Holding that possessory title over property cannot be claimed merely on the basis of ‘casual possession’, the Supreme Court observed that a casual act of possession does not have the effect of interrupting the possession of the rightful owner.
In Poona Ram vs. Moti Ram, the plaintiff had filed a suit in which he claimed possessory title based on prior possession for a number of years. The Trial court decreed the suit. The First Appellate court reversed it holding that the defendants had proved their title and possession over the suit property. The High Court restored the Trial court decree and judgment.
In the appeal filed by the defendant, the bench comprising Justice NV Ramana and Justice Mohan M. Shantanagoudar considered the issue whether the plaintiff had better title over the suit property and whether he was in settled possession of the property, which required dispossession in accordance with law.
In the judgment, the court explained the concept behind suit based on possessory title. It said: “Section 64 of the Limitation Act, 1963 contemplates a suit for possession of immovable property based on previous possession and not on title, if brought within 12 years from the date of dispossession. Such a suit is known in law as a suit based on possessory title as distinguishable from proprietary title. It cannot be disputed and is by now well settled that ‘settled possession’ or effective possession of a person without title entitles him to protect his possession as if he were a true owner”
The bench then referred to some previous judgments on the subject and briefly explained the crux of the matter. It said: A person who asserts possessory title over a particular property will have to show that he is aunder settled or established possession of the said property. But merely stray or intermittent acts of trespass do not give such a right against the true owner. Settled possession means such possession over the property which has existed for a sufficiently long period of time, and has been acquiesced to by the true owner. A casual act of possession does not have the effect of interrupting the possession of the rightful owner. A stray act of trespass, or a possession which has not matured into settled possession, can be obstructed or removed by the true owner even by using necessary force. Settled possession must be (i) effective, (ii) undisturbed, and (iii) to the knowledge of the owner or without any attempt at concealment by the trespasser. There cannot be a straitjacket formula to determine settled possession. Occupation of a property by a person as an agent or a servant acting at the instance of the owner will not amount to actual legal possession. The possession should contain an element of animus possidendi. The nature of possession of the trespasser is to be decided based on the facts and circumstances of each case.”
Examining the evidence on record, the bench observed that merely on doubtful material and cursory evidence, it cannot be held that the plaintiff was ever in possession of the property, and that too in settled possession. The plaintiff, in this case, had relied on an old body of a motor vehicle belonging to him lying in the disputed property. In this regard, the bench said: “Absolutely no material is found to show that the plaintiff/Respondent No. 1 was in actual possession, much less continuous possession, of the property for a longer period which may be called settled possession or established possession. As mentioned supra, mere casual possession, that too relying on a motor vehicle body lying on a part of the property, would not prove settled possession of the plaintiff.”
Setting aside the High Court judgment, the bench said: “In order to claim possessory title, the plaintiff will have to prove his own case, and also will have to show that he has better title than any other person. Since there is no documentary proof that the plaintiff was in possession of the suit property, that too for a long period, he cannot be allowed to succeed based on minor discrepancies in the evidence of the defendants.”