What is Adverse Possession?



Adverse possession, a legal doctrine rooted in property law, has undergone evolutionary changes over the years, presenting both merits and demerits. The doctrine allows an individual to gain legal rights over a piece of land by openly, continuously, and unlawfully possessing it for a specified period, typically 12 years. Despite its societal benefits of utilizing idle land, critics argue that it puts possessors at an unfair advantage, often disregarding the rights of the rightful owner.

A key concern lies in the potential unfairness and illogical outcomes of the doctrine, where possessors, even when visibly and unlawfully occupying land, may acquire rights over the owner. The legal framework’s requirement that owners must have knowledge of the possession, even when it is publicly visible, adds complexity to the issue. The existing laws have faced scrutiny for their disproportionate nature and disregard for the owner’s rights.

On the positive side, adverse possession encourages the active use of land, preventing owners from maintaining dormant holdings. It favors those who actively enforce their rights and creates a sense of trust for possessors, who expect continued use after a certain period.

Case – Poona Ram vs. Moti Ram (D) Th. Lrs. On 29.01.2019

This is the name of a landmark judgment by the Supreme Court of India on the issue of Adverse possession. Adverse Possession is a legal doctrine that allows a person who possesses someone else’s land for a long period of time to acquire a valid title to it, at the expense of its true owner.

The case involved a dispute over a piece of land between Poona Ram, who had the title deeds, and Moti Ram, who claimed possessory title based on his prior possession for several years. The Supreme Court held that Moti Ram was entitled to the land, as he had proved his settled possession, which means effective and undisturbed possession, with an intention to exclude others. The Court also observed that mere production of title deeds by Poona Ram was not enough to dislodge Moti Ram’s possession, as the latter had acquired a better title by adverse possession. The judgement is significant as it clarifies the law on adverse possession and the rights of the possessors vis-à-vis the owners. It also highlights the importance of protecting one’s property from encroachment and asserting one’s title within the prescribed limitation period.

Summary of the Judgement :

  • Background
  • Moti Ram claimed possessory title over a property based on long – term possession.
  • Poona Ram. The defendant, asserted a better title with supporting title deeds.
  • Trial Court ruled in favor of Moti Ram, but the first Appellant Court reversed the decision.
  • High Court restored the Trial Courts’s Order, citing Poona Ram;s failure to prove title and Moti Ram’s lack of possession.
  • Supreme Court’s Observations
  • Possessory title requires settled or established possession over a property for a considerable period.
  • Section 4 of the limitation act allows for possession based on possessory title within 12 years from dispossession.
  • Legal Principles Invoked –
  • Referenced Nair Service Society Ltd vs. K.C. Alexander, emphasizing the importance of settled possession.
  • Possession must be effective, undisturbed, and known to the owner without concealment by the trespasser.
  • Stray acts of trespass or possession not matured into settled possession can be obstructed by the true owner.
  • Crux of the Matter –
  • Possessory title requires a demonstration of settled possession, uninterrupted over a sufficiently long period.
  • Casual or intermittent acts of possession do not grant rights against the true owner.
  • Occupation by an agent or servant does not constitute actual legal possession, animus possidendi is essential.
  • Supreme Court’s Decision –
  • Moti Ram failed to prove continuous possession with documentary evidence.
  • Actual possession, having physical control, is fundamental for establishing possessory title.
  • Overruled the High Court’s judgement, as the defendant did not establish a strong case of possession.
  • Owner’s Right to Possession –
  • Emphasized the owner’s right to claim back possession using reasonable force.
  • Defendant’s right to possession based on casual possession without strong documentary evidence was rejected.
  • Conclusion –
  • The Supreme Court upheld the importance of settled possession for possessory title.
  • Moti Ram’s lack of continuous possession and Poona Ram’s failure to prove title led to the dismissal of the High Court’s judgement.
  • The appeal was allowed, and the judgement of the First Appellate Court, favoring Poona Ram, was reinstated.

Other Cases

  1. Nanjegowda @ Gowda (D) By Legal Representation and Anr v. Ramegowda (2017) :
  2. Issue – Adverse Possession of agricultural land, part of ancestral property, among family members.
  3. Supreme Court decision –
    1. Adverse Possession does not apply to family or ancestral property due to inherent relationships.
      1. Hostility among family members cannot be a basis for claiming adverse possession.
      1. Defendant’s entry was deemed criminal trespass; documents produced were irrelevant to the suit land.
      1. Acknowledged the despite criminal trespass, adverse possession could still be claimed.
  4. Mallikarjunaiah v. Nanjaiah (2019) –
  5. Issue – Continuous possession as adverse possession; criteria for adverse possession.
  6. Court’s decision –
    1. Continuous possession alone doesn’t constitute adverse possession.
      1. Adverse possession requires possession to be open, hostile, and exclusive of others.
      1. The claim for ownership must be known to the original property owner for adverse possession to be valid.

Common Theme between both cases –

  • Both cases address adverse possession but highlight different aspects.
  • Nanjegowda emphasizes the inapplicability of adverse possession within family, or ancestral property. It also cautions against applying adverse possession within family setting.
  • Mallikarjunaiah emphasizes the specific criteria for adverse possession, requiring open, hostile, and exclusive possession known to the property owner. It also clarifies the necessary elements for a successful adverse possession claim.

Both cases contribute to the nuanced understanding of adverse possession in different contexts.


Adverse possession is defined as a person, though having no right to enter into possession of the property of someone else, does so and continues in possession setting up title in himself and adversely to the title of the owner, commences prescribing title into himself and such prescription having continued for a period of 12 years, he acquires title not on his own but on account of the default or inaction on part of the real owner , which stretched over a period of 12 years results into extinguishing of the latter’s title. Anyone who has continuous, uninterrupted possession of the property for over Twelve years can acquire ownership rights of such property.


In India, while there are no explicit laws addressing adverse possession, the doctrine is recognized and regulated by provisions within the Limitation Act, 1963.

  • Section 27 of the Limitation Act, 1963 –
  • Affirms a 12 – year limitation period for property owners to file a suit.
  • After continuous possession by another party for more than 12 years, no legal action can be initiated against them.
  • Article 64 and 65 of the Limitation Act, 1963 –
  • Imposes the burden on the tenant to prove dispossession for 12 years.
  • Places the responsibility on the landlord to establish adverse possession within the 12 – year timeframe.
  • Adverse Possession of Government Property –
  • The period to claim ownership for the government or public organizations is fixed at 30 years.
  • No legal action for claims can be filed by the government until 30 years of uninterrupted possession by an individual.

In essence, these provisions establish the time frame and burden of proof associated with adverse possession, providing legal safeguards for individuals who meet the specified conditions under the limitation Act.


Adverse possession, an evolving legal doctrine, grants individuals rights over land through open and continuous unlawful possession for a specified period, usually 12 years. While encouraging active land use, critics argue its potential for unfair outcomes. The landmark case, Poona Ram vs. Moti Ram, exemplifies the importance of settled possession, clarifying the law on adverse possession and emphasizing the need to protect property rights within the limitation period.

Cases like Nanjegowda @ Gowda (D) By Legal Representatives and Anr v. Ramegowda (2017) and Mallikarjunaiah v. Nanjaiah (2019) contribute nuanced perspectives. Adverse possession doesn’t apply to family or ancestral property, as seen in Nanjegowda, while Mallikarjunaiah specifies criteria, requiring open, hostile, and exclusive possession known to the property owner. Adverse possession in India finds legal protection under the Limitation Act, 1963, with Section 27 establishing a 12-year limitation period, Articles 64 and 65 defining burdens of proof, and a 30-year period for government property. These provisions ensure a structured legal framework, offering safeguards for those meeting the specified conditions. In essence, while addressing societal benefits, a balanced legal approach is crucial to protect both owners and possessors.

References :

  1. Poona Ram vs Moti Ram (D) Th. Lrs. on 29 January, 2019 (indiankanoon.org)
  2. Landmark Judgement by Supreme Court on Adverse possession | Aapka Consultant
  3. SC| Settled possession of a property means effective and undisturbed possession | SCC Blog (scconline.com)
  4. Adverse Possession: A Deep Dive into Indian Property Law – Century Law Firm Blog
  5. The Supreme Court’s Judgment on Adverse Possession | Lexpeeps
  6. Supreme Court On ‘Adverse Possession’ – Law Corner
  7. Law of Adverse Possession (India) : Overview and Evolution | Law.asia
  8. Grant of ownership of property based on doctrine of Adverse possession (nrilegalservices.com)
  9. Adverse possession – iPleaders

**This research article has been produced by Tanya Dutta, a 4th year student of Ramaiah College of Law, Bengaluru. The research involves legal articles, analysis of court cases and leveraging legal technology platforms. This research is only intended for informational purpose only and does not constitute any legal advice.**

ADVERSE POSSESSION INTRODUCTION – Adverse possession, a legal doctrine rooted in property law, has undergone evolutionary changes over the years, presenting both merits and demerits. The doctrine allows an individual to gain legal rights over a piece of land by openly, continuously, and unlawfully possessing it for a specified period, typically 12 years. Despite its...
Read More
Juvenile Detention Criminal Procedure As we know that in India proceeding in the nature of criminal is to be dealt with in accordance with the rules and provision contained in the Criminal Procedure Code. In India and in many countries the procedure in relation to the trial of an offence committed by an adult or...
Read More
Modified Guidelines On 498a On Various Aspect By way of this article I am going to discuss what the supreme court said in Rajesh Sharma vs State of U.P AIR 2017 SC by laying down various guidelines related to the section 498A IPC. As the sociological school of jurisprudence suggested that the law has to...
Read More
Concept of  Plea Bargaining- Application and its Procedure The apex court in various judicial decisions has held right to fair trial as integral right enriched under the Article 21 of the Indian constitution. In the accusatorial method, the general principle of burden of proof is on the prosecution to prove the guilt of the accused...
Read More
1. *Lalita Kumari v. State of UP* :FIR mandatory in cognizable cases 2. *Mohd. Ahmad Khan vs Shah Bano Begum* :Section 125 of CrPC Secular 3. *D.K. Basu v. State of Bengal* :SC guidelines relating to rights of the arrested person 4. *Nilabati Bahera v. State of Orissa* :Compensation in case of unlawful arrest and...
Read More
Please select the id of the revolution slider you created.

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Recent Articles

Juvenile Detention Criminal Provedure
October 4, 2023
Modified Guidelines on Section 498A IPC
October 4, 2023
Plea Bargaining- Its Application and Procedure
October 4, 2023

Text Widget

Nulla vitae elit libero, a pharetra augue. Nulla vitae elit libero, a pharetra augue. Nulla vitae elit libero, a pharetra augue. Donec sed odio dui. Etiam porta sem malesuada.