SC| Settled possession of a property means effective and undisturbed possession

Supreme Court: In a matter where the plaintiff had no document to prove his possession of a property, but   claimed   possessory   title   based   on   prior possession for a number of years, the bench of NV Ramana and MM Shantanagoudar, JJ held:

“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.”

Explaining the law of possession of property, the Court said:

“a   person   who   asserts possessory title over a particular property will have to show that he is under 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.”

The Court further elaborated on the meaning of “Settled possession” as such possession over the property which has existed for a sufficiently long period of time, and has been acquiesced to by the true owner.  It said:

“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.”

The Court, however, said that there cannot be a straitjacket formula to determine settled possession. The nature of possession of the trespasser is to be decided based on the facts and circumstances of each case. 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. [Poona Ra, v. Moti Ram, 2019 SCC OnLine SC 91, decided on 29.01.2019]

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