanagpur Tenancy (CNT) Act of 1908. If the Act can be violated so easily why bother about amending it!!
Instituted by the British the Chhota Nagpur Tenancy Act, 1908 is an important act for the tribal population of Jharkhand. It restricts transfer of tribal land to non tribals. The CNT Act is effective in North Chhota Nagpur, South Chhota Nagpur and Palamau divisions, including areas under various municipalities and notified area committees.
So far, the CNT Act has been amended as many as 26 times, latest in 1995. It is listed in the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution, so the act is beyond judicial review. It can only be repealed by the Parliament; the state government can only make amendments to it. Currently over 20,000 cases of land restoration are pending across Jharkhand, pointing to the blatant violation of the Act.
In 1962 the Bihar government amended the CNT Act to include “economically weaker castes (EWCs)” belonging to the SC and OBC. The original Act applied only to the lands of Scheduled tribes (STs) and vested the power of land transfer on the plea of the right owner, with the deputy commissioner (DC). It notified a list of backward classes, the sale of whose land would be restricted as per the CNT Act.
Some Important Provisions of the CNT Act
Provisions 46 and 49 of the CNT Act regulate sale and purchase of tribal land. Section 46 allows tribal to tribal land transfer but with the permission of the Deputy Commissioner.
Contrary to popular belief, the CNT Act also allows transfer of land from tribals to non-tribals under Section 49. This can be done only for industries or agriculture. Restrictions and procedures are specified in the relevant Sections of the Act. As per the Section 49 of the CNT Act, tribal land can be sold to non-tribals too but only for the purpose of putting up industries or for agriculture work — but in this case the permission requirement has been changed. Rather than deputy commissioners (as provided in the original Act), permission is needed from the revenue department.
There is also a provision that the Government can withdraw land transfer if it is not used for industrial and public purposes like hospitals or schools. But there are numerous cases where the land was used otherwise.
These two provisions, coupled with the unfettered power of the state to acquire land in “public interest”, have undoubtedly led to the alienation of vast tracts of tribal land throughout the state. This has happened in spite of the revenue department’s fixed ceilings for different areas, below which rate no land can be registered.
Section 71 of the Act offers relief against fraudulent purchases. The victim can apply for restoration of land under this Section. Prime plots owned by the tribals in urban areas like Ranchi are always eyed by non-tribal builders who would like acquire such plots and then sell them after development at higher prices.
Section 241 of the CNT Act permits transfer of Mundari-Khuttkatti land for certain purposes but with the prior permission of the deputy commissioner. Incidentally, the aluminum giant Hindalco has been eyeing land that falls in this category. Note that the Mundari-Khuttkatti lands are plots developed for agricultural purpose by tribals over decades for their own use.
Latest Court Order on the CNT Act
A Brief Background
“According to the section 46(A) of the Chhota Nagpur Tenancy (CNT) Act 1908, an Adivasi can transfer their land only to another Adivasi resident of the same police station, with the permission of the Deputy Commissioner (DC). Similarly, Section 46(B) of the CNT Act states that the SCs and OBCs can also transfer their land to members of their community within the area of a district with the permission of the DC.”
Immediately after coming to power in September 2010, the Arjun Munda government issued a directive asking officials to “strictly” adhere to the Section 46 of CNT Act that allows a tribal to sell his land to another tribal. But the under pressure from the builders’ lobby, it issued another notification “staying” the previous one. It was challenged in the High Court which quashed the stay notification and ordered strict implementation of the CNT Act.
The Verdict and Its Impact
The Jharkhand High Court order of January 25, 2012 made deputy commissioner’s consent mandatory for transfer of land belonging to backward classes and Scheduled Castes in the context of the CNT Act. The authorities have been allowing land transfer without DCs approval assuming that it was required only for transfer of tribal lands.
After the Court’s order, the land transferred of Adivasis, Dalits and OBCs was stopped in the state, which hit the real estate business, illegal land grab by the corporate houses, and illegal land transfer to the outsiders. It clearly meant that the procedures laid down in the CNT Act were never taken seriously or followed strictly!!
This left the builders’ lobby highly disappointed; it had indulged in large scale purchase of tribal lands for real estate development in collaboration with politicians and business community. So, now the state government is trying to come up with some possible amendment that would ease the pains of the builders.
The verdict also ignited a fierce war of words between the proponent and opponents of the Act, who view the CNT provisions as outdated and out-of-sync with today’s social set up.
Unhappy Builders’ Lobby wants Relief
Builders’ lobby has suggested two quick-fixes to the government so as to safeguard their business interests:
One is to revisit the list of backward classes that were incorporated under the CNT Act in 1962 and prune the list to keep only the extremely backward classes. This would free a lot of land from the purview of the Act.
The other step is to modify the amendment of 1981 which extended the act to municipal areas and notified areas committees, so that the municipal corporation areas of Ranchi and Dhanbad are kept outside the CNT Act.
Some Commonly Suggested Amendments to the CNT Act
These land tenancy Acts have been needed to protect interests of poor tribals; rich and affluent tribals can of course look after their interests. Therefore, when it comes to amending the Act, it is more of a sentimental and political issue and not a legal issue alone. Certain commonly talked about grounds for amendment are listed here:
The Act is Out-of-Sync with Current Realities: Since the original Act is hundred years old, certain restrictive provisions appear out of sync with today’s realities. For instance, a) the condition for selling Raiyati land is that both the seller and the purchaser should be residents of the same police station area; b) the seller must prove that he is in real need of money, for medical, education or construction of house etc and c) the seller must have 2.5 acres of land left in his possession after selling the land.
Note: “Raiyat” means primarily a person who has acquired the right to hold land for the purpose of cultivating it by himself, or by members of his family, or by hired servants, or with the aid of partners, and includes also the successors in interest of persons who have acquired such a right. In nutshell, he is just a tenant – not owner of the plot.
Land Transfer should Cover the Entire State: A popular demand (also approved in January 2012 by the Tribal Advisory Council) has been to remove to the restriction of jurisdiction within the police station, which was all right a century ago when tribal population was restricted to some specific areas where a single police station was sufficient. In today’s situation of increased mobility, a tribal should be allowed to sell his land to another tribal living anywhere within the state boundary.
Small Lease Tenure: Section 46 also restricts the tenure of land lease; it cannot be leased for more than five years and can only be used for limited purpose such as agriculture, horticulture, etc. Many people see it as serious handicap in availing loans, so they demand removal of this clause.
Re-notify the Backward Class List: It is fifty years since 1962 when the Bihar Government extended benefits of land transfer restrictions under the CNT Act to a notified list of backward classes. It may be a good idea to revisit the list and modify it to include SC and OBC beneficiaries based on today’s ground realities of their social status and economic background.
Increase Compensation: The compensation provisions for sale of land which was introduced in 1970 also need revision to incorporate the current rates.
Amend the Bihar Scheduled Area Regulation Act: An act that goes against the CNT Act is the Bihar Scheduled Area Regulation Act (1969), which has the provision of legalizing illegally transferred tribal lands. It must be brought in consonance with the CNT Act.
Streamline Maintenance of Land Records: It has also been argued that the tenancy laws are complicated and detailed records had not been maintained over the years. If the records were streamlined and well maintained, there wouldn’t have been much difficulty.
Redefine the Jurisdiction of the CNT Act: The government should consider fresh demarcation of scheduled areas that decides the implementation of the Act – scheduled areas have not been demarcated for a long period of time. If the government can notify the scheduled areas in consonance with the percentage of population of the scheduled category, a lot of problem would be solved.
During a debate 2010-11, JVM chief Babulal Marandi had suggested that certain provisions of the Act should be relaxed in Ranchi and surrounding areas for development.
Eliminate the Approval by Deputy Commissioner: Then there are people who want the land transfer approval by deputy commissioner or department of revenue to be removed because state officials can always be pressured by powerful lobbies. They also consider it unnecessary.
You may also be interested in: Status of Implementation of the CNT Act