What is adverse possession
Historically, adverse possession is a pretty old concept of law. It is useful but often criticised concept on the ground that it protects and confers rights upon wrongdoers. The concept of adverse possession appeared in the Code of Hammurabi approximately 2000 years before Christ era. Law 30 contained a provision “If a chieftain or a man leaves his house, garden, and field …. and someone else takes possession of his house, garden and field and uses it for three years; if the first owner returns and claims his house, garden, and field, it shall not be given to him, but he who has taken possession of it and used it shall continue to use it.” However, there was an exception to the aforesaid rule: for a soldier captured or killed in battle and the case of the juvenile son of the owner. In Roman times, attached to the land, a kind of spirit that was nurtured by the possessor. Possessor or user of the land was considered to have a greater “ownership” of the land than the titled owner. We inherited the Common Law concept, being a part of the erstwhile British colony. William in 1066 consolidated ownership of land under the Crown. The Statute of Westminster came in 1275 when land records were very often scarce and literacy was rare, the best evidence of ownership was possession. In 1639, the Statute of Limitation fixed the period for recovery of possession at 20 years. A line of thought was also evolved that the person who possesses the land and produces something of ultimate benefit to the society, must hold the best title to the land. Revenue laws relating to land have been enacted in the spirit to confer the title on the actual tiller of the land. The Statute of Wills in 1540 allowed lands to be passed down to heirs. The Statute of Tenures enacted in 1660 ended the feudal system and created the concept of the title. The adverse possession remained as a part of the law and continue to exist. The concept of adverse possession has a root in the aspect that it awards ownership of land to the person who makes the best or highest use of the land. The land, which is being used is more valuable than idle land, is the concept of utilitarianism. The concept thus, allows the society as a whole to benefit from the land being held adversely but allows a sufficient period for the “true owner” to recover the land. The adverse possession statutes permit rapid development of “wild” lands with the weak or indeterminate title. It helps in the Doctrine of Administration also as it can be an effective and efficient way to remove or cure clouds of title which with memories grow dim and evidence becomes unclear. The possessor who maintains and improves the land has a more valid claim to the land than the owner who never visits or cares for the land and uses it, is of no utility. If a former owner neglects and allows the gradual dissociation between himself and what he is claiming and he knows that someone else is caring by doing acts, the attachment which one develops by caring cannot be easily parted with. The bundle of ingredients constitutes adverse possession.
The mere assertion of title by itself may not be sufficient unless the plaintiff proves animus possidendi. But the intention on the part of the plaintiff to possess the properties in suit exclusively and not for and on behalf of other coowners also is evident from the fact that the defendantsappellants themselves had earlier filed two suits. Such suits were filed for partition. In those suits the defendantsappellants claimed themselves to be coowners of the plaintiff. A bare perusal of the judgments of the courts below clearly demonstrates that the plaintiff had even therein asserted hostile title claiming ownership in himself. The claim of hostile title by the plaintiff over the suit land, therefore, was, thus, known to the appellants. They allowed the first suit to be dismissed in the year 1977. Another suit was filed in the year 1978 which again was dismissed in the year 1984. It may be true, as has been contended on behalf of the appellants before the courts below, that a coowner can bring about successive suits for partition as the cause of action, therefor, would be a continuous one. But, it is equally wellsettled that pendency of a suit does not stop running of ‘limitation’. The very fact that the defendants despite the purported entry made in the revenue settlement record of rights in the year 1953 allowed the plaintiff to possess the same exclusively and had not succeeded in their attempt to possess the properties in Village Samleu and/or otherwise enjoy the usufruct thereof, clearly goes to show that even prior to institution of the said suit the plaintiffrespondent had been in hostile possession thereof.
In any event the plaintiff made his hostile declaration claiming title for the property at least in his written statement in the suit filed in the year 1968. Thus, at least from 1968 onwards, the plaintiff continued to exclusively possess the suit land with a knowledge of the defendantsappellants.
When we consider the law of adverse possession as has developed visàvis to property dedicated to public use, courts have been loath to confer the right by adverse possession. There are instances when such properties are encroached upon and then a plea of adverse possession is raised. In Such cases, on the land reserved for public utility, it is desirable that rights should not accrue. The law of adverse possession may cause harsh consequences, hence, we are constrained to observe that it would be advisable that concerning such properties dedicated to public cause, it is made clear in the statute of limitation that no rights can accrue by adverse possession.