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This article is written by Preeti Pallavi Jena, from the school of law, KIIT University, Odisha. This article talks about the features and the history of the Waste Lands Act.


Land and water are vital elements for sustainability but about one-sixth of the total land of India is either overgrown with wild vegetation or simply barren land. These kinds of degraded land which are currently being underutilized or not being utilized at all are termed wastelands. They are often unsuitable ecologically, unproductive economically, and are subject to environmental degradation. Both humans and nature have equal influence in the creation of wastelands. Some of the major causes include deforestation, snow-covered areas, overgrazing, unskilled irrigation, etc. Wastelands are primarily divided into two categories namely cultivable wasteland and non-cultivable wasteland. As the name suggests, cultivable wasteland can be converted to productive land after having proper care and treatment whereas non-cultivable wastelands can’t be made productive by any means.

As per the Ministry of Rural Development, India has a total of 328 million hectares of land out of which 51% is agricultural land, 4% is pastoral land, 21% is forest land and the remaining 24% is categorized as wastelands which are about 638518.31 square kilometers. Jammu & Kashmir has the largest area of wastelands in India. The Indian government has taken several bold measures to convert the wastelands into productive land. One of these measures is the Wastelands (Claims) Act of 1863.

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Historical background

The main reason for the legislation was to have control over uncultivated lands in the country. Knowing the value of the timber, wastelands of forests follow the Forest Policy. The government has the power to enact laws by making acts like the Waste Land (Claims) Act of 1863, the Forest Acts of 1865, etc. Many districts have problems with the wastelands due to which they go for disposal of government wastelands.

But our state allowed for the development of these wastelands for agricultural purposes. It will also improve the revenue of the land. Previously the British governments introduced the collection of revenue and taxes for the production of agriculture by having the rights and ownership over the lands. There were also lands that were not cultivated and those lands are called primitive lands. In the year 1861, under the Viceroyalty of Lord Canning, the wasteland for the first time was considered by the government of the state. Lands were having a complex situation in the matter of settlement in the time of British rule. The main acknowledgment of wastelands is through the process of settlement that is used for land revenue purposes.

Salient features of the Act

Enquiry in claims, land, or objection to sale

If a claim is made on the wasteland which is listed to be sold or any objection is made against the sale of such land, then the head of the district in which the wasteland is situated should make an enquiry regarding the claim or objection made. The head should also ensure that the time period of the objection made should not be less than three months.

Postponement of sale

Any enquiry that is pending can be changed into objection under this. The collector has the power to postpone the sale of the land. And if he rejects the objection that is made, then also he can postpone the sale of the land, to allow the objector to contest the order of the rejection that is made.

The Sale will be stopped if the claim to be established but can proceed afterward

The collector can stop the sale if he considers that the claim is to be established. But such sales can proceed afterward on an order issued. This means that it can be stopped for a short period of time and once the order has been given it can proceed.

Delivery to the claimant of the copy of the order of rejection or of sale

If the collector orders that the claim is rejected, then he will give a copy of that order to such claimant or to such objector.

Power to order suit to try claim by collector

The state government within 12 months after the date of the claimant of wasteland shall be admitted under the Act by the officer shall file a suit in a court on the object made.

Notice of constitution of special courts

When any court is to be constituted in this Act, a notice shall be given in writing & copies of it shall be given to the courts & also to the magistrates of the districts.

Special courts

These special courts are held in places that are within the respective jurisdiction, this is because it will be considered more convenient for everyone.

Plaintiff and defendant in the suit

The plaintiff and the defendant need to be brought in court or they shall appear in the court on the same day.


The proceedings of the suits are to be regulated as per the code of civil procedure.

Procedure before hearing

The court will fix a day which will be termed as a hearing date cause on this day both the parties will appear in the court and will be heard, a notice will be given to them in which the dates will be mentioned.

No appeal

No appeal will lie from any decision that is passed in this Act, and no decision will be open to revision.

Records of cases to be deposited

Records of cases deposed by courts shall be deposited among the principal civil court having original jurisdiction in the district.

If claim established, possession not to be given

When land needs to be sold, if the court thinks that claim is established, then the court may not award the claimant the possession of land but he can order him to give compensation like a sum of the equal amount of land, etc.

Compensation for land sold with the condition

If any land is sold with the condition and any objection of such land is there, then it will be proved to the satisfaction of the state within the time period concerned.

Why do we need the Waste-Lands (Claims) Act

This act helps in the growth of the agricultural sectors, mining, conserving, and making use of a wasteland into a common land. Due to this reason, there is no loss of lands and every property has greater use and value in today’s world. Previously no one looked at the wastelands but now the same wasteland can be renewed and developed for using it in manufacturing, cultivating, and various other purposes.

There is a vital need for the Waste Lands (Claims) Act because of the following reasons:

  1. Skill training
  2. Forestry
  3. Health education
  4. Nutrition
  5. Animal husbandry
  6. Conservation
  7. Agricultural extension

Recent news update

Recently India raised the target of restoring the wastelands from 21 million hectares to 26 million. The prime minister of India Narendra Modi recently developed and restored the land which is degraded. He made changes that now our country will be restoring 26 million hectares which will be a successful process by the end of the year 2030. According to the research, approximately 30% of the land of our country is degraded. He said that the environment ministry needs to shift its focus from plantation afforestation to the ecosystem services of land, & improve the soil health and conserve biodiversity.

India has converted around 14,000 sq. km of wasteland into productive use from the year 2008 to 2016. India took the risk of restoring these lands because he knew that we are basically dependent on the growth of the common land and if it will start decreasing, then we will suffer. Hence by making these wastelands into common lands, we will be in benefit in our future.

The wastelands atlas along with the national remote sensing center released that they are using satellite data for the measurement of 23 different types of wastelands and it also tracks the impact of reclamation efforts.

Recently the government is quite concerned and hence encouraging the conversion of the wasteland, due to the rapid need for ensuring food security. As we know that India has a huge population but it only has 2.4% of the land area. So, the productivity of the cultivated lands needs to be taken care of & also additional lands are required. There are the wastelands that before were of no use, but if it has the potential to produce food grain then it can be converted into a common land. So that it can contribute to the food growth of our country.

Wasteland reclamation

It means that the wastelands can be converted or re-claimed as productive lands. This process is of turning barren, sterile wasteland into fertile land & which will be appropriate for habitation & cultivation.

India had a decrease in the land ratio from 1.25 hectare per capita in 1921 to 0.31 hectare per capita in 2011. Due to such a decrease, Prime Minister Narendra Modi took the step for the conservation of such lands. The wasteland reclamation is hugely required because it provides a source of income to the poor people of India. It makes our soil fertile and prevents soil erosion. It also maintains a balance in the area and ensures a constant supply of fuel & timber for local use.

Methods of Wasteland Reclamation

  1. Afforestation: It means growing forest in uncultivated lands or wastelands.
  2. Reforestation: When the lands are destroyed due to overgrazing and excessive cutting, the forests can be grown again by checking the soil erosion and increasing productivity.
  3. Provide surface coverance: By leaving the crop residue on the land after harvesting, the land surface can be protected from soil erosion.
  4. Mulching: This is a cover used as a protection of soil by reducing evaporation and soil erosion and also it helps in retaining the soil moisture.
  5. Leaching: When a land is a salt-affected land then that can be reduced by leaching of water on it.
  6. Changing agricultural practices: This is done for the improvement or better growth of the land. This can be done by making a few crops.
  7. Ecological balance: It keeps a balance in the ecosystem and redevelops the wasteland into a productive resource.

Case laws

M.C. Mehta vs. Kamal Nath, 1996

In this case, the supreme court held that the court accepted the doctrine of public trust as a common law for the protection and preservation of natural resources. This says that natural resources like air, water, forests are important for the people and hence no private ownership can be given to them. These resources are used as a whole for the public.

Here, a PIL challenged Mr. Kamalnath how he can allow SPAN Motel company to construct a hotel near the river Beas in Himachal Pradesh and also permitted the company to change the course of the waterway for the development. It was permitted by the service just as the gram panchayat of that zone. It is the obligation of the state to ensure the climate, lakes, and public legacy and it tends to be possibly renounced in an uncommon situation when it is conflicting with the public trust. This can lead to harm from environmental degradation.


The problem of land degradation has become a major issue for the natural ecosystems in India. The major causes of land degradation are deforestation, urbanization, excessive use of fertilizers, and so on. Hence, we need to maintain a balance between the degradation rates and the restoration rates. Wasteland Afforestation is an excellent method to achieve this balance. In the current scenario, tree plantation has emerged as a major tool to check land degradation in India. The government of India has taken several steps towards environmental causes in recent years but those efforts will go in vain unless and until the local people cooperate.

Afforestation and sustainable farming have shown promising results in overcoming the problem of land degradation. The local population should be made aware of these strategies by setting up coordinating agencies at the village level. Farmers should be provided with proper incentives from the government to perform agriculture on the wastelands. Just like the Green revolution, we must start an initiative towards reclaiming the wastelands of India.


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