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Suit For Permanent Injunction Not Maintainable Without Declaration, When Title Is Disputed

A two judge bench of the Supreme Court comprising L. Nageswara Rao and B.R. Gavai, J.J. dismissed an appeal of the plaintiff-appellant against an order of the High Court of Karnataka, which held that suit simpliciter for permanent injunction without claiming declaration of title, as filed by the plaintiff, was not maintainable. The plaintiff-appellant had prayed for perpetual injunction against the interference with the peaceful possession of his property, the title of which was disputed by the Bangalore Development Authority (respondent no. 2).

For a second time in T.V. Ramakrishna Reddy Vs. M. Mallappa & Anr.[i], the Supreme Court has reiterated that suit for permanent injunction simpliciter shall not be maintainable if the title of the suit property is in dispute or under a cloud.

Before this, in Anathula Sudhakar v. P. Buchi Reddy (dead) by L.Rs. and others[ii], the Apex Court had decided that when plaintiff is dispossessed of his property, suit for injunction simpliciter shall succeed only if the title of the plaintiff is not disputed. In case the title of suit property is in dispute, the plaintiff shall have to resort to the remedy of filing a suit for declaration of title. Only then, shall the suit for injunction be decided, once the title has been crystallized.

Need for a declaration before grant of Permanent Injunction
When someone approaches the Court for a permanent injunction against a squatter disturbing peaceful possession and enjoyment of their property, a very fundamental premise on which such relief is granted is that the Defendant is disturbing the peaceful possession of the Plaintiff who holds title to the property. However, if the defendant is actually claiming to be owner/ sharer of the property, title becomes a fact in issue.

It then becomes necessary to ascertain who the actual owner of the property is. The Plaintiff, who seeks injunction, must prove better title than the person who is allegedly interfering with the possession.[iii] Granting an injunction against the rightful title holder would be grave miscarriage of justice. Therefore, the issue of title, whenever disputed in a suit for injunction, must be settled on higher priority, because the fate of the suit for injunction heavily relies on its outcome.

Does this mean additional harassment for the plaintiff?
For an already woebegone plaintiff coming to the court with a suit for mandatory injunction against trespassers on their property, the judgement seems to extend their woes. The defendant could possibly have no better title, but raise a dispute as to the Plaintiff's title with an ulterior motive of prolonging litigation or harassing the rightful owner. Not only must the plaintiff now pray for an injunction, but also for declaration of their title to the suit property.

However, the problem is not lost on the Apex Court. Taking note of the possibility of potential harassment to the plaintiff, the Supreme Court in various judgements seems to have acknowledged that a mere aspersion as to the title of the plaintiff would not do. The dispute as to the title of the plaintiff shall arise only if there lies a serious defect in their title. The court observes in Anathula Sudhakar (supra):
 A cloud is said to raise over a person's title, when some apparent defect in his title to a property, or when some prima facie right of a third party over it, is made out or shown. An action for declaration is the remedy to remove the cloud on the title to the property. On the other hand, where the plaintiff has clear title supported by documents, if a trespasser without any claim to title or an interloper without any apparent title, merely denies the plaintiff's title, it does not amount to raising a cloud over the title of the plaintiff and it will not be necessary for the plaintiff to sue for declaration and a suit for injunction may be sufficient.

Also in numerous judgements including Union of India (UOI) and Ors. Vs. Vasavi Co-op. Housing Society Ltd. and Ors.[iv] , the court has observed that merely disputing or disproving the plaintiff's title to the suit property would not be enough for the defendant to dispossess the plaintiff. Each party shall have to prove better title than the other to resist dispossession, and one could succeed only on the strength of their own title and not on the weakness of the case of the (opposite party)[v]. Thus, it is only fair that if a dispute as to the title property arises, it be settled before a permanent injunction may be granted, so as to avoid miscarriage of justice.

Hitting the road after a bumpy ride
The judgement in T.V. Ramakrishna Reddy (supra) is a welcome one, after the settled law of Anathula Sudhakar (supra) (2019) was disturbed by the decision in A.Subramanian vs R.Pannerselvam[vi] on 08.02.2021, by way of a decree of an injunction simpliciter without prayer for declaration of title, despite title being in dispute.

The court while acknowledging the above cited precedents, agreed with the decision of the Madras High Court in evaluating that they were not applicable in the case in question:
The High Court has rightly observed that a bare perusal of the plaint would demonstrate that the plaintiff has not narrated anything about the title dispute obviously because of the fact that in the previous litigation, DW1 failed to obtain any relief.

The High court has rightly observed that the principle that plaintiff cannot seek for a bare permanent injunction without seeking a prayer for declaration is not applicable to the facts of the present case… 25. There cannot be any dispute to the proposition laid down by this Court in the above cases. But coming to the facts in the present case the present suit giving rise to this appeal, was not a suit for declaration of title and possession rather the suit was filed for injunction.

Such a position would have upset the law settled in Anathula Sudhakar (supra) if not for the coming of T.V. Ramakrishna Reddy (supra), which finally settles that whenever title is disputed, suit for injunction must be accompanied by a prayer for declaration of title.

Revenue records not proof of title
In addition to the issue of injunction and declaration of title, the Supreme Court also reiterated the position of revenue records (Records of Rights/ jamabandis) as proof of title to suit property. It is no more res integra that revenue records are no proof of title, but are mere statements for revenue purpose. They cannot confer any right or title on the party relying on them for proving their title. Mutation entry in the revenue records does not create or extinguish title over the land, nor such entry has any presumptive value on the title of such land[vii].

This leaves the sale deed of the suit property as the only remaining proof of title. Even a certified copy of the sale deed can be adduced as evidence to prove title if the original deed is not recoverable, and it does even not require to be proved by calling a witness.[viii]

This comes after allegations in numerous cases of revenue records being tampered with or entries in the Corporate Registers being made by fraud, misrepresentation or suppression of facts or by furnishing false, incorrect and incomplete material. Thus, it is settled now that entries on revenue records neither create nor extinguish title in property.

Therefore, whenever title is disputed, the plaintiff coming to court for a mandatory injunction against the defendant must also pray for declaration of title. If the plaint has been filed, and title is disputed later, plaint should be amended to include the necessary prayer for declaration, subject to the provisions of Order VI, Rule 17 of the Civil Procedure Code, 1908.

Written By:
  1. T.V. Ramakrishna Reddy v. M. Mallappa & Anr, (2021) LL SC 423
  2. Anathula Sudhakar v. P. Buchi Reddy (dead) by L.Rs. and others (2008) 4 SCC 594
  3. Shanti Bai v. Narbada and Ors. (2019) SCC All 4627
  4. Union of India (UOI) and Ors. v. Vasavi Co-op. Housing Society Ltd. and Ors. (2014) 2 SCC 269
  5. Jagdish Prasad Patel (dead) through L.R. and Anr. v. Shivnath (2019) 6 SCC 82
  6. A.Subramanian vs R.Pannerselvam (2021) LL SC 71
  7. Bhimabai Mahadeo Kambekar (D) through L.R. v. Arthur Import and Export Company and Ors. (2019) SCC SC 99
  8. Ramappa v. Bojappa, (1963) AIR S.C. 1633
Written By: Rini Mehra

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