Act X of 1859

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Act X of 1859 defined the rights and obligations of different categories of interests in land. The permanent settlement, though defined the rights of zamindars and other proprietors, remained silent about the rights of raiyats. The Regulation 1 of 1793 had vaguely recognised the customary rights of raiyats but no clear definition was given about those rights in the Regulation. When disputes arose in individual cases, the zamindars claimed absolute rights over land, whereas raiyats also claimed customary rights. Courts were also not sure as to the rights of landed interests below the zamindar class, and consequently they passed conflicting decrees with far reaching consequences on the relations between zamindars and raiyats.

The most common cause of friction was the zamindari attempts to enhance rent. Many raiyats resisted such attempts, which often resulted in the deterioration of law and order. In the 1840s and '50s many indigo planters bought benami raiyati rights for indigo cultivation and they put pressure on the government to define the rights of raiyats. Thus a bill was introduced in the Legislative Council which was passed into a law as Act X, 1859. While defining rights and liabilities of raiyats, the Act had classified them into three broad groups: raiyats paying rent at fixed rate; raiyats having rights of occupancy, but not holding at fixed rate of rent; and raiyats having acquired no occupancy right and paying rent at a competitive rate.

The first category of raiyats was defacto peasant proprietors. Their rights were confirmed by custom and by law. Their rent could not be enhanced by the superior proprietors under any pretext. They were socially known as mirasi or permanent raiyats. The former khudkasta raiyats holding land for more than twelve years continuously were declared as occupancy raiyats of the second category. Their rent could be enhanced, but no attempt for revision of rent could ignore the pargana rate. The third category or non-occupancy raiyats, who were once known as paikasta raiyats, were declared as raiyats having uncertain rights in land and the superior proprietors were free to enhance their rents according to market competition. The Act could not satisfy the raiyats, especially the third category of raiyats who constituted the large majority of rural society. However, this Act paved the way for a larger reform in agrarian relations effected by the bengal tenancy act of 1885. [Nurul Hossain Choudhury]