28 August 2020

Adverse possession; even if not pleaded, can be presumed when Plaintiff claims the original possession of defendant was permissive, but fails to prove it

A decree of possession does not automatically follow a decree of declaration of title and ownership over property. It is well settled that, where a Plaintiff wants to establish that the Defendant’s original possession was permissive, it is for the Plaintiff to prove this allegation and if he fails to do so, it may be presumed that possession was adverse, unless there is evidence to the contrary.[Para No.46]

    The Appellant-Defendant has in his written statement in the suit, denied the title and ownership of the Respondent- Plaintiff to the suit property. The Appellant-Defendant has asserted that the Appellant-Defendant is the owner of the suit property and has been in possession and in occupation of the suit premises as owner from the very inception.[Para No.47]

    In our considered opinion, the High Court erred in law in proceeding to allow possession to the Respondent-Plaintiff on the ground that the Appellant-Defendant had not taken the defence of adverse possession, ignoring the well established principle that the Plaintiff’s claim to reliefs is to be decided on the strength of the Plaintiff’s case and not the weakness, if any, in the opponent’s case, as propounded by the Privy Council in Baba Kartar Singh v. Dayal Das reported in AIR 1939 PC 201.[Para No.48]

    From the pleadings filed by the Appellant-Defendant, it is patently clear that the Appellant-Defendant claimed the right of ownership of the suit property on the basis of a deed of conveyance, executed over 75 years ago. The Appellant- Defendant has claimed continuous possession since the year 1966 on the strength of a deed of release executed by his father. In other words, the Appellant-Defendant has claimed to be in possession of the suit premises, as owner, for almost 28 years prior to the institution of suit.[Para No.49]

Adverse possession; even if not pleaded, can be presumed when Plaintiff claims the original possession of defendant was permissive, but fails to prove it
    In the facts and circumstances of this case, where the Appellant-Defendant was owner of only a portion of the suit property but has admittedly been in possession of the entire suit property, and the Appellant-Defendant has, in his written statement, claimed to be in continuous possession for years as owner, the defence of the Appellant in his written statement was, in effect and substance, of adverse possession even though ownership by adverse possession had not been pleaded in so many words. It is, however not necessary for this Court to examine the question of whether the Appellant-Defendant was entitled to claim title by adverse possession or not.[Para No.50]

   A person claiming a decree of possession has to establish his entitlement to get such possession and also establish that his claim is not barred by the laws of limitation. He must show that he had possession before the alleged trespasser got possession.[Para No.51]

    The maxim “possession follows title” is limited in its application to property, which having regard to its nature, does not admit to actual and exclusive occupation, as in the case of open spaces accessible to all. The presumption that possession must be deemed to follow title, arises only where there is no definite proof of possession by anyone else. In this case it is admitted that the Appellant-Defendant is in possession and not the Respondent Plaintiff.[Para No.52]

Supreme Court of India

Nazir Mohamed

Decided  on 27/08/2020

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