Adverse Possession: Understanding its Meaning, Legal Status, and the Law Commission's Opinion

Adverse Possession: Understanding its Meaning, Legal Status, and the Law Commission's Opinion
Posted on 07-06-2023

Adverse Possession: Understanding its Meaning, Legal Status, and the Law Commission's Opinion

Introduction: Adverse possession is a legal concept that grants ownership of a piece of land to a non-owner occupant who has held continuous, uninterrupted, and peaceful possession of the property for a specific period of time. This article delves into the meaning of adverse possession, its historical origins, its legal status in India, and the opinions expressed by the Law Commission on the matter. Additionally, the dissenting members' observations and the reasons why adverse possession has recently been in the news will also be discussed.

Adverse Possession: Meaning and Historical Background: Adverse possession is rooted in the idea that land should not be left vacant but put to judicious use. It allows someone who is not the legal owner of a property to acquire ownership rights over that property through their continuous and adverse possession over a certain period. The concept of adverse possession can be traced back to ancient times, including its mention in the Hammurabi Code, a Babylonian legal text dating back to 1755–1750 BC. Over time, various legal statutes and acts, such as the Statute of Westminster in 1275, shaped the understanding of adverse possession in different jurisdictions.

The legality of Adverse Possession in India: In India, the law on adverse possession underwent significant changes after the passage of the Limitation Act in 1963. This act shifted the burden of proof from the person claiming adverse possession to the true owner of the land. Under the Limitation Act, a person in possession of private land for over 12 years or government land for over 30 years can acquire ownership rights over the property. The Supreme Court of India has also made several judgments clarifying the ingredients of adverse possession, including factors such as the date of possession, the nature of possession, and the continuity and openness of possession.

Supreme Court's Recommendations for Changes: The Supreme Court, in its 2008 ruling in Hemaji Waghaji Jat v. Bhikhabhai Khengarbhai Harijan and Others, criticized the law of adverse possession, describing it as irrational, illogical, and disproportionate. The court expressed concerns about the harshness of the law on true owners and its potential to reward dishonest individuals who unlawfully seize possession of properties. As a result, the Ministry of Law and Justice referred the matter to the Law Commission, seeking its examination and report on the issue.

Law Commission's Opinion on Adverse Possession: In its 280th report, the 22nd Law Commission stated that there is no justification for introducing any changes in the law relating to adverse possession. The Commission argued that society benefits from the productive use of land that would otherwise remain idle, and individuals who come to regard the occupant as the owner should be protected. According to the Commission, the original title holder who failed to enforce their rights over the land should not be allowed to reclaim the property after a substantial passage of time. However, two ex officio members of the Commission filed a dissenting note, asserting that the law promotes false claims under the guise of adverse possession and burdens the already overloaded court system.

Dissenting Members' Observations: The dissenting note highlighted the troubles faced by true owners and argued that removing adverse possession from the Limitation Act would not hinder anyone's rights or lead to the neglect of land resources. The dissenting members criticized the Commission's argument about land not being put to proper use, stating that land prices are soaring in both rural and urban areas. They contended that in a densely populated country like India, adverse possession only encourages false claims that do not hold up under judicial scrutiny.

Conclusion: Adverse possession is a legal process through which non-owner occupants can acquire ownership rights over a property by possessing it continuously, uninterrupted, and peacefully for a specified period. The Law Commission's 280th report stated that no changes are necessary in the existing law concerning adverse possession, arguing that it benefits society and protects those who utilize idle land. However, dissenting members raised concerns about false claims and the burden imposed on the court system. The debate surrounding adverse possession highlights the need to balance the rights of true owners with considerations of land use and societal interests.

Thank You