Bona Vacantia or Escheat

Law relating to bona vacantia provides for conservation of abandoned properties. The nature of the property to which the Escheats Act applies must necessarily be abandoned property in the sense that there should be no claimants to the property.

        The question is, what exactly is “abandoned property” or what property is “bona vacantia”. In Bombay Dyeing Manufacturing Co. Ltd. v. State of Bombay, AIR 1958 SC 328, a Constitution Bench of the Hon’ble Supreme Court while deciding the challenge to the constitutional validity of the Bombay Labour Welfare Fund Act observed and held that the expression “abandoned property”, or to use the more familiar term “bona vacantia”, comprises properties of two different kinds, those which come in by escheat and those over which no one has a claim.

        Property is subject to the right of escheat, where upon intestacy, there is no heir. Escheat was a right, whereby land of which there was no longer any tenant, returned by reason of tenure, to the Lord by whom, or by whose predecessors in title, the tenure was created.

        In A-G of Ontario v. Mercer, (1883) 8 App Cas 767, it was held, that “Escheat is a term of art and derived from the French word escheat that is cadere excidere or accidere and signifyeth property when by accident the lands fall to the Lord of whom they are holden.” Escheat was an incident of feudal tenure and was based on the want of tenant to perform the feudal services. State of Rajasthan v. Lord Northbrook, 2020 (1) AWC 122.

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