Are these akin to Government or Poramboke or Ryotwari Lands?
Grama Natham in Tamilnadu trace its history to the land classification practices followed under composite “Madras Presidency” of the British era. This can be established by the term “Grama Natham” finding its place in the “Glossary of Judicial and Revenue Terms of British India – 1855” and the extract of which is given below:
Grama Natham is defined as ground set apart on which the houses of a village may be built.
There weren’t many interpretations until the division of “Madras Presidency” into multiple states. Upon the formation of separate states, not only were the names like Grama Kantam in Andhra & Telangana or Grama Kantha in Odisha, but were also interpreted differently in different States.
We have hereunder attempted broadly group the issues surrounding Grama natham, kantam & kantha and the judicial pronouncements around them. While in most the areas we have simplified the legal terms into common terminologies, in unavoidable circumstances we have reproduced the Judgement as it reads.
What is Grama Natham, Kantam & Kantha?
Tamilnadu’s Grama Natham:
Grama Natham is the land set aside in a Village on which houses may be built. Natham is described in the Tamil Lexicon as that part of the village lands on which the houses of mirasidars are built, as distinct from the lands attached to the village; a village especially one inhabited by Sudras in opposition of an agraharam, one inhabited by Brahmins. Hence these are invariably located at the outskirts of the Village.
Andhra & Telangana’s Grama Kantam
As per Ramanatha Aiyar’s Law Lexicon, as a spot of Ground in a Village for building huts upon.
Odisha’s Grama Kantha:
Section 2(3) read along with Sec 4 (b) of The Orissa Land Settlement Act, 1962 identifies Grama Kantha Poramboke as those lands in the ex-Madras areas excluding those which is used as homestead in any urban area, which is in the occupation of any person for not less than 5 years.
Though the Grama Natham has been defined in simple and clear terms, it has not been devoid of multiple interpretations.
I. Is Grama natham a government property.
It is now well-established that Grama Natham is not a property of the Government. This has been laid down in unambiguous terms as early as the year 1959 itself in the case of Rengaraja Iyengar Vs. Achikannu Ammal [1959 (2) MLJ 513], where in the Madras High Court pointed out that a house site owned by a person, generally known as Grama Natham is not the property of the Government. It also further held that title over Grama Natham property cannot be considered as encroachment and hence cannot be transferred back to the Government by the operation of Tamilnadu act III of 1905, Sec 3 of The Land Encroachment Act III, 1905 and Sec 18(1) of 1948 Act.
Further in the case of In Thillaivanam, A.K. and another Vs. District Collector, Chengai Anna District and three others [1998 (3) LW 603], the Court pointed out that village natham is a land, which never vested with the Government.
Hence we can conclude that Grama Natham property is not a Government property.
II. Is Grama Natham a common property of any Village?
Grama Natham is defined as the ground set apart on which the houses of a village may be built. This was interpreted to mean that the houses constructed in Grama Natham lands belonged to the Village Community and not vested with any one individual.
This was repelled in the case of Palani Ammal Vs L. Sethurama Aiyangar [1949 (1) MLJ 290], by holding that gramanatham is not a communal property and it is a land in the occupation of individuals, whose possession cannot be interfered.
III. Can I buy or sell a Grama natham property?
Grama Natham lands are akin to private free hold lands. There exist no restrictions what so ever on transfer except for the residential usage of the property.
This was clearly laid down in the case of The State Of Tamil Nadu vs Madasami A.S No: 307 of 1993, by the High Court of Madras. The relevant portion of the judgement is reproduced below:
When, once a person occupied a gramanatham land and put up construction, the said vacant site becomes a house site of that person and the character of the property changes and the person, who had been vested with the right of the said site or the property, is entitled to transfer the same to anybody as he likes. The government has no say in the said right accrued to the person, who occupied a gramanatham land.
IV. Will I get patta for Grama Natham property.
Yes, we can get Patta for Grama Natham property.
Grama Natham is quite often than not considered as a synonym of “Natham Porumboke”. At this juncture the meaning of the term “Porumboke” gains significance. The word “Poram” means “Outside” and “Poke” means “Revenue Records”. Thus the word “Poramboke lands” means lands which are not assessed to tax and are outside the revenue records.
It was held by the High Court of Madras in the case of B. Ravi vs The Principal Secretary and Commissioner of Land Administration that Natham Patta must be issued to individuals with established title, prolonged and continuous possession of Grama Natham lands.
However, care must be taken to ensure that the Patta is not a “Thoraya Patta”, which is issued only towards collection of tax and does not establish the ownership over the land parcel.
V. Can Government deny compensation for Grama Natham lands under any Compulsory Acquisition schemes?
No, the Government cannot deny compensation for Grama Natham properties. The Grama Natham lands are akin to Privately held free hold properties and hence the Government is bound to compensation to the legitimate owners of the property.
In the case of Krishnamurthy Gounder vs Government of Tamilnadu, it was held that Gramanatham is a land, which never vested with the Government and therefore, the eviction of persons occupying it is impermissible under the Land Encroachment Act, 1905.
Further, in the case of A. R. Meenakshi vs the State of Tamilnadu, this was clearly laid down by the High Cour of Madras. In the said case, the petitioner A. R. Meenakshi acquired ownership over a Grama Natham land by inheritance and the same was purchased by the predecessors vide a registered Sale Deed from Government Servants’ Cooperative Society. The respondent viz the State of Tamilnadu wanted to acquire some lands for the construction of a Sub-way. The Government considering the Grama Natham land as a Natham Poramboke land issued a notice of eviction under the Land Encroachment Act, 1905 and inturn the owners were not eligible for any compensation.
The Petitioners produced the following documents before the High Court of Madras:
(i) sale deeds, by which, they purchased either the land or the land with the buildings;
(ii) urban land tax assessment orders for the land;
(iii) property tax payment cards;
(iv) water and sewerage tax cards;
(v) family cards;
(vi) building plan permits; and
(vii) approved building plans.
All the above documents not only established the Title but also the continuous possession of the Petitioners over the Grama Natham property.
The High Court held that the order of eviction issued by the District Collector as an impugned order issued without application of mind and compensation was ordered for the owners of the land.
VI. Can I enter into a Joint Development Agreement to construct flats?
No, we cannot be used either for Commercial activity or used with a Commercial Intent. The Grama Natham lands must be used by the Owner only for his/her residential purposes and the said land cannot be commercially exploited for monetary gains.
In the case of Kences Foundataions Vs State of Tamilnadu, the High Court of Madras emphasized that Grama Natham lands are meant for the self-occupation of the Owner only. In this case, the Developer M/s Kences Foundations developed a residential project with Stilt+4 structure on a Grama Natham land after obtaining approval from CMDA and sold individual units to several flat buyers. The high court order said that “Greedy persons like the Petitioner in the case are indulging in indulging in activities, which are purely commercial in nature.” The Court also went on to direct the Government officials to protect the Grama Natham lands from being exploited for commercial purposes.
Hence, Grama Natham lands can be used only for residential self-occupation of the owner and cannot be exploited commercially.
Grama Natham lands under the erstwhile “Madras Presidency” were renamed as Grama Kantam when the separate State of Andhra Pradesh was formed. Since the formation, the Grama Kantam lands were en masse classified as “Government Poramboke” lands in the Revenue Records. This classification was assigned to Grama Kantam lands over which individuals had documents to established a valid title, possession & enjoyment.
The Revenue Department vide G.O.M.S. No. 100, included Grama Kantam lands in the Prohibitory list maintained under Sec 22 A of the Registration Act, 1908 and it was made mandatory to obtain NOC to register Grama Kantam lands.
A clarity on Grama Kantam emanated from the the ruling of the High Court of Andhra Pradesh in the case of Shri Gangarami Reddy Vs The Government of A.P wherein it was held that “Grama Kantam is known as Grama Natham”. The High Court of Andhra Pradesh, after taking into account the various judgements on Grama Natham lands, held that Grama Kantam lands are not Government Lands.
Subsequent to this judgment, the Revenue Department passed G.O.M.S.No.56, cancelled its previous order which included Grama Kantam lands under the prohibitory list of Sec 22A of the Registration Act, 1908.
Recently in the case of Smt. Sagadapu Vijaya Vs The State of Andhra Pradesh, the High Court of Andhra Pradesh held that
This Court is of the opinion that refusing to entertain document for registration on the ground that the subject property is classified as Grama kantam amounts to illegal refusal and consequently the writ petition is ordered by directing the Sub-registrar/2nd respondent to receive the document presented by the petitioner for registration of subject property without reference to the classification of petition land as Grama kantam, consider the same and pass orders for registration, if the document is otherwise compliant.
It is evident from the numerous litigations that Grama Natham has been interpreted and applied in many forms. In majority of the cases, the ruling has been against the State machinery and inturn upholding the rights and privileges of the legitimate owner of a Grama Natham property.
Grama Natham & Grama Kantam lands with documents to establish Title, Possession & enjoyment are not Government lands but are akin to Privately held free hold land. There exists no restriction on any of the following:
Possession & enjoyment
Constructing residential house for self-occupation.
Be eligible for compensation upon Compulsory Acquisition under Government’s developmental schemes.
The only restriction on Grama Natham property is with regard to its usage. A grama natham land can be used only for the residential self-occupation of the owner and must not be commercial exploited.
The Author may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(These are the personal views/opinions of the Author and readers are requested to seek formal legal advice prior to acting upon any of the information provided herein. This update is not intended to address the circumstances of any particular individual or corporate body.)