Adverse land law: SC slams government

Supreme Court on Friday asked Parliament to revisit the doctrine of "adverse possession".

New Delhi: Coming down heavily on Haryana
police for attempting to grab a private land, the Supreme
Court on Friday asked Parliament to revisit the doctrine of
"adverse possession" under which a tresspasser becomes the
owner of a land after 12 years.

"If the police department of the state with all its might
is bent upon taking possession of any land or building in a
clandestine manner, then perhaps no one would be able to
effectively prevent them.
"It is our bounden duty and obligation to ascertain the
intention of Parliament while interpreting the law. Law and
justice, more often than not, happily coincide only rarely we
find serious conflict. The archaic law of adverse possession
is one such. A serious re-look is absolutely imperative in the
larger interest of the people," the apex court said.

A bench of justices Dalveer Bhandari and Deepak Verma
passed the judgement while imposing a cost of Rs 50,000 on
Haryana government for illegally grabbing a private land in
the revenue estate of Hidayatpur Chhavni, Haryana.

"How 12 years of illegality can suddenly be converted
to legal title is, logically and morally speaking, baffling.
This outmoded law essentially asks the judiciary to place its
stamp of approval upon a conduct that the ordinary Indian
citizen would find reprehensible.

"If the protectors of law become the grabbers of the
property (land and building), then people will be left with
no protection and there would be a total anarchy in the
entire country.

"It is indeed a very disturbing and dangerous trend. In
our considered view, it must be arrested without further loss
of time in larger public interest. No government department,
Public Undertaking, and much less the police department should
be permitted to perfect the title of the land or building by
invoking the provisions of adverse possession and grab the
property of its own citizens in the manner that has been done
in this case", Justice Bhandari, writing the judgement, said.

The apex court said that in a democracy, governed by rule
of law, the task of protecting life and property of the
citizens is entrusted to the police department whereas in the
instant case, the suit for possession of the land under the
doctrine of adverse theory was filed by the District
Superintendent of Police, Gurgaon.
"It is unfortunate that the Superintendent of Police, a
senior official of the Indian Police Service, made repeated
attempts to grab the property of the true owner by filing
repeated appeals before different forums claiming the right of
ownership by way of adverse possession.

"The citizens may lose faith in the entire police
administration of the country that those responsible for the
safety and security of their life and property are on a spree
of grabbing the properties from the true owners in a
clandestine manner," Justice Bhandari said.

Three courts, including the Punjab and Haryana High
Court, had taken the concurrent view that the government had
possession or title to the private land and imposed penalty
for dragging a private party unnecessarily to the court.

Not satisfied, the state moved the apex court by way of
an appeal.

"Unfortunately, the state of Haryana is still not
satisfied with the three strong judgments by three different
forums given against the state and is still quite anxious and
keen to grab the property of the defendants in a clandestine
manner on the plea of adverse possession," the bench said.
The apex court said the right to property is now
considered to be not only constitutional or statutory right
but also a human right.

"We inherited this law of adverse possession from the
British. Parliament may consider abolishing the law of adverse
possession or at least amending and making substantial changes
in law in larger public interest.

"The government instrumentalities including the police
-in the instant case have attempted to possess land
adversely. This, in our opinion, is a testament to the
absurdity of the law and a black mark upon the justice
system’s legitimacy. The government should protect the
property of a citizen and not steal it. And yet, as the law
currently stands, they may do just that", the apex court said.

The apex court said Parliament may either fix a set range
of rates or to leave it to the judiciary with the option of
choosing from within a set range of rates so as to tailor the
compensation to the equities of a given case.

"Parliament must seriously consider at least to abolish
`bad faith` adverse possession, i.e., adverse possession
achieved through intentional trespassing. Actually, believing
it to be their own could receive title through adverse
possession sends a wrong signal to the society at large.
"Such a change would ensure that only those who had
established attachments to the land through honest means would
be entitled to legal relief," Justice Bhandari said.

The bench said Parliament may at least considering
compensating title owners according to the prevalent market
rate of the land or property in question.

"In our considered view, there is an urgent need for a
fresh look of the entire law on adverse possession. We
recommend the Union of India to immediately consider and
seriously deliberate either abolition of the law of adverse
possession and alternatively to make suitable amendments in
the law of adverse possession.

"A copy of this judgment be sent to the Secretary,
Ministry of Law and Justice, Department of Legal Affairs,
Government of India, for taking appropriate steps in
accordance with law," the apex court added.


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