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Adverse Possession Of Jointly Held Property Under Section 186 Of Delhi Land Reforms Act, 1954: Supreme Court In Vidya Devi @ Vidya Vati (Dead) Vs Prem Prakash & Ors

Arundhathi ,
  19 September 2022       Share Bookmark

Court :
Supreme Court of India
Brief :

Citation :
1995 AIR 1789, 1995 SCC (4) 496, JT 1995 (4) 607, 1995 SCALE (3)580

Case Title:
Vidya Devi @ Vidya Vati (Dead) vs Prem Prakash & Ors

Date of Order:
May 5, 1995

Bench:
Hon'ble Justice Venkatachala
Hon'ble Justice Kuldip Singh
Hon'ble Justice Ahmad Saghir S

Parties:
Petitioners- Vidya Devi @ Vidya Vati (Dead)
Respondents- Prem Prakash &Ors

SUBJECT

The petitioners filed a partition suit against two other co-owners of a holding, demanding partition and separate possession over her share. Defendant no.3 contended before the Revenue Court by raising a plea of adverse possession, claiming that he had exclusive right over the property against the other co-owners and hence demanded title over the whole of the said holding. After his plea was dismissed by the Revenue Administrator and Finance Commissioner, he approached a Single Judge bench of the Delhi High Court, only to be rejected again on terms that his intention was merely to oust the Revenue Administrator’s jurisdiction, which was valid grounds for rejecting a plea for adverse possession. He challenged this through a writ petition before a Division Bench of the High Court, which pronounced a judgement in his favour. The aggrieved petitioners have approached the Court against this judgement of the Division Bench.

IMPORTANT PROVISIONS

  • Section 186 of Delhi Land Reforms Act- This Section dealt with the procedure to be followed when a question of title is raised in a partition suit over a jointly held property. This question was to be decided upon by a competent civil court. The explanation under this says that if it is found that such a plea is raised only with the intention of ousting the jurisdiction of the Revenue Court from the case, it cannot be held to be a plea questioning the title of a property.

OVERVIEW

  • On the death of Raghunath, his sons Dev Raj and Prem Prakash alongwith Vidya Devi alias Vidyavati, who was the widowed wife of his deceased first son, came to be legal heirs of his holdings.The name of Raghunath in the revenue records was changed to their names.According to the Delhi Land Reforms Act, 1954, a declaration was made on February 1, 1958, stating that they were the three co-bhumidars of the said holding and all three were entitled to one-third of the share.
  • On October 9, 1973, Vidya Devi filed a suit before the Revenue Assistant, for partition and consequent separate possession of her one-third share.Defendant no.2 in this suit, Dev Raj, did not have any objection to this and also demanded the same for his share of the holding too. However, defendant no.3 Prem Prakash, who is also the respondent in this case, contested this partition suit, claiming that he was in exclusive possession of the holding from 1954 and that he had entitlement to the whole of the holding against the other bhumidars by means of adverse possession. Hence, he pleaded in his statement that according to Section 186 of the Delhi Land Reforms Act, a question of title was raised and procedures for the same should be initiated.
  • The Revenue Assistant found that there was no question of title involved in this case and it need not be referred to the civil court. This was questioned by defendant no.1 before the Financial Commissioner, who also upheld the view of the Revenue Assistant. The reason stated for this was that this contention was to be considered untenable as it was raised solely with the intention to out the Revenue Assistant from this matter.
  • Prem Prakash filed a writ petition before the Delhi High Court questioning the correctness of these orders issued by the Revenue Assistant and Financial Commissioner which was rejected by the Single Judge bench. He filed an appeal against this order before the Division Bench of the High Court which found that according to Section 67 (d) of the Act if a bhumidar has been barred from possession of a share in a holding by means of limitation, a co-bhumidar who had exclusive possession for over twelve years, can claim exclusive title for it by adverse possession.Thus it was held that the partition suit filed by Vidya Devi had a question of title in it. All previous orders were quashed and the partition suit was to be referred to the civil court for hearing.
  • Thus Vidya Devi filed this civil petition by obtaining special leave against the judgement of the Division Bench. As she had passed away during the pendency of this appeal, her two daughters are brought on record.

ISSUESRAISED

  • Whether this case involves any question of title which requires reference to the civil court under section 186 of the DL Act.

JUDGEMENT ANALYSIS

  • The Court found that the Division Bench’s view that the partition suit contained a question of title and thus it need to be referred to the civil court cannot be held.
  • Sub-section 2 of Section 3 of the Act which dealt with rights and liabilities of bhumidars, was cited by the Court to prove that Vidya Devi and Dev Raj had rights to their respective shares over the holding as they had entered into a declaration under the same Act. Sub Section 1 of Section 55 was cited to state that every co-bhumidar had the right sue for partition and for separate possession of their share.
  • The schedule given under sub-section 10 of Section 185 of the Act proves that there was no limitation period beyond which a partition suit cannot be filed by a rightful bhumidar.
  • Nothing stops a co-bhumidarfrom contending the same with a plea of acquisition exclusive right owing to adverse possession. However, if such plea is clearly untenable and is seen to be raised with the sole objective of ousting the Revenue Assistant from the case, it cannot be considered to be having any merit.
  • Since there exists no limitation period beyond which a bhumidar cannot file a partition suit against other co-bhumidars, the question of another bhumidar acquiring exclusive title after 12 years of adverse possession does not rise. Thus, the Court upheld the view of the Single Judge bench who found the defendant’s plea had no legal merit.
  • The Court allowed this appeal and set aside the judgement of the Division Bench. It was also directed that the respondent pay an amount of Rs. 20,000 to the appellant’s legal representatives.
  • In furtherance to this judgement proposed by Hon’ble Justice Venkatachalam, Hon’ble Justice Saghir Ahmed stated that, he agrees with the decision allowing the appeal, but has certain disagreements to the grounds mentioned.
  • He could not subscribe to the reason stated as to why the plea for adverse possession under Section 186 does not stand, which was that there was no limitation period mentioned in the Act within which a partition suit can be filed. He viewed that partition was an incident attached to any such property and a reason for partition is always running. This was the reason why the legislature did not mention any limitation period as to filing a suit of partition on jointly held properties.
  • As the decision to file a suit of partition was solely the will of the co-bhumidar, the legislature could not have specified any starting or ending date within which such a suit is to be filed. However, this cannot be stated as reason as to why a defendant who raises plea of adverse possession against a plaintiff who sued for partition of property cannot do so.
  • In a jointly held property, the co-sharers are representatives of each other. Therefore, it is not easy to raise a plea of possession by one of them against the others. However if one of them has been claiming title over the property openly, and to the knowledge of others, and his possession has been uninterrupted for the whole period prescribed, he can acquire thetitle legitimately by raising such plea.
  • Justice Saghir Ahmed explained the term “adverse possession”, which means he said, hostile possession of property which is openly expressed in denial of the title of the true owner of the property, or share of property. In the most fundamental terms of law, possession cannot be considered adverse if it is found already lawful. If the possession of one co-owner should be considered adverse, there needs to be something ouster or equivalent to it, that is, there has been exclusive ownership of the property by the party pleading this for a long time, which is uninterrupted and is been known by other co-owners.
  • Thus, the stated reason in this judgement that since there is no limitation period mentioned in the Act, the respondent cannot raise the plea of adverse possession, was wrong.The plea raised by the respondent does not stand because it does not constitute the necessary ingredients needed to claim adverse possession. Justice Saghir Ahmed concluded by stating that the order of the Division Bench deserves to be set aside as proposed by Justice Venkatachalam, however for different reasons than those that were stated.

CONCLUSION

In this judgement the Supreme Court held that a co-owner can claim adverse possession provided that he can substantiate the expulsion of all other co-owners from the property, has been exercising exclusive right over the property for an uninterrupted period of time and that all elements required for adverse possession are fulfilled. In this case, the respondent was found to be raising this plea merely with the intention of ousting the Revenue Court’s jurisdiction. Thus it was found to be of no merit. The appeal was allowed and the Division Bench order was set aside.

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