One can not acquire title to a property only because he or she had been allowed to stay in the premises gratuitously for long,the Supreme Court has ruled,asking courts to deal firmly with those embroiling innocent owners in prolonged real estate litigation.
A three-judge bench of justices Dalveer Bhandari,H L Dattu and Deepak Verma also laid fresh guidelines that caretakers,watchman or servants do not acquire any title to a property merely because of its possession by them for several years.
“No one acquires title to the property if he or she was allowed to stay in the premises gratuitously. Even by long possession of years or decades such person would not acquire any right or interest in the said property,” the court said.
“False claims and defences are really serious problems with real estate litigation,predominantly because of ever escalating prices of the real estate.
“Litigation pertaining to valuable real estate properties is dragged on by unscrupulous litigants in the hope that the other party will tire out and ultimately would settle with them by paying a huge amount.
“This happens because of the enormous delay in adjudication of cases in our courts. If pragmatic approach is adopted,then this problem can be minimised to a large extent,” said Justice Bhandari writing the judgement for the bench.
The apex court passed the ruling while upholding an appeal of Maria Margarida Sequeria Fernandes who was embroiled in a two-decade-long legal battle with her brother and former Member of Parliament Erasmo Jack de Sequeria,whom she had appointed as a caretaker of her property in Goa.
“Caretaker,watchman or servant can never acquire interest in the property irrespective of his long possession. The caretaker or servant has to give (up) possession (of the property) forthwith on demand,” the apex court said.
In this case,Maria wanted to take back her property from Erasmo Jack,but the latter declined to part with it and claimed ownership.
The civil court ruled in his favour and the Bombay High Court concurred with it following which she appealed in the apex court.
The apex court on perusal of the documents arrived at the conclusion that Maria was the owner of the property which she entrusted to her as she was way with her husband a Naval officer staying in different parts of the country.
Noting that several instances of persons refusing to hand over possession of properties to the original owners and dragging them into litigations,the apex court laid down the following guidelines to deal with such issues.
“The Courts are not justified in protecting the possession of a caretaker,servant or any person who was allowed to live in the premises for some time either as a friend,relative,caretaker or as a servant.
“The protection of the court can only be granted or extended to the person who has valid,subsisting rent agreement,lease agreement or license agreement in his favour.
“The caretaker or agent holds property of the principal only on behalf of the principal. He acquires no right or interest whatsoever for himself in such property irrespective of his long stay or possession,” the bench said.
The apex court cited its earlier judgement in Ramrameshwari Devi and Others case that unless wrong doers are denied profit from frivolous litigation,it would be difficult to prevent it.
“In order to curb uncalled for and frivolous litigation,the courts have to ensure that there is no incentive or motive for uncalled for litigation. It is a matter of common experience that otherwise scarce time of courts is consumed or more appropriately,wasted in a large number of uncalled for cases,” the bench said.
The apex court said imposition of heavy fines would also control unnecessary adjournments by the parties in these type of litigations and in appropriate cases,courts may consider ordering prosecution “otherwise it may not be possible to maintain purity and sanctity of judicial proceedings.”
The bench said the safe and better course is to give short notice on injunction application and pass an appropriate order after hearing both the sides.
“In cases of grave urgency,if it becomes imperative to grant an ex-parte ad interim injunction,it should be granted for a specified period,such as,for two weeks.
“Experience has shown that all kinds of pleadings are introduced and even false and fabricated documents are filed in civil cases because there is an inherent profit in continuation of possession.
“In a large number of cases,honest litigants suffer and dishonest litigants get undue benefit by grant or refusal of an injunction because the courts do not critically examine pleadings and documents on record,” the bench said.
The apex court directed Erasmo’s family to vacate the premises within three months failing which Maria would be entitled to recover possession of the premises with the help of police.