Whether the defendants become owner by adverse possession of the property in suit? No – The plaintiff filed a suit for possession on the basis of purchase of suit property from the Managing Officer, Department of Rehabilitation, Government of India in a public auction held on 21st March, 1964. The certificate of sale was issued thereafter on th January, 1965. The plaintiff filed a suit for possession on 17th February, 1979 alleging the defendants to be in an unauthorised possession of the suit property and who have refused to vacate the same. – The defendants in the written statement denied that the plaintiff is the owner of the property. The defendants asserted that their house existed on the property in question for more than the last two centuries. The grandfather of the defendants was said to be in possession of the property as owner, thereafter their father one Tara Chand and now all the defendants are in possession of the property as owners. It was denied that the property was ever vested with the Managing Officer and, therefore, it was claimed that the Managing Officer has no authority or jurisdiction to auction the property in question. Therefore, the plaintiff has no interest, right or title in the property. = Apex court held that If the defendants are not sure who the true owner is, the question of them being in hostile possession as well as of denying the title of the true owner does not arise. As to whether the plaintiff can claim title on the basis of adverse possession, this Court in a judgment reported as Ravinder Kaur Grewal & Ors. v. Manjit Kaur & Ors. has held as under: “60. The adverse possession requires all the three classic requirements to co-exist at the same time, namely, 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 his knowledge. Visible, notorious and peaceful so that if the owner does not take care to know notorious facts, knowledge is attributed to him on the basis that but for due diligence he would have known it. Adverse possession cannot be decreed on a title which is not pleaded. Animus possidendi under hostile colour of title is required. Trespasser’s long possession is not synonymous with adverse possession. Trespasser’s possession is construed to be on behalf of the owner, the casual user does not constitute adverse possession. The owner can take possession from a trespasser at any point in time. Possessor looks after the property, protects it and in case of agricultural property by and large the concept is that actual tiller should own the land who works by dint of his hard labour and makes the land cultivable. The legislature in various States confers rights based on possession.” In the present case, the defendants have not admitted the vesting of the suit property with the Managing Officer and the factum of its transfer in favour of the plaintiff. The defendants have denied the title not only of the Managing Officer but also of the plaintiff. The plea of the defendants is one of continuous possession but there is no plea that such possession was hostile to the true owner of the suit property. The evidence of the defendants is that of continuous possession. Some of the receipts pertain to 1963 but possession since November, 1963 till the filing of the suit will not ripe into title as the defendants never admitted the plaintiff-appellant to be owner or that the land ever vested with the Managing Officer. In view of the judgments referred to above, we find that the findings recorded by the High Court that the defendants have perfected their title by adverse possession are not legally sustainable. Consequently, the judgment and decree passed by the High Court is set aside and the suit is decreed. The appeal is allowed.

REPORTABLE
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION
CIVIL APPEAL NO. 190 OF 2020
(ARISING OUT OF SLP (CIVIL) NO. 16321 OF 2011)
SHRI UTTAM CHAND (D) THROUGH LRS. …..APPELLANT(S)
VERSUS
NATHU RAM (D) THROUGH LRS. & ORS. …..RESPONDENT(S)
J U D G M E N T
HEMANT GUPTA, J.

  1. Plaintiff is in appeal before this Court aggrieved against judgment
    and decree passed by the High Court of Delhi on 18th February,
    2011 whereby, the defendants second appeal was allowed and the
    suit of the plaintiff for possession on the basis of title was
    dismissed.
  2. The plaintiff filed a suit for possession on the basis of purchase of
    suit property from the Managing Officer, Department of
    Rehabilitation, Government of India in a public auction held on
    21st March, 1964. The certificate of sale was issued thereafter on
    4
    th January, 1965. The plaintiff filed a suit for possession on 17th
    February, 1979 alleging the defendants to be in an unauthorised
    possession of the suit property and who have refused to vacate the
    same.
    1
  3. The defendants in the written statement denied that the plaintiff is
    the owner of the property. The defendants asserted that their
    house existed on the property in question for more than the last
    two centuries. The grandfather of the defendants was said to be in
    possession of the property as owner, thereafter their father one
    Tara Chand and now all the defendants are in possession of the
    property as owners. It was denied that the property was ever
    vested with the Managing Officer and, therefore, it was claimed
    that the Managing Officer has no authority or jurisdiction to auction
    the property in question. Therefore, the plaintiff has no interest,
    right or title in the property.
  4. Parties went to trial on the following issues:
    “1. Whether the suit is properly valued for the purpose
    of Court fee & Jurisdiction?
  5. Whether the suit is time barred?
  6. Whether the plaintiff is the owner of the property in
    suit?
  7. Whether the defendants become owner by adverse
    possession of the property in suit?
  8. Whether the defendants are in unauthorized
    occupation of the property in dispute?
  9. Relief.”
  10. Before the learned trial court, the plaintiff examined PW-4 Chander
    Bhan, Lower Division Clerk from the Land and Building Department
    who has proved that the sale certificate was issued in favour of
    plaintiff on 15th January, 1965. The learned trial court recorded the
    2
    finding on the basis of testimonies of Din Dayal Khanna (PW-3),
    Chander Bhan (PW-4) and S.B. Lal (PW-5) that the property is
    situated in Khasra No. 9 and has been sold through auction. The
    learned trial court also considered the testimonies of Bhagwan
    Dass (DW-1) and Ranjit (DW-2), both sons of the defendant, that
    the plaintiff is the owner of the property purchased through Ex.B4/1
    in an auction from the Managing Officer, Department of
    Rehabilitation. Thus, Issue No. 3 was held in favour of the plaintiff
    and the plaintiff was found to be owner of the property. But Issue
    Nos. 2, 4 and 5 were decided in favour of the defendants and
    against the plaintiff and consequently the suit was dismissed but
    with a direction to the plaintiff to make good the deficiency of court
    fee of Rs. 2000/- within one month in view of the finding recorded
    on Issue No. 1.
  11. In the first appeal by the plaintiff, the learned First Appellate Court
    affirmed the findings recorded by the trial court on Issue Nos. 1 and
    3 that the plaintiff is the owner of the property in question.
    However, in respect of Issue No. 2 as to whether the suit is time
    barred, the learned First Appellate Court returned a finding that the
    suit is within time as the same was filed on February 17, 1979 i.e.
    before the completion of 12 years. Issue No. 2 was decided against
    the defendants holding that the findings recorded by the trial court
    that the limitation starts from the date of purchase of the suit
    property is not sustainable. The right of the respondents over the
    property was challenged before the completion of 12 years,
    3
    therefore, the suit filed in February, 1979 is within period of
    limitation. Under issue No. 4, the findings recorded were that the
    mere possession of land, however long it may be, would not ripe
    into possessory title unless the possessor has animus possidendi to
    hold the land adverse to the title of the true owner. The assertion
    of title must be clear and unequivocal. Consequently, Issue No. 5
    was also decided against the defendants and the suit stood
    decreed.
  12. In the second appeal, the High Court affirmed the finding of
    ownership in favour of the plaintiff and relied upon electricity and
    house tax bills showing the possession of the defendants over the
    suit property from November, 1963. It was, thus, held that the
    adverse possession of the defendants over the same matured
    within 12 years, by November, 1995, therefore, the suit filed on
    17th February, 1979 was barred by limitation.
  13. The High Court referred to the statement of PW-1 Uttam Chand that
    the suit property was assessed to house tax but no one had paid
    such tax. He stated that there was only one kachha room of mud
    at the site but he did not know when the unauthorised construction
    was made in the suit property. The High Court considered the
    statement of witness of the plaintiff to return a finding that Tara
    Chand, deceased father of the defendants was found in possession
    of the suit property in March, 1964. The High Court returned a
    finding that Tara Chand was in occupation of the suit property even
    4
    prior to the purchase of the same by the plaintiff in the year 1964.
    The Court referred to the judgment of this Court reported as T.
    Anjanappa & Ors. v. Somalingappa & Anr.
    1
    to hold that the
    defendants were in open, uninterrupted, peaceful and hostile
    possession since March, 1964 and the period of 12 years was
    completed in March, 1976. Therefore, the suit filed by the plaintiff
    on 17th February, 1979 was barred by limitation.
  14. Learned counsel for the appellant argued that for a successful plea
    of adverse possession against the true owner, the person in
    possession has to admit hostile possession to the knowledge of the
    true owner. The defendants in their written statement have not
    admitted the title of the appellant and of adverse possession to the
    knowledge of the true owner. The defendants have denied vesting
    of the land with the Managing Officer and the subsequent sale in
    favour of the appellant. The trial court has returned a finding as to
    the title of the appellant itself and such finding has not been set
    aside neither by the First Appellate Court nor by the High Court.
    The defendants are asserting their long and continuous possession
    but such possession howsoever long cannot be termed as adverse
    possession so as to perfect title within the meaning of Article 65 of
    the Limitation Act. It was argued that long possession is not
    necessarily adverse possession. Reliance is placed upon
    Karnataka Board of Wakf v. Government of India & Ors.
    2
    ,
    Kurella Naga Druva Vudaya Bhaskara Rao v. Galla Jani
    1 (2006) 7 SCC 570
    2 (2004) 10 SCC 779
    5
    Kamma alias Nacharamma
    3 and Dagadabai (Dead) by Legal
    Representatives v. Abbas alias Gulab Rustum Pinjari
    4
    .
  15. On the other hand, learned counsel for the defendants argued that
    the witness of the plaintiff has admitted the possession of the
    defendants in the year 1964 itself i.e. before the purchase,
    therefore, the possession is adverse to the knowledge of the
    appellants.
  16. In T. Anjanappa, this Court has set aside the finding of the High
    Court that the defendants claiming adverse possession do not have
    to prove who is the true owner. If the defendants are not sure who
    the true owner is, the question of them being in hostile possession
    as well as of denying the title of the true owner does not arise. The
    Court held as under:
    “12. The concept of adverse possession contemplates
    a hostile possession i.e. a possession which is expressly
    or impliedly in denial of the title of the true owner.
    Possession to be adverse must be possession by a
    person who does not acknowledge the other’s rights but
    denies them. The principle of law is firmly established
    that a person who bases his title on adverse possession
    must show by clear and unequivocal evidence that his
    possession was hostile to the real owner and amounted
    to denial of his title to the property claimed. For
    deciding whether the alleged acts of a person
    constituted adverse possession, the animus of the
    person doing those acts is the most crucial factor.
    Adverse possession is commenced in wrong and is
    aimed against right. A person is said to hold the
    property adversely to the real owner when that person
    in denial of the owner’s right excluded him from the
    enjoyment of his property.
    3 (2008) 15 SCC 150
    4 (2017) 13 SCC 705
    6
  17. Possession to be adverse must be possession by a
    person who does not acknowledge the other’s rights but
    denies them:
    “24. It is a matter of fundamental principle of
    law that where possession can be referred to a
    lawful title, it will not be considered to be
    adverse. It is on the basis of this principle that it
    has been laid down that since the possession of
    one co-owner can be referred to his status as
    co-owner, it cannot be considered adverse to
    other co-owners.” (See Vidya Devi v. Prem
    Prakash [(1995) 4 SCC 496] , SCC p. 504, para
    24.)
  18. Adverse possession is that form of possession or
    occupancy of land which is inconsistent with the title of
    the rightful owner and tends to extinguish that person’s
    title. Possession is not held to be adverse if it can be
    referred to a lawful title. The person setting up adverse
    possession may have been holding under the rightful
    owner’s title e.g. trustees, guardians, bailiffs or agents.
    Such persons cannot set up adverse possession:
    “14. … Adverse possession means a [hostile
    possession] which is expressly or impliedly in
    denial of title of the true owner. Under Article 65
    [of the Limitation Act,] burden is on the
    defendants to prove affirmatively. A person who
    bases his title on adverse possession must show
    by clear and unequivocal evidence i.e.
    possession was hostile to the real owner and
    amounted to a denial of his title to the property
    claimed. In deciding whether the acts, alleged
    by a person, constitute adverse possession,
    regard must be had to the animus of the person
    doing those acts which must be ascertained
    from the facts and circumstances of each case.
    The person who bases his title on adverse
    possession, therefore, must show by clear and
    unequivocal evidence i.e. possession was hostile
    to the real owner and amounted to a denial of
    his title to the property claimed. …
  19. Where possession can be referred to a
    lawful title, it will not be considered to be
    adverse. The reason being that a person whose
    possession can be referred to a lawful title will
    7
    not be permitted to show that his possession
    was hostile to another’s title. One who holds
    possession on behalf of another, does not by
    mere denial of that other’s title make his
    possession adverse so as to give himself the
    benefit of the statute of limitation. Therefore, a
    person who enters into possession having a
    lawful title, cannot divest another of that title by
    pretending that he had no title at all.
    (See Annasaheb Bapusaheb
    Patil v. Balwant [(1995) 2 SCC 543, p. 554 : AIR
    1995 SC 895, p. 902] , SCC p. 554, paras 14-
    15.)”
  20. In Kurella Naga Druva Vudaya Bhaskara Rao, the payment of
    tax receipts and mere possession for some years was found
    insufficient to claim adverse possession. It was held that if
    according to the defendant, the plaintiff was not the true owner, his
    possession hostile to the plaintiff’s title will not be sufficient. The
    Court held as under:
    “19. The defendant claimed that he had perfected his
    title by adverse possession by being in open,
    continuous and hostile possession of the suit property
    from 1957. He also produced some tax receipts showing
    that he has paid the taxes in regard to the suit land.
    Some tax receipts also showed that he paid the tax on
    behalf of someone else. After considering the oral and
    documentary evidence, both the courts have entered a
    concurrent finding that the defendant did not establish
    adverse possession, and that mere possession for some
    years was not sufficient to claim adverse possession,
    unless such possession was hostile possession, denying
    the title of the true owner. The courts have pointed out
    that if according to the defendant, the plaintiff was not
    the true owner, his possession hostile to the plaintiff’s
    title will not be sufficient and he had to show that his
    possession was also hostile to the title and possession
    of the true owner. After detailed analysis of the oral and
    documentary evidence, the trial court and the High
    Court also held that the appellant was only managing
    the properties on behalf of the plaintiff and his
    8
    occupation was not hostile possession.”
  21. In Brijesh Kumar & Anr. v. Shardabai (Dead) by Legal
    Representatives & Ors.
    5
    , the Court held as under:
    “13. Adverse possession is hostile possession by
    assertion of a hostile title in denial of the title of the
    true owner as held in M. Venkatesh [M.
    Venkatesh v. BDA, (2015) 17 SCC 1 : (2017) 5 SCC (Civ)
    387] . The respondent had failed to establish peaceful,
    open and continuous possession demonstrating a
    wrongful ouster of the rightful owner. It thus involved
    question of facts and law. The onus lay on the
    respondent to establish when and how he came into
    possession, the nature of his possession, the factum of
    possession known and hostile to the other parties,
    continuous possession over 12 years which was open
    and undisturbed. The respondent was seeking to deny
    the rights of the true owner. The onus therefore lay
    upon the respondent to establish possession as a fact
    coupled with that it was open, hostile and continuous to
    the knowledge of the true owner. The respondentplaintiff failed to discharge the onus. Reference may
    also be made to Chatti Konati Rao v. Palle Venkata
    Subba Rao [Chatti Konati Rao v. Palle Venkata Subba
    Rao, (2010) 14 SCC 316 : (2012) 1 SCC (Civ) 452] , on
    adverse possession observing as follows: (SCC p. 322,
    para 15)
    “15. Animus possidendi as is well known is a
    requisite ingredient of adverse possession. Mere
    possession does not ripen into possessory title
    until the possessor holds the property adverse
    to the title of the true owner for the said
    purpose. The person who claims adverse
    possession is required to establish the date on
    which he came in possession, nature of
    possession, the factum of possession,
    knowledge to the true owner, duration of
    possession and that possession was open and
    undisturbed. A person pleading adverse
    possession has no equities in his favour as he is
    trying to defeat the rights of the true owner
    and, hence, it is for him to clearly plead and
    establish all facts necessary to establish
    adverse possession. The courts always take
    unkind view towards statutes of limitation
    5 (2019) 9 SCC 369
    9
    overriding property rights. The plea of adverse
    possession is not a pure question of law but a
    blended one of fact and law.””
  22. As to whether the plaintiff can claim title on the basis of adverse
    possession, this Court in a judgment reported as Ravinder Kaur
    Grewal & Ors. v. Manjit Kaur & Ors.
    6
    has held as under:
    “60. The adverse possession requires all the three
    classic requirements to co-exist at the same time,
    namely, 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 his knowledge. Visible,
    notorious and peaceful so that if the owner does not
    take care to know notorious facts, knowledge is
    attributed to him on the basis that but for due diligence
    he would have known it. Adverse possession cannot be
    decreed on a title which is not pleaded. Animus
    possidendi under hostile colour of title is required.
    Trespasser’s long possession is not synonymous with
    adverse possession. Trespasser’s possession is
    construed to be on behalf of the owner, the casual user
    does not constitute adverse possession. The owner can
    take possession from a trespasser at any point in time.
    Possessor looks after the property, protects it and in
    case of agricultural property by and large the concept is
    that actual tiller should own the land who works by dint
    of his hard labour and makes the land cultivable. The
    legislature in various States confers rights based on
    possession.”
  23. The matter has been examined by a Constitution Bench in M
    Siddiq (D) through LRs v. Mahant Suresh Das & Ors.
    7
    wherein, it has been held that a plea of adverse possession is
    founded on the acceptance that ownership of the property vests in
    another, against whom the claimant asserts possession adverse to
    the title of the other. The Court held as under:
    “747. A plea of adverse possession is founded on the
    acceptance that ownership of the property vests in
    another against whom the claimant asserts a
    6 (2019) 8 SCC 729
    7 (2019) SCC OnLine SC 1440
    10
    possession adverse to the title of the other. Possession
    is adverse in the sense that it is contrary to the
    acknowledged title in the other person against whom it
    is claimed. Evidently, therefore, the plaintiffs in Suit 4
    ought to be cognisant of the fact that any claim of
    adverse possession against the Hindus or the temple
    would amount to an acceptance of a title in the latter.
    Dr Dhavan has submitted that this plea is a subsidiary
    or alternate plea upon which it is not necessary for the
    plaintiffs to stand in the event that their main plea on
    title is held to be established on evidence. It becomes
    then necessary to assess as to whether the claim of
    adverse possession has been established.
  24. A person who sets up a plea of adverse
    possession must establish both possession which is
    peaceful, open and continuous – possession which
    meets the requirement of being ‘nec vi nec claim and
    nec precario’. To substantiate a plea of adverse
    possession, the character of the possession must be
    adequate in continuity and in the public because the
    possession has to be to the knowledge of the true
    owner in order for it to be adverse. These requirements
    have to be duly established first by adequate pleadings
    and second by leading sufficient evidence. Evidence, it
    is well settled, can only be adduced with reference to
    matters which are pleaded in a civil suit and in the
    absence of an adequate pleading, evidence by itself
    cannot supply the deficiency of a pleaded case. Reading
    paragraph 11(a), it becomes evident that beyond
    stating that the Muslims have been in long exclusive
    and continuous possession beginning from the time
    when the Mosque was built and until it was desecrated,
    no factual basis has been furnished. This is not merely a
    matter of details or evidence. A plea of adverse
    possession seeks to defeat the rights of the true owner
    and the law is not readily accepting of such a case
    unless a clear and cogent basis has been made out in
    the pleadings and established in the evidence.
    xx xx xx
  25. In Supdt. and Remembrance of Legal Affairs, West
    Bengal v. Anil Kumar Bhunja, (1979) 4 SCC 274, Justice
    R S Sarkaria, speaking for a three judge Bench of this
    Court noted that the concept of possession is
    “polymorphous. embodying both a right (the right to
    enjoy) and a fact (the real intention). The learned judge
    11
    held:
    “13. “It is impossible to work out a completely
    logical and precise definition of “possession”
    uniformly applicable to all situations in the
    contexts of all statutes. Dias and Hughes in their
    book on Jurisprudence say that if a topic ever
    suffered from too much theorising it is that of
    “possession”. Much of this difficulty and
    confusion is (as pointed out in Salmond’s
    Jurisprudence, 12th Edn., 1966) caused by the
    fact that possession is not purely a legal
    concept. “Possession”, implies a right and a
    fact; the right to enjoy annexed to the right of
    property and the fact of the real intention. It
    involves power of control and intent to control.
    (See Dias and Hughes, ibid.).”
    These observations were made in the context of
    possession in Section 29(b) of the Arms Act 1959.
    In P Lakshmi Reddy v. L Lakshmi Reddy, 1957 SCR 195,
    Justice Jagannadhadas, speaking for a three judge
    Bench of this Court dwelt on the “classical requirement”
    of adverse possession:
    “4. Now, the ordinary classical requirement of
    adverse possession is that it should be nec vi
    nec clam nec precario. (See Secretary of State
    for India v. Debendra Lal Khan [(1933) LR 61 IA
    78, 82] ). The possession required must be
    adequate in continuity, in publicity and in extent
    to show that it is possession adverse to the
    competitor.”
    The court cited the following extract from U N Mitra’s
    “Tagore Law Lectures on the Law of Limitation and
    Prescription”:
    “7…An adverse holding is an actual and
    exclusive appropriation of land commenced and
    continued under a claim of right, either under
    an openly avowed claim, or under a constructive
    claim (arising from the acts and circumstances
    attending the appropriation), to hold the land
    against him (sic) who was in possession. (Angell,
    Sections 390 and 398). It is the intention to
    claim adversely accompanied by such an
    12
    invasion of the rights of the opposite party as
    gives him a cause of action which constitutes
    adverse possession.” (6th Edition, Vol. I, Lecture
    VI, at page 159)
    This Court held:
    “7…Consonant with this principle the
    commencement of adverse possession, in
    favour of a person implies that the person is in
    actual possession, at the time, with a notorious
    hostile claim of exclusive title, to repel which,
    the true owner would then be in a position to
    maintain an action. It would follow that
    whatever may be the animus or intention of a
    person wanting to acquire title by adverse
    possession his adverse possession cannot
    commence until he obtains actual possession
    with the requisite animus.”
    In Karnataka Board of Wakf v. Government of India,
    (2004) 10 SCC 779, Justice S Rajendra Babu, speaking
    for a two judge Bench held that:
    “11…Physical fact of exclusive possession and
    the animus possidendi to hold as owner in
    exclusion to the actual owner are the most
    important factors that are to be accounted in
    cases of this nature. Plea of adverse possession
    is not a pure question of law but a blended one
    of fact and law. Therefore, a person who claims
    adverse possession should show: (a) on what
    date he came into possession, (b) what was the
    nature of his possession, (c) whether the factum
    of possession was known to the other party, (d)
    how long his possession has continued, and (e)
    his possession was open and undisturbed.”
    The ingredients must be set up in the pleadings and
    proved in evidence. There can be no proof sans
    pleadings and pleadings without evidence will not
    establish a case in law.
    In Annakili v. A Vedanayagam, (2007) 14 SCC 308, this
    Court emphasized that mere possession of land would
    not ripen into a possessory title. The possessor must
    have animus possidendi and hold the land adverse to
    the title of the true owner. Moreover, he must continue
    13
    in that capacity for the period prescribed under the
    Limitation Act.”
  26. In the present case, the defendants have not admitted the vesting
    of the suit property with the Managing Officer and the factum of its
    transfer in favour of the plaintiff. The defendants have denied the
    title not only of the Managing Officer but also of the plaintiff. The
    plea of the defendants is one of continuous possession but there is
    no plea that such possession was hostile to the true owner of the
    suit property. The evidence of the defendants is that of continuous
    possession. Some of the receipts pertain to 1963 but possession
    since November, 1963 till the filing of the suit will not ripe into title
    as the defendants never admitted the plaintiff-appellant to be
    owner or that the land ever vested with the Managing Officer. In
    view of the judgments referred to above, we find that the findings
    recorded by the High Court that the defendants have perfected
    their title by adverse possession are not legally sustainable.
    Consequently, the judgment and decree passed by the High Court
    is set aside and the suit is decreed. The appeal is allowed.
    ………………………………………J.
    (L. NAGESWARA RAO)
    ………………………………………J.
    (HEMANT GUPTA)
    NEW DELHI;
    JANUARY 15, 2020.
    14