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Thursday, January 23, 2014

Juriprudence: Possession Held-In the absence of proof of better title, possession or prior peaceful settled possession is itself evidence of title-Settled possession or effective possession would protect a person without title even as against the true owner-High Court's order upheld. The plaintiff-respondent was in possession of a piece of land and was raising a construction over it which was objected to by the defendant- appellant claiming that the said land formed part of his property and was owned by him. The plaintiff-respondent filed a suit for declaration of his title, as also his possession, of the disputed land. The trial court found that although the respondent failed to prove his title, he had succeeded in proving his possession over the suit property. Accordingly, it issued an injunction restraining the appellant from interfering with the peaceful possession and enjoyment of the suit property by the respondent. The High Court upheld this order. Hence the appeal. On behalf of the appellant, it was contended that the suit ought not to have been decreed merely on the fact that the respondent was in possession of the suit property since he could not prove his title. =2003 (December - Vol -12) JUDIS.NIC.IN/ S.C. /25710

Dismissing the appeal, the Court HELD : 1. The person in peaceful possession is entitled to retain his possession and in order to protect such possession he may even use reasonable force to keep out a trespasser. A rightful owner who has been wrongful dispossessed of land may retake possession if he can do so peacefully and without the use of unreasonable force. If the trespasser is in settled possession of the property belonging to the rightful owner, the rightful owner shall have to take recourse to law; he cannot take the law in his own hands and evict the trespasser or interfere with his possession. The law will come to the aid of a person in peaceful and settled possession by injuncting even a rightful owner from using force or taking the law in his own hands, and also by restoring him in possession even from the rightful owner (of course subject to the law of limitation), if the latter has dispossessed the prior possession by use of force. In the absence of proof of better title, possession or prior peaceful settled possession is itself evidence of title. Law presumes the possession to go with title unless rebutted. The owner of any property may prevent even by using reasonable force a trespasser from an attempted trespass, when it is in the process of being committed, or is of a flimsy character, or recurring, intermittent, stray or casual in nature, or has just been committed, while the rightful owner did not have enough time to have recourse to law. In the last of the cases, the possession of the trespasser, just entered into would not be called as one acquiesced to by the true owner. [856-A-E] Midnapore Zamindary Co. Ltd. v. Kumar Naresh Narayan Roy, (1924) PC 144, Ramesh Chand Ardawatiya v. Anil Panjwani, [2003] 7 SCC 350,Lallu Yeshwant Singh v. Rao Jagdish Singh, [1968] 2 SCR 203, Nair Service Society Ltd. \. K.C. Alexander, [1968] 3 SCR 1, M.C. Chokalingam v. V. Manickavasagam, [1974] 1 SCC 48, Krishna Ram Mahale v. Mrs. Shobha Venkat Rao, [1989] 4 SCC 131 and Nagar Palika, Jind v. Jagat Singh, Advocate, [1995] 3 SCC 426, relied on. Yar Mohammad v. Lakshmi Das, AIR (1959) All. 1, approved. Salmond on Jurisprudence : 12th Edn., referred to. 2. It is the settled possession or effective possession of a person without title, which would entitle him to protect his possession even as against the true owner. [856-E-F] Munshi Ram v. Delhi Administration, [1968] 2 SCR 455, Puran Singh v. The State of Punjab, [1975] 4 SCC 518 and Ram Rattan v. State of U.P., [1977] 1 SCC 188, relied on. Horam v. Rex, AIR (1949) All. 564, approved. 3.1. In the present case the Court has found the plaintiff-respondent as having failed in proving his title. Nevertheless, he has been found to be in settled possession of the property. Even the defendant-appellant failed in proving his title over the disputed land so as to substantiate his entitlement to evict the plaintiff. The Trial Court, therefore, left the question of title open and proceeded to determine the suit on the basis of possession, protecting the established possession and restraining the attempted interference therewith. The Trial Court and the High Court have rightly decided the suit. [858-C-E] 3.2. It is not necessary for the person claiming injunction to prove his title to the suit land. It would suffice if he proves that he was in lawful possession of the same and that his possession was invaded or threatened to be invaded by a person who has no title thereof. [859-C-D] Fakirbhai Bhagwandas v. Maganlal Haribhai, AIR (1951) Bom. 380, approved. Sri Dasnam Naga Sanvasi v. Allahabad Development Authority, AIR All. 418 and Kallappa Rama Londa v.Shivappa Nagappa Aparaj, AIR (1995) Kar. 238, held not applicable. CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION : Civil Appeal No. 7662 of 1997.
2003 (December - Vol -12) JUDIS.NIC.IN/ S.C. /25710
CASE NO.:
Appeal (civil) 7662 of 1997
PETITIONER:
Rame Gowda (D) by Lrs.
RESPONDENT:
M. Varadappa Naidu (D) by Lrs. & Anr.
DATE OF JUDGMENT: 15/12/2003
BENCH:
R.C. Lahoti, B.N. Srikrishna & G.P. Mathur
JUDGMENT:
J U D G M E N T
R.C. Lahoti, J.
The defendant is in appeal feeling aggrieved by the judgment and
decree of the Trial Court, upheld by the High Court, restraining him from
interfering with the possession and enjoyment of the suit schedule property
by the respondent.
The plaintiff and the defendant both have expired. Their LRs are
on record. For the sake of convenience we are making reference to the
original parties i.e. the plaintiff and the defendant.
The suit property, a piece of land, is situated in Arekempanahally,
36th Division. It appears that the plaintiff and the defendant both claim to
be owning two adjoining pieces of land. There is a dispute as to the exact
dimensions and shapes (triangular or rectangular) of the pieces of land
claimed to be owned and possessed respectively by the two parties. The
real dispute, it seems, is about the demarcation of the boundaries of the two
pieces of land. However, the fact remains, and that is relevant for our
purpose, that the piece of land which forms the subject-matter of the suit is
in the possession of the plaintiff-respondent. The plaintiff-respondent was
raising construction over the piece of land in his possession, and that was
obstructed by the defendant-appellant claiming that the land formed part of
his property and was owned by him. The plaintiff filed a suit alleging his
title as also his possession over the disputed piece of land. The Trial Court
found that although the plaintiff had failed in proving his title, he had
succeeded in proving his possession over the suit property which he was
entitled to protect unless dispossessed therefrom by due process of law. On
this finding the Trial Court issued an injunction restraining the defendant-
appellant from interfering with the peaceful possession and enjoyment of
the plaintiff-respondent over the suit property.
It is contended by the learned counsel for the defendant-appellant
that the suit filed by the plaintiff was based on his title. The suit itself was
defective inasmuch as declaration of title was not sought for though it was
in dispute. Next, it is submitted that if the suit is based on title and if the
plaintiff failed in proving his title, the suit ought to have been dismissed
without regard to the fact that the plaintiff was in possession and whether
the defendant had succeeded in proving his title or not. We find no merit in
both these submissions so made and with force.
Salmond states in Jurisprudence (Twelfth Edition), "few
relationships are as vital to man as that of possession, and we may expect
any system of law, however primitive, to provide rules for its protection. . .
. . . . Law must provide for the safeguarding of possession. Human nature
being what it is, men are tempted to prefer their own selfish and immediate
interests to the wide and long-term interests of society in general. But since
an attack on a man's possession is an attack on something which may be
essential to him, it becomes almost tantamount to an assault on the man
himself; and the possessor may well be stirred to defend himself with force.
The result is violence, chaos and disorder." (at pp. 265, 266).
"In English Law possession is a good title of right against anyone
who cannot show a better. A wrongful possessor has the rights of an owner
with respect to all persons except earlier possessors and except the true
owner himself. Many other legal systems, however, go much further than
this, and treat possession as a provisional or temporary title even against the
true owner himself. Even a wrongdoer, who is deprived of his possession,
can recover it from any person whatever, simply on the ground of his
possession. Even the true owner, who takes his own, may be forced in this
way to restore it to the wrongdoer, and will not be permitted to set up his
own superior title to it. He must first give up possession, and then proceed
in due course of law for the recovery of the thing on the ground of his
ownership. The intention of the law is that every possessor shall be entitled
to retain and recover his possession, until deprived of it by a judgment
according to law." (Salmond, ibid, pp. 294-295)
"Legal remedies thus appointed for the protection of possession
even against ownership are called possessory, while those available for the
protection of ownership itself may be distinguished as proprietary. In the
modern and medieval civil law the distinction is expressed by the
contrasted terms petitorium (a proprietary suit) and possessorium (a
possessory suit)." (Salmond, ibid, p.295)
The law in India, as it has developed, accords with the
jurisprudential thought as propounded by Salmond. In Midnapur
Zamindary Co. Ltd. Vs. Kumar Naresh Narayan Roy and Ors. 1924 PC
144, Sir John Edge summed up the Indian law by stating that in India
persons are not permitted to take forcible possession; they must obtain such
possession as they are entitled to through a Court.
The thought has prevailed incessantly, till date, the last and latest
one in the chain of decisions being Ramesh Chand Ardawatiya Vs. Anil
Panjwani (2003) 7 SCC 350. In-between, to quote a few out of severals,
in Lallu Yeshwant Singh (dead) by his legal representative Vs. Rao
Jagdish Singh and others (1968) 2 SCR 203, this Court has held that a
landlord did commit trespass when he forcibly entered his own land in the
possession of a tenant whose tenancy has expired. The Court turned down
the submission that under the general law applicable to a lessor and a
lessee there was no rule or principle which made it obligatory for the lessor
to resort to Court and obtain an order for possession before he could eject
the lessee. The court quoted with approval the law as stated by a Full
Bench of Allahabad High Court in Yar Mohammad Vs. Lakshmi Das (AIR
1959 All. 1,4), "Law respects possession even if there is no title to support
it. It will not permit any person to take the law in his own hands and to
dispossess a person in actual possession without having recourse to a court.
No person can be allowed to become a judge in his own cause." In the oft-
quoted case of Nair Service Society Ltd. Vs. K.C. Alexander and Ors.
(1968) 3 SCR 163, this Court held that a person in possession of land in
assumed character of owner and exercising peaceably the ordinary rights of
ownership has a perfectly good title against all the world but the rightful
owner. When the facts disclose no title in either party, possession alone
decides. The court quoted Loft's maxim 'Possessio contra omnes valet
praeter eur cui ius sit possessionis (He that hath possession hath right
against all but him that hath the very right)' and said, "A defendant in such
a case must show in himself or his predecessor a valid legal title, or
probably a possession prior to the plaintiff's and thus be able to raise a
presumption prior in time". In M.C. Chockalingam and Ors. Vs. V.
Manickavasagam and Ors. (1974) 1 SCC 48, this Court held that the law
forbids forcible dispossession, even with the best of title. In Krishna Ram
Mahale (dead) by his Lrs. Vs. Mrs. Shobha Venkat Rao (1989) 4 SCC
131, it was held that where a person is in settled possession of property,
even on the assumption that he had no right to remain on the property, he
cannot be dispossessed by the owner of the property except by recourse to
law. In Nagar Palika, Jind Vs. Jagat Singh, Advocate (1995) 3 SCC
426, this Court held that disputed questions of title are to be decided by due
process of law, but the peaceful possession is to be protected from the
trespasser without regard to the question of the origin of the possession.
When the defendant fails in proving his title to the suit land the plaintiff can
succeed in securing a decree for possession on the basis of his prior
possession against the defendant who has dispossessed him. Such a suit
will be founded on the averment of previous possession of the plaintiff and
dispossession by the defendant.
It is thus clear that so far as the Indian law is concerned the person in
peaceful possession is entitled to retain his possession and in order to
protect such possession he may even use reasonable force to keep out a
trespasser. A rightful owner who has been wrongfully dispossessed of land
may retake possession if he can do so peacefully and without the use of
unreasonable force. If the trespasser is in settled possession of the property
belonging to the rightful owner, the rightful owner shall have to take
recourse to law; he cannot take the law in his own hands and evict the
trespasser or interfere with his possession. The law will come to the aid of
a person in peaceful and settled possession by injuncting even a rightful
owner from using force or taking law in his own hands, and also by
restoring him in possession even from the rightful owner (of course subject
to the law of limitation), if the latter has dispossessed the prior possessor by
use of force. In the absence of proof of better title, possession or prior
peaceful settled possession is itself evidence of title. Law presumes the
possession to go with the title unless rebutted. The owner of any property
may prevent even by using reasonable force a trespasser from an attempted
trespass, when it is in the process of being committed, or is of a flimsy
character, or recurring, intermittent, stray or casual in nature, or has just
been committed, while the rightful owner did not have enough time to have
recourse to law. In the last of he cases, the possession of the trespasser, just
entered into would not be called as one acquiesced to by the true owner.
It is the settled possession or effective possession of a person
without title which would entitle him to protect his possession even as
against the true owner. The concept of settled possession and the right of
the possessor to protect his possession against the owner has come to be
settled by a catena of decisions. Illustratively, we may refer to Munshi
Ram and Ors. Vs. Delhi Administration (1968) 2 SCR 455, Puran
Singh and Ors. Vs. The State of Punjab (1975) 4 SCC 518 and Ram
Rattan and Ors. Vs. State of Uttar Pradesh (1977) 1 SCC 188. The
authorities need not be multiplied. In Munshi Ram & Ors.'s case (supra),
it was held that no one, including the true owner, has a right to dispossess
the trespasser by force if the trespasser is in settled possession of the land
and in such a case unless he is evicted in the due course of law, he is
entitled to defend his possession even against the rightful owner. But
merely stray or even intermittent acts of trespass do not give such a right
against the true owner. The possession which a trespasser is entitled to
defend against the rightful owner must be settled possession, extending
over a sufficiently long period of time and acquiesced to by the true owner.
A casual act of possession would not have the effect of interrupting the
possession of the rightful owner. The rightful owner may re-enter and re-
instate himself provided he does not use more force than is necessary.
Such entry will be viewed only as resistance to an intrusion upon his
possession which has never been lost. A stray act of trespass, or a
possession which has not matured into settled possession, can be obstructed
or removed by the true owner even by using necessary force. In Puran
Singh and Ors.'s case (supra), the Court clarified that it is difficult to lay
down any hard and fast rule as to when the possession of a trespasser can
mature into settled possession. The 'settled possession' must be (i)
effective, (ii) undisturbed, and (iii) to the knowledge of the owner or
without any attempt at concealment by the trespasser. The phrase 'settled
possession' does not carry any special charm or magic in it; nor is it a
ritualistic formula which can be confined in a strait-jacket. An occupation
of the property by a person as an agent or a servant acting at the instance of
the owner will not amount to actual physical possession. The court laid
down the following tests which may be adopted as a working rule for
determining the attributes of 'settled possession' :
i) that the trespasser must be in actual physical possession of the
property over a sufficiently long period;
ii) that the possession must be to the knowledge (either express or
implied) of the owner or without any attempt at concealment by the
trespasser and which contains an element of animus possidendi. The
nature of possession of the trespasser would, however, be a matter to
be decided on the facts and circumstances of each case;
iii) the process of dispossession of the true owner by the trespasser must
be complete and final and must be acquiesced to by the true owner;
and
iv) that one of the usual tests to determine the quality of settled
possession, in the case of culturable land, would be whether or not
the trespasser, after having taken possession, had grown any crop. If
the crop had been grown by the trespasser, then even the true owner
has no right to destroy the crop grown by the trespasser and take
forcible possession.
In the cases of Munshi Ram and Ors.(supra) and Puran Singh and
Ors. (supra), the Court has approved the statement of law made in Horam
Vs. Rex AIR 1949 Allahabad 564, wherein a distinction was drawn
between the trespasser in the process of acquiring possession and the
trespasser who had already accomplished or completed his possession
wherein the true owner may be treated to have acquiesced in; while the
former can be obstructed and turned out by the true owner even by using
reasonable force, the latter, may be dispossessed by the true owner only by
having recourse to the due process of law for re-acquiring possession over
his property.
In the present case the Court has found the plaintiff as having failed
in proving his title. Nevertheless, he has been found to be in settled
possession of the property. Even the defendant failed in proving his title
over the disputed land so as to substantiate his entitlement to evict the
plaintiff. The Trial Court therefore left the question of title open and
proceeded to determine the suit on the basis of possession, protecting the
established possession and restraining the attempted interference therewith.
The Trial Court and the High Court have rightly decided the suit. It is still
open to the defendant-appellant to file a suit based on his title against the
plaintiff-respondent and evict the latter on the former establishing his better
right to possess the property.
The learned counsel for the appellant relied on the Division Bench
decision in Sri Dasnam Naga Sanyasi and Anr. Vs. Allahabad
Development Authority, Allahabad and Anr. AIR 1995 Allahabad 418
and a Single Judge decision in Kallappa Rama Londa Vs. Shivappa
Nagappa Aparaj and Ors. AIR 1995 Karnataka 238 to submit that in the
absence of declaration of title having been sought for, the suit filed by the
plaintiff-respondent was not maintainable, and should have been dismissed
solely on this ground. We cannot agree. Sri Dasnam Naga Sanyasi and
Anr.'s case relates to the stage of grant of temporary injunction wherein, in
the facts and circumstances of that case, the Division Bench of the High
Court upheld the decision of the court below declining the discretionary
relief of ad-interim injunction to the plaintiff on the ground that failure to
claim declaration of title in the facts of that case spoke against the conduct
of the plaintiff and was considered to be 'unusual'. In Kallappa Rama
Londa's case, the learned Single Judge has upheld the maintainability of a
suit merely seeking injunction, without declaration of title, and on dealing
with several decided cases the learned Judge has agreed with the
proposition that where the suit for declaration of title and injunction is filed
and the title is not clear, the question of title will have to be kept open
without denying the plaintiff's claim for injunction in view of the fact that
the plaintiff has been in possession and there is nothing to show that the
plaintiff has gained possession by any unfair means just prior to the suit.
That is the correct position of law. In Fakirbhai Bhagwandas and Anr.
Vs. Maganlal Haribhai and Anr. AIR 1951 Bombay 380 a Division
Bench spoke through Bhagwati, J. (as his Lordship then was), and held that
it is not necessary for the person claiming injunction to prove his title to the
suit land. It would suffice if he proves that he was in lawful possession of
the same and that his possession was invaded or threatened to be invaded
by a person who has no title thereof. We respectfully agree with the view
so taken. The High Court has kept the question of title open. Each of the
two contending parties would be at liberty to plead all relevant facts
directed towards establishing their titles, as respectively claimed, and
proving the same in duly constituted legal proceedings. By way of
abundant caution, we clarify that the impugned judgment shall not be taken
to have decided the question of title to the suit property for or against any
of the contending parties.
No fault can be found with the judgment and decree appealed
against. The appeal is devoid of any merit and is dismissed.


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