A.P. HOUSING BOARD Vs. MOHAMMAD SADATULLAH & ORS  INSC 400 (13 April 2007)
C.K. THAKKER & LOKESHWAR SINGH PANTA
CIVIL APPEAL NOs. 3943/2002 and 3989/2003 C.K. THAKKER, J.
All these appeals are filed against a common judgment and order passed by
the High Court of Judicature, Andhra Pradesh at Hyderabad on March 29, 2000 in various writ petitions. Those writ petitions were filed by the petitioners (Andhra
Pradesh Housing Board, land-owners and contesting respondents) aggrieved by the
judgment and order passed by the Special Court established under the Andhra
Pradesh Land Grabbing (Prohibition) Act, 1982 (hereinafter referred to as 'the
Act') in Land Grabbing Case (L.G.C.) No. 137 of 1989 on September 4, 1995.
The litigation has a chequered history and to understand the controversy
raised by the parties in the present group of appeals, it is necessary to bear
in mind the facts and circumstances under which this Court is called upon to
resolve the controversy.
One Farhatulla, father of original petitioner Nos. 1 to 3 and husband of
petitioner No.4 before the Special Court, was the owner of land bearing Survey
Nos. 45-48, admeasuring 45 acres, of Yousufguda village in the limits of
Golkonda Mandal, Hyderabad in the State of Andhra Pradesh. It appears that the
Andhra Pradesh Housing Board wanted the land for a public purpose i.e., for the
construction of dwelling units for its employees ('Vengal Rao Nagar Housing
Board Colony'). A requisition was, therefore, made for acquisition of land
under Section 22A of the Andhra Pradesh Housing Board Act, 1962 (hereinafter
referred to as 'the Housing Board Act') for 'Housing Scheme'. A notification
was issued on August 5, 1965 and was published in Government Gazette on August 26, 1965. Special Deputy Collector was authorized by the Government by an order
dated October 24, 1967 to exercise power under the Land Acquisition Act, 1894.
Notification under Section 4(1) was issued on March 1, 1968. Notices were also given to the persons interested in the land and for hearing of objections.
An inquiry under Section 5A was conducted and final notification under Section
6 was issued on December 30, 1968. In the final notification, it was stated
that the land admeasuring 45 acres of Survey Nos. 45 to 48 would be required
for public purpose. Notices under Sections 9 and 10 were issued and an Award
No.5 was passed on December 31, 1971 by the Special Deputy Collector, Land
Acquisition, Housing Board. The said Award was not challenged by any party and
it had become final and binding. It is also clear from the record that though
the acquisition was in respect of 45 acres of land and the Award was also
passed for 45 acres, the Housing Board could take possession of only 43 acres
land. It could not acquire possession of two acres of land since it was
occupied by hut dwellers. In the Award itself, a direction was given that an
amount of Rs.50,094/- which was the compensation towards two acres of land
which could not be taken possession of because of existence of huts, should be
deposited in the treasury and such amount should be paid to the land-owners
only after they evict the hut dwellers and deliver possession of the said land
to the Housing Board. The Land Grabbing Case relates to the said two acres of
land which will hereafter be referred to as the 'petition schedule land'.
The land-owners had not received compensation of Rs.50,094/- in respect of
two acres of land. They, therefore, asserted that they continued to remain
owners of the land and submitted an application to the Municipal Corporation of
Hyderabad (MCH) to sanction layout for sub-division of two acres of land of Survey
No.45. The MCH, however, asked the land-owners to furnish 'No Objection
Certificate' (NOC) from the Housing Board as also Clearance Certificate (CC)
from the Special Officer and Competent Authority under the Urban Land (Ceiling
and Regulation) Act, 1976. Since NOC was not granted by the Housing Board nor
layout sanctioned by MCH, the land-owners filed a petition being Writ Petition
No. 4194 of 1988 challenging the requirement of NOC by the Housing Board and
directing MCH to sanction layout without insisting for NOC from the Housing
Board and declaring that land acquisition proceedings in respect of the said
land had lapsed. The High Court allowed the petition and granted the relief by
judgment and order dated December 8, 1988. It was held by the High Court that
the possession could not be taken by the Housing Board of two acres of land nor
the amount was paid to the owners and the proceedings lapsed. In view of the
findings recorded by the High Court in the Writ Petition, the
petitioners-land-owners filed Land Grabbing Case (L.G.C.) No. 137 of 1989 in
the Special Court under the Act and prayed for eviction of unauthorized
encroachers in two acres of land owned by late Farhatulla, father of petitioner
Nos. 1 to 3 and husband of petitioner No.4.
A counter was filed by respondent Nos.1 to 3, inter alia, contending that
they and their forefathers had been in possession of the land said to have been
encroached by them and they were cultivating it since time immemorial. They and
their predecessors were in actual occupation of land and their possession was
never objected by the petitioners. The Land Acquisition Officer who passed the
Award also held that huts were found in existence on the 'petition schedule
land' since about forty-five years. Thus, the respondents had also perfected
their title by adverse possession. It was further stated that they had filed
Original Suit No. 1550 of 1985 in the Court of IVth Additional Judge, City
Civil Court, Hyderabad and had obtained interim injunction against the
petitioners restraining them from interfering with their possession over the
'petition schedule land'. The respondents applied for layout from MCH and also
constructed houses on the said land. It was stated that when MCH caused
obstruction against such construction, the respondents filed Writ Petition No.
29886 of 1986 and obtained interim relief. Farhatulla admitted in Criminal
Case No. 259 of 1974 on the file of the IVth Metropolitan Magistrate that he
had no title deeds in respect of the 'petition schedule land' and did not
personally occupy it at any time except half an acre.
It was further stated that petitioner No.1 also made similar statement in
Original Petition No. 258 of 1979 on the file of the 1st Additional Judge, City
Civil Court, Hyderabad. It was asserted that most of the residents in the
'petition schedule land' were paying land revenue and they should be deemed to
be pattadars and in possession of the said land, notwithstanding the wrong
entries made in the Revenue Records. As the petitioners had no title over the
'petition schedule land' and respondent Nos. 1 to 3 and their predecessors in
title had acquired title by adverse possession over the land, they could not be
treated as 'land grabbers'.
Respondent No. 4 filed a separate counter, contending that one Raj Lakshmana
Rao, Jagirdar of Yousufguda village granted five acres of land of Survey No. 45
in the year 1940 as Inam which included the 'petition schedule land' to his
father P. Venkaiah for clearing the jungle and for removing the boulders found
in it. The said P. Venkaiah was regularly paying land revenue for that five
acres of land and was cultivating it by raising dry crops. Ultimately, the said
Jagirdar granted patta in favour of P. Venkaiah. The father of Respondent No.4
died long back and he found Urdu document with the Seal of Jagirdar of
When translated, it was found to be a patta certificate issued by late
Jagirdar Lakshmana Rao in favour of father of respondent No.4. Thus, he was the
owner and possessor of land of Survey No. 45 admeasuring five acres and cannot
be treated as 'land grabber'. He had been in occupation of the land being
claimed by him since the time of his father, he is entitled to patta rights
under Rule 2 of the Rules regarding grant of pattadar rights in Khalsa village.
Respondent Nos. 5 and 6 filed a common counter. It was their case that land
in Yousufguda village was included in the municipal limits of MCH long back. It
is now fully developed urban area used for building purposes. According to
them, if the 'petition schedule land' belonged to late Farhatulla as was
claimed by the petitioners, it should have been shown in their declaration
under Section 6 of the Urban Land (Ceiling and Regulation) Act, 1976. But it
was not included.
According to these respondents, they purchased 1760 sq.
yards from the 'petition schedule land' along with structures thereon which
was surrounded by a compound wall. After obtaining necessary permission from
MCH, they had made construction on the property.
In the written submissions filed before this Court, they have stated that
they have improved the property and have built a four-storey building in 1986
and are running a college since about two decades. They stated that Yousufguda
village was an ex-Jagir village of Lakshmana Rao, the Jagirdar. Though it was
claimed on behalf of the petitioners that late Farhatulla had purchased fifty
acres of land of Survey Nos. 45 to 48, the sale deed in respect of the said
transaction was not filed. It was further stated that the erstwhile Government
of Hyderabad framed Rules in 1356 Fasli regarding the grant of pattadari rights
in non-Khalsa villages (Jagir villages). Under Rule 2, all persons who held
Jagir lands paying land revenue in all the Jagirs were deemed to be pattadars
of the land held by them, notwithstanding any oral or written agreement between
the Jagirdars or any other person and also notwithstanding any entry contrary
to that effect in the concerned village records. Rule 3 of the Rules required
the Revenue Authorities to record the names of actual occupants. Rule 4
directed that the names of the Jagirdars should not be recorded in the Revenue
Records as pattadars of lands, unless Jagirdars were personally cultivating
such lands. Under Rule 5, the Jagir ryots were entitled to restoration of
possession of the lands that were in their cultivation even if they were
evicted by the Jagirdars. Rule 6 made the rights accrued to the Jagir ryots
heritable. Though the Rules were not implemented prior to the abolition of
Jagirs, the Revenue Officials were directed to implement them by Circular No.2
of 1949. Late Farhatullah worked as Collector in the Revenue Department and his
services were terminated after a police action. In his capacity as the District
Collector, he got the entries manipulated in the Revenue Records in his favour
ignoring the existing facts as to occupation of Jagir ryots. Respondent Nos.5,
6 and other respondents, who were alleged to have grabbed the 'petition
schedule land', were in actual occupation of the lands since more than 50
years. On that ground, possession of the land could not be taken over from
them. Neither Farhatulla nor the Government could get the land vacated. Even if
it were taken for granted that Farhatullah or the Government had title over the
'petition schedule land', their rights got extinguished as respondents had
perfected their title over the said land by 'adverse possession'.
Respondent No. 8 raised contentions that his forefathers had been in
possession of the land and were cultivating it. Respondent No.12 in his reply
stated that he had purchased 577 square yards of land with a house situated in
Bharat Nagar Colony which was a portion of 'petition schedule land' under a
registered sale deed dated December 14, 1984 from respondent No.8 and he could
not be described as 'land grabber'.
Respondent Nos. 14 and 15, in their common counter, contended that they had
purchased 279 square yards of land which was the portion of 'petition schedule
land' under a registered sale deed dated April 11, 1986 from one Kurupaiah who was the owner of the land. It was further stated that when Koteswara
Rao tried to interfere with their possession, they filed Original Suit No. 1721
of 1986 in the Court of IXth Assistant Judge, City Civil Court, Hyderabad and
obtained interim injunction. Respondent No.16 in his counter contended that he
had purchased 350 square yards of the 'petition schedule land' under a
registered sale deed dated March 4, 1985 from one Chandraiah who had occupancy
rights over the said land. He also contended that he had perfected his title
over it by 'adverse possession'. He was in occupation of the purchased land
Respondent No.18, in his counter, stated that he had purchased 279 square
yards of land which was a portion of 'petition schedule land' along with
respondent No.17 under a registered sale deed dated April 11, 1980 from
Kurupaiah who was having occupancy rights over the land. He stated that he had
also perfected his title by 'adverse possession'. He refers to Original Suit
No. 1719 of 1986 on the file of IIIrd Assistant Judge, City Civil Court, Hyderabad
against Koteswara Rao who was said to be an agent of petitioner Nos.3 and 4. He
stated that the suit was filed since Koteswara Rao tried to interfere with
Respondent No.19 filed a separate counter contending that he had purchased
234 square yards of land and a portion of the house by a registered sale deed
dated April 15, 1986 from Kurupaiah and was in possession and enjoyment of it.
Respondent No.35 in his reply contended that he and respondent No.34 purchased
the house of 540 square yards from a portion of 'petition schedule land' from
one P. Francie s/o Papaiah under a registered sale deed dated April 30, 1985
and were in occupation of the said land since the date of purchase.
According to them, they were residing in their native village in Guntur
District and in their absence, respondent No.22Housing Board demolished the
existing structures and constructed a compound wall in the place of fencing in
the year 1992 enclosing the site purchased by them. They could not do anything
and they were entitled to get back their property from Respondent No.22.
Respondent No.36 in the counter contended that he purchased 800 square yards
of land with a house which was a portion of the 'petition schedule land' from
one M.P. Jeevaratnam, s/o Pochaiah under a registered sale deed dated April 30,
1985 and since then he was in occupation thereof.
Respondent No. 22 was A.P. Housing Board (impleaded later on). The Board, in
its counter, inter alia, contended that it was the absolute owner and in
possession of the land covered by Award dated 31st December, 1971. Under the Award, compensation in respect of two acres of land of Survey No.45 was to be
paid to Farhatullah, the pattadar on his handing over vacant possession of the
said land to A.P. Housing Board.
The possession could not be given to the Board by the land-owner since there
were huts thereon. The amount in respect of two acres of land, therefore, was
ordered to be deposited. In the order of the High Court dated December 8, 1988 in Writ Petition No. 4194 of 1988, it was held that Award to the extent
of two acres of land was illegal and respondent No.22 Board had not acquired
any right over the said land. According to Housing Board, it had preferred a
Writ Appeal against the said order and hence it could not be said that the
order of the High Court had become final. In the duly sanctioned layout by the
Director of Town Planning, it was clearly demarcated that two acres of land was
covered by huts. As per the order passed in Writ Petition No. 1803 of 1991
filed against Housing Board by Indira Nagar Hut Dwellers Association, Yousufguda,
the High Court directed the Association to approach a Civil Court for
appropriate relief. According to the Board, it had erected a fencing,
constructed a rest room and also displayed a board that the land so fenced
belonged to the Board. The area within the fencing was in occupation of the
Board under the Award dated December 31, 1971. Neither the petitioners nor the
respondents had any right to claim the said area covered by the fencing.
An additional counter was also field by the Housing Board wherein it was
contended that the land around which the Housing Board fenced, formed part of
43 acres of land, the possession of which was delivered to the Board under
Award No. 5 of December 31, 1971.
According to the Board, the land claimed by the petitioners was not the one
that was not taken possession by the Housing Board on the ground that the land
was occupied by the hutment-dwellers, was encroached and huts were in
existence. The 'petition schedule land' in Land Grabbing Case and the land in
respect of which Writ Petition No. 4194 of 1988 was filed, were different. The
land for which approval of the layout was sought from MCH and the land under
the Writ Petition were also different. It was, therefore, submitted that
neither the Board can be said to be 'land grabber' nor the petitioners were
entitled to any relief.
On the basis of the pleading of the parties, the Special Court framed
requisite issues, examined witnesses, perused the record, considered the
evidence adduced by the parties and passed final order on September 4, 1995
partly allowing the petition and directing the Revenue Divisional Officer to
take appropriate steps to deliver possession of the 'petition schedule land' to
the petitioners by evicting the A.P.
Housing Board within two months and report compliance in accordance with
law. It, however, held that respondent Nos. 4 to 6 had perfected their title
over the land possessed by them by 'adverse possession'. The Court granted
liberty to respondent Nos. 14, 16 to 18 and 34 to 36 to establish before a
regular Civil Court their title in respect of land in their possession
clarifying that the judgment rendered by it would not affect the rights of
In this connection, the Special Court concluded;
On the basis of the evidence on record, we gave finding that the
Petition-Schedule site in this LGC is the site shown as ABCDEFGH in Ex. B-35
plan which is admittedly in occupation of R-4 to R-6 and R-22 (A.P. Housing
Board). In view of our finding that R-4 to R-6 have perfected their title over
the sites in their occupation which are shown in Ex.
B-35 within the area marked as ABCDEFGH, we find that they cannot be treated
as land grabbers.
For want of evidence regarding the identity of the site alleged to have been
grabbed by other respondents other than R-22, we find that they cannot be
treated as land grabbers. It is not the contention of the petitioner that R-22
is a land grabber. Hence, we find that none of the Respondents in the LGC are
land grabbers. As regards title of the site in the Petition-Schedule land
covered by Ex. B-5, B-8, B-9, B-40 and B-41 Sale Deed, the Petitioners and the
vendees under the said Sale Deeds are at liberty to establish their title in
the result Civil Courts.
Being aggrieved by the judgment of the Special Court, writ petitions were
filed in the High Court of Andhra Pradesh. Whereas A.P. Housing Board had
grievance against the direction to hand over possession of two acres of land to
the petitioners, original petitioners were aggrieved by the order of the Court
in not allowing their petition in its entirety. Respondent No.4 as also
respondent Nos. 34 to 36 were also not satisfied with the order passed by the Special
Court and they also approached the High Court.
The High Court, by a common judgment dated March 29, 2000 dismissed all the petitions. The aggrieved appellants have challenged the said decision in
this Court. Leave was granted by this Court and appeals were admitted. All the
appeals have now been placed for final hearing before us.
We have heard the learned advocates for the parties at length.
The learned counsel for A.P. Housing Board (C.A.
No. 3942 of 2002) contended that the expression 'land grabber' in the Act
cannot include the 'Government' or instrumentality of 'State' and neither the
Government nor such instrumentality of 'State' can be held to be 'land grabber'
under the Act. According to him, the expression 'person' would contextually
mean natural person only and not artificial, legal or juristic person. It was
also urged that Special Court established under the Act had no jurisdiction to
pass an order of eviction against the Housing Board. The counsel submitted that
the High Court was not justified in observing that it was open to the parties
to establish their right to the property in any other forum. All questions
'under the Act' ought to have been decided by the Special Court keeping in view
the relevant provisions of law. It was urged that when proceedings had been
taken under the Land Acquisition Act and Award was passed for acquisition of 45
acres of land, it could not be held that the Housing Board had not become owner
of two acres of land, possession of which could not be delivered to the Board
by the land owners since the land was encroached upon by hutment dwellers. The
land stood vested in the Housing Board free from all encumbrances and the land
owners thereafter had no right, title or interest therein. It was admitted that
though writ petition filed by the land owners was allowed by the High Court and
the said decision had attained finality, the land covered by the decision was
different. It was also argued that once the Special Court recorded a finding
that Housing Board could not be said to be 'land grabber', it had no
jurisdiction to issue any direction to the Revenue Authorities to handover
possession of two acres of land to the land owners from the Housing Board.
The only order which could have been passed by the Special Court was to
dismiss the petition. It was, therefore, submitted that the appeal filed by the
Housing Board deserves to be allowed by setting aside the order passed by the Special
Court as well as by the High Court.
Civil Appeal No. 3989 of 2003 was filed by the respondent No. 4 in Land
Grabbing Case. According to him, the Special Court as well as the High Court
were right in upholding his contention that he was in adverse possession of the
land and had become owner thereof.
Both the Courts, however, were wrong in recording a finding that he had
perfected his title only in respect of 770.55 square yards of land. According
to him, he had perfected his title for five acres of land and his prayer
deserves to be granted by this Court.
Civil Appeal No. 3943 of 2002 was filed by original petitioners-landowners.
Their case is that they were the owners of the suit property and neither the
Housing Board nor other respondents had any right, title or interest in the
land. It was submitted that the Special Court committed an error of law in
holding that some of the respondents including respondent No. 4 had perfected their
title by way of adverse possession. Such a finding could not have been recorded
by Special Court established under the Act. It was also submitted that both the
Courts were right in holding that out of forty-five acres of land said to have
been acquired by the A.P.
Housing Board, possession of only forty-three acres of land could be
obtained by the Board and amount of compensation was paid for the said land. In
respect of two acres of land, neither the possession could be taken by the
Board nor amount of compensation was paid by it.
Obviously the Housing Board did not become owner of two acres of land. The
Housing Board, therefore, could not claim ownership over that land. The
appellants, hence, applied for layout of two acres of land to MCH.
But when MCH insisted for No Objection Certificate (NOC) from the Housing
Board, they were constrained to approach the High Court and the High Court held
that the Board had no right over two acres of land and the land owners
continued to remain owners of the property.
No appeal had been filed against the said order and it had become final and
binding. In view of the said finding, the Special Court as well as the High
Court were right in ordering handing over possession of the land to them.
According to the appellants, however, the Special Court and the High Court
were wrong in not granting relief against the other respondents. It was also
contended that the Special Court exceeded its jurisdiction in entering into the
question of adverse possession which was not in the domain of Special Court.
Such a question could be decided only by a Civil Court. The High Court, in the
circumstances, ought to have allowed the writ petition filed by the land-owners
and ought to have set aside the finding as to ownership of respondents by
adverse possession. It was, therefore, submitted that the appeal filed by the
land-owners deserves to be allowed.
Before we deal with the contentions of the parties, it would be appropriate
if we hurriedly glance the relevant provisions of the Act. The Preamble of the
Act states that the Act has been enacted with a view to prohibit the activity
of land grabbing in the State of Andhra Pradesh which has adversely affected
public order and it was, therefore, necessary to arrest and curb immediately such
In the statement of objects and reasons, it has been observed;
Statement of Objects and Reasons "It has come to the notice of the
Government that there are organised attempts on the part of certain lawless
persons operating individually and in groups to grab either by force, or by
deceit or otherwise lands belonging to the Government, a local authority, a
religious or charitable institution or endowment, including a wakf or any other
private person. The land grabbers are forming bogus cooperative housing
societies or setting up fictitious claims and including in large scale and
unprecedented and fraudulent sales of land through unscrupulous real estate
dealers or otherwise in favour of certain section of people, resulting in large
scale accumulation of the unaccounted wealth. As public order is also adversely
affected thereby now and then by such unlawful activities of land grabbers in
the State, particularly in respect of urban and urbanisable land, it was felt
necessary to arrest and curb such unlawful activities immediately by enacting a
special law in that regard."
It has been further stated:
"Whereas there are organized attempts on the part of certain lawless
persons operating individually and in groups, to grab, either by force or by
deceit or otherwise, lands (whether belonging to the Government, a local
authority, a religious or charitable institution or endowment, including a
wakf, or any other private persons) who are known as 'land grabbers'.
And whereas such land grabbers are forming bogus co-operative housing
societies or setting up fictitious claims and indulging in large scale and
unprecedented and fraudulent sales of lands belonging to the Government, local
authority, religious or charitable institutions or endowments including a wakf
or private persons, through unscrupulous real estate dealers or otherwise in
favour of certain sections of the people resulting in large accumulation of
unaccounted wealth and quick money to land grabbers;
And whereas, having regard to the resources and influence of the persons by
whom, the large scale on which and the manner in which, the unlawful activity
of land grabbing was, has been or is being organized and carried on in
violation of law by them, as land grabbers in the State of Andhra Pradesh, and
particularly in its urban areas, it is necessary to arrest and curb immediately
such unlawful activity of land grabbing;
And whereas public order is adversely affected by such unlawful activity of
that the Act has been enacted.
Section 1 states that the Act extends to the whole of the State of Andhra
Pradesh and applies to the lands specified therein. Section 2 is 'legislative
dictionary' and defines certain terms. For our purpose, the terms 'land
grabber' [clause (d)] and 'land grabbing' [clause (e)] are material and they
may be reproduced;
2 (d) "land grabber" means a person or a group of persons who
commits land grabbing and includes any person who gives financial aid to any
person for taking illegal possession of lands or for construction of
unauthorized structures thereon, or who collects or attempts to collect from
any occupiers of such lands rent, compensation and other charges by criminal
intimidation, or who abets the doing of any of the above mentioned acts, and also
includes the successors in interest;
2 (e) "land grabbing" means every activity of grabbing of any land
(whether belonging to the Government, a local authority, a religious or
charitable institution or endowment, including a wakf, or any other private person)
by a person or group of persons, without any lawful entitlement and with a view
to illegally taking possession of such lands, or enter into or create illegal
tenancies or lease and licence agreements or any other illegal agreements in
respect of such lands, or to construct unauthorized structures thereon for sale
or hire, or give such lands to any person on rental or lease and licence basis
for construction, or use and occupation of unauthorized structures; and the
term "to grab land" shall be construed accordingly", Section 3
declares land grabbing in any form to be unlawful and an offence punishable
under the Act.
Section 4 prohibits land grabbing and prescribes punishment for committing
an offence of land-grabbing.
Section 5 is also a provision for other offences in connection with land
grabbing and prescribes penalties.
Section 6 does not spare even Companies from the consequences of conviction
and punishment, if they commit an act of land-grabbing. Section 7 of the Act
enables the Government to constitute Special Courts for the purpose of
providing speedy inquiry into the alleged act of land grabbing and trial of
cases in respect of the ownership and title to, or lawful possession of the
land 'grabbed'. The relevant part of the said section reads thus;
"7. Constitution of Special Courts :- (1) The Government may, for the
purpose of providing speedy enquiry into any alleged act of land grabbing, and
trial of cases in respect of the ownership and title to, or lawful possession
of, the land grabbed, by notification, constitute a Special Court.
(2) A Special Court shall consist of a Chairman and four other members, to
be appointed by the Government.
(3) The Chairman shall be a person who is or has been a Judge of a High
Court and of the other four members, two shall be persons who are or have been
District Judges (hereinafter referred to as Judicial Members) and the other two
members shall be persons who hold or have held a post not below the rank of a
District Collector (hereinafter referred to as Revenue Members ):
Provided that the appointment of a person who was a Judge of a High Court as
the Chairman of the Special Court shall be made after consultation with the
Chief Justice of the High Court concerned;
Provided further that where a sitting Judge of a High Court is to be
appointed as Chairman, such appointment shall be made after nomination by the
Chief Justice of the High Court concerned, with the concurrence of the Chief
Justice of India.
(4) The Government from time to time likewise reconstitute the Special Court
constituted under sub-section (1) or may, at any time abolish such Special
(4A) The Chairman or other member shall hold office as such for a term of
two years from the date on which he enters upon his office, or until the Special
Court is reconstituted or abolished under sub-section (4), whichever is
(4B)(a) Subject to the other provisions of this Act, the jurisdiction,
powers and authority of the Special Court may be exercised by benches thereof
one comprising of the Chairman, a judicial member and a Revenue member and the
other comprising of a Judicial Member and a Revenue Member.
(b) Where the bench comprises of the Chairman, he shall be the Presiding
Officer of such a bench and where the bench consists of two members, the
Judicial Member shall be the Presiding Officer.
(c) It shall be competent for the Chairman either suo motu or on a reference
made to him to withdraw any case pending before the bench comprising of two
members and dispose of the same or to transfer any case from one bench to
another bench in the interest of justice.
(d) Where it is reasonably apprehended that the trial of civil liability of
a person accused of an offence under this Act, is likely to take considerable
time, it shall be competent for the Chairman to entrust the trial of the
criminal liability of such offender to another bench in the interest of speedy
disposal of the case.
(e) Where a case under this Act is heard by a bench consisting of two
members and the members thereof are divided in opinion, the case with their
opinions shall be laid before another judicial member or the Chairman and that
member or Chairman, as the case may be, after such hearing as he thinks fit,
shall deliver his opinion and the decision or order shall follow that opinion.
(5) The quorum to constitute a meeting of any bench of the Special Court
shall be two.
. (5D) (i). Notwithstanding anything in the Code of Civil Procedure,
1908 (5 of 1908), the Special Court may follow its own procedure which shall
not be inconsistent with the principles of natural justice and fair play and
subject to the other provisions of this Act and of any rules made thereunder
while deciding the civil liability.
(ii) Notwithstanding anything contained in Section 260 or Section 262 of the
Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (2 of 1974) every offence punishable under
this Act shall be tried in a summary way and the provisions of Sections 263 to
265 (both inclusive) of the said Code shall, as far as may be, apply to such trial.
(iii) When a person is convicted of an offence of land grabbing attended by
criminal force or show of force or by criminal intimidation, and it appears to
the Special Court that, by such force or show of force or intimidation the land
of any person has been grabbed, the Special Court may if it thinks fit, order
that possession of the same be restored to that person after evicting by force,
if necessary, any other person who may be in possession of the property.
(6) No act or proceeding of the Special Court shall be deemed to be invalid
by reason only of the existence of any vacancy among its members or any defect
in the Constitution or re-constitution thereof.
Section 7A allows creation of Special Tribunals and prescribe their powers.
Section 8 deals with powers and procedure of Special Courts. Under Section 9,
Special Courts have all the powers of Civil Court and the Court of Session in
conducting the cases before it. Section 10 declares law relating to burden of
proof and enacts that where in any proceeding under the Act, a land is alleged
to have been grabbed and prima facie case is made out, it will be presumed that
the person is a land grabber and burden of proving that the land had not been
grabbed by him shall be on such person. Whereas Section 14 protects persons
acting in good faith, Section 15 gives overriding effect to the Act over other
The scheme of the Act is thus clear that it is a special legislation enacted
with a view to deal with and decide cases of land grabbing expeditiously. In
interpreting the provisions of the Act, the said objective of the legislature
has always to be kept in view.
The provisions of the Act came up for consideration before this Court in few
cases. In Konda Lakshmana Bapuji v. Government of A.P. & Ors., (2002) 3 SCC
JT 2002 (2) SC 253, a decision rendered by Special Court under the Act and
confirmed by the High Court came to be challenged in this Court. One of the
considerations before this Court was as to whether the Special Court could
entertain a suit when there was bona fide dispute of title by the other side.
The Court considered the relevant provisions of law and held that when the
petitioner alleges that the respondent is land grabber, Special Court has
jurisdiction to inquire into the dispute and it can pass an order and issue
direction if it comes to the conclusion that there was 'land grabbing' and the
respondent is a 'land grabber'. The Court considered the definition clause and
the expressions 'land grabber' and 'land grabbing' and held that whenever there
is land grabbing under the Act, proceedings can be initiated and the case can
be decided by Special Court constituted under the Act. The Court also held that
for the purpose of taking cognizance of a case under the Act, existence of an allegation
of any act of land grabbing is sine qua non and not the truth or otherwise of
the allegation. But to hold the person to be a 'land grabber', it is necessary
to find that the allegations satisfying the requirement of land grabbing are
proved. To make out a case under the Act, therefore, the petitioner before the
Special Court must plead and prove two ingredients, namely, possidendi i.e.,
factual possession and animus i.e., intention of the person who is alleged to
have grabbed land. If the two conditions are fulfilled, Special Court has
jurisdiction to deal with and decide the matter and an appropriate order can be
passed under the Act. It was also held that the jurisdiction of High Courts
under Article 226 as also of this Court under Article 136 of the Constitution
is limited and findings of the fact arrived at by the Special Court cannot be
interfered with in exercise of constitutional jurisdiction. The law laid down
in Konda Lakshmana Bapuji was reiterated and quoted with approval in State of
A.P. v. P.V. Hanumantha Rao (dead) through L.Rs. &
Another, (2003) 10 SCC 121 : JT 2003 (7) SC 438 by observing that an order
passed by the Special Court can be interfered with by a High Court in exercise
of power of judicial review where (1) there is an error manifest and apparent
on the face of the proceedings such as when it is based on clear misreading or
utter disregard of the provisions of law, and (2) a grave injustice or gross
failure of justice has occasioned thereby. [See also Gouni Satya Reddi v. Government
of A.P. & Ors., (2004) 7 SCC 398].
So far as the facts of the present proceedings are concerned, forty-five
acres of land of Survey No. 45 belonged to the land-owners was sought to be
acquired for the purpose of construction of quarters by the A.P.
Housing Board. Forty-three acres of land only could be acquired and
possession of two acres of land could not be obtained by the Board. Amount of
compensation was paid to the land-owners in respect of forty-three acres of
land only. The land-owners, therefore, applied to MCH for layout for two acres
of land. When MCH insisted for NOC by the Housing Board, the land-owners filed
a writ petition in the High Court of Andhra Pradesh that in view of the fact
that they were not paid compensation for two acres of land and actual
possession of the land had never been received by the Housing Board, it had no
right whatsoever over the said land. MCH, therefore, could not insist on
obtaining of NOC from Housing Board. The High Court heard both the parties. It
also referred to orders issued by A.P. Housing Board and an order passed by the
Government on March 13, 1979. In paras 4 & 5 of the order, the Government
"4. The Chairman, A.P. Housing Board has reported that there is a lot
of litigation involved on the land in question and it is not possible to take
possession of this piece of two acres of land even if houses are allotted to
the satisfaction of the rival groups. The amount of Rs.50,094/- belonging to
the Housing Board is unnecessarily locked up with the special Deputy Collector
(Land Acquisition) and either the special Deputy Collector of the Board is not
in a position to decide whether hut dwellers have got any claim over this land
since the Special Deputy Collector (Land Acquisition) has accepted Sri Farhatullah
is the owner of the land in the award passed by him. Moreover it is also
reported that this piece of land is shown as long spice in the sanctioned
layout of the colony. As such, the Board is not interested to have this land
for taking up a Scheme. Therefore, the Chairman has suggested that the Special
Deputy Collector (Land Acquisition) may be instructed to de- notify this land
from acquisition and return the amount deposited with him by the Housing Board.
5. Government having examined the matter carefully accept the proposal of
the Chairman, A.P. Housing Board and direct the Special Deputy Collector, Land
Acquisition (Hyderabad) to send proposals for denotification of the land in
question from acquisition and return the amount deposited with him by the A.P.
On the basis of the said order, the High Court observed that no land could
be acquired without payment of compensation. No provision under the Act was
shown to the Court which obliged the owner to handover vacant possession of the
land and to withhold payment of compensation. It was not a voluntary sale or
purchase. It was a compulsory acquisition. If the acquiring bodies felt that
there was difficulty in getting possession, it was for them to make up their
mind whether to acquire or not to acquire such land. No obligation, however,
could be imposed upon the owner to handover vacant possession of land. No order
as to payment of compensation could be made subject to condition of handing
over possession by the owner. Such Award could not be said to be an Award
contemplated under the Land Acquisition Act. Though the proceedings started in
1965 and the Award was passed in 1971, no compensation was paid till the matter
was decided by the High Court in 1988.
The Court, therefore, stated;
"The acquisition of land without payment of compensation is wholly
without jurisdiction and the Award is a nullity."
The Court concluded;
"In the instant case, the circumstances do not warrant withholding of
the relief which the petitioners are otherwise entitled. The acquisition of the
land without providing for compensation is wholly illegal. The payment of
compensation was made dependant upon certain conditions to be fulfilled by the
party which is not envisaged under the Land Acquisition Act. The lands can be
acquired only in accordance with the provisions of the Act and the award is
unreasonable, oppressive and unfair. The authorities cannot say that they will
keep the land under acquisition without paying the compensation amount.
Compensation was not paid for over 23 years.
Such an award is alien to the scheme and intendment of the Land Acquisition
Act and is void. The entire acquisition proceedings must be deemed to have
lapsed. The petitioners are therefore entitled to ignore the award and proceed
to deal with the land which admittedly belongs to them."
(emphasis supplied) Regarding insistence by MCH for NOC from the Housing
Board, the High Court held that since the Housing Board had no title to the
property and admittedly no possession was received by the Board, requirement of
NOC could not be insisted. Moreover, the Award itself for two acres of land
could not be said to be legal. MCH was, therefore, directed to consider the
application of the land-owner without insisting for such certificate. The
petition was accordingly allowed.
Though in the appeal filed by the A.P. Housing Board in the present
proceedings, it was asserted that the decision of the High Court in Writ
Petition No. 4194 of 1988 was not final as appeal was filed against the said
decision, at the time of hearing of the appeal, it was admitted that no such
appeal was filed against the judgment of the High Court and the decision had
attained finality. The consequence of the decision of the High Court in the
circumstances is that in respect of two acres of land, proceedings under the
Land Acquisition Act were held bad, award nullity and the land-owner continued
to remain owner of the property with all rights, title and interest therein. If
it is so, neither the Housing Board nor any other person can have any right
over the said land. The Land Grabbing case instituted by the original
land-owners in respect of two acres of land was, therefore, maintainable and
the Court was required to decide the case in accordance with law. It is immaterial
that the Housing Board is merely juristic person and not natural person.
The Special Court, in our opinion, considered the decision of the High Court
in earlier petition in its proper perspective and recorded a finding that
Housing Board was not the owner of the 'petition schedule land' as claimed by
it. It was also right in observing that late Farhatulla was held to be pattadar
of two acres of 'petition schedule land' and the said finding was not
questioned by the contesting respondents other than respondent No.22 (A.P.
Housing Board) at any time.
The above finding recorded by the Special Court was confirmed by the High
Court in the writ petition. It held that the writ petition filed by the Housing
Board was not maintainable. We see no infirmity in the said finding.
It was no doubt contended by the learned counsel for the Housing Board that
the Special Court acquires jurisdiction to pass an appropriate order under the
Act only if it comes to the conclusion that there is 'land grabbing' and the
respondent is a land grabber. Once the Court holds that the respondent is not a
'land grabber', it has no jurisdiction to direct vacating the property or
handing over possession to the petitioner and such action is not known to law.
It was submitted that in the instant case, according to the Special Court,
Housing Board was not a 'land grabber'.
In this connection, the counsel drew our attention to Issue No.3 framed by
the Special Court. The said issue reads thus:
"Whether the respondent is land grabber within the meaning of the
On consideration of the evidence on record, the Court held that the
'petition schedule land' was shown to be ABCDEFGH in Exhibit B-35 plan which
was in occupation of respondent Nos. 4 to 6 (private respondents) and
respondent No. 22 (A.P. Housing Board). The Special Court then recorded a
finding that respondent Nos. 4 to 6 had perfected their title over the land in
their occupation which were shown in Ex. B-35 within the area marked as
ABCDEFGH and, therefore, those respondents could not be treated as land
The Court then stated; "For want of evidence regarding the identity of
the sites alleged to have been grabbed by other respondents other than
respondent No. 22, we find that they cannot be treated as land grabbers."
While dealing with Issue No. 5 as to relief, however, the Court allowed the
petition in part holding the title of the petitioners over the 'petition
schedule land' which was shown as ABCDEFGH in Ex. B-35 excluding the area in
occupation of respondent Nos. 4 to 6 and declaring the petitioners to be owners
thereof and issued direction to Revenue Development Officer to take steps to
deliver possession of the land to the petitioners by evicting respondent No. 22
(A.P. Housing Board) within two months from the date of the receipt of the
order and to report compliance. The High Court upheld that part of the order of
the Special Court.
In our opinion, the learned counsel for the land- ownersoriginal petitioners
is right in contending that when the acquisition proceedings and Award in
respect of two acres of land was held bad and nullity by the High Court in
previous proceedings, it was not open to the Special Court or the High Court to
ignore the said order.
Moreover, the Special Court was not right in observing that it was not
alleged by the land-owners that the contesting respondents (private parties or
A.P. Housing Board) were not land grabbers. It was expressly stated by the
land-owners that they continued to remain owners of two acres of land in view
of non delivery of possession of land to Housing Board and non payment of
compensation thereof. The writ petition filed by them in respect of two acres
of land had been allowed by the High Court in 1988 and the contention of the
Housing Board was negatived that it had become owner of the land. It was also
not correct to contend that the land was different, being ABCDEFGH in Ex.B-35,
in possession of respondent Nos. 4 to 6 and respondent No.22. In fact, the
operative part of the order extracted hereinabove in the earlier part of the
judgment clearly shows that petition was partially allowed as to title of the
petitioners over the 'petition schedule land' shown as ABCDEFGH in Ex. B-35
excluding the area in the occupation of respondent Nos. 4 to 6. It was,
therefore, not correct to say that the petitioners-land-owners had not asserted
that they were the owners of the 'petition schedule land' nor it can be
contended that the land-owners had not alleged that the respondents were not
The question then relates to claim of appellant before this Court in Civil
Appeal No. 3989 of 2003 instituted by original respondent No.4. As already
adverted earlier, the Special Court has held that respondent Nos. 4 to 6 had
perfected their title by adverse possession and hence they could not be termed
as 'land grabbers'. According to the Special Court as well as the High Court,
however, they had become owners by adverse possession in respect of 770 sq.
yards of land but according to respondent No. 4appellant before this Court, he
has become owner by adverse possession of five acres of land. The contention of
the land-owners, on the other hand, is that a finding as to ownership by
adverse possession could not have been recorded by Special Court constituted
under the Act and the Special Court was in error in recording such finding. The
land- owners also contended that in case of other respondents, the Special
Court held that disputed questions of fact were involved as to whether they had
become owners by adverse possession or not and in the opinion of the Special
Court, such question can be decided only by a competent Civil Court. Liberty
was, therefore, granted to those respondents to approach an appropriate Civil
Court if they desired to raise such issue. It was also contended that even in
respect of respondent Nos. 4 to 6, the Special Court observed that if their
case was that they had become owners by adverse possession of five acres of
land, they could approach a Civil Court and the decision rendered by Special
Court would not come in their way. It was, therefore, submitted by the
land-owners that the Special Court ought not to have recorded any finding as
regards adverse possession and ought have allowed the contesting respondents by
granting liberty to approach Civil Court to establish their rights over any
part of the land by adverse possession.
In this connection, reference was made to a recent decision of this Court in
N. Srinivasa Rao v. Special Court under the A.P. Land Grabbing (Prohibition)
Act & Others, (2006) 4 SCC 214. A two Judge Bench of this Court in the
above case held that the Special Court constituted under the Act has no
jurisdiction to decide question as to acquisition of title by adverse
possession in a proceeding under the Act as the same would fall within the
domain of Civil Court.
The learned counsel for respondent No.4, on the other hand, relied on Konda
Lakshmana Bapuji and submitted that a three Judge Bench of this Court in the
said decision has held that such question can be decided by Special Court. In
paragraph 53 of the decision, this Court observed:
"53. The question of a person perfecting title by adverse possession is
a mixed question of law and fact. The principle of law in regard to adverse
possession is firmly established. It is a well-settled proposition that mere
possession the 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.
It is true that assertion of title to the land in dispute by the possessor
would, in an appropriate case, be sufficient indication of the animus
possidendi to hold averse to the title of the true owner. But such an assertion
of title must be clear and unequivocal though it need not be addressed to the
For reckoning the statutory period to perfect title by prescription both the
possession as well as the animus possidendi must be shown to exist. Where,
however, at the commencement of the possession there is no animus possidendi
the period for the purpose of reckoning adverse possession will commence from
the date when both the actual possession and assertion of title by the
possessor are shown to exist. The length of possession to perfect title by
adverse possession as against the Government is 30 years."
It was also submitted that in N. Srinivasa Rao, which was decided by a two
Judge Bench, the attention of the Court was not invited to the three Judge
Bench decision of this Court in Konda Lakshmana Bapuji and, the subsequent
decision is per incurium.
In our opinion, it is not necessary to enter into larger question in the
light of the factual scenario before us. As we have already observed earlier,
in the instant case, in a petition filed by the land-owners as early as in
1988, the High Court of Andhra Pradesh held that land acquisition proceedings
for two acres of land of Survey No. 45 could not be said to be in consonance
with law and the Award was declared null and void. The ownership of the
original land-holders remained intact.
The petition was accordingly allowed and MCH was directed to take
appropriate action on application of the land-owners to sanction layout without
insisting NOC by the A.P. Housing Board. Even in present proceedings, a
contention was raised by almost all respondents that they had perfected title
by remaining in adverse possession. Liberty was granted by the Special Court to
the contesting respondents to establish their right by approaching a competent
Civil Court. Even in respect of respondent No. 4 (Civil Appeal No. 3989 of
2003), the Special Court held that if his claim is that he has become owner by
adverse possession in respect of five acres of land, it would be open to him to
approach Civil Court for the said purpose. Again, the order passed in favour of
land-owners in 1988 in Writ Petition No. 4194 of 1988 had attained finality and
is no more under challenge.
There is an additional reason also for taking this view.
As observed earlier, there is some controversy as to identity of land in
dispute, which can be resolved by a Civil Court on the basis of evidence to be
led by the parties. In the light of peculiar facts and attending circumstances,
in our opinion, it would be appropriate if the finding as to adverse possession
is set aside by granting liberty to all or any of the respondents to take
appropriate proceedings in accordance with law by approaching a competent Civil
Court if they claim title on the basis of adverse possession.
For the foregoing reasons, in our opinion, the appeals filed by A.P. Housing
Board and respondent No.4 deserve to be dismissed and are accordingly
The appeal filed by the original petitioners-land-owners deserves to be
allowed and is accordingly allowed by setting aside the finding recorded by the
Special Court and confirmed by the High Court on the question of adverse
possession, however, by granting liberty to the contesting parties to take
appropriate proceedings by approaching a competent Civil Court if they (or any
of them) claim title on the basis of adverse possession. In the facts and
circumstances, however, there shall be no order as to costs.