The Supreme Court, relying on the State of Rajasthan v. Harphool Singh (2000) 5 SCC 652, opined that when the disputed land, claimed by adverse possession, pertains to the government, the nature of the Court’s inquiry must be more thorough and effective.
When the land subject to proceedings in which adverse possession has been claimed belongs to the government, the Court is obligated to act with greater gravity, effectiveness, care, and circumspection, as failure to do so may result in the destruction of the State’s right or title to immovable property.
In a second appeal, a bench composed of Justices Abhay S. Oka and Sanjay Karol ruled on an appeal lodged by the Government of Kerala challenging a ruling by the Kerala High Court. In the present case, the Court examined the position of claimants who sought to be declared the proprietors of government land through an adverse possession claim before the Court was the question of whether the plaintiffs had perfected their title to the disputed property through adverse possession.
Since 1940, one Joseph asserted title to thirty centimetres of land in Kerala based on adverse possession. The land was allegedly government property. In 1983, Joseph’s legal representatives filed a civil action requesting an injunction against the State’s eviction proceedings.
In 1995, the District Court reversed the Trial Court’s ruling on appeal from the State. In response to the plaintiffs’ second appeal, the High Court reinstated the original decree.
THE SUPREME COURT’S REMARKS
Regarding adverse possession, the Court, after citing its prior decisions, observed the following rule:
“Possession must be open, clear, continuous, and hostile to the claim or possession of the other party; all three classic requirements must coexist- nec vi, i.e., adequate in continuity; nec clam, i.e., adequate in publicity; and nec precario, i.e., adverse to a competitor, in denial of title and knowledge.”
The Court observed that the testimony relied upon by the plaintiffs “does not warrant a’more serious and effective’ investigation.”
As such, the Court concluded that witness statements alone do not constitute adequate and conclusive proof, as such statements can be ambiguous.
In addition to statements that may be ambiguous, claimants would be required to provide proper and concrete evidence of possession. Furthermore, it is evident from the preceding discussion that a lengthy period of possession alone does not constitute adverse possession.
The judgement authored by Justice Sanjay Karol stated that “suppositions, conjectures, and approximations cannot serve as the basis for removing the right over lan vested in the State and placing the said bundle of rights in the hands of one who did not have such rights.”
In other words, a claim of adverse possession must be supported by substantial evidence; bare assertions are insufficient. In addition, the Court noted that it is well-established law that simple long-term possession of the property is insufficient for claiming the right of adverse possession. The same should also be accompanied by “animus possidendi” – the intent to possess or to displace the legitimate owner. Without such evidence, the Court will not establish adverse possession.
In light of the observations above, the Court denied the claimants’ adverse possession claim and held:
“Assumptions, conjectures, and approximations cannot serve as the basis for removing the State’s land rights and placing them in the hands of someone who did not possess such rights.”
Government of Kerala and Others v. Joseph and Others, Civil Appeal No. 3142 of 2010