The Supreme Court dismissed an appeal filed by Watandar heirs thereby ending a six decade old dispute over a 'Watan' land.

The Court observed that Watan Lands cannot be alienated without the prior approval of the Government of India and Government of Maharashtra in case the same is reserved for defence purposes.

The Court observed thus in an appeal that entailed correlation of three vintage legislations requiring not only their interpretation but also their harmonious construction. The oldest of the three statutes is the Maharashtra Hereditary Offices Act, 1874; next is the Maharashtra Tenancy and Agricultural Lands Act, 1948; and the third is the Maharashtra Revenue Patels (Abolition of Offices) Act, 1962.

Watan means an 'inam' (gift from a ruler to a subject) for service but generally used in wider sense to denote any alienation in or land with or without service.

The two-Judge Bench of Justice C.T. Ravikumar and Justice Sanjay Kumar held, “It appears that during the pendency of this litigation, the subject agricultural Watan lands became part of the extended city limits of Pimpari Chinchwad Municipal Corporation and are presently reserved for Defence purposes (Red Zone) in the development plans sanctioned by the Government of Maharashtra. In consequence, these lands cannot be alienated without the prior approval of the Government of India and the Government of Maharashtra. While so, we find that both sides have been merrily entering into transactions with third parties to alienate/transfer the subject lands. However, our decision in this case relates back to a time when the subject lands were still agricultural in nature and use and it would have no impact on the present position and the consequences flowing therefrom. Further, inter se disputes, be it betwixt the appellants or betwixt the tenants, are not the subject matter of this appeal and have not been dealt with. All such disputes would have to be addressed independently before the appropriate forum in accordance with law, if still permissible.”

Senior Advocate B.H. Marlapalle and Advocate Arvind S. Avhad represented the appellants while Senior Advocates V. Giri and Sanjay Kharde represented the respondents.

Brief Facts -

The 1874 Act was enacted to declare and amend the law relating to Watans, i.e., hereditary offices. The predecessor of the appellants, held a Patel Watan since prior to August, 1898 and he was assigned Watan property, viz., a 50% share in an extent of 20 acres of land and a 50% share in an extent of 16 acres. The predecessors of the respondents, were cultivating this Watan property as tenants since 1955-56 or thereabouts. While so, the appellants’ predecessor died sometime in February/March, 1958 and thereupon, his legal heirs filed an application under Section 5 of the 1874 Act. As per the aforesaid provision, a Watandar was not competent to mortgage, charge, alienate or lease, for a period beyond the term of his natural life, any Watan or any part thereof or any interest therein to or for the benefit of any person who was not a Watandar of the same Watan, without the sanction of the State Government or the Commissioner, as the case may be.

The Assistant Collector held that the tenancy created by the father of the applicants could not extend beyond his lifetime and the applicants would, therefore, have the right to recover possession of the said lands after the death of their father. He, accordingly, allowed their application and ordered that possession of the lands falling to their share should be handed over to them under Sections 11 and 11A of the 1874 Act. Being aggrieved, the tenants filed Watan Appeal before the Additional Collector but the same was dismissed. The matter was carried to the Additional Commissioner but the appeal was rejected. A revision was then filed before the Government and the Collector directed to ensure delivery of possession of lands to the tenants. The appellants approached various authorities and finally filed a plea before the Bombay High Court but the same was dismissed. Hence, the matter was before the Supreme Court.

The Apex Court in view of the facts and circumstances of the case noted, “No doubt, the High Court erroneously referred to the ‘misconceived appeal’ filed by them as ‘revisional proceedings’ but notwithstanding the nomenclature, the inescapable fact remains that the challenge to the initial order dated 18.04.1961 was subsisting as on 22.04.1962, the date of delivery of possession, and such proceedings of challenge concluded in favour of the tenants when their revision was allowed, vide the order dated 03.05.1982.”

The Court added that merely because no stay was granted in such proceedings and, in consequence, the tenants stood divested of actual physical possession, it did not lend any finality to the order impugned in those proceedings and, therefore, the purported termination of the lease still hung in balance.

“Further, in the light of the aforestated discussion, the argument of the appellants that the tenants ought to have challenged the regrant order dated 27.11.1964 is without merit. In fact, the tenants were benefited by the said regrant order as the exercise of their right to purchase the land hinged upon the passing of that regrant order, in terms of the proviso to Section 8 of the Abolition Act. The argument to the contrary is, therefore, rejected”, it said.

The Court held that it was not open to the appellants to proceed against the tenants under the provisions of Sections 5, 11 and 11A of the 1874 Act after the death of the original Watandar, in February/March, 1958 and this is because the provisions of the Tenancy Act were very much applicable to the subject lands by then and more so, Sections 29 and 31 thereof.

“… the legal heirs of the original Watandar could not have taken lawful possession of these lands from the tenants pursuant to the order dated 18.04.1961 passed under Sections 5, 11 and 11A of the 1874 Act. The same was rightly held to be invalid in the revisionary order dated 03.05.1982 and that finding was correctly held to be justified by the Bombay High Court. We also hold that the tenancy was lawfully subsisting on 01.04.1957, i.e., Tillers’ Day, and the tenants were entitled to exercise their right of statutory purchase of these tenanted agricultural Watan lands under Section 32 of the Tenancy Act in terms of Section 8 of the Abolition Act, after the exemption afforded by Section 88CA ceased to exist. That right became operational on 27.11.1964, when these Watan lands were regranted to the heirs of the original Watandar”, it concluded.

Accordingly, the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal and refused to interfere in judgment of the High Court.

Cause Title- Baban Balaji More (Dead) by LRs. & others v. Babaji Hari Shelar (Dead) by LRs. & others (Neutral Citation: 2024 INSC 203)


Appellants: Senior Advocate B. H. Marlapalle, AOR Arvind S. Avhad, Advocates Shivaji M. Jadhav, Apurva, Adarsh Kumar Pandey, Vignesh Singh, Aditya S. Jadhav, Avinish Kumar Saurabh, Ajit Pravin Wagh, Gyan Prakash, Abhinav Anand, Alok Kumar, AOR M/S. S.M. Jadhav And Company.

Respondents: Senior Advocates V. Giri, Sanjay Kharde, Advocates Prashant Pakhiddey, Srirang Verma, Manav Gill, Byron Sequeira, Pramod Gore, Nitin S.tambwekar, Seshatalpa Sai Bandaru, AORs K. Rajeev, Shashibhushan P. Adgaonkar, M/S. Lawyer S Knit & Co, Advocates Bina Madhavan, S. Udaya Kumar Sagar, Eeshan D. Khaire, Niharika Tanneru, Kavya S. Lokande, Hitesh Kumar Sharma, Akhileshwar Jha, Amit Kumar Chawla, Mahipal Singh, Manisha Chawla, Abhijit S. Kamble, Sandhya Panwar, Madhvi Sawant, AOR Naresh Kumar, Advocate Siddharth Dharmadhikari, AOR Aaditya Aniruddha Pande, Advocates Bharat Bagla, Sourav Singh, Aditya Krishna, Preet S. Phanse, Adarsh Dubey, AORs C. K. Sasi, and Shashibhushan P. Adgaonkar.

Click here to read/download the Judgment