Land Administration

Land Administration The basic land law in Bengal before the advent of British rule was that the ownership of land belonged to the person who cleared jungles on it and prepared it for cultivation. The king claimed a share in the produce of the land not as an owner but as a sovereign protector who met the cost of the security provided to the peasant-owner. This theory provided the basis for establishing some kind of direct relationship of peasants with the king or sovereign in respect of land ownership, which came to be known as the raiyat based system.

Bangladesh is a deltaic region formed largely by the alluvial actions of three mighty rivers - the ganges, the brahmaputra and the jamuna. It is crisscrossed by a network of rivers, tributaries and canals. Diluvion of land by the rivers and formation of new lands are annual features. The peculiar geographical conditions prevented Mughals from introducing a raiyat based system of land tenure in Suba-e-Bangla. Instead, they found it more convenient to adopt a policy of farming out the collection of land revenue to zamindars, who were not owners of land, but were imperial agents for collection of rents from the individual tenants in their respective areas.

In 1765, the east india company obtained diwani or the right to collect the land revenue of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa from the Mughal Emperor Shah Alam on payment of an annual revenue of 2.6 million rupees to the Emperor. The Company appointed collectors in different areas in Bengal, which were later constituted into districts. During the British rule, a board of revenue was set up in 1772 to control and supervise the work of the collectors in matters relating to land administration and collection of land revenue. The board was later reconstituted, first under the Bengal Board of Revenue Act 1850, and then under the Bengal Board of Revenue Act 1913. During the Pakistan period, a Revenue Department was created under the provincial government of East Pakistan. The Board of Revenue and the offices under it were put under the administrative control of this department. The board had 3 or 4 members, each having the rank of a secretary of the central government and one of them was appointed as the senior member. An additional or joint collector of revenue and a revenue deputy collector were appointed in each district to assist the collector. A sub-divisional manager for each sub-division and a circle officer for each thana were also appointed. A tahsildar was appointed for a tahsil, consisting usually of two unions, and he had one or two assistant tahsildars.

The Board of Revenue supervised settlement operations under the director of Land Records and Surveys, and oversaw the inter-state boundary demarcation work in the border districts of East Pakistan and India. It was responsible for the supervision of land administration and land management through divisional commissioners, deputy commissioners and additional deputy commissioners (revenue), supervision of implementation of Land Reform measures, and hearing of all final appeals against the orders of the commissioners, collectors, and other revenue authorities. In addition, the board was also the 'Court of Wards' under the Court of Wards Act 1879. In fact, the Board of Revenue was the chief revenue authority.

After the emergence of Bangladesh as a sovereign state in 1971, the Revenue Department of the provincial government of East Pakistan was reconstituted into Land Administration and Land Reforms Division under the Ministry of Law and Land Reforms. Subsequently, this division was given the status of a full-fledged ministry. The office of the Board of Revenue, with its entire establishment, was abolished by an order of the government, issued under No. IM-10/72/115(5) RI dated 3 March 1973. The functions of the Board of Revenue were taken over by the ministry itself. The functions of the board for supervision and inspection of revenue offices were given to the land reforms commissioner and four deputy land reforms commissioners of the four administrative divisions.

The Ministry of Land Administration and Land Reforms was concerned mainly with policy decisions. It was also given the responsibility of administration of land acquisition proceedings, management of 'enemy property', and looking into multifarious revenue matters. As a result, revisional settlements, diara operations, and land revenue work of various types, including settlement of khas land, could not be intensively supervised. Supervision of the work of land reforms and inter-state boundary demarcation work also suffered a serious setback. The Ministry found itself unable to cope with an ever-increasing volume of tasks, including settlement of quasi-judicial cases. There was no chief revenue authority in the country with adequate revenue background and powers to whom divisional commissioners, land reforms commissioners, director general (land records and surveys) and deputy commissioners could look forward for necessary guidance, instruction, and advice.

A new body, the Board of Land Administration, was established under the Board of Land Administration Act 1980 (Act XIII of 1981). Under section 3(2) of the act, the board was to consist of a chairman and not more than two other members to be appointed by the government. Section 3 (3) of the act stipulated that the board was to exercise such powers and perform such functions as might be entrusted to it by the government or by or under any law. Under orders of the ministry dated 3 September 1982, 5 July 1983, and 7 July 1983, the board was entrusted with the functions of deciding all statutory appeals, supervising land administration offices in the field, and advising the government on policy matters. It was also empowered to deal with collection of land development tax, creation of new tahsil offices, settlement of khas land, control of the internal audit organisation, Court of Wards, management and supervision of vested properties (lands and buildings), management and disposal of abandoned properties, and management and disposal of properties involved in exchange cases by migrants.

The Ministry of Land Administration and Land Reforms was renamed as the Ministry of Land in early 1987. The newly designated ministry concentrates on policymaking, supervision, and monitoring of land reforms. The ministry came to realise that the Board of Land Administration could not do justice to its assigned jobs, the effective supervision of field offices, and quick disposal of quasi-judicial cases. The issue was considered in a meeting of the National Land Reforms Council headed by the President where it was decided that the Board of Land Administration should be abolished and that instead, two new bodies, the Land Appeal Board and the Land Reforms Board should be established. Accordingly, the Land Reforms Board Ordinance (Ordinance I of 1989) and the Land Appeal Board Ordinance (Ordinance II of 1989) were promulgated. Later, the Land Reforms Board Act 1989 (Act XXIII of 1989) and the Land Appeal Board Act 1989 (Act XXIV) were passed and the ordinances were repealed. Under section 4 of the Land Appeal Board Act 1989 (Act XXIV of 1989), the government constituted a board, namely, the Land Appeal Board. It consists of a chairman and two other members. Under section 8 of this act, the Board of Land Administration Act 1980 was repealed. Consequently, the Board of Land Administration stood abolished.

The Land Appeal Board has been entrusted with the powers of disposal of appeals preferred against the orders of the divisional commissioners under different laws relating to land administration and land management. It is empowered to advise the government on any issue relating to land management and land administration referred to it by the government. The board is also empowered to inspect and evaluate the work of subordinate land courts. Any order passed by the chairman or any member, separately or individually, is deemed to have been passed by the board. The board is authorised to admit petitions for review of its order, in cases where legal and material facts appear not to have been considered. The board has to refer cases not covered by the prevailing laws, rules and government orders to the government for necessary instructions. The orders of the board in the cases brought against the orders of the divisional commissioners and in the cases reviewed by it are final. No appeal can be made against the orders of the board. The 'Full Board', consisting of the chairman and the members may dispose off the review cases referred to it by the chairman. Usually cases involving interpretation and application of laws are placed in the meeting of the 'Full Board' and are disposed off after it has heard the parties concerned.

Based on the decision of the National Land Reforms Council, a separate body, namely, the Land Reforms Board, was set up at the national level under the Land Reforms Board Act 1989 (Act XXIII of 1989). The board consists of a chairman and two other members. The posts of the land reforms commissioner and the deputy land reforms commissioners in the Ministry of Land were abolished and the post of a deputy land reforms commissioner was created for each division for supervision of the land reform measures under the Land Reforms Board. Under Section 5 of the Land Reforms Board Act 1989, the board may perform such functions and discharge such duties in respect of land reforms and land management as the government may entrust to it. The board may also exercise such power and perform such duties as may be entrusted to it by or under any law. The primary function of the board is to supervise the functioning of the field offices and the implementation of land reforms measures. This involves supervision of land administration offices down to the union land office (tahsil office), settlement of agricultural khas land to the landless peasants, assessment of land development tax, management of Court of Wards, creation of new union land offices, establishment of record rooms at the district and upazila levels, their supervision and inspection, preparation of development. Plans for matters relating to land management, their implementation and supervision, and matters relating to board's establishment, record room and library are some of the functions, entrusted by the Ministry of Land to the Land Reforms Board.

Important conditions for efficient land administration and land management are: (1) mapping of every parcel of land indicating geographical location and identification number; (2) land information regarding ownership or shares of ownership, quantum of land and tax payable; (3) preparation and publication of record of rights (khatiyans) as a proof of occupancy rights of the owners; and (4) maintenance of the records of right and incorporation of changes. It is the responsibility of the Directorate of Land Records and Surveys under the Ministry of Land to prepare and publish maps and update record of rights. The director general, Land Records and Surveys, with the assistance of a number of directors, deputy directors, assistant directors, settlement officers, assistant settlement officers and a large number of trained and technical staff, gets the maps and records prepared and revised under the provisions of the east bengal state acquisition and tenancy act 1950, and hands them over to the collectors (deputy commissioners). The collectors maintain them and keep them corrected by incorporating the changes due to transfer, inheritance or otherwise. [Shamsud-Din Ahmed]