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Adverse Possession – The State cannot be permitted to perfect its title over the land by invok

 Vidya Devi  V The State of Himachal Pradesh & Ors , CIVIL APPEAL NOS. 60­61 OF 2020, arising out of SLP (Civil) Nos. 467­468/2020 @D..No.36919/2018 on January 08th, 2020

The appeal in the Supreme Court was claimed by Vidya Devi against the State and it was allowed by the bench comprising of Justice INDU MALHOTRA and Justice AJAY RASTOGI.

The appellant is 80 years when she claimed for the appeal. She was the owner of the land which was acquired by the State in 1967–68 for the construction of a major District Road being the Nadaun – Sujanpur Road. The work of constructing a road was completely done in the year 1975 but the issue here is the construction was done without taking recourse to acquisition proceedings, or following due process of law. There was a delay in filing the proceedings for compensation of the land as she was wholly unaware of her rights and entitlement in law.

Anakh Singh & Ors. v. State of Himachal Pradesh & Ors., there was the same situation, in this case. The HC held that Respondent–State initiated acquisition proceedings under the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 only with respect to the lands of the Writ Petitioners, and not the other land­owners whose lands had also been taken over.

The appellant submits reason for her delay that she learned these proceedings only in 2010. So the writ petition was filed in the HC of Himachal Pradesh. The respondent says that the land was being used by the State for the past 42 years so it is their “adverse possession” and so the appellant can file an only civil suit. The land was utilized by the Respondent–State after the Appellant and her predecessors­in­interest had verbally consented to the land being taken over without any objection.

The High Court passed an order saying that the appellant can only file a civil suit and they cannot pass an order in a writ petition. Further, a review petition was filed by the appellant and it was also rejected. Now the present appeal was filed in the Supreme Court.

When the appellant’s land was forcibly taken away then Article 31 and Article 300A of the Constitution can be taken into to give compensation. In this case, the land was not taken from the appellant forcibly. Further, the court said it is baseless when the respondent says that the appellant gave oral consent. The adverse possession cannot be given to the state was held by the Supreme Court.

The SC held that “We find complete lack of authority and legal sanction in compulsorily divesting the Appellant of her property by the State.”

The Court stated that since it has been in continuous possession of the land for over 42 years, it would tantamount to “adverse” possession. The State being a welfare State, cannot be permitted to take the plea of adverse possession, which allows a trespasser i.e. a person guilty of a tort, or even a crime, to gain legal title over such property for over 12 years. The State cannot be permitted to perfect its title over the land by invoking the doctrine of adverse possession to grab the property of its own citizens, as has been done in the present case.

In respect to the delay made by the appellant, the court says as it was contended by the respondent the delay can be also rejected to promote justice. In this case, the appellant is an illiterate woman who has been deprived of her property without being paid any compensation for the past 42 years as a continuous action.

The Court held that; “We exercise our extraordinary jurisdiction under Articles 136 and 142 of the Constitution, and direct the State to pay compensation to the Appellant.” The court has referred to Anakh Singh’s case. The compensation should be paid within 8 weeks. If the compensation is not paid within the said the appeal should be filed within limitation, the delay should not be entertained.

The orders of the High Court are set aside and the appeals are allowed.

–  Manusri Ramakrishna

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