No powers for DCs on property titles: SC

No powers for DCs on property titles: SC
A Collector or District Magistrate has no powers to decide title of a property under the Hindu Succession Act , the Supreme Court has said. Allowing  the state’s administrative authorities including the Collector to adjudicate matter of entitlement in civil disputes would be destructive of the rule of law, it further held.

“The Collector is an officer of the state. He can exercise only such powers as the law specifically confers upon him to enter upon private disputes,” a bench of Justices NV Ramana and DY Chandrachud observed.

The court quashed a May 12, 2003 order of Haridwar Collector, besides overturning Uttarakhand High Court order affirming the Collector’s decision, to take over vast property of the Kutchi Lal Rameshwar Ashram Trust at Haridwar since it had no legal heir.

The Trust had questioned the decision, claiming that it has been managing the property for over 45 years. It further argued that only a title action through administrative general or a civil court is the way an action adverse to its position could be taken.

Allowing the Trust’s plea, the bench said the magistrate committed a jurisdictional overreach by taking up an adjudicatory exercise for which he did not have the powers.

The case dates back to November 28, 1955, when the visually challenged Udhav Das Ji Maharaj bought over two bighas of land in the name of his disciple Mohan Lal.

He founded the Kutchi Lal Rameshwar Ashram and executed a will in 1956, nominating some individuals to manage and administer his properties –including the land in question- after his lifetime.

The District Collector decided to acquire the property for the state under Section 29 of the Hindu Succession Act since Mohan Lal’s whereabouts remain unknown from 1958 and he had no legal heir.
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