Chotanagpur Tenancy Act: What next

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By The Telegraph Online
  • Published 23.02.12

What is the CNT Act?

The Chotanagpur Tenancy (CNT) Act, enacted in 1908 after the Birsa Movement to govern land issues and prevent land alienation, is supposed to be the Magna Carta for tribals. The blueprint of the act was prepared by John Hoffmann, a missionary social worker. Its operation is effective in North Chotanagpur, South Chotanagpur and Palamau divisions, including areas under various municipalities and notified area committees

What is its key provision on land?

Section 46 of the CNT Act restricts transfer of land belonging to Scheduled Tribes/Scheduled Castes and Backward Classes. However, a tribal may transfer his land through sale, exchange, gift or will to a fellow Scheduled Tribe member and residents of his own police station area. Similarly, SCs and BCs can transfer land to members of their own community within the limits of the district in which the land is located with prior permission of the deputy commissioner.

What is the high court’s latest ruling?

On January 25, Jharkhand High Court asked the state government to follow the CNT Act in its true spirit, making it clear that in addition to tribes, its also applied to those belonging to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes

Why did the court rule so?

Although the act was followed in respect of tribals — though not in letter and spirit — its provisions for SC/BC remained virtually dormant. These provisions were also challenged in court from time to time with Patna High Court declaring it constitutionally valid in 1996


Tribal organisations are opposed to any changes in the law. But, non-tribals want the act amended to relax curbs on sale of land imposed on Scheduled Castes and Backward Classes

Tribals’ stand

Pro-CNT outfits, mostly tribal organisations, have constituted CNT Act Bachao Morcha to ask the state government not to make any changes in the law. They allege past amendments have weakened the Act and created more loopholes for “usurping” tribal land

Anti-CNT lobby

Various non-tribal outfits have come together under Jharkhand Bachao Sangharsha Morcha to pressure the state government into amending the law. They claim some provisions of the act are a stumbling block to development

How has this affected real estate?

The real estate sector, besides suppliers of construction material and labourers, is the worst affected. Since the major chunk of land belongs to backward classes and tribals, it has brought all construction activity to a halt. Banks have stopped disbursing funds and loans for ongoing housing projects

Why are banks running scared?

Under the CNT Act, land belonging to ST/SC/BC can be mortgaged only for five years. So, banks will lose the right to recover loans after five years. Since housing loans are for longer terms, 15 to 20 years, the banks are taking precautionary measures, explained S.K. Singh, the convenor of State Level Bankers Committee, an umbrella organisation of all banks

Financial implications

Approximately, Rs 160 crore has been blocked to around 100 ongoing projects in Ranchi, according to real estate expert Rajesh Mishra

Legal remedies

The state government has two options to defuse the politically surcharged atmosphere.

First, it may review the list of backward classes (Bihar govt, 1962) and identify the extremely backward among them so that they can remain under the purview of the act. The others may be exempt. This may be done by the state government without going to the Assembly.

Second, it may recall the amendment of 1981 by which the act was extended to municipal and notified areas committees. This way, the land available under municipal areas will be free for transfer and exempt from the rigours of the act. Also, since the 1981 amendment does not talk of municipal corporations constituted under a separate 1951 law. So, the CNT Act may not be applicable in municipal corporation areas in Ranchi and Dhanbad

Constitutional position

Legal experts say the CNT Act may be amended by the state legislature on the recommendations of the Tribes Advisory Council (TAC). But the assent of the President will be required since Jharkhand comes under Schedule V of the Constitution.

Also, CNT Act has been listed in the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution, which implies it is beyond judicial review