The Supreme Court reiterates its position on Adverse possession

Posted On - 15 April, 2024 • By - Ajay Lulla

The Supreme Court of India in a recent judgment has reiterated certain principles and has further cleared the air around them in the case of M. Radheshyamlal v. V. Sandhya and Another[1]. The division bench comprising Justice Abhay Oka and Justice Ujjal Bhuyan deliberated on the ingredients of adverse possession, emphasizing the crucial requirements and necessities for claiming ownership over a property.

The essence of the Supreme Court’s ruling lies in the necessity for a plaintiff to fulfil specific criteria to substantiate a claim based on adverse possession. The court laid emphasis on two fundamental requirements, i.e., identification of the true owner of the property and a demonstration of uninterrupted possession for a minimum of 12 years with knowledge of the original owner.

Fundamental to the court’s verdict was the absence of essential averments in the plaintiff’s plea. Justice Oka while cited the case of M. Siddiq v. Suresh Das[2] and Karnataka Board of Wakf v. Govt. of India[3] explained that a party asserting adverse possession must unequivocally establish awareness of the property’s rightful owner and demonstrate prolonged, undisrupted possession. Such material facts, integral to the claim, were clearly lacking in the plaintiff’s submission, thereby undermining the foundation of the adverse possession plea.

The court reiterated the established legal principles governing adverse possession, delineating four critical elements that a plaintiff must establish:

(a) A clear assertion of possession adverse to the true owner.

(b) Evidence confirming that the true owner was cognizant of the prolonged possession.

(c) Specification of the commencement of possession.

(d) Manifestation of open and undisturbed possession.

Furthermore, the court elucidated that a plea of adverse possession seeks to deprive the true owner of their rights, devoid of any equitable considerations. Given the inherently contentious nature of adverse possession, the burden rests squarely on the plaintiff to substantiate their claim with concrete evidence and fulfilment of all the aforementioned requirements towards the claim.

In the case under scrutiny, the plaintiff’s failure to identify the rightful owner and establish awareness of their adverse possession dealt a severe blow to their claim. The court’s scrutiny unearthed various deficiencies in the plaintiff’s case, further eroding its credibility:

1. The inability to ascertain the true owner’s identity who was cognizant of the adverse possession.

2. Lack of documentary evidence supporting payment of property tax, contrasting with records in the original owner’s name.

3. Neglect in maintaining the property, exacerbating its dilapidated state.

4. Non-payment of essential taxes, indicative of neglect and inconsistent possession.

Based on these findings, the court concurred with the lower courts’ conclusions, affirming the plaintiff’s failure to substantiate their claim of adverse possession. The absence of a foundational basis for adverse possession in the plaintiff’s plea rendered their suit untenable.

In adjudging the dispute, the court categorically branded the plaintiff as a ‘trespasser,’ affirming the validity of the defendant’s title despite the absence of a probate certificate. This pronouncement underscores the principle that even in the absence of certain legal formalities, a defendant may possess a superior claim over a trespasser.

Consequently, the court dismissed the appeal, upholding the defendant’s title and rejecting the plaintiff’s claim of adverse possession.

In conclusion, the case of M. Radheshyamlal v. V Sandhya and Another serves as a benchmark reiterating the strict and specific requirements for claiming ownership through adverse possession. The verdict lays emphasis on the imperative for plaintiffs to meticulously substantiate their claims with concrete evidence.

[1] Civil Appeal Nos. 4322 – 4324 of 2024 (Arising Out of SLP (C) Nos. 19059-19061 of 2014

[2] (2020) 1 SCC 1

[3] (2004) 10 SCC 779