Bona Vacantia – Legal Maxim

Literal Meaning

 Goods without an owner.


Bona vacantia is used to describe a situation where a certain amount of goods are unclaimed over a period of time. No ownership is claimed over those goods or property. When such a situation arises then the goods or the property goes to the government and the government serves as the custodian of those goods or property. The government has to take such goods and act as their owners for perpetuity. The cases of such ownership arises when the goods or the property are being abandoned when the person dies without any living heirs. Such situation can also arise when a business or unincorporated association is dissolved the assets thereof are not distributed appropriately. Other process how such situation arises are when a trust in the path of failing or when the property owner in nowhere to be found and does not any information about its whereabouts. In other words it is a property without any claim. Bona vacantia is used for those goods an d property which does not have any ownership. Ownership and property are two interrelated concepts. There cannot be any ownership without any property and also there can be any property without ownership. However Bona vacantia are those goods and property which loses its ownership over a periood of time ad remains the same for long time.


The concept of bona vacantia has its origins from the common law. The maxim Bona vacantia is used for the situation in which property is left without any clear owner. The owner of the goods is not known. The goods are being treated in different manner in such a kind of situation. It is seen that in most cases the goods are stated to be the property of the crown i.e the government. The rightful owner if found then the goods are returned to them


If the owner of large estate dies without living any heirs then that estate becomes Bona vacantia.

Case Reference

In the case of Sita Ram Jaiswal and others v State of U.P. and others[1] it was observed by the court that  that the right of the King to take property by escheat or as bona vacantia was recognized by common law of England. Escheat property was the lord’s right of re-entry on real property held by a tenant dying intestate without lawful heirs. It was an incident, of feudal tenure and based on the want of a tenant to perform the feudal services. On the tenant dying intestate without leaving any lawful heirs, his estate came to an end and the lord was in by his own right and not by way of succession or inheritance from the tenant to re-enter the real property as owner. In most of the cases the land escheated to the Crown as the lord paramount, in view of the gradual elimination of intermediate or mesne lords since 1290 AD. The Crown takes as bona vacantia goods in which no one else can claim property. “it is the right of the Crown to bona vacantia to property which has no other owner.” The right of the Crown to take as bona vacantia extends to personal property of every kind. Giving a notice at this stage that the escheat of real property of an intestate dying without heirs was abolished in 1925 and the Crown cannot take its property as bona vacantia. 

The Supreme Court in the case of Narendra Bahadur Tandon v Shankerlal[2] observed that if the company had a subsisting interest in the lease on the date of dissolution such interest must necessarily vest in the Government by escheat or as bona vacantia. In India the law is well settled that the property of an intestate dying without leaving lawful heirs and the property of a dissolved Corporation passes to the Government by escheat or as bona vacantia. 

In the case of State of Gujarat and Another v Shri Ambica Mills Limited Ahmedabad and Another[3] it was observed it is only if no claim is made for a period of 4 years from the date of the publication of the first notice, or, if a claim is made but rejected wholly or in part, that the State appropriates the unpaid accumulations as bona vacantia. It is not as if unpaid accumulations becomebona vacantia on the expiration of three years. They are, no doubt, deemed to be abandoned property under section 6(A)1, but they are not appropriated as bona vacantia until after claims are invited in pursuance to public notice and disposed of. At common law, abandoned personal property could not be the subject of ascheat. It could only be appropriated by the sovereign as bona vacantia The Sovereign has a prerogative right to appropriate bona vacantia. And abandoned property can be appropriated by the Sovereign as bona vacantia.

Edited by Vigneshwar Ramasubramania

Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje


[1] Sita Ram Jaiswal and others v. State of U.P. and others, 2016 (118) ALR 146

[2] Narendra Bahadur Tandon v Shankerlal, AIR 1980 SC 575

[3] State of Gujarat and Another v Shri Ambica Mills Limited Ahmedabad and Another, (1974) 4 SCC 656; AIR 1974 SC 1300


I am Kousini Gupta, final year BBA.LLB. student from Symbiosis Law School, Hyderabad. The topics in Constitutional, Intellectual Property, Entertainment and Media Law excite me in particular and bring out the best in me. I have interned at District Court, High Court and several reputed law firms. The experience of these internships was highly valuable and enriching. My research and publications have been accepted in reputed national journals. Besides, I also enjoy mooting and have several participation certificates to my credit. In my free time, I like to be creative with paintings and dance to my favourite tunes.