The recent ruling by Jharkhand High Court has shifted the focus on CNT Act and its gross violation by successive governments. But before we proceed further, let us delve on the historical background of the CNT Act.
We begin by quoting the extracts from the speech of the Mr. Slacke, the mover of the Amending Bill of 1903, and the late Commissioner of Chota Nagpur:
“Owning to the non-recognition of their rights, the Mundaris for more 3/4th of the century have been in a state of agitation, which from the time has culminated in outbursts. In 1822 a horde of middlemen was let loose over the country by and then Maharaja of Chota Nagpur. These persons were up countrymen. They were ignorant of, or oblivious to, the rights and customs of the aborigines, among whom naturally much discontent arose. This found a vent in the great Munda rebellion of 1832-1833, the immediate cause of which was an attempt by the Thakur of the Sonpurgarh to destroy Khuntkatti rights in Bandgaon and Kochang in the district of Ranchi. The attempts to destroy the Khuntkattidars’ rights did not cease, and they were the cause of the disturbances between the Landlords and Tenants in that district in the year of the Mutiny. Both sides took advantage of the disorder that then prevailed – the landlords to oust the khuntkattidars who were holding at low permanent rentals, the Khuntkattidars who were holding at low permanent rentals, the khuntkattidars to recover the khuntkatti lands which the landlords had previously succeeded in making Rajhas or Manjhihas, i.e., Rayati or Sir.
Eventually the Chota Nagpur Tenures Act of 1869 was passed, and effected some improvement. But it omitted to deal with the all the privileges lands, as it took no notice of instant khuntkatti villages. This omission left such villages at the mercy of the spoliator. The destruction of the khuntkatti tenancies went on, and the discontent thereby created brought about the outburst of 1888, when what is locally known as the Sardari-Larai began, and has not yet ceased. Utilising the bitter feeling of the Mundaris, some of their fellow-clansmen-they came to be known afterwards as Sardars-persuaded the people that the Hindus had no right to the lands that the lands belonged to the Mundaris, that no rent should be paid, and that the Sovereign had given a decree to this effect. The outburst that occurred at the time was put down, but it again broke out in 1899-1900 under the leadership of Birsa, who styled himself as God.”
Consequently, the prolonged disaffection is the reason that has led British Government to have a survey and record-of-rights made of the Mundari country (whole Chotanagpur Region).
Mr. Slacke further said, “But if steps are not taken to safeguard by legislation the rights of those people and to secure the finality of the record-of-rights, the latter by itself will not suffice to quiet the agitation. As long as 1839 it was reported that unless those people are protected in the possession of their lands, we never can be certain of the peace of the country. Once the necessary facts have been obtained, as is now the case, such legislation cannot be delayed, because the attacks which have been made on these rights so pertinacious and for so long a time will be carried on with a greatly increased vigour, owning to the need of acting before the law can intervene.
A khuntkattidar is the founder or the male descendant in the male line of the founder of the village in which are situated his khuntkatti lands. The tenancy is of two kinds, the difference between them merely one of area. It is either the tenancy of the whole brotherhood, the descendants of the original founder, or that of an individual member of the brotherhood over the lands in his immediate possessions.
The Settlement Officer, owning to the burial custom of the Mundaris, can easily ascertain whether the claim to hold certain lands as khuntkatti is true or not. No Mundari can rightly be buried save in the burial ground of the village of which his ancestor on the paternal side was the founder. When a Mundari wished to be found a new village he either alone or some of his kinsmen on the paternal side obtained the jungle tract he desired. The area so acquired was invariably large, in some cases extending descendants, portions of it under cultivation, but it was open to him or his male descendants acting jointly, to give portions to other Mundaris either to cultivate as Raiyats or to establish other khuntkatti villages. The system is one which originated long before the advent of the Hindus into Chota Nagpur. Originally no rent was payable, but this was changed. Rent and services came to be demanded, and were given. This rental was and is in most cases a permanent one, and cannot be enhanced save under certain circumstances.
The British Government was unable to douse more than 100 years of their rebellion-fire in the plateau region using its violent approach, and the fire was only spreading. Thus with the enactment of CNT Act the British Colonial Government tried to end the non-ending simmering discontent among the general population of Chota Nagpur Plateau. Given the fact that people of Chota Nagpur were greatly attached to their land-assets, the CNT Act 1908 went a long way in establishing peace in the region.
Footnote: We have seen, lots of interest around CNT Act, so we do recommend this blog to read more about CNT Act.
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