Not in possession, file for relief of recovery of possession along with the declaration otherwise suit won’t be maintainable under Section 34 of the SRA.: SC



Date of Judgment- February 13, 2024

CORAM: Justice Hrishikesh Roy, Justice Sanjay Karol

Facts of the case:

The instant dispute originated from a property transfer that occurred in 1947, when a mother distributed inherited property differently among her children. Nearly four decades later, in 1993, the husband of one of her deceased daughters initiated legal action regarding the property. The legal journey began with the Additional District Munsiff in 1999, followed by a decision by the Additional District and Session Judge in 2002. The matter progressed to the High Court, which issued a judgment on the Second Appeal in 2012, prompting the current civil appeal.

Thayammal, the mother, executed a settlement deed in 1947, granting property rights to her sons for their lifetimes, then to her daughters. However, subsequent deeds altered these arrangements. Saroja, one of the daughters, passed away in 1951. Further settlements ensued, including one in 1952 that bequeathed absolute interest to the sons, extinguishing rights of Saroja and her husband, Gopalakrishnan. Gopalakrishnan initiated the lawsuit in 1993, claiming ownership based on the First Settlement Deed.

The trial court addressed key issues, including the genuineness of settlement deeds and the plaintiff’s right to the property. It ruled in favor of the defendants, citing limitations and lack of action by the plaintiff.

In the First Appellate Court, questions arose regarding the plaintiff’s status as legal heir and entitlement to the property share. The court upheld the trial court’s decision, emphasizing the plaintiff’s failure to act within statutory limitations.

The High Court, in the Second Appeal, delved into substantial legal questions regarding property rights, succession laws, and adverse possession. It determined that Saroja held full, not life, interest in the property and ruled in favor of the plaintiff’s entitlement to a share.

The appellants, dissatisfied with the High Court’s decision, likely challenge the interpretation of property laws, succession principles, and the application of limitations. They may argue that the High Court erred in its understanding of vested interests, adverse possession, and the scope of legal heirs’ claims. Additionally, they might contest the assessment of the validity of settlement deeds and the timing of legal actions. Ultimately, the appellants seek a favorable determination from the Supreme Court, asserting their rights to the disputed property.

Laws Involved:

  • Section 19 of the Transfer of Property Act
  • Section 119 of the Indian Succession Act
  • Section 34 of the Specific Relief Act, 1963
  • Article 58, 65 Explanation (a) read with Section 27 of the Limitation Act, 1963
  • Section 57 (a) and (b) , 213 of the Indian Succession Act, 1925

Issues framed by the court:

  • Whether Gopalakrishnan’s suit for declaration based on the First Settlement Deed, eventually filed in the year 1993 barred by limitation?
  • Whether the suit for declaration simpliciter was maintainable in view of Section 34 of the SRA, 1963?

Courts Judgment and Analysis:

The court’s analysis on various legal points revolves around the issues raised in the case, particularly focusing on whether Gopalakrishnan’s suit for declaration based on the First Settlement Deed was barred by limitation and whether the suit for declaration was maintainable under Section 34 of the Specific Relief Act, 1963 (SRA).

Regarding the issue of limitation, the court meticulously examined the provisions of the Limitation Act, 1963, relevant to the dispute. It analyzed the applicability of Section 27 and Articles 58 and 65 of the Act. The court observed that the determination of the period for instituting a suit for possession of property leads to the extinguishment of the right to such property. It deliberated on when the limitation period would expire, thereby making the possession of the suit property hostile to Gopalakrishnan’s rights as the heir of Saroja. The court considered various arguments presented by both parties, including the contention that the period of limitation for establishing adverse possession began upon the death of the life estate holder, Pavunammal, in 2004. Ultimately, the court held that Gopalakrishnan’s suit, filed in 1993, was barred by limitation as the twelve-year period for filing a suit for possession expired in 2016, following Pavunammal’s death in 2004.

Regarding the maintainability of the suit for declaration, the court examined Section 34 of the SRA, 1963, which provides discretion to the court to make a declaration of legal character or right. However, it also contains a proviso stating that the court shall not make such a declaration if the plaintiff, able to seek further relief, omits to do so. The court analyzed previous judgments and legal principles regarding suits for declaration without seeking consequential relief, emphasizing that such suits are not maintainable under Section 34. The court observed that Gopalakrishnan, not being in possession of the property, should have sought the relief of recovery of possession along with the declaration. Since he failed to do so, the suit was held to be not maintainable under Section 34 of the SRA, 1963.

In conclusion, the court set aside the impugned judgment and allowed the appeal, restoring the judgments of the trial court and the first appellate court. The court’s analysis demonstrates a thorough consideration of relevant legal provisions, precedents, and factual circumstances, leading to a reasoned decision on both issues raised in the case.

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Written by- Aditi

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