Shantabai V. State of Bombay and Ors. (1958)

This article deals with the landmark judgement in the Indian legal history, which addresses the issues related to the property rights and the interpretation of legal documents.

Table of Contents



•Key Points of the Case

•Facts of the case

•Issues Involved

•Provisions Involved

•Arguments of the Petitioner

•Arguments of the Respondent

•Judgement of the Supreme Court

•Dissenting Judgement

•Outcomes of the Case

•Critical Analysis





The distress was started among people in 1951 due to enactment of Madhya Pradesh Abolition of Proprietary Rights( Estates, Mahals, Alienated Lands) Act, 1950 which abolished all the proprietary rights in land and transferred all the rights to the State. This law was enacted to abolish the zamindari system. In this case, Shantabai (petitioner) claimed that this act infringed her fundamental rights and filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court challenging this act.

*Key Points of the Case

•Case:                Shantabai V. State of

                            Bombay and Ors.

•Citation:          AIR 1958 SC 532, 1959

                            SCR 265

•Court:              Supreme Court of India

•Petitioner:      Shrimati Shantabai

•Respondents : State of Bombay and


•Date of Judgement: 24 March, 1958

•Judges: Justice A.K. Sarkar

                  Justice Sudhi Ranjan Das

                  Justice S.K. Das

                  Justice Vivian Bose

                  Justice T.L. Venkatarama


*Facts of the Case

In 1948, Balirambhau Doye, who was the proprietor of several forests in Pandharpur, granted his wife (Shantabai) the right to cut and take out wood, bamboo, fuel etc; from certain forests in his zamindari for 12 and half years, regarded it as lease and for Rs.26,000 through an unregistered document. In 1951, The Madhya Pradesh Abolition of Proprietary Rights( Estates, Mahals, Alienated Lands Act, 1950 was enacted which transfer all those property rights to the State. As a result, she was restricted from entering in the forests to cut trees. The petitioner applied  for validating the lease to the Deputy Commissioner  under Section 6(2)of the act. The commissioner permits her to continue her right as lease could not be questioned. After that, the petitioner applied to the Divisional Forest Officer,Bhandra, to permit her to work in the forest. She received a letter which only states that her claim was being examined and then she took matter into her own hands and entered into the forests to exercise her right,The Divisional Forest Officer took action against her and seized the petitioner when she was unlawfully entering into the forest to cut trees. The officer also cancelled her name and also forfeited the material captured by her from the forest. On 29 September,1956 the petitioner moved to the Government of Madhya Pradesh but her appeal was not listened. In 1957, she filed a writ petition to the Supreme Court under the Article 32 of the Constitution of India for the infringement of her fundamental rights enshrined under Article 19(1)(f)and 19(1)(g) of the Indian Constitution.

*Issues Raised

•whether the fundamental rights incorporated in the Article 19(1)(f) and 19(1)(g) of the petitioner had been violated?

•whether the document confers any proprietary rights or interests on the petitioner?

• whether the rights were related with movable or immovable property?

• what is difference between standing timber and tree?

*Provisions Involved

Article 19

• Article 19(1)(f): (Now Abolished)

This Article grants the right to property to the citizens and ensures that this right to be protected. After the Constitutional(44th Amendment) Act, this fundamental right was changed to a constitutional right and put under Article 300(A)of the Indian Constitution.

• Article 19(1)(g):

This Article grants the fundamental right to carry out any bussiness, trade, occupation or practice any profession under the territory of India to all the citizens subject to some reasonable restrictions.

• Article 32:

It is a fundamental right that grants legal remedies to the individuals if their fundamental rights are violated. They can file petition to the Supreme Court under this article. Article 32, confers the Supreme Court can issue writs, orders and directions for the enforcement the fundamental rights.

• General Clauses Act, 1977:

Section 3(26) of this act describes that immovable property means land, benefit arise from the land, things attached to earth and things permanently fastened to attached things the earth.

• Registration Act, 1908:

Section 2(6) of this act describes immovable property as it includes land, buildings, hereditary allowances, right to ways, lights, ferries, fisheries or any other benefit to arise out of land and things attached to earth or things permanently fastened to anything that is attached to earth but it does not includes standing timber, growing crops and grass.

This act also provides the provisions for the registration of immovable property.

• The Madhya Pradesh Abolition of Property Rights Act

This act was enacted in the State of Madhya Pradesh to abolish the zamindari system and all the proprietary rights in Madhya Pradesh. This act transfers the proprietary rights of individuals in Mahals, Estates and alienated lands to the State in return for compensation if any required.

• Transfer of Property Act,1882 :

Section 3 of this act describes immovable property in the negative way and states that immovable property does not includes standing timber, growing crops and grass.

•Article 31 :

Article 31(1) states that the private property could not be taken by the government through an executive order but it can be only taken through the authority of law.

*Arguments From Petitioner’s Side

The petitioner counsel requested to dismiss the order made by the Divisional Forest Officer which restrained her from entering the forest and exercising her right.

The counsel of the petitioner also argued that the petitioner acquired  the right to cut trees etc from the forest through the lease and restraining her from exercising her right infringed her fundamental right that are 19(1)(f) and 19(1)(g) under the Constitution of India.

*Arguments from the Respondent’s Side

The counsel of the respondents looked the case from the different point of view and argues on the definitions that are given under various acts. The arguments are mentioned below:

They argued that Section 3(26) of the General Clauses Act ,1897 defines trees under the category of ‘immovable property’ because of the fact that they are attached to the earth and benefit from the land.

They also mentioned that Section 3 of the Transfer of Property Act, 1882 defines that standing timber is not an immovable property.

Section 2(6) of the Registration Act, 1908 also defines standing timber as movable property.

They also argued that the contract which was done for the lease and rights over property was an unregistered document.

*Judgement of the Supreme Court

The judgement was delivered by the five judge bench by the majority of 4:1 and dismissied the petition.

The four Judges in this case held that the document  cannot be taken as lease but it can be called as ‘profit a prendre’ which grants a person right to enter and extract raw materials or any produce from another person’s land. However, it does not gave any right to enjoy the immovable property. It is only a mere grant of a right to enter upon land and take away a part of the produce of the soil from it. The court also held that the proof by the petitioner was vague and to bring a claim under Article 19(1)(f) and Article 31(1) needed the greater facts to be disclosed. The court also delves into the movable and immovable property concept and stated that under Section 3(26) of the General Clauses Act, 1977 it was classified as immovable property because it is a benefit that arises from the land and also because the trees are attached to the earth. Despite the conflicting definitions under Section 3 of Transfer of Property Act and also under the Section 2(6) of the Registration Act, the court asserted that the definition in the General Clauses Act, should prevail in the absence of the any special definition. The court also held that the grant here was not merely of standing timber, but the grantee here was empowered to take benefit from the soil. It was also added that such trees are considered as standing timber on the date of the document but since the size is minimal and can fall earlier, they are regarded as movable property. The court finally concluded that, as the lease deed was unregistered and related to the immovable property, the petitioner could not be granted any remedy.

*Dissenting Judgement

The Justice Vivian Bose gave dissenting judgement and held that one can enjoy the property even if it is a lease transaction, but that does not gave the person right to take it away or remove it from its original location. He also highlighted that the genuineness of the document is not a question, bit rather that it being an unregistered document is a concern. He also highlighted the trees are immovable property and the registration is necessary because the lease total value was Rs. 26,000 and it was for more than one year.

It was held that even though the petitioner acquired the right in the property through the document, the state was entitled to the possession of the land and petitioner can claim compensation if payable under the Madhya Pradesh Abolition of Proprietary Rights Act, 1950.

*Outcomes of this Case

• Distinction between Profit a Prendre and Lase Deed was discussed:

The meaning of ‘profit a prendre’ is that a person has the right to enter into the property of another person to extract raw materials and other produce. In contrast to it, lease is a legal document between the parties that gives a legal right to a lessee to use the lessor’s property for the enjoyment of the property.

• Distinction between Movable and Immovable Property

It was cleared in the case that trees are regarded as immovable property and any property that cannot be removed without destroying it or cannot be moved at all are regarded as immovable property. Whereas any property that can be moved from one place to another without any destruction is regarded as immovable property.

• Registration Issue Highlighted

It was also highlighted that the registration of the immovable property is compulsory if the contract is for more than one year and value is more than 100 rupees.

• Distinction between standing timber and Trees was made:

As the timber falls earlier as grown for cutting it is listed under the movable property and trees are categorised as immovable property.

*Critical Analysis

•There are many vague interpretation that caused ambiguity about the movable and immovable property.

•The validity of Madhya Pradesh Abolition of Proprietary Rights Act which was the main issue behind this case but was not discussed by the Court.

•The disinction between the ‘profit a prendre’ and lease was clarified in this case. But the provisions for it must be included in any legislation.


It is a landmark judgement that highlighted many issues and questions about the property rights and also the nature of property right.

Many precedents and English Law was taken into the account to deliver the judgement.The dismissal of the petitioner claim also provides a fact that there must be some legal grounds for the enforcement of the fundamental rights and it was also asserted that General Clauses Act will prevail it there was not any specific provisions.

*Frequently Asked Questions

1. Who was Shantabai?

Shantabai was a woman from Maharashtra who filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court to enforce her fundamental rights and her right to enter into the forest.

2. In the case on whose favour the judgement is given?

The judgement was given in the favour of respondent that was the State of Bombay and Others and dismissied the petition of the petitioner.

3. Is there any similar cases to this case?

Yes, there are many similar cases like: •Anand Behra V. State of Orissa(1956)

•Mulam Chand V. State of MP (1968)

4. What was the precedent set in this case?

This case set a landmark precedent for the future cases and considered landmark judgement of Section 3 of Transfer of the Property Act, 1882.

5. What was the reason for the enactment of the Madhya Pradesh Abolition of Proprietary Rights Act, 1951?

This act was enacted because of the zamindari system that was prevalent during that time and caused many problems to the common people. It divided the people into two categories  i.e. landlords and labourers. So, this act sought to abolish this system and transferred all the property rights over forests ,mahals etc. to the State.


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