Testamentary disposition of agricultural land to a non-agriculturist defeats the purpose of Sections 43 and 63 of Bombay Tenancy Act

Supreme Court: The 3-judge bench of UU Lalit, Indu Malhotra and AS Bopanna, JJ has held that an agriculturist cannot part with his agricultural land to a non-agriculturist though a ‘Will’ as per Sections 43 and 63 of the Bombay Tenancy and Agricultural Lands, Act, 1948 (the Tenancy Act).

Section 43 lays down the restrictions on transfer of land sold or purchased under the Tenancy Act and Section 63 bars the transfer of agricultural lands to non-agriculturists.

The Court said,

“if it is held that the testamentary disposition would not get covered by the provisions of Section 43, a gullible person can be made to execute a testament in favour of a person who may not fulfil the requirements and be eligible to be a transferee in accordance with law. This may not only render the natural heirs of the tenant without any support or sustenance but may also have serious impact on agricultural operations.”

Explaining the scheme of the Act and the provisions in question, the Court said that the primary concern of provisions referred to in Section 43 of the Tenancy Act is to see that the legislative scheme of granting protection to persons from disadvantaged categories and conferring the right of purchase upon them, and thereby ensure direct relationship of a tiller with the land.

If a tenant or any other person from the priority list is conferred ownership in respect of the agricultural land or when a landlord is allowed to retain the land which was surrendered by his tenant, each one of them is obliged to cultivate the land personally. In case any of them is unwilling, the land must be given to those who principally depend upon agricultural operations for their sustenance. If a person is a beneficiary of such statutory purchase and wishes to transfer his holding the law obliges that he must take prior sanction from the Collector.

The Court, further,explained that a transfer inter vivos would normally be for consideration where the transferor may get value for the land but the legislation requires previous sanction of the concerned authority so that the transferee can step into the shoes of the transferor, and carry out all the obligations as a part of legislative scheme must be discharged. Thus, the screening whether a transferee is eligible or not, can be undertaken even before the actual transfer is effected. Hence,

“if a testamentary disposition which does not have the element of consideration is to be permitted, and if it is assumed that Sections 43 and 63 of the Act do not get attracted, the land can be bequeathed to a total stranger and a non-agriculturist who may not cultivate the land himself; which in turn may then lead to engagement of somebody as a tenant on the land. The legislative intent to do away with absentee landlordism and to protect the cultivating tenants, and to establish direct relationship between the cultivator and the land would then be rendered otiose.”

The Court concluded by saying that the provisions, though lay down a norm which may not be fully consistent with the principles of Indian Succession Act, are principally designed to attain and sub-serve the purpose of protecting the holdings in the hands of disadvantaged categories. The prohibition against transfers of holding without the previous sanction of the concerned authorities, is to be seen in that light as furthering the cause of legislation.

[Vinodchandra Sakarlal Kapadia v. State of Gujarat, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 545 , decided on 15.06.2020]

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