Telangana High Court: In an appeal against common order passed by the Single Judge on 28-04-2023 dismissing three writ petitions, confined to 53 acres of land, the Division Bench comprising of Alok Aradhe* and T. Vinod Kumar, JJ. discussed in detail the High Court's exercise of jurisdiction under Article 226 of Constitution of India and set aside the impugned order.
The Andhra Pradesh Land Reforms (Ceiling on Agricultural Holdings) Act, 1973 (‘1973 Act') came into force on 1-01-1975, prescribed a ceiling limit on agricultural lands. In furtherance of proceedings initiated after an entire land survey in the district, the Land Reforms Tribunal passed a common order on 2-06-1976 declaring land measuring 27.27 acres to be surplus agricultural land, which was followed by other common orders for land measuring 71.2 acres and 99.07 acres respectively being declared as surplus lands. The State government took possession of the aforesaid surplus land on 23-11-1976 to the extent of 99.07 acres. Parliament enacted the Urban Land (Ceiling and Regulation) Act, 1976 (‘1976 Act') which became applicable to the State of Andhra Pradesh on 17-02-1976.
The Court in Tumati Rangayya v. State of A.P., 1977 SCC OnLine AP 172 held that the provisions of the 1973 Act were not applicable to vacant lands situated within the urban agglomeration. Therefore, the land holders having their land within the urban agglomeration were required to file a statement under Section 6(1) of the 1976 Act. Proceedings for determining excess land were initiated under 1976 Act and notification dated 24-01-1981 under Section 10(3) of 1976 Act conveyed that the land measuring 468.234 acres of land absolutely vested in the State government. Another notice under Section 10(5) of 1976 Act was issued on 26-02-1981 to the General Power of Attorney (‘GPA') holder asking for delivery of possession of land to the extent of 468.234 acres. The said GPA holders submitted an application before the Land Reforms Tribunal on account of Tumati Rangayya v. State of A.P., 1977 SCC OnLine AP 172. The application was rejected by the Tribunal vide order dated 19-04-1982, and the rejection was challenged in appeal. The Land Reforms Appellate Tribunal held that possession of surplus land declared under 1973 Act was taken ex parte on 23-11-1976, and that there was no material to hold that the land measuring 468.234 acres was to be treated as vacant land under 1976 Act. The matter was remitted to the Land Reforms Tribunal for considering whether lands measuring 468.234 acres were vacant lands within the purview of 1976 Act, after giving the applicants an opportunity of being heard.
The Land Reforms Tribunal vide order dated 10-11-1987 held that the land measuring 99.07 acres was directed to be reverted with a request to the Revenue Divisional Officer to hand over its possession to the GPA holder of land owners, and the same was complied with after issuing Certificate of Delivery.
Subsequent proceedings were initiated under the 1976 Act and on 20-07-1993, the Deputy Tahsildar and the Enquiry Officer under the 1976 Act purported to take possession of land measuring 424.38 acres which was declared as excess vacant land. The Andhra Pradesh High Court Division Bench in K. Anjana Devi v. Government of A.P., 2007 SCC OnLine AP 26 placed reliance on Atia Mohammadi Begum v. State of U.P., (1993) 2 SCC 546 and held that the land in question was not vacant land on date of commencement of the Act, and thus, the authorities could not convert the same into vacant land by unilaterally including the same in a Master Plan for purposes other than agriculture. Hence, proceedings under 1976 Act were declared null and void.
The State government filed a civil suit seeking a declaration that the entire land of 526.07 acres belonged to the government. The same was decreed vide judgment dated 3-07-2001 and appealed against wherein, the Andhra Pradesh High Court allowed the appeal dismissed the suit preferred by the government vide judgment dated 27-09-2006. The same was affirmed by the Supreme Court in Order dated 11.04.2008 passed in S.L.P. (Civil) CC No.5221-5223 of 2008.
The appellants purchased 53 acres of the said land vide sale deeds executed between 6-06-2008 to 15-12-2008. The appellants filed writ petition in 2011 against the Lokayukta, Andhra Pradesh Industrial Infrastructure Corporation (‘APIIC') and Revenue authorities seeking directions not to disturb the physical possession of appellants with respect to the said land. The Court passed order in favour of appellants on 22-01-2011 directing Lokayukta not to pass any orders till hearing was pending, but the State government/APIIC were granted liberty to carry on their duties against the said land in accordance with law. The said order was still operative. The appellants filed another writ petition on the ground that despite order dated 22-01-2011, the APIIC officers illegally tried to interfere with appellants' possession over the land. An interim order was passed on 17-02-2012 restraining the authorities from demolishing structures raised by appellants, including fencing sheets. The said order was still operative.
While the two orders were pending and after State reorganization (APIIC became TSIIC), the officers tried to interfere with appellants' possession on 12-09-2016, which led the appellants to file another writ petition praying for declaration of TSIIC officers' action in attempting to enter into the said land and in trying to demolish the fencing without notice and without any authority of law as illegal and void. They also sought relief against TSIIC officers not to demolish structures raised by appellants and not to remove fencing.
The Court framed three issues and analysed the legal context for each.
Issue 1 – Whether the learned Single Judge could have decided the title of the appellants in a writ petition?
The Court relied on Sohan Lal v. Union of India, 1957 SCR 738 wherein a civil suit was held to be an appropriate remedy for question of title rather than approaching the Court under Article 226 of Constitution of India. It followed Thansingh Nathmal v. Supdt. of Taxes, 1964 SCC OnLine SC 13 for Court's explanation on jurisdiction exercised by High Court under Article 226 of Constitution and State of Rajasthan v. Bhawani Singh, 1993 Supp (1) SCC 306 depicting the limits of writ court as against disputed questions of title of a property. It further cited Shalini Shyam Shetty v. Rajendra Shankar Patil, (2010) 8 SCC 329 regarding restriction of High Courts in deciding property/title disputes in Article 226 proceedings.
The Court noted that the appellants bought said land through registered sale deeds which were not challenged by anyone. Hence, considering the position of law through aforementioned case laws, the Court viewed that the Single Judge erred in adjudicating the question of title in summary proceedings of Article 226 of Constitution.
Issue 2 – Whether a person in possession can be dispossessed except in accordance with law?
The Court reiterated the trite law against dispossession except in accordance with law while citing Lallu Yeshwant Singh v. Rao Jagdish Singh, (1968) 2 SCR 203 which was approved in ITC Ltd. v. Adarsh Coop. Housing Society Ltd., (2013) 10 SCC 169. The Court referred to interim order dated 1-03-2011 passed by Division Bench restricting authorities from interfering with the appellants' possession of the said land. It further pointed towards the interim order dated 22-01-2011. The Court highlighted that despite the said orders, the APIIC officers interfered with the appellants' possession and unauthorizedly removed the temporary fencing trying to forcibly dispossess them. The Court regarded such action against the law laid down in Yeshwant Singh (supra) and an impermissible course of action in law.
The Court said that the Single Judge ought to have appreciated the appellants' entitlement to relief sought for in respect of dispossession from said land.
Issue 3 – Whether the Court can deny relief to a party on a ground not pleaded by it?
The Court relied on V.K. Majotra v. Union of India, (2003) 8 SCC 40 wherein, the Supreme Court disapproved the High Court's action in issuing a direction beyond pleadings/pointers raised by the parties during arguments. It further cited State of W.B. v. W.B. Registration Copywriters Assn., (2009) 14 SCC 132 when the Court disapproved the High Court’s order travelling much beyond the pleadings. While referring to a series of cases in this regard, the Court adverted to the facts in the instant case and observed that the scope of writ petition was confined to seeking a writ and not dispossessing the appellants except in accordance with law, since the appellants did not seek declaration of title and their averments regarding title were not denied by the respondent authorities.
The Court opined that no adverse interference could be drawn against the appellants for not filing sale deeds since they sought relief restraining authorities from dispossessing the appellants from said land except in accordance with law. The Court was of the view that the Single Judge of High Court erred in examining the title of vendor of appellants in the absence of challenge against the registered sale deeds executed in their favour, and that the Single Judge ought to have appreciated the appellants' possession and the question of title could not have been examined.
The Court set aside the impugned order dated 28-04-2023 passed by Single Judge of High Court and clarified that the same was confined to the said 53 acres of land in favour of the appellants and the land measuring 470 acres remained in possession of the State government. The Court restrained the respondents from dispossessing the appellants, demolishing fencing sheets and constructions raised. The Court further clarified that there was no opinion in respect of title of the said land in the instant decision and kept the same open to be adjudicated before competent civil court.
[Visweswara Infrastructure Pvt. Ltd. v. The Telangana State Industrial Infrastructure Corporation Ltd., 2023 SCC OnLine TS 2980, decided on 24-08-2023]
*Judgment by: Justice Alok Aradhe
Advocates who appeared in this case :
For Appellants: Senior Advocate Harin Raval, Advocate Chetluru Srinivas
For Respondents: Senior Advocate Harender Pershad, Advocate Nawaz Hyder Ali, Advocate Shyam S. Agarwal, Advocate T. Rathnakar, Senior Advocate E. Ajay Reddy, Advocate E. Anisha Reddy, Advocate K.Durga Prasad, Advocate K. Ratnam, Advocate K. Raghava Charyulu