March 11, 2024 In Uncategorized


A two Judge Bench of Supreme Court comprising of Justice Hrishikesh Roy and Justice Sanjay Karol passed a judgement dated 13.02.2024 in a case titled ‘Vasantha (Dead) Thr. Lr. V. Rajalakshmi @ Rajam (Dead) Thr. Lrs.’ Civil Appeal No. 3854 of 2014 where the Bench dealt with technical interplay between the title to a property and possession of the said property in dispute.


This case relates to a family property (Suit Property) dispute that originated in the year 1947, wherein Thayammal vide a Settlement Deed dated 10.07.1947, (First Settlement Deed) granted rights of the Suit Property to her 2 sons, Mr. Raghavulu Naidu and Mr. Munusamy Naidu, and thereafter the rights in the Suit Property was to devolve upon, Raghavulu Naidu’s 2 daughters, Saroja and Rajalakshmi. Saroja pre-deceased Thayammal, her father and her uncle. Later, Raghavulu and Munusamy reverted the rights and interests in the Suit Property to their mother vide a Settlement Deed dated 31.07.1952 (Second Settlement Deed). Soon thereafter, Thayammal executed another Settlement Deed dated 18.08.1952 (Third Settlement Deed), thereby, once again bequeathing absolute interest in the Suit Property, only in favour of her 2 sons.

Munusamy and his wife, Pavunammal had adopted a girl namely, Vasantha, the Appellant in the Appeal hereinabove mentioned. Munusamy executed a Settlement Deed dated 07.10.1976 in favor of his wife Pavunammal and she executed a Settlement Deed dated 19.07.1993 in favour of the Appellant -Vasantha.

Saroja’s husband, Gopalakrishnan, filed a Complaint in 1993 in the Ld. Additional District Munsif Court, Tamil Nadu (Trial Court) seeking a declaration of ownership of the Property in question. In the aforementioned dispute, it was argued that only the First Settlement Deed was legally legitimate, and Pavunammal was only entitled to possession and enjoyment of the Suit Property during her lifetime. Munusamy could not transmit property rights to his wife, and she could not have done the same for the Appellant- Vasantha. It was argued that because Saroja’s vested rights existed prior to the adoption of Vasantha, they had no bearing on Gopalkrishnan’s rights. The Trial Court determined that (i) the First Settlement Deed was authentic and existed; and (ii) as Gopalakrishnan, being apprised of the execution of Second Settlement Deed and executing a Settlement Deed in 1976, filed the Suit only in 1993, which was barred by limitation, thus abating / diminishing the rights of Gopalkrishnan.

Thereafter, Gopalkrishnan filed an Appeal before Ld. Additional District and Sessions Judge, Tamil Nadu (1st Appellate Court). The 1st Appellate Court upheld the judgement of the Trial Court, and the Appeal was disallowed by the 1st Appellate Court. Aggrieved by the decision, Gopalkrishnan filed a Second Appeal before the High Court of Judicature at Madras in 2002 bearing Second Appeal No. 1926 of 2004.

The High Court held that (i) the interest vested in Saroja was full and not life interest, and upon her death, her interest in the Suit Property would not reverse to the settlor, and the enjoyment of the Suit Property stood postponed until the life interest of Raghavulu and Munusamy; (ii) on the question of limitation, the Suit was not barred by limitation as the two Settlement Deeds executed after the First Settlement Deed were beyond the competence of the executants and (iii) according to the First Settlement Deed, Gopalkrishnan shall be entitled to half share in the Suit Property after the lifetime of Vasantha. The High Court’s Order dated 27.09.2012 was then challenged by Vasantha before the Supreme Court.


I) Whether Gopalkrishna’s Suit for Declaration based on the First Settlement Deed, filed in 1993 was barred by limitation?

II) Whether the Suit for Declaration was maintainable in view of Proviso to Section 34 of Specific Relief Act 1963[1] (Discretion of court as to declaration of status or right)?

Decision by Supreme Court

While considering the first question, the Supreme Court ruled that the statute of limitations for establishing Vasantha’s adverse possession began with her mother- Pavunammal’s death in 2004. The Supreme Court was of the view that the period of limitation began from Pavunammal’s death in 2004 and 12-year period stood expired in 2016. The Supreme Court ruled that because Gopalkrishnan’s Suit was for Declaration simpliciter rather than recovery of possession. Therefore, the Suit filed by Gopalkrishnan was hit by provisions of Limitation Act 1963.

The Apex Court further stressed on the principle enshrined in Section 27 of the Limitation Act 1963 (Extinguishment of right to property), emphasizing that the lapse of limitation restricts the remedy available to the aggrieved party but does not nullify the underlying title.

While examining the second issue of whether the Suit for Declaration was maintainable, the Supreme Court referred to cases titled ‘Ram Saran v. Ganga Devi’ (1973) 2 SC 60 and ‘Vinay Krishna v. Keshav Chandra’ 1993 Supp (3) SC 129 wherein it was held that the suit seeking a declaration of title of ownership where possession is not sought, is hit by the proviso of Section 34 of the Specific Relief Act 1963 (SRA) (Discretion of court as to declaration of status or right), and is thus, not maintainable.

Although, the Supreme Court recorded the contention of Gopalkrishnan that “since at the time of filing of the suit, the life interest holder i.e. Pavunammal was alive, she was entitled to be in possession of the property” the Gopalkrishnan “not being entitled to possession at the time of institution of the suit, recovery of possession could not have been sought”.

The Supreme Court in the present case, observed that the law becomes crystal clear that it is not permissible to claim the relief of declaration without seeking consequential relief. The Apex Court held that in the instant case, Suit of Declaration was filed, though Gopalkrishnan was admittedly not in possession of the Suit Property. Thus, the Suit was barred by the Proviso of Section 34 of the SRA, and ought to have been dismissed solely on such ground as held by the High Court. The Supreme Court further observed that after the death of Pavunammal in 2004, there was no attempt made by Gopalkrishnan to amend the Plaint to seek the recovery of possession, which could have been done at any stage of the Suit, even at the Second Appeal stage. Thus, the Supreme Court answered the second issue in the favour of the Appellant and against Gopalkrishnan.


In conclusion, the Supreme Court relied on the technicality in cases where suit for declaration of title is filed by an aggrieved person, who is not in possession of the suit property, and has not sought the relief of recovery of possession of such property; in such cases, the relief of declaration of title cannot be granted. Hence, Gopalkrishnan was not granted the relief of declaration of title to the Suit Property. As a result, the Appeal filed by the Appellant-Vasantha was allowed and the High Court Order dated 27.09.2012 was set aside.







[1] Section 34 of Specific Relief Act 1963: Discretion of court as to declaration of status or right—

Any person entitled to any legal character, or to any right as to any property, may institute a suit against any person denying, or interested to deny, his title to such character or right, and the court may in its discretion make therein a declaration that he is so entitled, and the plaintiff need not in such suit ask for any further relief:

Provided that no court shall make any such declaration where the plaintiff, being able to seek further relief than a mere declaration of title, omits to do so.

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