This article is written by Sana Virani. In this article, the case of Shantabai v. State of Bombay has been discussed. It also talks about the different provisions of the law, fundamental rights, and case laws relevant to the comprehension of the case. This case explores the proprietary interests of the state and cross-examines the claim by the petitioner about infringement of fundamental rights.

Table of Contents


In 1951, a change in law caused a lot of distress among the people. To bring estates, mahals, forests, and alienated lands directly under the control of the Madhya Pradesh government, the Madhya Pradesh Abolition of Proprietary Rights (Estates, Mahals, and Alienated Lands) Act was enacted. It abolished proprietary rights and transferred rights to the state. The major reason for enacting this law was to diminish the zamindari system and the dominance of landlords over the common people. It also raised complexities for the state in terms of development and infrastructural growth. Shantabai, the wife of one such proprietor, claimed that her fundamental rights were infringed and filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court challenging the actions of certain administrative authorities. This article provides a detailed analysis of the case of Shantabai v. State of Bombay & Ors. (1958). 

Details of Shantabai v. State of Bombay & Ors. (1958)

Facts of Shantabai v. State of Bombay & Ors. (1958)

On April 26, 1948, Balirambhau Doye, a proprietor of several forests in eight tehsils of Pandharpur, executed an unregistered document with his wife Shantabai, the petitioner in the present case. He granted her the right to take out various kinds of raw materials like fuel wood, bamboo, etc. for 12 ½ years in return for Rs 26,000 and called it a lease. The deed was executed in favour of Shantabai, which conferred on her the right to enter certain areas of forest and cut out fuel wood, teak, and bamboo. On January 26, 1951, the Madhya Pradesh Abolition of Proprietary Rights (Estates, Mahals, and Alienated lands) Act, 1950  (hereinafter referred to as the “Act”) was enacted. Section 3 of the Act confers all the proprietary rights of certain lands located in the state of Madhya Pradesh on the state from March 31, 1951, as specified by the government.

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Shantabai was restricted from entering and cutting trees after the Act came into force, even though she was permitted to do so through the lease. She applied to the Deputy Commissioner of Bhandara under Section 6(2) of the Act for validating the lease, and the commissioner held on August 16, 1955, that the lease could not be questioned because the Act would not be applicable to the transfer in question as the Act applied only to those transfers that were made after its enactment, whereas the said transfer was made before the Act came into force, i.e., March 16, 1950. The Commissioner also observed that the lease was genuine, which gives the petitioner the right to work in the forest as per the lease and the rules set out under Section 218(A) of the Central Provinces Land Revenue Act, 1881. Following the order given by the commissioner, the petitioner applied to the Divisional Forest Officer, Bhandara, twice for a permit to work in the forest, and in return, she received a letter from the authorities stating that the claim was being examined. The letter further states that the petitioner, Shantabai, took the matter into her own hands and started cutting the forest trees to exercise her rights, and that the Divisional Forest Officer seized the petitioner when she unlawfully entered the forest to cut the forest trees. Because of the aforesaid reasons, the forest officer cancelled her name and forfeited the extracted materials from the forest.

The petitioner made an application on September 27, 1956, to the Government of Madhya Pradesh to reclaim possession, which is her right acquired through the document. She filed a writ petition for the infringement of her fundamental rights, namely Articles 19(1)(f) and 19(1)(g), on August 26, 1957, to the Supreme Court under Article 32 of the Constitution of India. She moved to the Supreme Court when she did not receive any significant order, and further, she requested that the court set aside the respondent’s order so that she could carry out other activities. 

Issues raised 

  • Whether the document conferred any proprietary rights or interests to the petitioner?
  • Whether the fundamental rights of the petitioner had been violated.

Arguments of the parties in Shantabai v. State of Bombay & Ors. (1958)

Arguments from the petitioner

The petitioner requested to dismiss the order made by the divisional forest officer that restrained her from cutting the forest wood, which was an infringement of rights that arise out of the lease. The counsel of the petitioner referred to the case of Chhotabhai Jethabhai Patel v. State of Madhya Pradesh (1965) and requested a writ directing the respondents to not restrict her from conducting several activities on the land. As per her claim, she had been granted the right to access the forest and cut the trees under the lease, and her fundamental rights guaranteed under Articles 19(1)(f), i.e., the right to property, and 19(1)(g), i.e., the right to carry out trade arising out of the transaction, are infringed due to the offending order.

The foundation of her contractual rights arising on the land is the document termed a “lease deed” executed between the petitioner and her husband. 

Arguments from the respondents

The respondents highlighted the contradictory definitions of trees and standing timber, and Section 3(26) of the General Clauses Act, 1897, defines trees under the category of ‘immovable property’ because they are attached to the earth and they benefit from the land. Whereas, Section 3 of the Transfer of Property Act, 1882, states that ‘standing timber’ does not comprise immovable property for this Act as well as for Section 2(6) of the Registration Act, 1908. 

The respondent looked into the matter with a different lens. They did not argue about the infringement of fundamental rights. Rather, they highlighted that the contract, which was the foundation of the transaction, was unregistered under the existing law. The question was for the court to shed light on the above concepts to conclude the judgement.

Laws discussed in Shantabai v. State of Bombay & Ors. (1958)

Article 19 of the Constitution

Article 19 was embedded in the Constitution of India so that the citizens had the right to express their thoughts, trade, and move freely. This article contains several rights that have played a crucial role in shaping democracy while balancing the rights and reasonable restrictions imposed on citizens under Article 19(2).

Article 19(1)(f)

When the Indian Constitution came into existence, the right to withhold property was underlined as a fundamental right enshrined under Article 19(1)(f). This right ensured that citizens’ rights against their property remained protected. In 1978, the Constitution (44th Amendment) Act, 1978, led to a change in the status of the right to property from a fundamental right to a constitutional right. This Amendment took place so that the government could boost public infrastructure projects and could not be intervened by claims arising from breaches of fundamental rights.

Article 19(1)(g)

Article 19(1)(g) upholds the fundamental right to carry out any trade, business, occupation, or practice of any profession for all citizens. The scope also extends to the right to shut down a business or commercial activity. However, this right is also backed by reasonable restrictions, like carrying out any activity that is dangerous, illegal, or criminal. 

Article 31(1) 

According to Article 31(1), the government cannot seize the private property of a citizen by the provision of law and not through an executive order. 

Article 32

Article 32 in Part III of the Indian Constitution secures legal remedies that every individual can access for the violation of fundamental rights. To enforce any fundamental right guaranteed under the Constitution, it gives the citizen the right to proceed to the Supreme Court. Article 32 also reiterates the power of the Supreme Court to issue writs, orders, and directions that uphold fundamental rights and their enforcement.

Registration Act, 1908

Registration of a commercial transaction is crucial because it aids the government in maintaining a systematic record of the same and decreases the chances of false claims or disputes over a property. The Registration Act unifies the rules and regulations that are necessary to follow to register documents. 

General Clauses Act, 1977

The General Clauses Act is best known as the “laws of all laws” because it creates a solid base for the interpretation of several Acts and their provisions. It leads the path for other general as well as specific provisions so that there is no room for ambiguity.

Halsbury Laws of England 

Halsbury Law is a comprehensive dictionary and contains statutory and common law concepts for England and Wales. 

Madhya Pradesh Abolition of Proprietary Rights (Estates, Mahals, and Alienated Lands) Act, 1950

The Madhya Pradesh Abolition of Proprietary Rights (Estates, Mahals, and Alienated Lands) Act gained presidential assent in 1951. It was enacted to abolish all the proprietary rights in Madhya Pradesh and to bring reforms on several issues related to proprietary rights. This provision resulted in the transfer of the proprietary rights of individuals on estates, mahals, and alienated lands to the state in return for compensation if liable. 

Here are the following objectives of the Act:

  • The Act imparted the abolition of proprietary rights in estates, mahals, and alienated lands situated in Madhya Pradesh. Its main aim is to hand over the proprietorship to the state government of alienated lands, estates, and mahals to enhance infrastructure and redistribution. 
  • It also asserts that landowners are entitled to compensation whose proprietary rights were terminated due to this provision and also lays down a plan of action for distributing the compensation. 
  • It also emphasises the limit of land an individual or family can hold and gives power to the government to acquire the land if it crosses the maximum limit as prescribed under the Act to redistribute it amongst the small-scale landless farmers to promote social justice. 
  • The provisions of the Act also provide security of tenure and several other rights to tenants and cultivators over the land they farm. It also lays the foundation for structures to implement provisions, including the appointment of authorities to supervise the various activities related to land reforms. 
  • The Madhya Pradesh Abolition of Proprietary Rights (Estates, Mahals, and Alienated lands) Act, 1950, has also incorporated several provisions that are nearby for the constructive and efficient enforcement of it. 

Section 3 of the Madhya Pradesh Abolition of Proprietary Rights (Estates, Mahals, and Alienated Lands) Act.

Section 3 of the Madhya Pradesh Abolition of Proprietary Rights (Estates, Mahals, Alienated Lands) Act, 1950, would overpower the state vesting the right over property in return for appropriate compensation to the petitioner. Section 3 provides the conditions that are to be fulfilled to permit and grant the land for cultivation: 

  1. If the land falls outside a 15-mile radius of the boundaries of any municipal committee or notified area committee. 
  2. The existing cultivation land is under the ownership of a proprietor and is insufficient to fulfil the needs.
  3. The land intended for cultivation has suitable soil, and the proprietor’s situation allows them to cultivate the additional land effectively.

Precedents and similar cases 

Anand Behra v. State of Orissa (1956)  

The plaintiff in Anand Behra v. State of Orissa (1956) was granted the right by its former owner to fish in certain areas of Chillaka Lake. Soon after that, the Orissa Estates Abolition Act (1951) made the state of Orissa its proprietary owner. When the plaintiff was restricted to exercise activities and his licence became invalid, he filed a petition as per Article 19(1)(f) and Article 31(1). The court, however, categorised fisheries as immovable property and dismissed the petition since the state had rights over the property due to the said Act.

Mulamchand v. State of Madhya Pradesh (1968)

In this case, the appellant secured the right from several proprietors of Malguzari jungles to extract forest produce. The rights to the same forest were transferred to the state after the enactment of the Madhya Pradesh Abolition of Proprietary Rights (Estates, Mahals, and Alienated Lands) Act. On 1st April 1951, under Section 7 of the Act, the Deputy Commissioner of Balaghat took charge of several Malguzari jungles, which restrained the appellant from utilising the rights. Since the appellant already acquired the right to collect tendu leaves, he argued for the amount to be refunded and also demanded a refund of the deposit made by him that permitted him to collect lac for three years. The respondent pointed out that the claim was baseless because the provisions of Article 299 of the Constitution were not fulfilled, which resulted in an invalid contract between the state of Madhya Pradesh and the appellant. The appellant could not manage to provide relevant evidence to prove the validity of the contract and other technicalities associated with the transaction. The Trial Court and High Court dismissed the claim due to a lack of substantial evidence, which made it evident that the appellant was not eligible for a refund of the deposit amount. 


Thakur Krishan Singh v. Arvind Kumar (1995)

In this case, the plaintiff and respondent filed a lawsuit that questioned the possession of land located in district Sagar. They claimed that the 0.56 acres of land were leased to them in 1949 by the Lambardar. However, the Court concluded that the appellant was the rightful owner of the land through adverse possession and dismissed the dependents’ appeal. Further, it was held that the High Court did not make any error in acknowledging the lower court’s decision.

Bihar Eastern Gangetic Fishermen Cooperative Society Limited v. Sipahi Singh (1977)

In this case, the Fishermen Cooperative Society held the fishing rights for one year in 1974 for Rs. 150,000 at Gangapath Islampur Jalkar. In the public auction, the respondent, Sipahi Singh, made the highest bid of Rs. 165,000 for the years 1975 to 1976 to obtain the fishing rights. However, he faced significant losses incurred in the same year and claimed a reduction in settlement amount with the extension of fishing rights until 1978 to recover his losses. The government agreed to extend the term of fishing rights on the condition of a complete payment of Rs. 165,000, but later on, they set aside the decision. The Supreme Court held that the contract between the State of Bihar and Sipahi Singh was not valid since it did not fulfil the essential requirements stated under Article 299 of the Constitution. 

Judgement of the Supreme Court in Shantabai v. State of Bombay & Ors. (1958)

The five-judge bench dismissed the petition without any costs and held that, even though a petition under Article 32 is maintainable, the petitioner cannot complain of the infringement by the state about rights if it occurred to the petitioner under any document. Justice Bose delivered a single judgement, while the other judges furnished a separate judgement. Although all the judges had the same view about dismissing the petition, Justice Bose decided to conclude with a separate reason because he had slightly different reasons than the other four judges in viewing the matter.  

Judgement by four judges

The judges analysed several aspects of the case and concluded that the document permitted a “profit-a-prendre,” which entitles a person to extract raw materials or any produce from another person’s land. However, it never transfers the right to take advantage of the immovable property and only permits entry and makes use of the extraction of soil yield. The court highlighted that the proof by the petitioner was vague and that the claim under Article 19(1)(f) or Article 31 needed more than a mere grant of the right to enter and cut timber. 

The court delved into the movable or immovable property classification, concluding that, under Section 3(26) of the General Clauses Act, 1977, it qualified as “immovable property” due to its connection to the land. Despite conflicting definitions in other statutes, the court asserted that the definition in the General Clauses Act should prevail in the absence of a special definition. Otherwise, the special definition will be applied. It was included in the judgement that such trees are considered “standing timber” as of the date of the document. Since the size is minimal and can fall earlier, it will be regarded as a movable property. 

The judges further classified and delved deeper into the classification of movable and immovable property. Although there has been a lot of ambiguity due to the conflicting definitions and interpretations in several statutes, the court referred to Section 3(26) of the General Clauses Act, 1977, and interpreted standing timber as immovable property.

Judgement of Justice Bose

Justice Bose stated in its separate judgement that one can enjoy the property even if it is a lease transaction, but that does not give the right to take it away or remove it from its original location.

He further clarified that the genuineness of the document is not a question, but rather that it being an unregistered document is a concern. 

He also highlighted the importance of registering a lease since the total value was INR 26,000 and it is necessary to register a lease for one year of an immovable property. Even under the assumption that the petitioner acquired the share in the property through the document, the state was entitled to the forest land due to Section 3 of the Madhya Pradesh Abolition of Proprietary Rights (Estates, Mahals, Alienated Lands) Act, 1950, and that the petitioner could claim compensation if payable under the Act. 

The rationale behind the judgement 

Whether the document conferred any proprietary rights or interests to the petitioner?

The court identified the distinction between “timber trees” and “standing timber” after referring to the Ananda Behera case and concluded that the petitioner was entitled to take the benefit of soil. In Ananda Behera v. State of Orissa, it was also held that a document pertaining to immovable property shall have no legitimacy if it is not registered under the Registration Act. Since the deed that is the basis of the petitioner’s right over property is an unregistered lease deed, she could not claim for the remedy of breach of the same. 

The court observed that the petitioner, Shantabai, was the proprietor’s wife, which makes her familiar with acting in the capacity of the proprietor oftentimes, but that does not necessarily mean that the lease between them transferred any proprietary rights to the petitioner. Although the legal document calls itself a lease, there are no traces of the transfer of proprietary or management rights to the forest. 

A specific clause in the legal document says that “only the lease of forest wood is given to you”. This makes it clear that there is no established right that confers any right to enjoy land. 

Grant of profit-a-prendre, which in Indian law is a benefit arising out of land, is a right permitted and granted in the document that creates the petitioner’s interest in the immovable property. However, the document permitted the licensee to enter the land to extract a portion of soil yield and natural resources, but this does not transfer the right to enjoy the forest land or trees, which are immovable property.

Whether the fundamental rights of the petitioner had been violated.

The court stated that to draw a claim under Article 19(1)(f) or Article 31 of the Constitution of India, something substantial shall be disclosed in the favour of the petitioner. Standing timber shall be considered immovable property with reference to Section 3(26) of the General Clauses Act, 1977, as the trees are attached to the earth, and “standing timber” is movable property as stated under Section 3 of the Transfer of Property Act, 1882, and Section 2(6) of the Registration Act, 1908. 

However, it was observed by the judges that there has been neither a violation of any fundamental right nor that the petitioner can claim anything since the deed was an unregistered document, which is a prerequisite for the establishment of rights under Indian law.

Comparisons discussed in this case

Profit a prendre vs. lease deed

Under Indian laws and common law jurisdictions, both terms are perceived in the property rights spectrum. As defined in Halsbury’s Law of England, Fourth Edition, Paragraph 240, the meaning of “profit a prendre” is when a person has the right of access and plucks out benefits or profits like crops, minerals, and timber from someone else’s land. In contrast, a lease is a legal document formalised between parties that gives the lessee the right to use the lessor’s land for various purposes.

Profit-a-prendre creates a temporary arrangement that is usually for a short span of time, which makes it restricted to certain activities. Whereas, the lease is dependent on terms agreed upon by the parties in the lease agreement, making it an exclusive and temporary proprietorship.

To conclude, both arrangements confer rights over the property but serve distinct objectives and interests. The Court in this case emphasised that there is a distinction between both because a lease means the right to enjoy the immovable property, whereas profit-a-prendre gives a right only to move the natural resources from the land.

In Bihar Eastern Gangetic Fishermen Cooperative Society Limited v. Sipahi Singh (1977), the Supreme Court held that the right to catch fish is profit-a-prendre, i.e., benefits arising out of the land, so it has to be regarded as “immovable property” as per the Transfer of Property Act.

Movable property vs. immovable property

Immovable property under Section 3(26) of the General Clauses Act is defined as:

  1. Things attached to Earth.
  2. Any land, building, etc.,
  3. Benefits arising out of land.

The Registration Act highlights that benefits arising out of lands are to be labelled as “immovable property”. 

Movable property under Section 3(36) of the General Clauses Act defines it as property of every description except immovable property. 

In simpler words, any property that can be moved without destroying it or cannot be moved at all is known as “immovable property”. Whereas a property that can be moved from one place to another without any destruction or change in its original quality, quantity, or standard is known as a “movable property”. 

Under the Registration Act, there is no rule to register movable property, whereas it is necessary to register a transaction pertaining to immovable property.

Justice Holloway, in Sukry Kurdepa v. Goondakull (1872), 6 Mad. H.C. 71, stated that if a property is not changed or altered from its original place, causing destruction to the property, it shall be considered immovable property.

Critical analysis of Shantabai v. State of Bombay & Ors. (1958)

The legal principle upheld in this case correlates to the nature of standing timber. However, the court majorly highlighted the concept of benefits arising out of land and emphasised that the transaction between Shantabai and her husband only conferred her the right to enter into property to chop and take away certain types of natural resources. The reasoning behind the judgement was influenced by a decision made in the Anand Behera case. The concept that was the spotlight of this case is incorporated in the Registration Act, 1908, and the General Clauses Act, 1987, to a certain extent, and that too under the influence of English case laws. This vague inclusion and interpretation have increased the ambiguity. To give a better understanding and credibility to the transactions relating to profit-a-prendre, the word benefits or the list of “benefits” that can be obtained shall be included in some legislation or judgement. Both the issues raised in this case assessed the right and validity of claims made by the petitioner, which were rightly addressed by the court. However, there were no questions raised about the validity of the newly enacted law, which restrained the petitioner from exercising her right. 

Other acts pertaining to the abolition of proprietary rights

Before these acts that abolished proprietary rights were enacted, the zamindar and landlord system prevailed, which became a barrier to the fair distribution of estate and social justice. It also hindered the growth of real cultivators and the agricultural development that could take place. Apart from the Madhya Pradesh Abolition of Proprietary Rights, 1951, various legislation had been enacted to abolish intermediaries and their interest in estates in return for adequate compensation.

Here’s a list of all the Acts that were passed in their respective states: 

  1. West Bengal Estate Act, 1954
  2. The Orissa Estates Abolition Act, 1951
  3. The Maharashtra Abolition of Subsisting Proprietary Rights to Mines and Minerals in Certain Lands Act, 1985
  4. The Goa (Abolition of Proprietorship, Titles and Grant of Lands) Act, 2014
  5. Gujarat Devasthan Inams Abolition Act, 1969
  6. Punjab Land Revenue (Abolition) Act, 1997
  7. The Rajasthan Zamindari and Biswedari Abolition Act, 1959
  8. The Daman (Abolition of Proprietorship of Villages) Regulation, 1962
  9. U.P. Government Estates Thekedari Abolition Rules, 1960
  10. Andhra Pradesh (Andhra Area) Estates (Abolition and Conversion into Ryotwari) Act, 1948 


Shantabai v. State of Bombay & Ors. (1958) is a landmark judgement of Section 3 of the Transfer of Property Act, 1882. This case highlights and raises the question of the applicability of fundamental rights and the obligation of the petitioner to provide substantial evidence to prove the infringement. The essence of this case is derived from the concept of English law and some precedents for similar facts. The judges also asserted the supremacy of the General Clauses Act, 1897, when the ambiguity between definitions arose. In this judgement, it also emphasised the need to register transactions related to immovable property to make them legally binding. The dismissal of the claim filed by the petitioner reiterates the fact that enforcement of fundamental rights requires valid legal ground. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Why was Madhya Pradesh’s Abolition of Proprietary Rights Act in 1951 enacted?

The zamindari system was the root cause of many problems, such as the exploitation of farmers and financial dependence on wealthy landlords. It divided society into two categories: the first was a few landlords, and the second was the major chunk of the population working as labourers. The proprietary rights of estates were abolished to eradicate them so that the state could intervene in this matter and uplift the tenants economically.

How did the court balance individual rights and public interest in its decision?

The judges in this case analysed the nature of rights claimed by the petitioner and considered factors like document validity, fundamental rights, and the state’s proprietary rights. However, the court approved public interest over individual rights due to the invalidity and dominance of Madhya Pradesh’s Abolition of Proprietary Rights Act, 1951. 

Did the case set any legal precedents for future cases?

Shantabai v. State of Bombay is considered a landmark case of Section 3 of Transfer of Property Act, 1882. Apart from this, it set out many principles, as highlighted in the article, and a legal precedent in Mahadeo v. State of Bombay in the year 1959. 


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