State of Karnataka vs G. Ramanarayana Joshi

State of Karnataka vs G. Ramanarayana Joshi 


Landmark Cases of India / सुप्रीम कोर्ट के ऐतिहासिक फैसले


                            REPORTABLE
   IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
   CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION
   CIVIL APPEAL NO…4117 OF 2022  
(Arising out of SLP (Civil No.23651 of 2019)
The State of Karnataka & Ors.               .…Appellant(s)  
                
Versus
G. Ramanarayana Joshi             ….Respondent(s)
J U D G M E N T
A.S. Bopanna, J.
1. Leave granted.
2. This   appeal   is   directed   against   the   judgment   dated
17.07.2019   passed   by   the   High   Court   of   Karnataka   at
Bengaluru in Writ Appeal No.2319 of 2018 (KLR­RES). Through
the said judgment, the Division Bench has dismissed the appeal
filed by the appellants herein. The intra­court appeal before the
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Division Bench was filed by the appellants, assailing the order
dated 13.09.2017 passed by the learned Single Judge of that
Court, in W.P. No.46003/2013 (KLR­RES). The learned Single
Judge had allowed the writ petition filed by the respondent
herein and had quashed the communication that was impugned
at   Annexure   M   and   N   to   the   writ   petition.     Consequently,
direction was issued to the appellants herein to withdraw the
land belonging to the respondent which was transferred to the
Forest Department and restore the same to the appellant in
terms   of   sub­rule   (2)   to   Rule   119   of   the   Karnataka   Land
Revenue Rules, 1966 (for short, ‘Rules 1966’).   
3. The brief facts necessary to be noted for the disposal of
this appeal are; the respondent claims to have succeeded to the
property bearing Survey No.170 measuring 45.01 acres situated
in   Horanadu   village,   Kasaba   Hobli,   Mudigere   Taluk,
Chikmagaluru District. The said property is claimed to have
been purchased by his ancestors, namely, Bhima Jois, son of
Venkatasubba Jois of Horanadu Village in a public auction held
on 10.12.1887. The ancestors of the respondent and thereafter,
the respondent who succeeded to the property, claim to have
continued  in   uninterrupted  possession   of  the  said  property.
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However, the land revenue having not been paid, the property
was forfeited to the Government during 1892. Though that was
the   position,   the   property   remained   in   the   possession   and
enjoyment of the family even after such  forfeiture and they
continued to enjoy it. To that effect, the Khetwar extract for
Survey   No.170   (Old   Survey   No.132)   of   the   year   1919   is
produced   in   the   writ   petition   and   relied   upon   by   the
respondent. 
4. When this was the position, through notification no. RD
50 LGP 96 dated 07.09.2000 the Government amended sub­rule
(2) to Rule 119 of the Rules 1966 providing for restoration of the
forfeited property, if such application is made during a period of
not more than one year from the date of the commencement of
the amendment i.e. within one year from 08.04.2000. The said
benefit was granted notwithstanding the expiry of the period
allowed under sub­rule (1) to that Rule. The appellant taking
benefit   of   the   said   amendment   filed   the   applications   on
30.09.2000 and 05.10.2000 seeking for restoration, which were
well within the time prescribed. When the said applications had
not received consideration, the respondent was before the High
Court   in   W.P.   No.11334/2007   seeking   for   a   direction   to
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consider the applications. The learned Single Judge disposed of
the writ petition on 24.07.2007 with a direction to the Deputy
Commissioner   to   dispose   of   the   applications   filed   by   the
respondent. 
5. On consideration, the applications came to be rejected by
order   dated   27.11.2009.   The   respondent   claiming   to   be
aggrieved by such rejection, filed another writ petition in W.P.
No.36324/2009 (KLR­RES). The learned Single Judge allowed
the   writ   petition   on   26.06.2012   quashed   the   order   dated
27.11.2009   impugned   therein   and   directed   the   Deputy
Commissioner to consider the applications afresh on merits, by
taking into consideration reports of the Assistant Commissioner
and Tehsildar, as also the observations contained in the order
passed by the learned Single Judge on 26.06.2012. However,
contrary to the directions issued, the claim of the respondent
was negatived by the order dated 19.08.2013 passed by the
Additional Chief Conservator of Forest. The Forest Department
also issued notice dated 16.09.2013 based on the said order,
which were assailed in W.P. No.46003/2013 (KLR­RES). The
learned Single Judge having taken note of all these aspects of
the   matter   allowed   the   writ   petition   by   the   order   dated
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13.09.2017 as noted above. It is against the said order the
appellants   herein   had   preferred   the   intra­court   Writ   Appeal
No.2319 of 2018 (KLR­RES), which was dismissed by the order
dated 17.07.2009, assailed herein. 
6. In the background of the factual narration leading to the
present appeal, we have heard Mr. Nikhil Goel, AAG with Mr.
V.N.   Raghupathy   for   the   appellants,   Mr.   Raghavendra   S.
Srivatsa with Mr. P.N.   Manmohan for the respondents and
perused the appeal papers. 
7. The contention on behalf of the appellants is that the land
was forfeited as far back as in the year 1892 and as such the
application filed under Rule 119 of the Rules 1966 would not be
maintainable. It is contended that even assuming the amended
sub­rule   is   held   applicable   the   same   specifies   that   the
application would be entertained only in respect of the land
which has not been disposed of otherwise.  It is contended that
in the instant case the Government of Karnataka by order dated
20.07.1994 had transferred an extent of 2.58 lakh hectares of
‘C’ and ‘D’ category lands to the Forest Department for the
formation of land bank, which included the extent of land that
is in issue, in this proceeding. It is contended that the land was
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‘disposed of’ and was therefore not available to be considered for
restoration under sub­rule (2) to Rule 119 of Rules 1966. It is
the appellant’s case that the G.O. dated 20.07.1994 whereby
the land was transferred to the Forest Department had in fact
been assailed by the respondent herein in W.P. No.10786 of
2006 (KLR­RES) before the High Court of Karnataka but the
learned   Single   Judge   disposed   of   the   writ   petition   on
08.08.2006 without interfering with the said notification.   In
that   circumstance,   the   application   filed   for   restoration   in
respect of land which has already been transferred to Forest
Department was not sustainable and the competent authority
had rightly dismissed the application which ought not to have
been interfered with by the High Court. Though in the present
round of proceedings the benefit was granted by the learned
Single Judge in W.P. No.46003/2013, the issue essentially was
considered in the earlier writ petition in W.P. No.36324/2009
wherein reconsideration was directed. The learned Additional
Advocate General while referring to the order passed therein
would seek to contend that the very observation contained in
the   said   order   about   the   predicament   for   the   Deputy
Commissioner   due   to   the   order   dated   20.07.1994   in   W.P.
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No.11334/2017 should have tilted the consideration in favour
of the appellant. In that light, it is contended that the lands
which were forfeited to the government and being transferred to
the   Forest   Department   were   not   in   the   possession   of   the
respondent.
8. The learned counsel for the respondent while seeking to
sustain the order passed by the Division Bench has also made
reference to the order passed by the learned Single Judge in the
present round of the proceedings, as well as the order in the
earlier   writ   petition.   In   that   light,   it   is   contended   that   the
property in question is the property which was purchased by
the ancestors of the respondent in an auction. Hence as on the
date of forfeiture, the property was a privately owned land and
the forfeiture was due to non­payment of land revenue arrears.
Though   the   forfeiture   had   taken   place   by   operation   of   law,
factually the ancestors had continued to be in possession and
the   appellant   has   succeeded   to   the   same.   The   property   in
question is being cultivated as a plantation. The house of the
respondent   and   a   temple   is   also   situated   therein.
Notwithstanding the Government Order dated 20.07.1994 the
respondent   had   continued   to   remain   in   possession   and
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cultivation of the property.  There is no other contrary material
available   on   record   to   dispute   the  claim   of   the   respondent.
When this was the position, a right became available to the
respondent by amendment of sub­rule (2) to Rule 119 of Rules
1966. The benefit of the amendment made on 07.09.2000, with
effect from 08.09.2000 was availed by the respondent and an
application   for   restoration   was   made   on   30.09.2000   and
05.10.2000 within the time frame provided under the sub­rule.
It   is   contended   that   the   High   Court   having   taken   into
consideration all these aspects of the matter and also the fact
that the reports submitted by the Tehsildar and the Assistant
Commissioner   which   established   the   position   that   the
respondent   continued   to   be   in   possession,   has   granted   the
relief, which does not call for interference. 
9. In   the   light   of   the   contentions,   keeping   in   view   the
background referred to by the respondent herein, the document
of the year 1919 at Annexure­A to W.P. No.36324/2009 would
disclose   that   the   property   originally   was   a   privately   owned
property   in   the   name   of   Bhima   Jois,   under   whom   the
respondent is claiming right and title to the property. Though
that is the position, the indisputable aspect is that the property
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which is said to have been purchased in the public auction by
the ancestors of the respondent was forfeited to the Government
on 23.08.1892 for non­payment of arrears of land revenue. One
aspect of the matter is with regard to the predecessor of the
respondent having continued to be in possession of the property
and thereafter succeeded to by the respondent.  On that aspect,
the finding of fact recorded by the competent authority and
noted by the High Court would be relevant since it will not be
open for reappreciation in the limited scope under Article 136 of
the Constitution, in a petition of the present nature.  The other
aspect   of   the   matter   is   regarding   the   right   available   to   the
respondent to seek restoration and in that regard whether such
right subsisted in favour of the respondent. 
10. The right to seek restoration is traced to sub­rule (2) of
Rule 119 of Rules 1966 which read as hereunder:­
“119.   Restoration   of   forfeited   occupancy   or
alienated   holding   on   payment   of   the   arrear
due.­   
(1)   The   Deputy   Commissioner   may   restore   any
forfeited occupancy or alienated holding which has
been   purchased   on   account  of   the   Government
and   which   has   not   been   disposed   of   otherwise
within three years from the date of forfeiture on
payment   of   the   arrear   in   respect   of   which   the
forfeiture was incurred together with the amount
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of land revenue in respect of the holding from the
date of forfeiture to the date of restoration and the
expenses   incurred   so   far   in   the   recovery   and
further   proceedings   as   may   be   forced   by   the
Commissioner. 
(2) During a period of not more than one year from
the   date   of   commencement   of   Karnataka   Land
Revenue   (Amendment)   Rules,   2001   the   Deputy
Commissioner may, notwithstanding the expiry of
the period specified in sub­rule (1), restore any
forfeited occupancy or alienated holding which has
been   purchased   on   account  of   the   Government
dues   and   which   has   not   been   disposed   of
otherwise,   to   the   person   who   has   not   been
dispossessed   of   such   occupancy   or   holding
immediately   before   such   commencement,   on
payment of the arrears in respect of which the
forfeiture was incurred together with the amount
of land revenue in respect of the holding from the
date of forfeiture to the date of restoration and the
expenses   incurred   so   far   in   the   recovery   and
further proceedings as may be fixed by the Deputy
Commissioner.”
11.  By the amendment to sub­rule (2) by way of substitution
with   effect   from   08.09.2000   the   final   effect   is   that   an
application was required to be filed within one year from the
date   of   substitution,   which   was   filed   by   the   respondent   on
30.09.2000 and 05.10.2000, seeking restoration. 
12. Having taken note of the same what is also to be taken
into consideration is that the property which is the subject
matter of this proceeding was also a part of the total extent of
2.58   lakh   hectares   which   was   transferred   to   the   Forest
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Department for formation of land bank through the Government
Order   dated   20.07.1994.   The   Government   Order   reads   as
hereunder:­ 
“GOVERNMENT ORDER NO. RD 106 LGP 88,
BENGALURU DATED 20.07.94
The Government after detailed examination of the
proposal issued order for transfer of total extent of
1,31,866­61 hectare area as given in the Annexure
enclosed to this Order to the Forest Department
for formation of land bank, subject to the following
conditions.
1.  If the land is required for the public purpose
and   for   Government   itself   the   Revenue
Department may take back this land from the
land bank.
2. The transferred lands have to be continued as
C and D category lands.   No Notifications can
be issued stating that these lands are reserved
as Forest under the Forest Act.
3. At the time of release of Forest areas for mining
activities from the Forest Department.   As a
compensation   for   that,   for   growing   relief
Neduthopu the Government may release land
out of C and D Category lands from the land
bank and may make it available for the Forest
Department.
By Order and in the name
of   the   Governor   of
Karnataka,  Jitendra Singh
Under   Secretary   to   Govt.
Revenue Department”
13. The relevant Rule and the Government Order will have to
be taken note of, to consider the contention of the learned
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Additional Advocate General that the right was not available
to the respondent to seek restoration since the Government
Order   dated   20.07.1994   transferring   the   land   to   Forest
Department will amount to disposal of the forfeited land and
sub­rule (2) excludes the land “disposed of otherwise” from
being   considered   for   restoration.   In   that   background,   a
perusal of the Government Order would indicate that it is not
in the nature of a Gazette notification invoking power under
the Karnataka Forest Act to notify the land as ‘reserved forest’
or such other forest area. On the other hand, the decision of
the Government is explicit to indicate that the land is to be
continued   as   ‘C’   and   ‘D’   category   lands   which   is   a
classification of the revenue lands. In fact, the Government
Order specifies that no notification can be issued stating that
these lands are reserved as forest under the Forest Act. The
only intention appears to be to encourage afforestation and
safeguard the lands vested in the Government but should
continue to be available to the Government as revenue land.
This   is   clear   from   the   preamble   to   the   said   order   which
specifies that if the land is required for the public purpose
and for the Government itself, the Revenue Department may
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take back this land from the land bank. Therefore, as on the
date when the right accrued to the respondent to make an
application seeking restoration, the status of the property was
the   same   and   the   transfer   was   only   from   the   Revenue
Department of the Government to the Forest Department of
the   same  Government   i.e.,  from  one   arm   to   another.  The
position therefore was that the Forest Department was made
the ‘custodian’  of  the revenue land for a limited purpose.
Hence, as on the date when the respondent had made an
application it cannot be construed that the land in question
had been disposed of as contemplated under sub­rule (2) to
Rule 119 of Rules 1966.
14. Further, as noted, neither at the time when forfeiture
happened nor at the time when the property of respondent
was made over to the Forest Department by an executive
order, is there any proceeding to indicate that the respondent
or his predecessor was evicted and vacant possession was
handed over to the Forest Department. In that light, if the
possession   had   continued   with   the   respondent,   the
respondent was entitled for consideration of his application
for restoration. That apart, though much is made about the
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respondent   having   failed   in   his   attempt   to   assail   the
Government Order dated 20.07.1994 in W.P. No.10786/2006,
the same does not alter the position. The Government Order
as noted was a common order in respect of a larger extent of
land.   There was no need to assail the Government Order
since the Forest Department was only made the ‘custodian’
and the property of the respondent was also included but it
remained to be forfeited land which was restorable subject to
meeting other requirements.  The respondent was to establish
his right, in which event on consideration of his application
the property to the extent belonging to the respondent would
get  restored  in  accordance  with   law,  which  will  thereafter
cease to be a part of the Government Order and the Forest
Department can neither object to it nor claim possession to
the same.  Instead of following the said process and awaiting
consideration of his application, the respondent had in fact
put the ‘cart before the horse’ in assailing it and failed, which
is inconsequential.   The learned Single Judge in any event
had left it open for the respondent to work out his remedy
before the Deputy Commissioner, which has been availed. 
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15. In the above backdrop, before adverting to  the order
passed   in   the   present   round   of   litigation   before   the   High
Court, keeping in view the fact that the reconsideration by the
Deputy Commissioner is predicated and was to be based on
the observations contained in the order dated 26.06.2012 in
W.P. No.36324/2009 (KLR­RES), the finding recorded by the
learned   Single   Judge   in   the   said   writ   petition   would   be
relevant to be noted, which read as hereunder: ­
“11. In so far as second ground is concerned,
same   is   contrary   to   the   very   finding   of   the
authority   which   passed   the   impugned   order
namely   contrary   to   the   finding   recorded   in
Annexure­E   &   K,   whereunder,   it   has   been
specifically held by the second respondent Deputy
Commissioner himself that land in question is in
possession of petitioner.
12. In view of the same, question that arises
would be whether petitioner is entitled for being
restored with the possession of land by virtue of
sub rule (2) of Rule 119. As rightly pointed out by
Mr. Patil, learned HCGP land in question has been
diverted by the Government under a Government
order   bearing   No.RD   106   LGP   88   dated
20.07.1994 to the Land Bank for being transferred
to   various   departments   of   the   Government.
However,   factually   the   land   in   question   has
continued to be in possession of the petitioner as
consistently held by the respondents including the
2
nd  respondent   authority   which   has   passed   the
impugned order. In fact, one of the basic criteria
for considering an application under sub­rule (2)
of   Rule   119   is   that   applicant   should   have
continued to be in possession of the land, though
said land was forfeited to the Government for non
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payment  of  revenue.  In  other  words  possession
should not have been diverted. Thus, the criteria
prescribed in this regard is duly satisfied by the
petitioner   even   according   to   the   respondent
authority   themselves.   However,   to   avoid   any
technical plea being raised and obviously by way
of   abundant   caution,   second   respondent   has
requested   the   Government   by   communication
dated   26.12.2000   and   communication   dated
23.08.2007 Annexure­E and J requesting the first
respondent   Government   to   cancel/annul   the
orders under which the land in question is said to
have been diverted i.e., Government order dated
20.07.1994. In the absence of any order having
been passed by the first respondent Government,
no order could have been passed by the second
respondent   by   considering   the   claim   of   the
petitioner.     However,   the   Deputy   Commissioner
was placed in a situation in which, he was facing a
direction   issued   by   this   court   in   Writ   Petition
No.11334/2007 dated 24.7.2007 whereunder he
was directed to dispose of the application within
time   frame   and   non   compliance   of   said   order
would have resulted in proceedings being initiated
against him and he had yet to receive reply from
the   Government   for   his   requests   made   under
letters   dated   26.12.2000   and   23.08.2007   vide
Annexures E & J respectively.  In this background
and left with no other option and in spite of there
being no orders having been passed by the first
respondent Government withdrawing or canceling
the   order  dated   20.7.1994   he   was   perforced   to
pass the impugned order.  The reasons assailed by
the second respondent to reject the applications
cannot be accepted by this court for the reasons
aforesaid. Hence, the impugned order cannot be
sustained.”
16. A perusal of the extracted portion of the order would
indicate that the learned Single Judge in the said writ petition
had   taken   note   of   the   documents   which   indicated   the
Page 16 of 19
possession  over the   property  by  the  respondent.   The  said
order has attained finality. It is in the background of the said
sorder,   reconsideration   was   required   to   be   made   by   the
Deputy Commissioner.  Though the said order of the learned
Single Judge had attained finality, the Forest Department in
disregard   of   the   legal   procedure   and   niceties   involved,
erroneously   intervened   in   the   process   and   issued   the
communication dated 16.09.2013, based on an Order dated
19.08.2013  passed  by the   Additional  Chief  Conservator  of
Forests against the respondent which necessitated the filing
of   the   W.P.   No.46003/2013   (KLR­RES).   In   the   said   writ
petition a detailed consideration was made by the learned
Single   Judge   by   framing   the   relevant   questions   for
consideration. In the course of the order the learned Single
Judge   took   note   of   the   notice   issued   by   the   Forest
Department and while doing so the learned Single Judge has
adverted   to   the   report   dated   11.10.2010   of   the   Tehsildar
disclosing the land to be in possession of the respondent and
the detailed consideration on that aspect made by the coordinate Bench in the earlier writ petition. The action of the
Forest Department was accordingly held impermissible.  It is
Page 17 of 19
in that light, the learned Single Judge had allowed the writ
petition and had quashed the impugned communications and
order, consequent to which direction was issued to restore the
ownership of land.  
17. The Division Bench, in that background had taken into
consideration all these aspects of the matter.  The nature of
transfer made to the land bank to be retained as ‘C’ and ‘D’
category land has been adverted to by the Division Bench and
it has been emphasised that the land was not notified as
‘reserve forest’.  Be that as it may, even if at this point there is
sufficient tree growth over the lands which were transferred to
the Forest Department, the property to which the respondent
claims cannot be considered in today’s perspective.  Though
the lands were made over to the Forest Department by an
executive   order,   the   factual   finding   indicates   that   the
respondent continued to be in possession and had developed
coffee and areca plantation which in any event will require
tree growth.   The right which accrued to the respondent to
seek restoration in the year 2000 is within about six years
from the date of Government Order during 1994.   In such
Page 18 of 19
event, the Forest Department could not have intervened in the
present situation, unmindful of the earlier orders.
18. In the circumstance, the High Court has kept in view,
the legal position and has taken note that the possession of
the property remained with the respondent throughout, which
would satisfy the requirement to claim restoration under subrule (2) to Rule 119 of Rules 1966. When a factual finding is
rendered to that effect, it will not arise for consideration in the
limited scope available to this Court in a proceeding of the
present nature. 
19. In that view, the appeal being devoid of merit stands
dismissed with no order as to costs. 
20. Pending application, if any, shall stand disposed of. 
………………………….J.
(L. NAGESWARA RAO)
                                                       ………………………….J.
                                             (A.S. BOPANNA)
New Delhi,
May 17, 2022 
Page 19 of 19

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