TODAY -

History of Inner Line Permit System

Lt. Col M Ranjit Singh (Retd) *

 Women folks of Khwairamband Keithel protest ILP on March 17 2015
Women folks of Khwairamband Keithel protest ILP on March 17 2015 :: Pix - Shankar Khangembam



When the "Inner Line Permit" was introduced by the British in early 1870s, it was used merely for the purpose of jurisdiction. It does not decide the sovereignty of the territory beyond. The active control of the District Officer was not necessarily extended up to the boundary, but it was under no circumstances to be carried further. Beyond the lines, the tribes were left to manage their own affairs with only such interference on the part of the frontier officers in their political capacity as may be considered advisable with the view of establishing a personal influence for good among the chiefs and tribes.

The Inner Line Permit in fact had a humble beginning in 1872 purely to protect the interests of traders dealing with rubber and elephant and also to protect the lives of British subjects in Assam and Cachar. Assam and Cachar then were part of undivided Bengal. The Governor General in Council of British India in a Resolution on January 17, 1872 decided to define the line of the ordinary jurisdiction to be exercised by the officers of the Government of India in the rubber producing districts; to declare that Government will not be responsible for the protection of life beyond that line; and to require that the movements of British subjects beyond that border be subject to certain restrictions, Or even, it might be in the case of Europeans forbidden altogether.

The Governor General in Council also thought that special care should be taken to prevent the transfer of land possessed in the plains by hill men to European or native planters. Accordingly, the Lt. Governor of Bengal was asked to prepare a Regulation which will meet the above requirements.

Inner Line Permit Draft Regulation Its Rationale

On March 1, 1873, Government of Bengal forwarded a draft Regulation initiated by its Department of Agriculture, Revenue and Commerce under Act 33, Victoria, Chapter 3, Section 1, which gives a power of summary legislation for backward tracts to the Executive Governments. In Great Britain, Acts before 1963 were named by the year/s of the monarch's reign for the session of Parliament in which they were passed, plus the number of the Act. A new series of numbers started at the beginning of every parliamentary session.

The draft Regulation was called, "A Regulation for the security of certain districts on the Eastern Frontiers of Bengal, and for the better ordering of the trade with the hillmen living on the border of those districts". The Regulation was to be extended to the districts of Cachar, Chittagong Hill Tracts, Kamroop, Durrang, Nowgong, Seebsagur, Lukhimpoor, and to the Naga Hills, Khassiah (Khasi) and Jyeteah (Jaintia) Hills, and Garo Hills with effect from April 1, 1873. The draft Regulation had ten Sections. The important sections of the Resolution were Section 2 and Section 7 which are as under:

2. It shall be lawful for the Lt. Governor of Bengal to define and from time to time to alter, by notification in the Calcutta Gazette, a line up to which the ordinary protection of the officers of the Government shall extend in each or any or the above named districts, and to prohibit all British subjects or any persons residing in or passing through such districts from going beyond such line without a pass under the hand and seal of the Chief Executive Officer as he may authorize to grant such pass.

7. It shall not be lawful for any British subject to acquire lands or any interest in land, or in the produce of land, or in any produce under the soil beyond any line defined under Section 2 of this Regulation, without the special sanction of the Lt. Governor, or such officer as he may appoint. Any lands or interest so acquired may be dealt with as the Lt Governor may direct. The provision shall, however, not apply to natives of the tract beyond the line defined under Section 2, in which any lands acquired by him may be.

Amendment of the Inner Line Permit Draft Regulation

The draft Resolution was examined by the Agriculture, Revenue, and Commerce Department; Foreign Department, and Legislative Department of the Government of India. It is during the inter-departmental discussion that A Hobhouse, a senior officer in Legislative Department suggested the line to be called by some natural term like, "The Inner Line". And thus the term "The Inner Line" was made as the Preamble of this Resolution.

The draft Resolution of "The Inner Line" was returned to the Government of Bengal on May 16, 1873 with some modifications and alterations for resubmission. The Bengal Government was, however, told to give careful considerations on Section 7 drawing the attention of Foreign Office letters No 202P of January 30, 1872 which was, "No European planter should be permitted to accept any grant beyond the line or under a tenure derived directly from any Chief or tribe" and also No 11R of Jan 17, 1873 which was" His Excellency in Council will be prepared to make the prohibition of the acquisition of tenures directly from any Chief or tribesman general if His Honour considers such course desirable". The amended Sections 2 and 7 of the Resolution reads as under:

Section 2. It shall be lawful for the Government of Bengal with the previous sanction of the Governor-General in Council to prescribe, and from time to time to alter by notification in the Calcutta Gazette, a line to be called "the Inner Line" in each or any of the above named districts, and to prohibit all British subjects or any class of British subjects or any persons residing in or passing through such districts from going beyond such line without a pass under the hand and seal of the Chief Executive Officer of such district, or of such other officer as he may authorize to grant such pass.

Section 2. It shall not be lawful for any British subject not being a native of the districts comprised in the Preamble of this Regulation to acquire any interest or the produce of land beyond the said Inner Line without the sanction of the Local Government or such officer as the local government shall appoint in this behalf. Any interest so acquired may be dealt with as the Local Government or its said officer directs.

The Government of Bengal on June 27, 1873 forwarded acceptance letter of the draft with certain further explanations and amendments. The amended draft was again examined by Foreign and Legislative Departments. The Legislative Department made a few verbal alterations in Sections 3, 4, and 8 and they felt the alterations being verbal, the Regulation need hardly stickle about the form prescribed by the Statute 33, Victoria, Chapter 3 and does need not go back to the Government of Bengal. The Regulation was then approved by Governor General in Council and published by Notification No. 139R dated August 5, 1873. A copy of the Gazette Notification was sent to Bengal.

The Lt. Governor of Bengal objected to the alterations, though trifling, made to his recommendation as they may destroy the legality of the Regulation, since the Act gives power to the Govemmentof India simply to approve and pass, but not power to alter a Regulation proposed by the subordinate Government of Bengal. The logic of the Bengal Government was that the Regulation as passed differs to a small extent from, and was not the same, the one proposed by the Government of Bengal. The Legislative Department still felt correction of clerical and grammatical errors, of clumsiness of expression, of misprints, are not alterations which destroy the identity of a draft.

The Notification No 139R was, however, cancelled and the same was republished as Notification No. 189R, October 2, 1873. This is The Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873 (V of 1873) or very commonly known as Inner Line Permit System which became effective from November 1, 1873. Under the provisions of Section 2 of Bengal Frontier Regulations I/V of 1873, the Inner Lines were prescribed for District of Cachar on August 20, 1875 later modified on June 19, 1878, for District of Luckimpore on September 30, 1875, for District of Durrang on March 8, 1876, for District of Seebsaugor on June 21, 1876 later modified on February 24, 1882, and for Chittagong Hill Tracts on June 30, 1879.

Inner Line Permit & the Lushai Hills District

The extension of Inner Line Permit in Lushai Hills District (present day Mizoram) in 1930 makes an interesting reading. When Inner Line Permit was introduced in Cachar District in 1875, Lushai Hills was not an administered British district, but terra incognita inhabited by head-hunting savages (as per Govt of Assam letter No. Pol-1552/7312 A.P. dt 4th June 1930). Lands then had been leased out for tea in Cachar district near its boundary with the Lushai Hills, and it was necessary to prevent adventurous planters, traders, shikaris from making excursions across the boundary lines which might lead to political complications.

Later on when the Lushai Hills became an administered district under resident British officers and the Lushais rapidly became more civilised than any other hill tribes in the North East Frontier, the necessity for the old Cachar Inner Line diminished. In 1895 the then Chief Commissioner of Assam, Sir William Ward, passed orders in letter No. 399 Foreign-3593P dated July 22, 1895, to the Political Officer, North Lushai Hills, that the Inner Line Regulations should be allowed to fall into desuetude as far it affected the free egress and ingress of all natives of India from the districts of Cachar and Sylhet into the Lushai Hills. Orders were however passed at the same time that all Lushais should be required to take out passes before going to the plains or to the Manipur States.

The Lushai Hills district later became one of the most peaceful districts in Assam and so far from protecting the plainsmen against the Lushais it was found necessary to protect the Lushais against the immigration of undesirable foreigners. The foreigners were Bengali shopkeepers and Nepali graziers. The reasons for controlling of inflows of these foreigners were because of bazaar sites being small and not capable of extensions. The towns were also already over-populated and the problem of water supply, sanitation and fuel supply were becoming increasingly difficult.

The Government thought if Bengali shopkeepers were allowed to enter the Lushai Hills without control, they would probably indulge in illicit trades, such as arms and ammunition (much prized by the Lushais), drugs and possibly also procuration of women. The Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation of 1873 was never extended to the then Lushai Hills district till 1930, but since 1910 successive Superintendents have by executive orders endeavoured to control the ingress of foreigners into that district and have punished disobedience to these orders under Section 188 Indian Penal Code. These executive orders later became the subjects of questions and unfavourable comments in the Assam Legislative Council.

The Government of Assam, therefore, took up a case with the Government of India for the extension of the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation in Lushai Hills district citing the control over the ingress of foreigners by the Deputy Commissioner, Naga Hills under the authorities of Foreign Department letter No. F. 59X/29, dated 8th March 1929, and by the Political Officer, Sadiya Frontier Tract under Foreign Department Letter No 608X, dated 22nd July 1927.

The inner lines for the Lushai Hills was approved vide Foreign and Political Department letter No 209-X dated the July 25, 1930 and simultaneously abolished the inner line of Cachar. As of today we have only the states of Nagaland, Mizoram, and Arunachal Pradesh where the Inner Line System is in vogue.


* Lt. Col M Ranjit Singh (Retd) wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is Vice President, Manipur Horse Riding and Polo Association and can be reached at moirangthemranjitsingh(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was posted on October 10, 2016.


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