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A Genealogical Description of Bangladeshi Land Law and Land Administration



In Bangladesh numerous laws, precedents, customs and usages are there to regulate the land management and they are administered by the Land Administration.[1] Although, such developments have caused the Bangladeshi legal system to become quite a different apparatus than its ancestors yet a clear legacy can be identified. The word “legacy” is being considered as the transfer of legal intellect and institutional arrangement from the British colonial administration to the Independent Bangladesh administration. And if a divergence could be traced from the British Indian arrangement then we might hold that the Bangladeshi Land Administration is not the sole legacy of the British colonial System. The British Colonial Law Administration for the Bengal was at first the gradual incorporation of existing laws and customs of the land.[2] Then with the passage of time the British have modified the existing land administration with many experimental mechanisms which were sometimes successful but which were mostly controversial to the common people of the land.[3] So, before analysing the British contribution toward land administration, we would briefly look into the Aryan (ancient), Hindu, Muslim/ Mughal contribution toward land administration and then we would analyse the subsequent developments of the Pakistan and Bangladesh era.

The Muslim Period:

Instead of occupying and redistributing the lands among themselves, the Muslim rulers left the land to the occupiers in exchange of fixed revenue, called Khiraj.[4] Even the old Chieftains were permitted to keep on collecting the revenues under their jurisdiction.[5]
However, the Muslim rulers, especially the Mughals introduced some great reforms like survey, fixation of rent, the clear establishment of sovereign’s in the land etc. Especially during the reign of Emperor Akbar the concept of crop sharing was replaced by a more effective means, called Zabt where rate of the revenue was determined in a somewhat more proportionate way determining the size and quality of the land in respect of cultivation.[6]  Also, assessments were made by Todoar Mal, known as Ain-i-Dashala, which ultimately lasted for more than 76 years.[7]

The British India Period:

After defeating the Nawab in the Battle of Plassey, the British became the supreme political power. And they were most interested in the revenue than ruling the people, a reflection that can be found in their introducing “Dual System”. However, they didn’t introduce any new system to the land immediately due to lack of experience about local revenue administration and lack of expertise in local language.[8] But once they overcame these barriers, they experimented various systems relating to land. A direct effect of one of such failed system was great famine of 1770.[9] It caused loss of one third of the population of the land which greatly affected the earning of revenue and resulted subsequent reforms.[10] Quinquennial settlement was introduced which subsequently restored Zamindaris in April 1777.[11] However, it was followed by the reforms of Pitt’s India Act 1784: ensuring some rights of land holders with a view to establish a permanent rule. So, Decennial Settlement was introduced which subsequently turned into the controversial Permanent Settlement system giving the Zamindars unfettered right to collect revenue from their subject.[12] The result was numerous revolts against the zamindar and the colonials. There have been at least 77 peasant revolts and even the smallest of which engaged thousands of peasants in active protest or in combat against them.[13] However, these bloody revolts often resulted in some major reforms. Thus, came the Rent Act of 1859, an attempt to soothe the revolting peasants and to save the zamindar class as an imperial need. Later, the Rent Act 1869 was re-enacted and limited customary right of occupancy tenants was recognized. But it paved the way of exploiting the peasants with higher rent. So, the Bengal Tenancy Act, 1885 was enacted with details provisions regarding the rights of the tenants. Under this act Cadastral Survey (CS survey) was conducted. The later amendments to the Act restored almost all the rights of the tenants that was taken away by the Permanent Settlement Regulation, 1773. Therefore, the Bengal Tenancy Act, 1885 is hailed as the Magna Carta of tenants’ Rights in Bengal.[14] The further development followed as the Floud Commission found the Zamindari system untenable under the changed context and recommended for the immediate abolition of it.[15] But the British Indian land administration legacy ended with only presenting the State Acquisition and Tenancy Bill and The Bengal Bargadar Bill 1947 in the Legislative assembly of Bengal.

Pakistan Period:

A prominent reform, The State Acquisition and Tenancy Act, 1950 was enacted in 1950, setting up a new revenue administration in each district.[16] The controversial zamindari system was abolished which resulted in the quick development of Agricultural Economy. This Act is acting as the “Bible of Land Law in Bangladesh”. The ‘State acquisition Survey’ was conducted under this Act.  Also, the Non-Agricultural Tenancy Act was passed in 1949 which ensured the rights of the nonagricultural tenants. However, the legacy of Pakistan period land administration ended with the great liberation war of Bangladesh and a new chapter begun.

Bangladesh period:

The Bangladesh period saw major developments regarding land administration, creating its own unique legacy. The first major reform step of Bangladesh period was the waiving of all land revenue and arrears and interest in agricultural land up to 1972. This was a bold decision by the administration. Furthermore, agricultural families with lands under 25 bighas were exempted from payment revenue effect from April, 1872.[17] Furthermore, the Land Reforms Act, 1984 prohibited benami transaction which is a strict provision against corruption. Also, it set up the 60 bigha ceiling and occupancy tenancy rights to the Bargadars.[18] Also, a hierarchy of land administration was developed. Special law has been made to ensure the land rights of aboriginal people. A Land Commission has been created and working in this purpose under the Chittagong Hill Tracts Land Dispute Resolution Act, 2001.[19] This development has a great impact in respect of both implementing the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord, 1997 and the rights of the “minor races” according to the sanctity of article 23A of the Constitution of Bangladesh.

Analysis Drawn:

The current Bangladeshi land administration in the past 50 years introduced numerous changes and it has now a unique legacy of itself. However, these developments are indebted toward all the former administrations, from the regimes of time immemorial till the post independent Bangladeshi administrations. The ancient tribal system of land administration or Panchayet system still can be found in many parts of Bangladesh.[20] Even the land officials are still addressed by their Mughal era names like “Amin”, “Kanungo” by the ordinary people. This simple fact bears the evidence of a deep-rooted legacy of the Mughal period within the current land administration. The same also can be said in respect of the British colonial period. Great reforms were introduced by the British to maximize the yield of land revenue. Some of which went so wrong but the British contributed a lot in respect of codifying the land laws and introducing new ideas for an effective land administration. And the Pakistan period greatly reflects a lengthy implementation of those British era recommendations. However, in the independent Bangladesh dynamic and bold reforms are being introduced which reflect more of the general people’s wish.


The land administration system of Bangladesh is not the sole legacy of British India. Rather it bears the legacy of all the regimes that have ruled the land. Every regime has contributed toward the development of land administration. Some reforms that were made by them are still in action. But some of the reforms resulted great loss to the land. The independent Bangladesh proudly bears all those effective reforms and also carries the scars left by the failed ones. Therefore, the Bangladeshi land administration is a combination of legacies of various regimes rather than being the sole legacy of a particular regime.

Writer: Mashrur Rahman Mahin, 4th Year, LL.B (Honours’), Department of Law & Justice, Jahangirnagar University &nEditorial Assistant, NILS Bangladesh.

End Notes:

[1] Dr. M. Rabiul Hossain, A Text-Book on Land Laws of Bangladesh (1st edn, Atopor Prokash 2017) 3

[2] ibid

[3] ibid n(4) 19

[4] Dr. M. Rabiul Hossain n(4) 9

[5] ibid

[6] ibid

[7] Dr. M. Rabiul Hossain n(4) 10

[8] ibid n(4) 13

[9] HV Bowen and others, ‘The Worlds of the East India Company’ [2002] 63(3) The Journal of Economic History 246

[10] Willem Schendel, A History of Bangladesh (1st edn, Cambridge University Press 2009) 57

[11] Dr. M. Rabiul Hossain n(4) 14

[12] ibid n(4) 15

[13] Gough Kathleen and others, ‘Indian Peasant Uprisings’ [1974] 9(32) Economic and Political Weekly 1391

[14] Mohammad Ikbal Hasan, A Text Book on Land Law (2nd edn, Sui Juris 2018) 102

[15] Dr. M. Rabiul Hossain n(4) 25

[16] ibid n(4) 28

[17] ibid n(4) 41

[18] ibid

[19] Mohammad Towhidul Islam n(13) 35

[20] Shahidul Islam and others, ‘Land Rights, Land Disputes and Land Administration in Bangladesh—A Critical Study’ [2015] 6(3) Beijing Law Review 193

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