January 30, 2024

The law of adverse possession is a legal doctrine that has been a subject of significant debate and controversy in India. It is a principle that allows a person to claim ownership of land or property if they have openly, continuously, and exclusively possessed it for a certain period of time, without the permission of the original owner. This article aims to provide a comprehensive analysis of the adverse possession in Indian law, including its meaning, purpose, important provisions, important case laws, and the Law Commission’s review of the law.

Meaning of Adverse Possession

Adverse possession is a legal concept that allows an individual to acquire title to land or property by occupying it for a specified period of time, without the permission of the legal owner. The possession must be actual, open, exclusive, hostile, and continuous for the statutory period. In India, the statutory period for adverse possession is 12 years.

Purpose of law of Adverse Possession

The primary purpose of adverse possession is to ensure that land or property does not remain in a state of legal limbo indefinitely. It provides a mechanism for resolving disputes over land ownership and encourages productive use of land by providing an incentive for individuals to maintain and improve neglected or abandoned properties.

Additionally, adverse possession serves as a safeguard against dormant or absentee ownership, as it requires legal owners to assert their rights within a reasonable time frame.

Important Provisions related to the law of adverse possession

The law of adverse possession in India is primarily governed by the Limitation Act, 1963. Section 27 of the Limitation Act prescribes the statutory period for acquiring title by adverse possession as 12 years. The section states that when the right to property is barred by limitation, the property will become vested in the person in whom the right would have continued if the right had not been barred. This provision forms the legal basis for adverse possession claims in India.

Important case laws on adverse possession

Several landmark judgments by Indian courts have shaped the application and interpretation of the law of adverse possession in the country.

  1. One such significant case is Karnataka Board of Waqf v. Government of India,(2004) in which the Supreme Court held that adverse possession must be adequate in continuity, in publicity, and in extent to show that their possession is adverse to the true owner. The court emphasized that mere possession of land does not automatically confer title; it must be hostile and exclusive.
  2. In the case of State of Rajasthan v. Harphool Singh, (2000), the Supreme Court observed that when the land subject of proceedings wherein adverse possession has been claimed belongs to the Government, the Court is duty-bound to act with greater seriousness, effectiveness, care and circumspection.
  3.  Another notable case is Ravinder Kaur Grewal vs. Manjit Kaur (2019), where the

Supreme Court made the following observations with respect to the law of possession. The Bench of Arun Mishra, S. Abdul Nazeer and M.R. Shah, JJ. Pointed out that-

 “historical development of adverse possession requires that adverse possessor had to establish “the essential requirements of adverse possession, namely,

  • nec vi i.e. adequate in continuity,
  • nec clam i.e. adequate in publicity and
  • nec precario i.e. adverse to a competitor, in denial of title and his knowledge shall co-exist at the same time.

Visible, notorious and peaceful so that if the owner does not take care to know notorious facts, knowledge is attributed to him on the basis that but for due diligence he would have known it…”

Can Tenants claim adverse possession in India?

Tenants can’t claim adverse possession as they don’t fulfill the conditions required to prove the adverse possession.

  • Firstly, they don’t hold the title as adverse to the true owner, they held it only with the consent of true owner.
  • Secondly, the title is not hostile.
  • Even non- payment of rent by a tenant would not entitle him to claim adverse possession because of the non-fulfilment of the conditions of Section 27.

How to claim adverse possession in India?

The documents required to prove the adverse possession are the same as those which will enable the adverse possessor to claim his possession for the period of 12 years with the required conditions of Section 27 of the Limitation Act i.e., it must be actual, visible, hostile, exclusive and continued.

Law Commission Review on Adverse Possession

In 2008, the Supreme Court observed that law of adverse possession ousts an owner on the basis of inaction within limitation and is irrational, illogical and wholly disproportionate. A reference was made to law commission to consider the matter.

The Law Commission of India has acknowledged the need for a comprehensive review of the law of adverse possession the Law Commission recommended certain amendments to Section 27 of the Limitation Act to address ambiguities and inconsistencies in the application of adverse possession. The commission proposed changes to clarify and streamline the legal requirements for establishing adverse possession claims, particularly with regard to the elements of hostility and exclusivity.

Adverse possession is a law in India that deals with disputes over land and property ownership. It allows someone who has been using a piece of land or property for a long time without the owner’s permission to claim ownership of it. This law is meant to sort out neglected properties, but it also raises questions about fairness and protecting the rights of the real owners. As courts in India continue to interpret and apply this law, it’s important to make sure that it’s fair for everyone involved. The government is also looking into this law to make sure it’s clear and balanced for everyone.

The interpretation of the courts have also been reflected towards balancing the rights of true owner with that of adverse possessor.

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