DATE OF DECISION:
JUSTICE R.V. RAVEENDRAN AND JUSTICE P. SATHASIVAM
PARTIES TO THE CASE:
PETITONER/APPELANT: ANATHULA SUDHAKAR
RESPONDENT: P. BUCHI REDDY (DEAD) BY LRs AND Ors.
This case was initiated in the Trial Court and went in appeal till the Supreme Court. The original plaintiffs, P. Chandra Reddy and P. Buchi
Reddy (both dead) each purchased a piece of land. It was alleged by the plaintiffs that in 1978, when they started digging the land for construction work; the defendant (appellant in the present case), interfered and obstructed the work. During the proceedings in the Trial Court, both parties contended to have the title over the land and produced necessary documents for the same. It was held that if two persons claim to be in possession of a vacant property, the one who is able to establish his title shall be considered to be in possession of the land.
i. Who can claim possession to a vacant land when the title is not clear?
ii. What was the ambit of prohibitory injunction in reference of immovable property?
iii. Whether the High Court had exceeded its jurisdiction by deciding on a matter not related to the issues raised before it?
SECTION 41 OF THE TRANSFER OF PROPERTY ACT, 1882: This provision relates to a transfer done by an ostensible owner. It means that if a person, who is evident to be the owner of a property, makes a transfer of the property, after the consent of all the other stakeholders of the property, the transfer shall not be voidable merely on the ground that such ostensible owner was not competent to transfer the property. Here, the recipient would have to make sure that the ostensible owner has the authority to transfer the property and has to act in good faith.
SECTION 100 OF THE CODE OF CIVIL PROCEDURE, 1908: This provision deals with the situation of second appeal, i.e, when the appeal reaches a High Court from a lower Court. Under this Section, the High Court has been given the power to hear appeals, which it feels, contain substantive questions of law. The substantive questions have to be laid out in the memorandum of appeal and if the High Court feels them to be correct, it formulates them and hears them. But if the High Court feels that there are certain important substantive questions which have not been framed, it may hear on those questions also.
a) The Supreme Court went through the general principles related to filing of prohibitory injunction and that when a simple injunction is sufficient and when a suit of declaration needs to be added to it. It also went through various cases on the point and summarised the situation as follows:
b) If title is in trouble, meaning that there are serious questions over the title, with no possession, then consequential injunction is required. If title is not in trouble but possession is not there, then an injunction along with a declaration order needs to be made. If the case is merely of a disturbance with possession, with both title and possession adequately established, a simple injunction is sufficient.
c) In a suit for simple injunction, only issue of possession will be discussed and not that of title. But in such suits where the possession would be established only on the basis of title (possession follows title), title would have to be discussed.
d) The Court cannot record its findings related to the title unless there is a specific issue for the same. If there is a specific prayer as to determine the issue of title, the findings as to the title can be recorded. It means that there has to be a specific suit for declaration to record findings related to title, and such findings cannot be recorded in a suit for simple injunction.
e) As an exception to the above rule, the Court may decide the issue of title even in a suit for simple injunction, if there are necessary issues and pleadings related to the title and the matter is simple and straight-forward.
f) Applying these rules in the present case, the Court held that since the circumstances raised some very important questions on the title of the respondents and that their possession was based solely on their title, they should have filed a declaratory suit, and in its absence, there possession could not be established. Consequently, the Court gave the verdict in favour of the appellant (original defendant) as he was able to establish his title on the property, and therefore, his possession. The Court allowed the opposite party to appeal against the decision after making necessary changes in their plea.
g) The Court went through the proceedings as they took place in the High Court and observed that the Court had re-examined questions of fact which were already established and also discussed some other questions which were not related to the issues raised. The Court, on the basis of these observations, held that the High Court had exceeded its jurisdiction as mandated under Section 100 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908.
The Court made proper use of the principle ‘possession follows title’, and its judgement is inherently based on the explanation of the principle that if title not adequately established, then possession would remain under suspicion. But while the judgement may be legally sound, it didn’t stand to give actual justice in the sense that just because the plaintiffs had not brought a suit for declaration, they were dispossessed of the property bought by them. While the Court that acknowledged the litigation going on for almost 30 years, even then it gave an unfavourable verdict with reference to the respondents. When the High Court framed its substantive questions of law, it crossed the threshold of its specified jurisdiction. But such an action was actually necessary to get a clear picture of the entire situation. So, even though it would have been an unprecedented move, but the Supreme Court should have considered the findings of the High Court and not dismiss them merely on the grounds that the jurisdiction was exceeded. In conclusion, it can be said that while it is essential to uphold the law, it should be understood that following the laws doesn’t always guarantee justice. A more considerate approach on the part of the Supreme Court should have been taken.
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