SC/ST Granted Lands: Conversion & Consequences

By Sammith S (Principal Attorney, Sanctum Law) & Vinudeep R (Associate, Sanctum Law)

Abstract

A Full Bench of the Karnataka High Court recently answered a reference made regarding the status of ‘granted lands’ under the Karnataka Schedule Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prohibition of Transfer of Certain Lands) Act, 1978 that are converted for purposed other than for which they were granted. In short, the nature of the land subsequent to its conversion from agricultural purpose to non-agricultural purpose was established in this judgement. This article shall discuss the judgement in detail. Finally, this article shall conclude with the significance of the judgement.

Introduction

Article 15(4) empowers the state to make special provision for the advancement of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. The Parliament and various State Legislatures have time and again enacted laws for the betterment of these societies, especially regarding social, economic, and political justice. One such law is the Karnataka Schedule Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prohibition of Transfer of Certain Lands) Act, 1978 (the PTCL Act). Under Section 4(2), the lands granted to allottees under this Act or any other law for the time being in force, are subject to the condition that they cannot be alienated except with the prior permission of the State Government. However, question arises as to the status of the land after it is converted in accordance with the provisions of the Karnataka Land Revenue Act

Brief Facts

The judgement in Munnaiah and Ors. v. The Deputy Commissioner, Bangalore and Ors.[1] arose out of a writ petition filed by the legal heirs of deceased Mr. Konda alias Kondappa, who was granted 5 acres and 3 guntas of land (the property in question) with the condition that the said land would not be alienated without prior permission from the State Government. The property in question was sold to one of the Respondents vide five different sale deeds executed by the Petitioners. The Petitioners challenged the said sale deeds before the Assistant Commissioner for lack of State Government sanction under Section 4(2) of the PTCL Act and prayed for the impugned sale deeds to be declared null and void. After several rounds of litigation, the matter finally reached the High Court of Karnataka.

A Single Judge Bench of the Karnataka High Court, in its order dated 19.05.2021, noted that divergent views had been taken by various benches in Kariyappa v. A.C., Hassan[2]; Smt. Muniyakkamma v. The Assistant Commissioner[3]; The Tibetan Children’s Village v. The Deputy Commissioners and others[4]; Kumar and others v. State of Karnataka[5]; and Smt. Ningamma v. Tibetan Children’s Village,[6] regarding certain questions of law and the same needed to be decided by a larger bench. Hence a Full Bench of the Karnataka High Court was constituted.

Issues before the Court

There were three main issues that were referred to the Full Bench. The questions were –

  1. Whether the definition of ‘granted land’ under the PTCL Act can be restricted to agricultural lands?
  2. Whether the conversion order passed by the Deputy Commissioner under Section 95 of the Karnataka Land Revenue Act, 1964, would take away the ‘granted land’ from the purview of the PTCL Act?
  3. Whether the conversion order passed by the Deputy Commissioner can be construed as prior permission granted by the government satisfying the requirement under Section 4(2) of the PTCL Act?

Analysis of the Issues

Granted Land – Only Agricultural Land?

The definition of the term ‘granted land’ is contained in Section 3(1)(b) of the PTCL Act and reads as follows –

3(1)(b) – “granted land” means any land granted by the Government to a person belonging to any of the Scheduled Castes or the Scheduled Tribes and includes land allotted or granted to such person under the relevant law for the time being in force relating to agrarian reforms or land ceilings or abolition of inams, other than that relating to hereditary offices or rights and the word “granted” shall be construed accordingly;”

(Emphasis supplied)

It is clear from the definition that any land that is allotted under relevant law for the time being in force relating to agrarian reforms, etc, would be treated as ‘granted land’. It was argued that the doctrine of nocsitur a sociis be applied in the construction of the definition. The intention of this particular argument was that, since the definition speaks about agrarian reforms, land ceiling, and abolition of inams, the definition of ‘granted land’ would be limited to agricultural land alone.

However, the Court rightly noted the nature of the definition as being inclusive, and therefore, principles relating to the interpretation of such provisions would apply here also. When a definition defines a term to mean ‘something’ and include ‘this’ and ‘that’, it cannot be construed to be including only ‘this’ and ‘that’ and excluding ‘something’.[7] In other words, ‘something’ would be the genus and ‘this’ and ‘that’ would be the species. Therefore, the definition merely states ‘this’ and ‘that’ as examples of the general definition.

In the present context, the Court stated that ‘granted land’ is any land that is granted by the State Government to persons belonging to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. These lands include, among other things, land redistributed due to agrarian reforms, etc. Therefore, the Court concluded that ‘granted land’ is not limited to agricultural land, but also includes other types of land that may have been granted to them by the Government.

Status of ‘granted land’ on Conversion

The PTCL Act is a beneficial legislation that was enacted to protect the economic interest of the persons belonging to the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes and also to protect them from exploitation. In this light, the Court held that Section 3(1)(b) read with Section 4(2) of the PTCL Act protected only the ‘granted land’ that was granted under the PTCL Act. Section 4(1)&(2) of the PTCL Act reads thus –

4. Prohibition of transfer of granted lands.- (1) Notwithstanding anything in any law, agreement, contract or instrument, any transfer of granted land made either before or after the commencement of this Act, in contravention of the terms of the grant of such land or the law providing for such grant, or sub-section (2) shall be null and void and no right, title or interest in such land shall be conveyed or be deemed ever to have conveyed by such transfer.

(2) No person shall, after the commencement of this Act, transfer or acquire by transfer any granted land without the previous permission of the Government.”

The Court held that Section 3(1)(b) read with Section 4(2) of the PTCL Act protected only the ‘granted land’ that was granted under the PTCL Act. Conversion of land is done in accordance with Section 95 of the Karnataka Land Revenue Act, 1964. The Court held that once the order of conversion is passed by the Deputy Commissioner in accordance with Section 95(2) of the Karnataka Land Revenue Act, the land ceases to be ‘granted land’. This is because an application under Section 95 presupposes the land to be agricultural land. Once it is converted to be used for other purposes, it loses the purpose for which it was granted under the PTCL Act, and therefore it ceases to be ‘granted land’ under the meaning of Section 3(1)(b) of the PTCL Act.

Conversion Order as Government Sanction

Once the first and second issues are answered, the natural question that arises is whether the Conversion Order passed under Section 95 of the Karnataka Land Revenue Act, 1964 can be deemed to be ‘prior permission’ obtained to alienate the ‘granted land’. The Court answered this question in the negative. The reason for doing so is that the PTCL Act and the Karnataka Land Revenue Act are statutes that function in different spheres and do not overlap each other. Further, the authorities in the two statutes are different and distinct in position and in function. The enquiry undertaken by an authority under Section 4 of the PTCL Act is not the same as the enquiry undertaken by an authority under Section 95 of the Karnataka Land Revenue Act. Therefore, the decision taken under Section 95 of the Karnataka Land Revenue Act cannot be deemed to be a decision under Section 4 of the PTCL Act.

Conclusion

This full bench judgement of the Karnataka High Court has come as a relief to a lot of litigators before the courts in the State of Karnataka in similar matters. It clearly elucidates the law in a very lucid and simple manner yet being firm in the direction intended to be issued. This judgement is bound to reduce a lot of litigation that is initiated before the revenue courts of Karnataka and restrict vexatious litigation to a certain extent. Interest Republicae ut sit finis litium, i.e., the in the interest of the society as a whole, litigation must come to an end. This judgement is one step towards such goal of the end of litigation.

Disclaimer – All views and opinions expressed in this article are personal and belong solely to the author(s) and do not necessarily represent those of the LAABh Foundation or the individuals and institutions associated with LAABh Foundation.


[1] W.P. No. 60483 of 2014 (SC-ST) decided on 05.07.2021.

[2] ILR 1997 Kar 1723.

[3] 2005 (4) KCCR 2953.

[4] W.P. No. 15802/2007 decided on 07.04.2019.

[5] W.P. No.21977/2013 decided on 21.12.2020.

[6] W.A. No. 4092/2017 decided on 09.04.2019.

[7] Justice G.P. Singh (Justice A.K. Patnaik edn.), Principles of Statutory Interpretation (Lexis Nexis, 14th edn. 2016).

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