Interpretation of Agricultural Land Transfer Laws

Explore the intricate legal analysis by the court regarding the interpretation of laws governing the transfer of agricultural land. The court’s rigorous examination of legislative provisions and constitutional objectives showcases a commitment to upholding justice and safeguarding the interests of marginalized communities. Stay tuned to unravel the nuances of legal reasoning in the realm of agricultural land transfers.


  • Whether Section 63 of the Bombay Tenancy Act prohibits agriculturists from transferring agricultural land to non-agriculturists through a Will.
  • Whether Section 43(1) of the Tenancy Act restricts the transfer of land purchased by tenants under specific sections through the execution of a Will.
  • Interpretation of Sections 17B, 32, 32F, 32I, 32U, 33(1), 88E, 32P, and 64 of the Tenancy Act in relation to testamentary dispositions.
  • Clarification on the scope of testamentary dispositions in the context of agricultural land transfers.
  • Determining the impact of Sections 63 and 43(1) on the rights of agriculturists and tenants regarding transfer of land via a Will.

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  • Mr. Sanjay Parikh and Mr. Raghavendra S. Srivatsa, representing the Appellants, argue that the expressions like ‘sale’, ‘gift’, ‘exchange’, and ‘mortgage’ in Sections 43 and 63 of the Act suggest transfers by a living person.
  • They point out that the term ‘assignment’ in Section 43(1) should be interpreted in line with the preceding expressions in that Section, and that Section 63 does not even mention ‘assignment’.
  • The counsel contends that the prohibitions under Sections 43 and 63 are related to transfers inter vivos, not testamentary dispositions.
  • They argue that since the concept of succession, whether testamentary or intestate, falls under Entry 5 of List III of the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution as a concurrent subject, the central legislation, the Indian Succession Act, 1925, should take precedence over any inconsistent provisions in State enactments.
  • They assert that any prohibition in the State enactment conflicting with the principles of the Indian Succession Act, 1925, would be void without the assent of the President.
  • It is further contended that the State Legislature is presumed to be aware of this legal hierarchy, and thus, while interpreting the term ‘assignment’ in the Act, this aspect must be considered.
  • They distinguish the cases of Sangappa and Jayamma related to the Karnataka Land Reforms Act, 1961, as that Act had received Presidential assent whereas the current Act being discussed has not received such assent.
  • Section 63 of the Act indicates that a transfer to a non-agriculturist is not permissible.
  • Any transfer exceeding the ceiling limits or resulting in the transferee’s income being over Rs.5,000/- is impermissible.
  • The intent behind conferring ownership rights to cultivating tenants was to protect actual tillers by giving them ownership rights upon payment of nominal charges.
  • Legislative conditions lay down criteria for considering and granting applications for transfers inter vivos, and testamentary dispositions should also adhere to similar conditions.
  • The objective of the Act is to preserve agricultural lands with actual tillers and prevent concentration of holdings in a few hands.

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  • Courts should act to make a legislation effective and operative, striking it down only when not possible to sustain it.
  • For sustaining the constitutionality of an Act, a court may take into consideration matters of common knowledge, reports, Preamble, history of the times, and the object of the legislation.
  • Legislation should be interpreted liberally, with a broad spirit, to ensure the fulfillment of constitutional goals and the protection of the vulnerable sections of society.
  • Courts should presume the constitutionality of a statute and make every effort to keep it within the competence of the legislature.
  • Mutable interpretations are permitted to achieve constitutional objectives, and statutes should be given liberal construction to serve the legislative intent effectively.
  • Pith and substance doctrine should be applied when examining legislative competence, focusing on the true character, object, scope, and effect of the enactment.
  • In cases of overlap between legislative fields, courts should resolve issues according to principles of construction of entries in legislative lists.
  • Prohibition against certain transfers, especially in the context of protecting weaker sections like Scheduled Tribes, should be interpreted and enforced strictly to prevent injustice and exploitation.
  • The Tribunal observed that disposal by way of a Will would not amount to transfer and would not be hit by Section 63 of the Act.
  • The Land Tribunal erred in granting occupancy right to the respondents based on the alleged will, which is liable to be set aside.
  • The Tribunal allowed the appeal and reversed the decision of the High Court.
  • In cases where the tenant is unable to exercise the right of purchase due to the ceiling limit, the land must be transferred to the persons or entities listed in the priority list in terms of Section 32P.
  • The Legislation does not permit right in immovable property to be transferred to a non-tribal without the previous sanction of a competent authority as per Section 73AA.
  • The expression \
  • person
  • \
  • used in Section 42( b ) of the Act therefore can only be a natural person and not a juristic person.
  • The potential overlapping between statutes is saved by the doctrine of incidental encroachment.
  • The expression \
  • assignment\
  • in Section 43 must include testamentary disposition to align with the legislative scheme and prevent exploitation of weaker sections of society.
  • The legislative intent is to prevent transfer of agricultural lands to non-agriculturists through testamentary dispositions.
  • A testamentary disposition in favour of a stranger can circumvent the protective provisions of the Act, which is against the legislative intent.
  • The expression \
  • assignment\
  • as defined in Section 43 should be construed in a manner that aligns with the overall purpose of the Act.
  • The prohibition on transfer of granted lands for a specified period is essential to safeguard the interests of the original grantees and prevent exploitation.
  • The legislation and concerned provisions are within the competence of the State Legislature.
  • The construction of the expression ‘assignment’ to include testamentary disposition does not transgress.
  • Rejection of submissions by Mr. Srivatsa, learned Counsel.
  • Acceptance of the construction put by the Division Bench on the considered provisions.
  • Even if ‘assignment’ is construed to include testamentary disposition, it does not violate the prohibition against transfers without prior sanction.
  • The decision in Mahadeo is held to be incorrectly decided and inconsistent with earlier decisions.
  • Furthering the cause of legislation by interpreting the prohibition against transfers in the context of holding sanctions.

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  • The challenge to the view taken by the Division Bench is rejected.
  • On depositing a certain amount, the site is considered transferred to the tenant, and the deposited amount is given to the landlord.
  • All appeals are dismissed without costs.
  • Upon receiving an application, the Tribunal determines the value of the site, not exceeding 20 times the annual rent.
  • The Tribunal issues a certificate to the tenant upon payment of prescribed fees, specifying the transferred site and the tenant’s name.


Case Number: C.A. No.-002573-002573 / 2020

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