This article is written by Rachna Kumari. This article dives into the case of Jagpal Singh v. State of Punjab in detail and covers the facts, issues, and judgement with a comprehensive analysis of the current positioning of law. 

Introduction 

Since time immemorial, rural communities throughout India have possessed communal lands known by various names, such as gram sabha land, gram panchayat land (in many North Indian States), shamlat deh (in Punjab), mandaveli and poramboke land (in Southern India), maidan, etc., depending on their intended use. These lands, held collectively, serve as essential resources for the villagers’ common benefit. They provide space for ponds for drinking water, bathing the cattle, storage for harvested grain, and grazing grounds for animals such as cows, buffalos and goats. They also serve as playgrounds for children, venues for various religious and matrimonial events of the villagers, melas, water bodies, passages, and sites for cremation or graveyards. 

Historically, these lands were vested in the State through local laws but managed by gram sabhas and gram panchayats to ensure their communal usage. These lands were generally treated as inalienable so that their status as ‘property of the community’ stays preserved and the property remains accessible to all members of the community. 

However, exceptions allowed the gram panchayat to lease out some of the land to landless labourers and members of the scheduled castes/tribes and other marginalised communities, under special circumstances. 

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Despite the legal safeguards, such as some, the post-independence era witnessed widespread encroachment upon these communal lands across the nation by influential individuals with muscle power, money power, or political backing. As a result, these lands have been exploited for personal gain, disregarding their original purpose. These unlawful encroachments were accomplished with the active collusion of governmental officials, influential local stakeholders and other criminal elements in society. The case of Jagpal v. State of Punjab(2011) serves as a stark example of this unfortunate reality, highlighting the urgent need to address this egregious state of affairs. 

Details of the case

Name: Jagpal Singh & Ors. v. State of Punjab & Ors.

Citation: (2011) 11 SCC 396 

Date of the judgement: 28.01.2011

Appellant: Jagpal Singh & Others

Respondent: State of Punjab & Others

Advocates who appeared in this case: R.K. Kapoor, Ms. Neelam Sharma and H.C. Pant

Bench: Markandey Katju and Gyan Sudha Misra, JJ

The judgement was authored by Justice Markandey Katju. 

Facts of Jagpal Singh vs. State of Punjab (2011)

The appeal in this case was filed against the impugned judgement of a division bench of the Punjab and Haryana High Court. 

Undisputedly, the appellants were neither the rightful owners nor the recognised tenants of the land under question, which was identified as a pond situated in Rohar Jagir village, Patiala Tehsil and District Patiala. In fact, the appellants were trespassers and unauthorised occupants of the said land. The appellants filled the community pond with sand and made constructions out of it. 

Application under Punjab Village Common Lands (Regulation) Act, 1961

The gram panchayat of Rohar Jagir filed an application under Section 7 of the Punjab Village Common Lands (Regulation) Act, 1961, seeking the removal of the appellants as they had taken unlawful possession of the land. gram panchayat claimed ownership of the disputed land, as evident from the revenue records. The appellants forcibly held the land and started making construction on it. 

Application before the deputy commissioner

Subsequently, an application was moved before the deputy commissioner, informing him about the illegal encroachment. He was informed that the land belonged to the gram panchayat and that the cattle of the villagers had been using the land for drinking, bathing, etc. 

In a surprising turn of events, the collector of Patiala, instead of ordering the eviction of appellants from the property, deemed it not in the public interest to dispossess them.  Rather, the collector directed the gram panchayat to recover the cost of the land from the appellants, as per the collector’s established rates. Thus, the collector colluded in regularising this wrongdoing on the basis that the appellants had invested huge money in constructing a house on the land in question. 

The commissioner affirmed the panchayat’s right over the property and that the pond was being used for the common purpose of the villagers. Hence, it cannot be allowed to be encroached upon by any private persons and any kind of construction over that property is illegal. 

Judgement of Division Bench of Punjab and Haryana High Court

The Court dismissed the appeal and affirmed that the land in dispute belongs to the panchayat and the collector of Patiala was erroneous in directing the gram panchayat to recover the cost of the land from the appellants as a land belonging to the public cannot be sold. 

Issues raised 

Whether the appeal is maintainable or not?

Judgement in Jagpal Singh vs. State of Punjab (2011)

The Hon’ble Supreme Court found no merit in the appeal and dismissed it. The Court declared the appellants to be trespassers who had illegally encroached on the land that belonged to the gram panchayat. 

The Court held that such kind of illegalities must be addressed and cannot be condoned. Even if the appellants had built houses on the disputed land; they were ordered to dismantle their constructions and hand over the possession of the land to gram panchayat. The Court also opined that regularising such illegalities should not be permitted because gram Sabha land belongs to the villagers for their common use and should remain so. 

The Court invalidated the letter of regularisation of possession passed by the government of Punjab.

The Court referred to a number of cases to support its decision such as the case of M.I. Builders (P) Ltd. v. Radhey Shyam Sahu(1999), the Supreme Court directed the restoration of a park after the demolition of a shopping complex that was constructed at the cost of more than 100 crores. Similarly, in the case of Friends Colony Development Committee v. State of Orissa & Ors.(2004), the SC held that even where the law allows for regularisation of unsanctioned constructions, such regularisation should only be done in exceptional cases. The Court stated that this principle holds more importance in cases that involve encroachment of a village common land i.e., in the Jagpal case. Further, it stated that regularisation in such cases should only be permitted if the land has been leased to landless labourers or individuals belonging to scheduled castes/scheduled tribes or if the land is actively being utilised for a public purpose such as operating a school, dispensary, park, etc for the villagers. The governmental orders that permit the allotment of gram sabha land to private persons or commercial enterprises on payment of some money were also opined to be illegal and called for ignoring such orders. 

The Court passed a similar order as that of in Hinch Lal Tiwari v. Kamala Devi (2001) where the Court held that land recorded as a pond must not be allowed to be allotted to anybody for the construction of the house or any such purpose. Further, the Court directed the respondents to vacate the illegally occupied land. 

The Court directed all the state governments to prepare schemes for the eviction of illegal occupants of land which belongs to gram panchayat and to give that land back to panchayat for the common use of the villagers. 

Legal aspects involved in Jagpal Singh vs. State of Punjab (2011)

The Hon’ble Supreme Court discussed the encroachment of property belonging to gram panchayat and the regularisation of such illegalities by the government due to the influence of the encroachers. 

When one reads about private individuals encroaching upon the government’s property; one also wonder whether government can take private property of an individual. Article 39(b) of the Constitution states that there are certain principles to be followed by the State which includes: “that the ownership and control of the material resources of the community are so distributed as best to sub serve the common good.” 

Upon a literal interpretation of the bare text it can be concluded that the State has a power to take away the private property of an individual for the purpose of ‘public use’. Contrary to Article 300-A of the Constitution which states that ‘No person can be deprived of their property except by authority of law.’ The doctrine of eminent domain allows the government to take the property of an individual if it is to be used for public purposes. In the recent case of  DDA v. Jagan Singh & Ors.(2023), the Supreme Court held that land acquired for public purposes cannot be encroached upon. The Court directed the Delhi Development Authority and other authorities to remove a car clinic and other vendors from a pavement built on roads next to a metro station in Delhi. 

Whether “material resources of the community” include private property

Article 39(b) imposes a positive obligation on the State to formulate policies that ensure the “ownership and control of material resources of the community” are so distributed that they “subserve the common good.” 

In the case of State of Karnataka v. Shri Ranganatha Reddy(1977), the Court held that the scope of Article 39(b) is limited and does not include privately owned resources; hence, they do not fall under the ambit of ‘material resources of the community’. Justice Krishna Iyer opined that private and public resources fall within the ambit of ‘material resources of the community’. 

In the case of Sanjeev Coke Manufacturing Company v. Bharat Coking Coal Ltd.(1982), the SC affirmed the stand of Justice Krishna Iyer and held that ‘material resources of the community’ are not just restricted to public owned resources but also include private owned resources. A nine-judge Bench came to the same conclusion in the case of Mafatlal Industries Ltd. v. Union of India(1977)

Currently, the Hon’ble Supreme Court is facing the same question and hearing the matter in the case of Property Owners Association v. State of Maharashtra (2024). 

Environmental law and authority of the State

The Supreme Court introduced the idea of public trust doctrine in India in the case of M.C. Mehta v. Kamal Nath(1977). The concept of public trust doctrine imposes an obligation on the State to act as a guard of the natural resources of the country and protect the natural resources from damage. The term ‘public trust doctrine’ inherently contains the idea of trust. A trustee is responsible for taking care of the entrusted property. The trustee is under the duty to act in the best interest of the entruster and not use the property for private gain. In the context of the environment, the State is entrusted by the citizens to protect the natural resources for rational use and for the benefit of society. The State has to exploit the natural resources in such a way that they are not exhausted and future generations are able to use them as well. The public trust doctrine restricts the State from selling natural resources to private individuals. Further, it obligates the State to maintain the resources and not give them to private use. 

In the case of Illinois Central Railroad Co. v. People of the State of Illinois(1892), the Supreme Court of the United States held that the State is a trustee of public resources and cannot give public property for private ownership when the public’s interest is involved. Similarly, in the case of M.C. Mehta v. Kamal Nath(1996), the Supreme Court of India held that the government cannot surrender its authority over public trust resources by converting them to private property. The Court also relied on the famous article titled “The Public Trust Doctrine in Natural Resource Law: Effective Judicial Interventionby Professor Joe Sax, where he reinvented the Roman concept of common property and called it the ‘public trust doctrine’. 

Significance of Jagpal Singh vs. State of Punjab (2011) today

The case of Jagpal v. State of Punjab holds immense importance in recent times due to its judgment against the encroachers of public property. This case is constantly cited by multiple High Courts across the country and by the Supreme Court itself. In the case of Kamalanathan and others v. State and Others(2022), the Madras High Court stated that water bodies play a significant role in maintaining ecology and the environment. Upholding the eviction notice, the Court held that using land that is earmarked as a waterbody for other purposes is detrimental to society. 

In the case of Mehraj Ud Din Malik v. UT of J&K(2022), the Jammu Kashmir & Ladakh High Court held that exchanging proprietary land in lieu of encroached public grazing land is not permitted. 

Upholding a similar judgment as that of the Jagpal case, in the case of V. Vaira Sekar v. The Secretary to Government, Home, Prohibition and Excise Department and Others (2021), the Madras High Court stated that no person has the right to encroach upon public land. The Court called upon the government to ensure a sense of discipline to ensure that public land remains safe. 

As the Hon’ble Supreme Court gave directions to all the State governments across the country to prepare schemes for eviction of illegal occupants of gram panchayat, the Madhya Pradesh High Court ordered the setting up of ‘Public Land Protection cells’ across the State to check encroachments in the case of Gram Panchayat Dhooma v. State of MP (2021) along with Raghvendra Pratap Singh v. State of M.P(2021)

In the case of Arulmighu Palapattarai Mariamman Tirukoil v. Pappayee & Ors.(2023), the Madras High Court stated that nobody has the right to encroach upon public land and even if God encroaches upon public space, courts will direct the removal of such encroachments since public interest and the rule of law must be safeguarded and upheld. 

Hence, it can be concluded that the Jagpal case holds much importance even today. 

Conclusion 

The encroachment of community property represents a serious threat to the welfare of society and the sustainability of the environment. When private individuals occupy public land illegally, they violate the principles of justice. Such encroachments deprive community members of the opportunity to enjoy the resources that are helpful for their well being. Whether it is land designated for public use, such as parks, playgrounds, etc., or natural resources such as forests, rivers, ponds, etc., the encroachment limits access to these resources for the entire community, leading to a violation of Article 21 of the Constitution. 

This case stands as an example of the challenges faced by the community because of some illegal occupants. The will of the administration to regularise such illegalities is what makes this situation even worse. Despite the intervention of the Hon’ble Supreme Court and the presence of powerful members of society who encroach upon public land with the help of money, muscle power or political connections, strict action to address these issues has been lacking. It is important for states to take proactive measures to prevent such encroachments on public property. Even after twelve years of judgment and directions, the failure of states to formulate a proper administrative system to tackle encroachments demands the urgent need for collective action at all levels of governance. It is only through collective efforts that we can safeguard public property and enjoy it. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can adverse possession be claimed on governmental property?

Yes, according to the Limitation Act, 1965, any person in possession of private land for over 12 years or government land for over 30 years can become the owner of that property. However, in the case of Shakeel Ahmad and Ors v. State of Uttar Pradesh and Ors (2024), the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India has observed that people settling on government land cannot claim any title rights to such land only on the ground of adverse possession. 

Why do all States have different Acts and rules with regard to encroachment of land belonging to panchayat?

All states have different Acts, rules and regulations with regard to encroachment of land because each State has the power to make its own laws on land related issues based on specific local needs, and socioeconomic, administrative and political factors. 

Can a criminal case be filed for encroachment on governmental land?

Yes, a criminal case can be filed under Section 441 of the Indian Penal Code (Section 329 of Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, 2024). In the case of S. Arunachallam v. District Collector, Collectorate, Salem District and Others (2019), the Madras High Court ordered in favour of eviction of encroachers from public land. 

Which list empowers states to make laws on land acquisition, etc. under the Constitution of India?

The Concurrent list in the Seventh Schedule of the Indian Constitution allows both state legislatures and the Union government to make laws on land acquisition and related matters. However, if there’s a conflict, union laws override state laws. 

References

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