Objections to the execution of decree for possession

Scope of powers of Executing Court:

The respondents instituted a suit under Section 6 of the Specific Relief Act against the appellant, alleging that the appellant had forcibly taken possession of the land. In response it was the case of the appellant that he was neither in possession of the land nor had he dispossessed the respondents. The suit was decreed by the trial court ex-parte on 30 May 2009, upon which execution was initiated by the respondents as decree-holders.

Bar u/s 185 of Land Reforms Act:

The appellant appears to have filed objections to the execution of the decree on 12 July 2010 on the ground that Section 185 of the Delhi Land Reforms Act bars a civil suit for the recovery of possession. The objections were dismissed by the executing Court on 21 August 2010 with the following observations:

“The Delhi Land Reforms Act is applicable with regard to the agricultural land only but the land in question is not agriculture land which has been vehemently argued by the counsel for the DH and in support of her contention placed on record the copies of the electricity bills pertaining to the same khasra number which is subject matter of the instant execution proceedings. Even otherwise, it is a matter of common knowledge that most of the rural land in Delhi has become urbanized and private colonies, may be unauthorized, have mushroomed on such agricultural land. This fact has since been substantiated with the help of electricity bills which takes out the sting from the contentions raised by the counsel for the objector and in the process strengthens the case of the DH, the arguments is thus, brushed aside that the court lack of inherent jurisdiction on account of the fact that land in question is governed by the Delhi Land Reforms Act being agriculture land.” The order of the executing court was challenged by the appellant under Article 227 of the Constitution. The High Court dismissed the petition by its judgment dated 19 September 2014. The High Court rejected the submission that the decree obtained under Section 6 of the Specific Relief Act was a nullity on the ground that the suit was barred by Section 185 of the Delhi Land Reforms Act, 1954.”

The High Court has relied upon the earlier decisions of the court following Ram Lubbaya Kapoor v J R Chawla (1986 RLR 432), in which it has been held that to be ‘land’ for the purpose of the Delhi Land Reforms Act,1954, the land must be held or occupied for purposes connected with agriculture, horticulture or animal husbandry and if it is not used for such purposes, it ceases to be land for the purposes of the Act. The same view has been taken by the Delhi High Court in Narain Singh and Anr v Financial Commissioner ((2008) 105 DRJ 122), Neelima Gupta and Ors v Yogesh Saroha (156 (2009) DLT 129), and Anand J Datwani v Ms Geeti Bhagat Datwani (2013 (137) DRJ 146).

Scope of power of executing court: (See section 47 of CPC)

The validity of a decree can be challenged before an executing court only on the ground of an inherent lack of jurisdiction which renders the decree a nullity. In Hira Lal Patni v Sri Kali Nath ((1962) 2 SCR 747),  Court held thus:

“…The validity of a decree can be challenged in execution proceedings only on the ground that the court which passed the decree was lacking in inherent jurisdiction in the sense that it could not have seisin of the case because the subject-matter was wholly foreign to its jurisdiction or that the defendant was dead at the time the suit had been instituted or decree passed, or some such other ground which could have the effect of rendering the court entirely lacking in jurisdiction in respect of the subject- matter of the suit or over the parties to it…”

In Sunder Dass v Ram Prakash ((1977) 2 SCC 662), this court held that:

“Now, the law is well settled that an executing court cannot go behind the decree nor can it question its legality or correctness. But there is one exception to this general rule and that is that where the decree sought to be executed is a nullity for lack of inherent jurisdiction in the court passing it, its invalidity can be set up in an execution proceeding. Where there is lack of inherent jurisdiction, it goes to the root of the competence of the court to try the case and a decree which is a nullity is void and can be declared to be void by any court in which it is presented. Its nullity can be set up whenever and wherever it is sought to be enforced or relied upon and even at the stage of execution or even in collateral proceedings. The executing court can, therefore, entertain an objection that the decree is a nullity and can refuse to execute the decree. By doing so, the executing court would not incur the reproach that it is going behind the decree, because the decree being null and void, there would really be no decree at all. Vide Kiran Singh v. Chaman Paswan [AIR 1954 SC 340 : (1955) 1 SCR 117] and Seth Hiralal Patni v. Sri Kali Nath [AIR 1962 SC 199 : (1962) 2 SCR 747]. It is, therefore, obvious that in the present case, it was competent to the executing court to examine whether the decree for eviction was a nullity on the ground that the civil court had no inherent jurisdiction to entertain the suit in which the decree for eviction was passed. If the decree for eviction was a nullity, the executing court could declare it to be such and decline to execute it against the respondent.” [See also Gaon Sabha v Nathi ( (2004) 12 SCC 555).

In the present case, the finding of fact which was arrived at by the executing Court in the course of its decision on the objection to execution is that the land had ceased to be agricultural land and was not being used for purposes contemplated  under the Delhi Land Reforms Act 1954. The High Court while affirming the view of the executing court made the following observations:

“…But in the present case, the Decree Holder had shown electricity bills pertaining to the same Khasra number and the Court also considered that most rural lands in Delhi have become urbanized and private unauthorized colonies have mushroomed on agricultural lands. Therefore, in fact, the said land had lost its character of agricultural land. Besides, the suit was filed under Section 6 of the Specific Relief Act for declaration and possession along with injunction and other consequential reliefs. The executing Court found that the objector had not shown as to how the said suit was not maintainable. It relied upon the dicta of the Supreme Court in Hira Lal Patni v. Sri Kali Nath, AIR 1962 SC 199 which held that “the validity of a decree can be challenged in execution proceedings only on the ground that the court which passed the decree was lacking inherent jurisdiction in the sense that it could not have seisin of the case because the subject matter was wholly foreign to its jurisdiction or that the defendant was dead at the time the suit had been instituted or decree passed, or some such other ground which could have the effect of rendering the court entirely lacking in jurisdiction in respect of the subject matter of the suit or over the parties to it. But in the instant case there was no such inherent lack of jurisdiction.”

The above findings have not been squarely challenged in these proceedings. The suit which was decreed on 30 May 2009 was a suit under Section 6 of the Specific Relief Act which in any event, did not require a determination of the question of title. The earlier suit was a suit for injunction. The finding of fact which has been arrived at is to the effect that the land in question had ceased to be agricultural in nature on the date of the institution of the suit.

Hence, it cannot be held that the decree of the trial court was a nullity. The land was not governed, as a result, by the Delhi Land Reforms Act, 1954 since it was not agricultural and the bar under Section 185 was not attracted. There was no inherent lack of jurisdiction and the objection to the execution of the decree was without foundation.

For the above reasons, we find no merit in the civil appeal, which is accordingly dismissed.

[Source: Harpal Singh vs Ashok Kumar decided by SC on 15 December, 2017]
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