THE BENGAL TENANCY ACT, 1885

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The Bengal Tenancy Act, 1885 is a State legislation that describes the privileges and obligations of the zamindars as well as the tenants. The Act was framed due to the extensive restlessness that occurred towards the peasant by intimidating them thereby disrupting the peaceful control of the State. Even though the permanent settlement system provided complete privileges over the land and properties to the owners of the land, it left a vacuum regarding the privileges available to the tenants. But in a disorderly manner, it accepted the rights over their custom. When during the 19th century, the population amplified and the price of the commodities from agriculture increased, people started buying lands for carrying out agricultural activities. As a result, the rent was increased on the properties of the zamindars. The tenants were unable to pay rents and hence they declined to pay rent more than the Pargana which was a fixed rate as per the usage and custom. But, the zaminders did not accept the customary right and demanded that they are the actual land owners.

Yet another reason for the diminishing of the relation among the zamindars as well as the tenants was the materialization of the middle class who disobeyed the laws that regulated permanent settlement. These class of people got their rights strengthened by purchase of land. Even though many cases were initiated before the Courts, the judicial interpretations of the rights of intermediate class were not satisfactory. There were also contradictions with regard to the privileges and obligations of the intermediate class along with that of the peasants. In the meantime, the lands were purchased and there was tremendous increase in the growth of crops which placed the peasant with equal footing as that of the landlords. The Bengal Rent Act, 1859 was enacted to decide on the rights available to peasants but the enactment could not serve the purpose. The condition of the tenants remained unchanged and there arose protest against the Government. The zamindars were not ready to compromise their interests and also behaved faultily towards the tenants.

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After many more events, the Rent Commission was constituted which pointed out some suggestions to improve the situation. Consequently, in 1885, the Bengal Tenancy Act was enacted for the purpose of describing the privileges, interests and liabilities of the tenants including the raiyati and the intermediate class. The Act also contained rules to carry out an elaborated Survey as well Settlement activities of the land with regard to the owners. This was framed to create an authentic document connected with the rights with diverging interest in such land starting from the zamindars and reaching till the lower tenants. But the enactment was unsuccessful as the increase in land gave no choice to the under-tenant to settle on the terms of rent. Hence, there was an effective need to amend the Act and include provisions in support of the under-tenants.

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In 1928, the Bengal Tenancy (Amendment) Act, 1928 was formulated to give proper definition to the under-tenants who were not cultivating the land in the light of permanent settlement. They were carrying out agricultural activities on temporary basis on less rent when compared to those under permanent settlement. By the end of 19th century, the situation of the under-tenants became worse and there was mass movement to protect their rights. Hence, in 1928, the Bengal Tenancy (Amendment) Act, 1928 was framed. The Act provided rights to the under-tenants who possessed the land for an uninterrupted period of 12 years. The Amendment Act also failed due to the alterations carried out to the Bill that failed to comply with the needs of the society. Hence, again in 1938, the Bengal Tenancy (Amendment) Act, 1938 was enacted to fill the gap in the previous legislation.