Escheat is a concept in Land Law. It means the reversion of land to the State on failure of heirs of the owner or on his outlawry.
The concept of Escheat has been derived from the feudal rules that, where an estate in fee simple comes to an end, the land reverts to the State by whose ancestors or predecessors the estate was originally created.
The aim of Escheat is that no land should be left in limbo and owner-less.
Escheat in English Common Law
One consequence of the Land Registration Act 1925 was that only estates in land (freehold or leasehold) could be registered. Land held directly by the Crown, known as property in the "Royal Demesne" is not held under any feudal tenure and there is therefore no estate to register. This has had the consequence that freeholds that escheated to the Crown ceased to be registrable. This created a slow leak of property out of registration, amounting to some hundreds of freehold titles in each year.
The problem was noted by the Law Commission in their report "Land Registration for the Twenty-First Century". The Land Registration Act 2002 was passed in response to that report. It provides that land held in demesne by the Crown may be registered.
Escheat in Hindu Law
- Section 29 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 deals with the provisions of Escheat.
- According to Giridhari Lal vs. Government of Bengal (12 MIA 448), the Privy Council held that the Crown cannot take an estate unless it affirmatively would establish that there were no other heirs.
- According to Collector of Madura vs. Mootoo Ramalinga Sethupathi (1968) (12 MIA 397), the Privy Council held that in the Dravidian country, in the absence of authority from husband, a window may adopt a son with the assent of his kindered. Such adoption is valid and hence the British Government cannot escheat the estate of Ramnad.
- According to [[Collector of Machilipatnam vs. Kavaly Venkatiah (8 MIA 500), the Privy Council held that when the Crown would take the property as the ultimate heir, it would take it as if it were an ordinary heir ... and have duties to perform ceremonies of the deceased, whose lands were escheated, and also to pay the debts if any to the debtors.
- The Supreme Court of India has upheld the escheat as seen in Maharaja of Jaipore vs. Ramachandra (AIR 1968 SC 954).
Escheat in Muslim Law
- The Doctrine of Escheat is accepted by Muslim Law. However, the property escheated does not devolve upon the Government by way of inheritance as ultimus haeres but as bait-ul-mal (public treasury) for the benefit of Mussalmans only.
- According to Sunni Law, on failure of all the heirs and successors, the property of a deceased Sunni Mohammedan escheats to the Government
- According to Shia Law, on failure of all the natural heirs, the property of a deceased Shia Mohammedan escheats to the Government
Escheat in State Law
- The Andhra Pradesh State Legislature enacted the Andhra Pradesh Escheats and Bona Vacantia Act, 1974 (Act No. 35 of 1974) for the determination, custody and disposal of property in the State of Andhra Pradesh by escheat or lapse or as Bona Vacantia for want of a righful owner and of unclaimed property and for matters connected therewith.