Why in News:

The 22nd Law Commission of India (LCI) has recently released its 280th report, recommending that there is no need to alter the existing law concerning adverse possession.

Important Points :

• The Law Commission, led by former Chief Justice of Karnataka High Court, Ritu Raj Awasthi, along with retired Kerala High Court judge KT Sankaran, stated in its 280th report that there is no justification for extending the limitation period.

• However, two ex officio members dissented, expressing that the current law does not withstand judicial scrutiny and encourages false claims under the guise of adverse possession.

Adverse possession :

• Adverse possession is rooted in the notion that land should not remain idle but rather be utilized judiciously. • It refers to the hostile possession of a property, which must be continuous, uninterrupted, and peaceful. •The Law Commission’s report justifies this concept based on considerations such as ensuring clear land ownership, benefiting society by using idle land, and protecting those who regard the occupant as the rightful owner.

• The principle that the law does not favor those who sleep over their rights is invoked to support adverse possession.

• Essentially, if the original title holder neglects to enforce their rights over the land for a significant period, they cannot reclaim it later.

Background :

• Adverse possession traces back to 2000 BC and finds its origins in the Hammurabi Code. In England, the historical basis for “title by adverse possession” was the development of statutes of limitation on actions for recovery of land.

• The Property Limitation Act, 1874, set the limitation period at twelve years for actions for recovery of land, forming the basis for the limitations model adopted by colonial India.

• The Limitation Act in 1963 brought significant changes to the law on adverse possession.

Provisions of the Limitation Act, 1963 :

• The 1963 Act strengthened the position of the true owner, who now only needs to prove their title, while the burden of proof for adverse possession shifted to the claimant.

• Under the 1963 Act, a person in possession of private land for over 12 years or government land for over 30 years can become the owner of that property, as specified in Articles 64, 65, 111, or 112 of the Act.

• Article 65 grants title by adverse possession for immovable property if possession is open, continuous, and hostile to the real owner’s title for twelve years.

• Article 64 applies to suits for possession based on previous possession and not on title, while Article 112 concerns government property, requiring a 30-year possession period for granting title by adverse possession. • The Act underwent changes to strengthen the requirements of openness and continuity for adverse possession claims.

Suggestions for Changes to the Law on Adverse Possession by the Supreme Court :

• The Supreme Court, in various rulings, recommended that the government seriously consider the issue of adverse possession and make suitable changes.

• In its 2008 ruling in Hemaji Waghaji Jat v. Bhikhabhai Khengarbhai Harijan and Others, the court criticized the existing law as irrational, illogical, and disproportionately favoring those who illegally take possession of another’s property.

• The court emphasized the urgent need for a fresh look into the law on adverse possession and recommended the government to seriously consider making suitable changes.

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