22 July 2024


Supreme Court

Vidya Devi Vs. The State of Himachal Pradesh and Ors.




State cannot be permitted to perfect its title over the land by invoking doctrine of adverse possession to grab property of its own citizens

The Appellant now almost 80 years old, was undisputedly the owner of land admeasuring about 3.34 Hectares in Himachal Pradesh. The Respondent-State took over the land of the Appellant in 1967-68 for the construction of a major District Road being the Nadaun-Sujanpur Road, a major District Road without taking recourse to acquisition proceedings, or following due process of law.

The High Court vide the impugned judgment and Order held that, the matter involved disputed questions of law and fact for determination on the starting point of limitation, which could not be adjudicated in Writ proceedings. Aggrieved, the Appellant filed a Review Petition against the judgment and Order which was dismissed vide Order.

The Appellant was forcibly expropriated of her property in 1967, when the right to property was a fundamental right guaranteed by Article 31 in Part III of the Constitution of India, 1950. Article 31 of the Constitution guaranteed the right to private property, which could not be deprived without due process of law and upon just and fair compensation.

The right to property ceased to be a fundamental right by the Constitution (Forty Fourth Amendment) Act, 1978, however, it continued to be a human right in a welfare State, and a Constitutional right under Article 300A of the Constitution. Article 300A of the Constitution provides that no person shall be deprived of his property save by authority of law. The State cannot dispossess a citizen of his property except in accordance with the procedure established by law. The obligation to pay compensation, though not expressly included in Article 300A of the Constitution, can be inferred in that Article.

To forcibly dispossess a person of his private property, without following due process of law, would be violative of a human right, as also the constitutional right under Article 300A of the Constitution. The contention of the State that the Appellant or her predecessors had "orally" consented to the acquisition is completely baseless. In a democratic polity governed by the Rule of law, the State could not have deprived a citizen of their property without the sanction of law.

Further, the State being a welfare State, cannot be permitted to take the plea of adverse possession, which allows a trespasser i.e. a person guilty of a tort, or even a crime, to gain legal title over such property for over 12 years. The State cannot be permitted to perfect its title over the land by invoking the doctrine of adverse possession to grab the property of its own citizens, as has been done in the present case.

The contention advanced by the State of delay and laches of the Appellant in moving the Court is also liable to be rejected. Delay and laches cannot be raised in a case of a continuing cause of action, or if the circumstances shock the judicial conscience of the Court. Condonation of delay is a matter of judicial discretion, which must be exercised judiciously and reasonably in the facts and circumstances of a case. It will depend upon the breach of fundamental rights, and the remedy claimed, and when and how the delay arose. There is no period of limitation prescribed for the courts to exercise their constitutional jurisdiction to do substantial justice. In a case where the demand for justice is so compelling, a constitutional Court would exercise its jurisdiction with a view to promote justice, and not defeat it.

In the present case, the Appellant being an illiterate person, who is a widow coming from a rural area has been deprived of her private property by the State without resorting to the procedure prescribed by law. The Appellant has been divested of her right to property without being paid any compensation whatsoever for over half a century. The cause of action in the present case is a continuing one, since the Appellant was compulsorily expropriated of her property in 1967 without legal sanction or following due process of law.

The Respondent-State is directed to pay the compensation on the same terms as awarded by the Reference Court vide Order in Anakh Singh's case alongwith all statutory benefits including solatium, interest, etc. within a period of 8 weeks, treating it as a case of deemed acquisition. The Respondent-State is directed to pay legal costs and expenses of Rs. 10,00,000 to the present Appellant. The Appeals are accordingly allowed.

Tags : Compensation Right Entitlement

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