DATE OF TRIAL: March 24, 1958

PETITIONER: Shrimati Shantabai 

RESPONDENT: State of Bombay and ors. 

BENCH: Chief Justice of India, A.K. Sarkar, Sudhi Ranjan Das, Justice S.K. Das, Vivian Bose, and Justice T.L. Venkatarama Aiyyar

COURT: Supreme Court of India 


This case concerns a petition filed by Shrimati Shantabai under Article 32 of the Constitution of India alleging violation of her fundamental rights under Article 19(1)(f) and Article 19(1)(g). Petitioner claims these rights through an unrecorded deed dated April 26, 1948, by which her husband granted her the right to harvest timber from certain forests until December 1960. The case examines the nature of the rights conferred by this document and whether they are fundamental rights. The Supreme Court rejected the application, finding that the applicant could not establish a violation of fundamental rights regardless of how the document was interpreted. The court’s reasoning addresses issues related to property rights, contract law and the effects of the Land Reform Act on pre-existing forest rights.


Shrimati Shantabai v. State of Bombay and others, a case decided by the Supreme Court of India on March 24, 1958, deals with the complex relationship between private forest rights, the Land Reform Act and constitutional protection. The core of the issue is the investigation, whether the rights granted by private contract to harvest wood from certain forests are fundamental rights according to article 32 of the Constitution. The petitioner sought to challenge the order prohibiting him from logging, arguing that it violated his rights under Article 19(1)(f) and Article 19(1)(g). This case is significant because it forced the court to consider the nature of forest rights, the effect of unregistered documents and the effect of the Madhya Pradesh Abolition of Title Act (1950) on existing forest rights. The court’s decision provides important insights into the limits of Article 32 applications and the interpretation of property and contract rights in the context of fundamental rights.


• Balirambhau Doye was the Zamindar of Pandharpur. On April 26, 1948 Balirambhau Doye executed an unregistered deed in favor of his wife Shrimati Shantabai (petitioner).

• The document was called “lease”. The deed gave Shantabai the right to enter certain zamindari areas.

• This allowed her to cut and remove bamboos, firewood and teak.

• The work was valid from 26.4.1948 to 26.12.1960. The fee for these rights was Rs. 26,000

• Shantabai worked in the forest between 1948 and 1950.

• In 1950 Madhya Pradesh property rights (Estates, Mahals, Alienated Lands) were established. The law entered into force on January 26, 1951.

• According to the law, all ownership rights to land belong to the state.

• In this region, the birth date of justice was set as March 31, 1951.

• After that date, logging in Shanta Bai was stopped. Shantabai made a request to Deputy Commissioner Bhandara under Section 6(2) of the Act.

• Her application sought to confirm the lease.On August 16, 1955, the deputy commissioner decided on his application.

• He said that the Act does not apply to transfers made before March 16, 1950.The Deputy Commissioner ordered that Shantabai be allowed to do forest work.

• This permission was subject to the terms of his lease. It was also submitted to C.P. provisions of section 218(A). The Land Revenue Act.

• Shantabai initially demanded compensation from the government for being sidelined from 1951-1955. She later abandoned the claim, realizing that he could work in the woods for the rest of his time.

• Shantabai then applied to the Forest Officer of the Forest Department of Bhandara for permission to work the forests. She asked twice but only got a reply that his claim was being investigated.

• It is said that Shantabai then went into the forest and started cutting trees without permission. On March 19, 1956, the head of the forestry department of the Metsaamet filed a lawsuit against her for illegal logging.

• He ordered to withdraw his name and hide the cut materials. Shantabai appealed to the Government of Madhya Pradesh on 27 September 1956. She requested that the Chief Forest Officer of the Division be ordered to place her in command immediately.

• She also asked that they not disturb his rights. When no concrete action was taken, Shantabai petitioned the Supreme Court. This petition was presented under Article 32 of the Constitution on 26 August 1957.

• In her petition, Shantabai alleged that her fundamental rights were violated. He specifically mentioned the violation of rights under Article 19(1)(f) and Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution. Shantabai tried to set aside the order dated March 19, 1956 of the Divisional Forest Officer.

• She also asked the respondents for an order, order or injunction not to disturb his rights.

These rights included access to forests, appointing agents, renewing passports and making charcoal. The case centred on the interpretation of an unregistered document dated April 26, 1948. The nature of the rights granted by this document was a main dispute. The impact of the Madhya Pradesh Land Abolition Act on these rights was also an important issue.


1. Are the rights granted to the petitioner under Article 32 of the Constitution by the unregistered instrument of April 26, 1948 enforceable fundamental rights?

2. Legal nature and classification of rights arising from an unregistered document – whether it is a lease, license, contract or transfer of ownership and whether it relates to movable or immovable property.

3. Effect of the Madhya Pradesh Property Rights (Estates, Mahalas, Alienated Lands) Act, 1950 on the rights of the petitioner and whether the action of the State in preventing the felling of the trees violated his fundamental rights under Article 19 (1 ) (f) and Article 19(1)(g).

4. Requirement and consequences of registration of a document (or lack thereof) under the Indian Registration Act, taking into account the definitions of immovable property in various Acts. 


Arguments of the petitioner:

1. The petitioner claimed that by prohibiting the logging, his fundamental rights were violated, originating from Article 19(1)(f) and Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution.

2. She claimed that an unregistered deed dated April 26, 1948 gave him valid rights to harvest wood from the forest until December 1960.

3. The petitioner argued that these rights were not affected by the Madhya Pradesh Abolition of Property Rights Act, 1950 as they were granted before the Act came into force.

4. She relied on the Deputy Commissioner’s order of August 16, 1955, which allowed him to work in the forest under certain conditions.

Arguments of the Respondents:

1. The Respondents (primarily the State) contended that the unregistered document conferred no enforceable rights on the petitioner as it required registration under the Indian Registration Act.

2. They argued that although the Act conferred rights, those rights were extinguished when the property rights were given to the State under the Madhya Pradesh Abolition of Property Act (1950).

3. The respondents asserted that the potential rights of the petitioner are purely contractual and not fundamental rights that can be enforced by writ petition under Article 32 of the Constitution. 

4. They argued that the action of the state to prevent the applicant from cutting down the trees was legal and did not violate fundamental rights because the state became the legal owner of the forest after the implementation of the Land Reform Act.


The Supreme Court of India in its judgment dated March 24, 1958 dealt with a petition filed by Shrimati Shantabai under Article 32 of the constitution. At the center of the case was an unregistered deed dated April 26, 1948, which granted the petitioner certain rights to harvest timber from the forest until December 1960. The petitioner argued that his fundamental right under Article 19(1)(f) and Article 19(1)(g) who is upset when he is prohibited from cutting down a forest.

Chief Justice Das’s majority opinion dealt with various interpretations of the document, including a transfer of title, a license, a license with a grant or a purely contractual right. The court concluded that regardless of the interpretation, the petitioner cannot claim a violation of fundamental rights enforceable under Article 32. The judgment emphasized that if the document would transfer ownership rights, since it is unregistered, it does not affect or transfer rights on the real estate. Moreover, even if the rights had been acquired despite non-registration, they would have been available to the State under the Madhya Pradesh Abolition of Property Rights Act, 1950.The court also considered the possibility that the document could be interpreted as a licence. or license or license with subsidy. Regarding a mere license, it would have ended when the rights of the grantor passed to the state. If we consider the license together with the grant, it would be either a piece of land (real estate) or a purely personal contractual right. The judgment specified that if the rights were purely contractual, the state was not a party to the contract and neither acquired nor obtained it, leaving the petitioner with the option of suing the transferor for damages.

In his concurring opinion, Justice Bose provided a detailed analysis between a standing tree (considered movable property) and trees (considered real property). He noted that the grant included standing timber as well as trees ready to be felled, so it is partly real estate. Based on this analysis, it was concluded that the document requires registration because it concerns real estate and its high value. Because it was unregistered, it passed no value or interest.

The court unanimously rejected the request with costs, stating that the applicant failed to establish the violation of fundamental rights mentioned under § 32 of the Civil Code. That judgment significantly clarified the limitations of Article 32 applications in enforcing contractual or property rights and provided important insights into the legal status of forest rights in the context of land reform legislation. It also implicitly overruled the earlier decision in Chhotabai Jethabai Patel and Co. v. State of Madhya Pradesh (1953) suggesting that certain aspects of the law of property and contract relating to fundamental rights must be reconsidered.

Legal principles:

1. Implementation of fundamental rights: – Article 32 of the Constitution is reliable only in the implementation of fundamental rights. Only contractual or proprietary rights that do not have the dimension of fundamental rights cannot be enforced according to Article 32.

2. Ownership rights and registration: – Unregistered documents intended to transfer immovable property do not create legal rights to the property. The distinction between movable and immovable property is crucial in determining registration requirements.

3. Impact of Land Reform Legislation: – The Madhya Pradesh Abolition of Property Rights 1950 gave property rights to the state, potentially removing earlier private rights.

4. Nature of Licenses and Grants: – A license combined with a license may create rights separate from a license alone or transfer of property. The nature of such rights depends on the specific conditions and intentions of the parties.

5. Standing timber versus trees: – Standing timber is timber, while trees not ready for immediate felling are buildings. This difference affects the legal treatment of forest rights.

6. Contractual Rights vs Fundamental Rights: – Mere contractual rights do not automatically become fundamental rights. A state is not bound by treaties to which it is not a party.


Shrimati Shantabai v. State of Bombay and others (1958) contains some important findings which shaped Indian jurisprudence. In particular, it narrows the scope of Article 32 applications and emphasizes that the enforcement of fundamental rights cannot be linked to general contractual or property disputes. This interpretation reinforces the distinction between constitutional and civil remedies. The court’s position on unrecorded real estate documents highlights the critical importance of proper registration in creating enforceable rights, a cautionary tale for future real estate transactions. The land reform legislation discussed in the judgment indicates a legal tendency to prioritize broader socio-economic goals over individual property rights, reflecting India’s post-independence ethos. A detailed analysis of forest rights, particularly the distinction between timber and trees, reveals the complexity of property rights in natural resources that require careful legal and factual scrutiny. In addition, the court’s approach to contract rights means that parties must rely on ordinary civil remedies instead of seeking constitutional protection, which can limit the scope of judicial intervention in private contracts. Implicitly overruling the earlier decision, the judgment also demonstrates the changing nature of constitutional interpretation, particularly in the area of ​​property rights. Finally, the case highlights that the need for precision in the drafting of legislation is crucial, as the nature of the rights transferred can have a significant impact on their enforceability and legal status.


1. What was the main issue in Shrimati Shantabai vs State of Bombay?

a) Land ownership dispute

b) Contract performance

c) Obligation of fundamental rights under Article 32

d) Protection of forests

2. Judgment, an unregistered document based on transfer of immovable property:

a) Creates fully enforceable legal rights

b) Creates partially enforceable legal rights

c) Does not create legal rights over such property

d) Automatically registers after a certain period of time

3. How did the court distinguish between a standing tree and a tree?

a) Permanent tree is immovable property, trees are movable property

b) Permanent tree is movable property, trees that are not ready for immediate felling are immovable property

c) Both are immovable property

d) Both are movable property

4. What did the court conclude about pure contract law in relation to fundamental rights?

a) Contractual rights are always fundamental rights

b) Contractual rights are never related to fundamental rights

c) Contractual rights do not automatically become fundamental rights

d) Fundamental rights always include contractual rights

5. How has this decision affected the scope of Article 32 petitions?

a) It widened the scope to include all legal disputes

b) It limited the scope only to the fulfilment of fundamental rights

c) It completely removed the use of Article 32

d) It did not change the scope of Article 32

Answer. 1.c, 2.c, 3.b ,4.c,5.b

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