Acceptance Of Gift Can Be Inferred By Implied Conduct Of Donee: SC

It is good to see that the Supreme Court has most recently on December 8, 2020 in a latest, learned, laudable and landmark judgment titled Daulat Singh (D) Thr. Lrs. vs. State of Rajasthan in Civil Appeal No. 5650 of 2010 has observed very rightly that acceptance of a gift can be inferred by the implied conduct of the donee. The three Judge Bench of Apex Court comprising of Justices NV Ramana, S Abdul Nazeer and Surya Kant also further observed that, “Such inference can be ascertained from the surrounding circumstances such as taking into possession the property by the done or by being in the possession of the gift deed itself.” Very rightly so!

To start with, this noteworthy judgment authored by Justice NV Ramana for himself, Justice S Abdul Nazeer and Justice Surya Kant sets the ball rolling by first and foremost observing in para 1 that, “The present appeal arises out of the impugned judgment dated 25.04.2008, passed by the High Court of Judicature for Rajasthan at Jodhpur in D.B. Civil Special Appeal No. 264 of 1999 (Writ) wherein the Division Bench of the High Court allowed the appeal preferred by the respondents and upheld the order dated 02.07.1990 passed by the Board of Revenue while setting aside the order dated 02.04.1997 of the Single Judge.”

While dwelling on the facts, the Bench then brings out in para 2 that, “The facts underlying the appeal are as follows: Daulat Singh (since deceased and now represented through his legal representatives and who shall hereinafter for the sake of convenience be referred to as the appellant) was owner of 254.2 Bighas of land. On 19.12.1963, he gifted away 127.1 Bighas of land to his son, Narpat Singh. After the said transfer, the appellant was left with 17.25 standard acres of land, which was below the prescribed limit under the Ceiling Act.”

To put things in perspective, the Bench then adds in para 3 that, “Although, a proceeding was initiated under the ceiling law, the same was dropped on 15.04.1972 by the Court of Deputy SubDivisional Officer, Pali, Rajasthan. While dropping the proceedings, the Court observed that, the amendment of Section 30DD of the Rajasthan Tenancy Act, 1955 (hereinafter “Tenancy Act of 1955”) was effective from 31.12.1969, and since the gift deed was executed before the aforesaid amendment, the aforesaid transfer was valid.”

In a turn of events, the Bench then notes in para 4 that, “However, by notice dated 15.03.1982, the Revenue Ceiling Department re-opened the case of the appellant. The Revenue Ceiling Department while issuing the aforesaid notice stated that the earlier order dated 15.04.1972, passed by the Court of Deputy Sub-Divisional Officer, Pali was rendered without investigating whether the land transfers are recognizable as per the provisions of Section 30 of the Tenancy Act of 1955. The same being in contravention of the provisions, needs to be reopened.”

While adding further twist to the turn of events, the Bench then observes in para 5 that, “The Court of Additional District Collector, Pali vide order dated 28.10.1988, declared that the mutation of the land done in favour of the son of the appellant was invalid as there was no acceptance of the gift. It was declared therein that the appellant was holding 11 standard acres of extra land over and above the ceiling limit. The Collector, therefore, directed the appellant to hand over vacant possession of the aforesaid 11 standard acres of extra land to the Tahsildar, Pali.”

As a corollary, it is then brought out in para 6 that, “Aggrieved by the aforesaid order, the appellant preferred an appeal before the Board of Revenue. Vide order dated 02.07.1990, the Board of Revenue, modified the earlier order dated 28.10.1988, and upon recalculation held that the appellant is holding 4.5 standard acres of land in excess of the ceiling limit.”

As a consequence, what then ensues is then stated in para 7 that, “Aggrieved, the appellant preferred a Writ Petition under Article 227 of the Constitution of India, 1950 before the High Court. Vide order dated 02.04.1997, the learned Single Judge of the High Court allowed the writ petition preferred by the appellant. The Court held that the case was beyond the purview of Section 6 of The Rajasthan Imposition of Ceiling on Agricultural Holdings Act, 1973 (hereinafter “Ceiling Act of 1973”) because the land was transferred by way of gift before 26.09.1970. It was further held that the aforesaid transfer of land, by the appellant in favour of his son by virtue of a registered gift deed, being bona fide, was valid in the eyes of law. The learned Single Judge, therefore held that there is no surplus land which is available with the appellant which can be resumed.”

Of course, it is then stated in para 8 that, “Thereafter, the respondents preferred an appeal against the above order before the Division Bench, which allowed the appeal holding that the gift deed was invalid as the son of the appellant was unaware about the same. The Division Bench vide impugned judgment dated 25.04.2008, held that the learned Single Judge passed the judgment in ignorance of the provisions of Section 30C and 30D of the Tenancy Act of 1955. Therefore, the Division Bench of the High Court set aside the order passed by the Single Judge Bench for being untenable and upheld the order passed by the Board of Revenue.”

No wonder, it is then stated in para 9 that, “Aggrieved, the appellant has preferred the present appeal by way of Special Leave Petition before this Court.”

As it turned out, the Bench after listening to both sides then observed in para 24 that, “At the outset, it ought to be noted that Section 122 of the Transfer of Property Act, 1882 neither defines acceptance, nor does it prescribe any particular mode for accepting the gift.” Para 25 then states that, “The word acceptance is defined as “is the receipt of a thing offered by another with an intention to retain it, as acceptance of a gift.” (See Ramanatha P Aiyar: The Law Lexicon, 2nd Edn., page 19).”

While continuing on a similar vein, the Bench then observes in para 26 that, “The aforesaid fact can be ascertained from the surrounding circumstances such as taking into possession the property by the done or by being in the possession of the gift deed itself. The only requirement stipulated here is that, the acceptance of the gift must be effectuated within the lifetime of the donor itself.”

Be it noted, the Bench then clarifies in para 27 that, “Hence, being an act of receiving willingly, acceptance can be inferred by the implied conduct of the donee. The aforesaid position has been reiterated by this Court in the case of Asokan v. Lakshmikutty, (2007) 13 SCC 210.

14. Gifts do not contemplate payment of any consideration or compensation. It is, however, beyond any doubt or dispute that in order to constitute a valid gift acceptance thereof is essential. We must, however, notice that the Transfer of Property Act does not prescribe any particular mode of acceptance. It is the circumstances attending to the transaction which may be relevant for determining the question. There may be various means to prove acceptance of a gift. The document may be handed over to a done, which in a given situation may also amount to a valid acceptance. The fact that possession had been given to the done also raises a presumption of acceptance.”

To be sure, the Bench then also mentions in para 29 that, “In order to show acceptance, the counsel for the appellant drew our attention to the mutation records. The Mutation entry in the Revenue Record of Gram Sedriya, District Pali dated 28.10.1968 clearly reflects that half portion of appellant’s land was bestowed as a gift by the appellant to his son through a registered instrument of gift dated 19.12.1963.”

Going ahead, it is then stated in para 30 that, “Furthermore, the statement dated 31.08.1984, rendered by the appellant-donor before the Court of Additional District Magistrate indicates that the done was already a major at the time of the execution of the gift deed. He further stated that after execution of the gift deed the donee started cultivating on the same.”

Needless to say, it is then rightly stated in para 31 that, “The aforesaid statement of the appellant-donor is completely supported by the statement made by the donee on 15.12.1988 before the Court of Additional District Magistrate. Therein, the donee clearly stated that, as he did not get along with his step-mother, he started living separately and the land was transferred to him by virtue of gift deed was under his possession and he was cultivating the same.” How can all this be ignored?

Surely, it goes without saying what is then envisaged in para 32 that, “Therefore, the abovementioned circumstances clearly indicate that there was an acceptance of the gift by the donee during the lifetime of the donor. Not only the gift deed in itself contained recitals about transfer of possession, but also the mutation records and the statements of both the donor and donee indicate that, there has been an acceptance of the gift by conduct.”

To state the obvious, it is then held in para 33 that, “The respondents failed to bring on record any evidence to rebut the fact that the donee was in enjoyment of the property. In light of the same, the learned Single Judge took a plausible view that, it was a transfer between a father and a son and there was a valid acceptance of the gift when the donee-son started living separately. Lastly, it ought to be noted that apart from the point of acceptance by the donee as held above since the deed is registered, bears the signature of the donor and has been attested by two witnesses, the requirements under Section 123 of the Transfer of Property Act, 1882 have been satisfied. In line with the aforementioned observations, issue no. 2 is answered in favour of the appellant.”

For my esteemed readers exclusive benefit, it must be mentioned that issue no. 2 as stated in para 12(ii) runs as follows: “Whether the registered gift deed executed by the appellant is valid in the eyes of law?”

It is worth noting that para 41 then illustrates that, “In the present case, the respondents have submitted that the transfer is barred under Section 30D, therefore the State has a right of resumption over the excess area of 4.5 acres as per Section 30C. On the contrary, the appellant has argued that the transfer was protected under Section 30DD.”

It is worth paying attention that it is then observed in para 42 that, “Our attention is drawn again to the registered gift deed dated 19.12.1963. The gift deed itself contains the recitals that “…The aforesaid land which is of my khatedari (ownership) and on which I am carrying out cultivation and is in my possession. Out of the aforesaid land in all the khasra’s ½ part means 50 percent I am giving you in gift being my younger son with my pleasure….From today you are the owner of the half of the land gifted to you and you will have possession hereafter. You have the complete right over the aforesaid land for cultivation from today onward. Now you get the gifted land mutated in your name.””

It is a no-brainer what para 43 then states that, “It is, thus, apparent that the legislature has carved out two separate categories of lands, one which is includable and other which is outside the purview of ceiling laws. Once such a classification has been made, with their being no challenge to its vires, it is the solemn duty of every authority to give full effect to the same, in both letter and spirit. Although, it is possible that there can be a voluntary transfer which would meet the qualifications of both Sections 30D and Section 30DD, however, it is significant to note that Section 30DD opens up with a non-obstante clause with overriding effect on Section 30D, as a result of which, any land included within its purview would be protected from the rigors of Section 30D of the Tenancy Act of 1955. Therefore, if the appellant succeed in its endeavor to establish that the transfer was covered under Section 30DD of the Tenancy Act of 1955, then such transferred land has to be exempted from computation of confiscable land, irrespective of the fact that it falls within the ceiling limit as prescribed under Section 30D of the Tenancy Act of 1955.”

What cannot be ignored is then stated in para 44 that, “Another significant piece of evidence is the statement of the transferor-appellant dated 31.08.1984, wherein he has stated that the transferee-son was living separately and was cultivating the aforesaid gifted property. It is also mentioned that the transferee is in possession of an ox and equipments for ploughing and agriculture. The aforementioned facts have been reiterated by the transferee as well vide his statement dated 15.12.1988, wherein  he has clearly stated that, he is in independent possession of the gifted property and has been cultivating the said land.”

What’s more, the Bench then observes in para 45 that, “The aforesaid pieces of evidence clearly indicate that due to certain family issues, the appellant and his son were living separately. During such separation, when the transferee-son had already attained the age of majority, the appellant-owner of the land, who was an agriculturist himself, transferred the aforesaid land in favour of his son, so as to enable him to cultivate the same. The statements of transferor and the transferee clearly indicate that the transferee had the equipment and skills and was sustaining himself as an agriculturist.”

In addition, the Bench then observes in para 46 that, “Lastly, it must be taken into consideration that, the aforesaid transfer was executed way before the cutoff date stipulated under Section 30DD i.e. 31.12.1969. Therefore, the registered gift deed dated 19.12.1963 was a bona fide transfer squarely covered within the ambits of Section 30DD which intended to protect the rights of agriculturists. Issue no. 3 stands answered in favour of the appellant, as the transfer is not invalid as it stands protected as per the provision of Section 30DD of the Tenancy Act of 1955.”

It would be imperative to mention here that Issue no. 3 as stated in para 12(iii) stipulates that, “Whether the judgment of learned Single Judge is in ignorance of the provisions of Sec 30C and 30D of the Tenancy Act of 1955?”

Going ahead, the Bench then holds in para 47 that, “In light of the aforesaid findings, the decision rendered by the Division Bench of the High Court is liable to be set aside. The transfer of the land being valid under Section 30DD of the Tenancy Act of 1955, the ceiling area of the appellant falls within the ceiling limit as provided under Section 30C.”

Finally, the Bench then also seeks to make it amply clear in para 48 that, “There is no gainsaying that Section 6 of the Ceiling Act of 1973 also does not advance the case of the State. Firstly, the repeal of Chapter III-B of the Tenancy Act of 1955 through Section 40 of the Ceiling Act of 1973 is not retrospective. Hence, the provisions of the Ceiling Act of 1973 are not attracted in the present case as the case was reopened and decided under the provisions of the Tenancy Act of 1955. Secondly, Section 6 of the Ceiling Act of 1973 declares that every transfer of land including by way of gift, made on or after 26-09-1970 and before 01-01-1973. In the instant case, the gift deed was executed on 19-12-1963, that is much before 26-09-1970. Therefore also Section 6 of the Ceiling Act of 1973 does not affect the transfer of land by the appellant-donor in favour of the donee-son. Thirdly, there is no finding that the gift deed in the present case was actuated upon any extraneous consideration. Hence, it constitutes a bona fide transfer which are exempted from the rigors of Section 6 of the Ceiling Act of 1973.”

To conclude, we thus see that the three Judge Bench of the Apex Court comprising of Justice NV Ramana, Justice S Abdul Nazeer and Justice Surya Kant make it amply clear that the appellant case is strong and therefore deserves to be upheld. We also thus see that the Bench finally allowed the appeal of the appellant who had challenged the ruling of the Division Bench of the Rajasthan High Court and restored the judgment of the single Bench of the High Court. It has given strong, cogent, convincing and compelling reasons for doing so. Very rightly so! There can be no denying or disputing it! It is made thus amply clear that acceptance of gift can be inferred by implied conduct of the donee. The donee by his conduct has clearly shown that the gift given has been accepted also by him as is clear from the judgment itself where this is manifested also most categorically in various paras!

Sanjeev Sirohi

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