What Does Sunni Waqf Board’s Claim of “Adverse Possession” Mean?

The Sunni Waqf Board had claimed that they have had adverse possession of the Babri Masjid since it was built.

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India
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The Supreme Court, on Saturday, 9 November, pronounced its verdict in the long-running Ayodhya title dispute between the three parties — the Sunni Waqf Board, the Nirmohi Akhara and Ram Lalla Virajman.
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The Supreme Court, on Saturday, 9 November, pronounced its verdict in the long-running Ayodhya title dispute between the three parties — the Sunni Waqf Board, the Nirmohi Akhara and Ram Lalla Virajman.

The court directed that Hindus will get the disputed land, according to a prescribed procedure. The inner and outer courtyard, the five judge SC-bench headed by CJI Ranjan Gogoi said, will be handed over to a Centre-led Trust for the construction of a temple, and a suitable plot of land measuring 5 acres shall be given to the Sunni Waqf Board elsewhere.

One of the key arguments raised in this case and which has been reported on widely, has dealt with the concept of adverse possession. The Muslims parties had argued this as an alternative to why they should be considered as owners of the disputed land (if their main argument about the land being granted to them failed), and the judges expressly noted why they were rejecting the same.

Here’s what this concept is all about, and what the court held in its judgment.

What is Adverse Possession and How Do You Prove it?

In a Karnataka High Court judgment rendered by Justice S A Nazeer, the concept of adverse possession was defined as one that “implies a possession that is in denial of the title of the true owner”.

In layman’s term, this is basically the argument used by someone who has taken possession of someone else’s property to say that now this property should belong to them. Hence, the possession is considered “adverse” since it doesn’t acknowledge title of the rightful owner.

But adverse possession is not the same as a simple act of occupation. To prove a claim of adverse possession, a party has to stay put in the occupied property for a continuous period, in full visibility for everybody to see.

In the case of the Ayodhya dispute, the basis for claiming adverse possession by the Sunni Waqf Boards’ side hinged on the fact that Babur had built the mosque in 1528 and since then, it had been in the continuous possession of the Muslims for public worship, until it was desecrated by miscreants.

Rajeev Dhavan who had represented the Sunni Waqf Board had put forth this subsidiary plea in the event that their main plea on the ownership of the title is held to be established on evidence.

Why Did the Supreme Court Reject This?

This argument put forth by the Sunni Waqf Board was rejected by the Supreme Court on the lack of a factual basis, or records to prove this claim of adverse possession between 1528 and 1860.

The judgment reads, “beyond stating that the Muslims have been in long exclusive and continuous possession beginning from the time when the mosque was built and until it was desecrated, no factual basis has been furnished.”

“In spite of existence of structure of the mosque, possession by Muslims cannot be said to be continued enough to attract adverse possession,” the court noted.

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