The Supreme Court has recently granted relief to a 80-year old illiterate widow, whose land was forcibly acquired by the Himachal Pradesh government in 1967-68 without following due process of law for construction of road.

A bench of Justices Indu Malhotra and Ajay Rastogi held that state cannot invoke the doctrine of adverse possession to prefect title over land grabbed from private citizens. Under article 300A of the Constitution, forcible dispossession of a person from his private property is violative of human and constitutional rights.

In this particular case, the land of the appellant in SC, Vidya Devi, had been forcibly taken by the Government in 1967-68 for road construction. She was not aware of the legal remedies as she was illiterate. In 2004, when some other persons lands had been similarly taken by the State approached the High Court, the HC directed the State to acquire their lands under the  LA Act 1894 and provide compensation for the Act.

After knowing about this order, the appellant approached the HC in 2010 by filing a writ  petition claiming compensation for the land in accordance with the process under the LA Act. The State opposed the petition stating that it had perfected title by 42 years of ‘adverse possession’. It also stated that the road had been built over the land and that the appellant should invoke the remedy of a civil suit.

Referring to Article 300A of the Constitution, the Sc said:

“To forcibly dispossess a person of his private property, without following the process of law, would be violative of a human right, as also the constitutional right under Article 300A of the Constitution…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. The State being a welfare State governed by the rule of law cannot arrogate to itself a status beyond what is provided by the Constitution.”

The SC expressed surprise at the plea of ‘adverse possession’ forwarded by the State. It said that a welfare state cannot use the doctrine of ‘adverse possession’ to grab the property of a citizen. It stated, “We are surprised by the plea taken by the State before the High Court, that since it has been in continuous possession of the land over 42 years, it would be tantamount to ‘adverse’ possession. 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.”

Treating the case as a ‘deemed acquisition’, the State was directed to pay the same compensation as was paid in a reference case of an adjacent plot. Taking note of the fact the claimant in that reference case had filed appeal for enhancement of compensation in HC, the Court granted liberty to the present appellant also to file appeal within 8 weeks. The State was directed to pay legal costs and expenses of Rs. 10,00,000/- to the present applicant.


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Link to Judgment:

Vidya Devi v. State of HP & Ors.