A Supreme Court Bench of Justice Surya Kant and Justice JK Maheshwari has remanded a matter back to the High Court on observing that "There are indeed compelling circumstances which have been left unanswered by the courts below, because of which determination of several factual issues have been left in limbo".

Counsel Atul Sharma appeared for the appellants.

In this case, the core question arising for consideration pertained to the ownership of land. The appeals arose out of a complex factual scenario and different sets of legal proceedings, which proceeded parallelly.

The Apex Court observed that the stand of the respondents that the Sale Deed actually pertained to the sale of leasehold rights and not of title per se was inconsistent, and that the High Court while deciding the issue of ownership in favour of respondents on the strength of the Sale Deed, has come to different conclusions as such to the nature of the instrument. Subsequently, it was held that the High Court erred in respect to those findings, as they were made without any serious examination of the nature of the Sale Deed itself. Therefore, the Court ordered a remand.

Observing that any contractual term or condition is to be interpreted as per the natural and ordinary meaning appended to the language used by the parties unless the same leads to absurdity, the Court held that "a reasoned finding on both the nature of Sale Deed as well as whether the same was violative of conditions of the 1924 Lease Deed goes to the heart of the present dispute, because of which the issue of determination of lease remains unanswered. Hence, in light of the same we must also note that the Respondents’ claim on the strength of doctrine of holding over or through doctrine of acquiescence as well as the reliance on the conduct of Appellants, remains in doldrums as the same are hinged on the finding in respect of determination of lease. However, before moving forward, we must highlight another aspect which requires application of mind by the High Court. We observe so for the reason that decades have passed in litigation, and it would be extremely iniquitous to remand the case to revenue authorities at such a belated stage".

Further, the Court took the considered view that "the High Court again made sweeping remarks in respect of the tenancy status without any serious consideration as to whether the same were legally tenable or not. We must highlight that no reference is made to any proceedings wherein the status as an occupancy tenant was ever granted to the predecessor of the Respondent and, if so, how and when the same culminated into the status of ‘Sirdar’ under the Zamindari Notification. These proceedings which ultimately led to the grant of status of ‘Bhumidhar’ in favour of the predecessor of Respondents for the first time, could have potentially served as the litmus test for the validity of these revenue entries".

In light of the same, the Court disposed the applications and said that "We are conscious of the fact that these appeals have been pending before this Court for more than 15 years. In normal circumstances, we would have ventured to decide the issues ourselves but in light of the abovementioned observations and dearth of appropriate records, we are constrained to hold that ownership rights in respect of an immovable property cannot be decided casually. We are actually left with no other option but to remand these appeals back to the High Court for effective adjudication on merits".

Cause Title: State of Uttarakhand and Anr. v. Ravi Kumar (Deceased) through LRs and others

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