One of the significant statutes that specifies the time frame within which certain actions must have been taken is the Limitation Act. The purpose of the law on limitations is to educate people about their right to assert an interest in property within a set time frame. One shouldn’t spend years worrying about their right. There may be confusion if the law does not set a deadline for reserving rights or interests in property.
Adverse possession is a legal concept that allows a person to claim ownership of someone else’s land or property through continuous and uninterrupted possession for a specified period of time. It contemplates a hostile possession. While it can provide an avenue for resolving long-standing disputes, adverse possession has been a subject of debate due to its potential to infringe upon the rights of property owners.
Section 3 of the Limitation Act, 1963 says that the law will not take into account of any suit that has crossed the limitation period as per this act.
When someone is in possession of property against the interests of the genuine owner and the true owner does not file a lawsuit to reclaim possession within a certain time frame, the person in possession acquires ownership of the property through adverse possession.
The Limitation Act, of 1963 contains 32 Sections and 137 Articles.
The Law Commission’s Latest Report and Recommendations
The Law Commission, a statutory body in many jurisdictions responsible for reviewing and suggesting reforms to laws, recently examined the issue of adverse possession. While the specifics of the report may vary depending on the jurisdiction, the general aim is to strike a balance between protecting the rights of the true owner and providing certainty in property transactions.
The Law Commission of India has recommended against enlarging the period of limitation provided under Articles 64, 65, 111, or 112 of the Limitation Act, 1963, which encapsulates the law on adverse possession.
Article 65 deals with possession suits based on title (The plaintiff will lose if the defendant proves that he has the right to keep possession (honouring the plaintiff’s possession) as a lessee, licensee, mortgagee, etc.), whereas Art. 64 deals with possession-only suits. (If someone is evicted “otherwise than in due course of law,” they are entitled to get their property back.) Art. 64 places the burden of proof on the plaintiff to demonstrate his possession within 12 years, while Art. 65 places the burden of proof on the defendant to demonstrate when his ownership became unfavourable.
To claim adverse possession, the occupier must prove that they have been in continuous, uninterrupted possession of the land for at least 12 years and that their possession was open, notorious, and hostile to the true owner.
Article 64 and 65 of the Limitation Act
Article 64 and 65 of the Limitation Act, which exists in various legal systems, outline the essential requirements for claiming adverse possession. Article 64 establishes that the possession must be actual, continuous, and uninterrupted for a specific period of time, while Article 65 stipulates the limitation period, typically ranging from 10 to 30 years, within which the adverse possessor can claim ownership. These provisions provide a legal basis for adverse possession claims and ensure that mere possession without any legal title does not automatically lead to ownership rights. Article 65 is a stand-alone clause that applies to all claims for immovable property ownership based on title, namely proprietary title as opposed to possessory title. Suits for possession based on possessory rights are governed by Article 64. According to Article 64, the statute of limitations runs out after 12 years from the date of dispossession. Section 27 provides an exception to the well-known rule that restriction bars only the remedy but does not destroy the title, therefore it must be r/w Section 27. This Section prevents a person who had a right to possession but allowed that right to be lost by inaction from recovering the property from the person in adverse possession after the limitation period has passed.
Case Laws where SC Held that One Cannot Sleep Over His Rights and that the Owner Needs to Be Aware
The Supreme Court has held that owners cannot simply “sleepover” their rights and must exercise due diligence and awareness regarding their property. The court has emphasized that if an owner neglects their property for an extended period, allowing an adverse possessor to openly and continuously occupy it, they may lose their rights due to their own inaction. These judgments underscore the importance of timely action and vigilance on the part of property owners to protect their interests:
Ravinder Kaur Grewal v. Manjit Kaur
The plaintiff has filed suit pleading for declaratory suit declaring the arrangement and ownership of the suit property and also the plaintiff filed one more contention that as the property mentioned in the suit is with the plaintiff for the period of 12 years the ownership right of the complete suit property has transferred to him.
Whether the land ownership should be transferred to the plaintiff?
According to the Supreme Court’s ruling, the plaintiff may assert the defense of title acquisition through adverse possession under Article 65 of the Limitation Act, and the Limitation Act does not prohibit claiming on the basis of adverse possession when a plaintiff’s rights are violated.
In this case, the Supreme Court reaffirmed the principle that property owner has a duty to be aware of their rights and take timely action to protect their property. The court held that if an owner neglects their property, allowing an adverse possessor to openly and continuously occupy it for a long period, the owner may lose their rights due to their own inaction.
Therefore, it can be concluded that the assertion of adverse possession is no longer just a shield but can also be employed as a weapon and that lawsuits brought by a plaintiff claiming ownership or possession based on adverse possession are well-maintained.
These case laws highlight the importance of vigilance and awareness on the part of property owners to safeguard their rights. They emphasized that owners cannot remain passive and must assert their rights promptly to prevent adverse possession claims.
Supreme Court Case Laws Recognizing the Rights of the Owner
The Supreme Court has recognized the rights of property owners in several cases involving adverse possession. In these judgments, the court emphasized the importance of protecting the genuine owner’s interests and held that adverse possession cannot be claimed against a person who is in possession of the property with a lawful title. The court’s decisions highlight the need to strike a balance between the interests of the adverse possessor and the rightful owner, ensuring that the rights of the latter are not unjustly infringed upon.
Case Laws Where the Supreme Court Recognized the Rights of the Owner
The Apex Court criticized the doctrine of adverse possession in Hemaji Waghaji Jat vs. Bhikhabhai Khengarbhai Harijan, contending that it is illogical, irrational, and wholly inappropriate because it punishes the actual owner for failing to take any action within the limitation period. The dishonest person who has illegally gained ownership of the property is rewarded, however. Further, the Supreme Court directed the Union of India to amend and recheck the doctrine.
Gurudwara Sahib v. Gram Panchayat Village Sirthala
The Supreme Court in this case reiterated the principle that adverse possession cannot be claimed against a religious institution unless it is established that the institution has abandoned the property. The court emphasized that the burden of proof lies on the adverse possessor to establish abandonment, and mere non-use of the property does not necessarily indicate abandonment.
Why the Law is Criticized?
Unjust Dispossession: Adverse possession can result in the unjust dispossession of genuine property owners who may have been temporarily absent or unaware of the adverse possessor’s occupation. The law may unintentionally reward those who exploit legal technicalities to claim ownership over someone else’s property.
Inequitable Outcomes: Adverse possession can lead to inequitable outcomes where innocent property owners, who may have legitimate reasons for not asserting their rights, lose their property due to their inaction.
Encouraging Illegal Activities: Adverse possession laws can encourage trespassers and encroachers to occupy and utilize someone else’s property unlawfully with the intention of acquiring ownership rights over time. This can encourage illegal activities and undermine the rule of law.
From my perspective, adverse possession is a legal doctrine that poses challenges and often leads to unjust outcomes for genuine property owners. While it serves a purpose in resolving long-standing disputes and rewarding continuous possession, the potential for abuse and injustice cannot be ignored. Striking a balance between the interests of the adverse possessor and the rightful owner is crucial, as the current legal framework can sometimes result in a loss of property rights without due consideration of the owner’s rights and circumstances.
Based on the assessment of adverse possession and the concerns surrounding it, several recommendations can be made to improve the legal framework:
Review and Amend Laws: Conduct a comprehensive review of adverse possession laws to ensure they strike a fair balance between the rights of the adverse possessor and the genuine owner, taking into account contemporary societal norms and expectations.
Notice Requirements: Introduce stringent notice requirements to inform property owners of adverse possession claims against their property, allowing them a reasonable opportunity to assert their rights.
Shorter Limitation Period: Consider reducing the limitation period required for adverse possession claims to prevent long periods of uncertainty and potential abuse.
Enhanced Judicial Scrutiny: Introduce stricter judicial scrutiny of adverse possession claims to safeguard the rights of genuine owners and prevent wrongful dispossession.
Public Awareness Campaigns: Promote public awareness campaigns to educate property owners about their rights and responsibilities, emphasizing the need for timely action to protect their property interests.
Adverse possession remains a complex legal issue that demands careful consideration and analysis. While the Law Commission’s report, relevant provisions of the Limitation Act, Supreme Court case laws, and recent judgments shed light on the intricacies of this doctrine, there is a pressing need for reforms to strike a fair balance between the interests of adverse possessors and genuine property owners. By implementing the recommended changes, policymakers can aim to rectify the current shortcomings and ensure a more equitable resolution of disputes involving adverse possession.
 (2019) 8 SCC 729
 (2009) 16 SCC 517
 (2014) 1 SCC 669