Supreme Court reiterates that plea of possession hostile to the true owner is essential to establish adverse possession and not merely continuous possession

Shri Uttam Chand v. Nathu Ram & Ors., 2020 SCC Online SC 37 (Decided on 15 January 2020)

Relevant Facts:

The Appellant (Plaintiff) purchased a property from the Managing Officer, Department of Rehabilitation, Government of India in a public auction followed by issuance of sale certificate. The Appellant filed a suit for possession on 17 February 1979 alleging that the Respondents (Defendants) are in unauthorised possession of the property and refused to vacate the same. On the other hand, the Respondents in the written statement denied that the Appellant is the owner of the property and further asserted that their house existed on the property for more than the last two centuries.

Trial Court: It found that the Appellant/Plaintiff is the owner of the property. However, it held that the Respondents/Defendants have adverse possession of the same (Issue No.4).

First Appeal: In the first appeal preferred by the Appellant, the Court affirmed the decision of the Trial Court that the Appellant is the owner of the property but the claim of adverse possession was decided against the Respondents. The Court held that the mere possession of land, however long it may be, would not ripe into possessory title unless the possessor has animus possidendi to hold the land adverse to the title of the true owner. Assertion of title must be clear and unequivocal. In respect of the issue as to whether the suit is time barred, the Court held that the suit was filed before the completion of 12 years and is within the period of limitation.

Second Appeal: In the second appeal, the High Court confirmed the findings on ownership in favour of Appellant. It referred to T. Anjanappa & Ors. v. Somalingappa & Anr., (2006) 7 SCC 570 and held that the Respondents were in open, uninterrupted, peaceful and hostile possession since March 1964 and the period of 12 years was completed in March 1976. The suit was filed in 1979 and therefore, barred by limitation.

Therefore, Appellant filed an appeal before the Supreme Court challenging the High Court order.


Whether the Respondents/Defendants are owner by adverse possession of the suit property?


The Court referred to the following well settled precedents on adverse possession:

  • T. Anjanappa & Ors. v. Somalingappa & Anr., (2006) 7 SCC 570: If the defendants are not sure who the true owner is, the question of them in being hostile possession as well as denying the title of the true owner does not arise. The possession to be adverse must be possession by a person who does not acknowledge the other’s rights but denies them. Possession cannot be held to be adverse if it can be referred to lawful title – because he will not be permitted to show that the possession was hostile to another’s title.
  • Kurella Naga Druva Vudaya Bhaskara Rao v. Galla Jani Kamma (2008) 15 SCC 150: The Payment of tax receipt and mere possession for some years was found insufficient to claim adverse possession
  • Brijesh Kumar v. Shardabai (2019) 9 SCC 369: Adverse possession is hostile possession by assertion of a hostile title in denial of the title of the true owner. It referred to Chatti Konati Rao v. Palle Venkata Subba Rao (2010) 14 SCC 316 wherein it was held that animus possidendi is a requisite ingredient of adverse possession. Mere possession does not ripen into possessory title until the possessor holds the property adverse to the tile of the true owner.
  • Ravinder Kaur Grewal v. Manjit Kaur (2019) 8 SCC 729: Adverse possession requires all three classic requirements to co-exist at the same time – (a) nec vi, i.e. adequate in continuity; (b) nec claim, i.e. adequate in publicity; and (c) nec precario i.e. adverse to the competitior, in denial of his title and knowledge.
  • M Siddiq v. Mahant Suresh Das & Ors, 2019 SCC Online SC 1440 (known as Ayodhya Case): A plea of adverse possession is founded on the acceptance that ownership of the property vests in another, against whom the claimant asserts possession adverse to the title of the other.

In the present case, the Court held that the Respondents have not admitted the title of the property with the managing officer nor with the Appellant. The plea of the Respondents is one of continuous possession but there is no plea that such possession was hostile to the true owner of the suit property. The Court further held that long and continuous possession by itself cannot be construed as adverse possession as Respondents/Defendants never admitted the Appellant /Plaintiff to be owner or that the land never vested with the Managing Officer.

The judgement of High Court was set aside and the Appeal was allowed.


The doctrine of adverse possession is the acquisition of title by the person in possession although he is not the true owner of the property. A person claiming adverse possession has to clearly plead and present all the facts necessary to establish the same and mere possession of 12 years is not sufficient to claim adverse possession. The judgement summarises the settled principles of adverse possession and its essential ingredients.