1. Several individuals and residents welfare associations filed this writ petition seeking a declaration that the pattas granted to Sri Simhachalam Devastanam by the 4th respondent-Mandal Revenue Officer, Pendurti Mandal, Visakhapatnam in AIA No.52 of 1977 HA, dated 29-5-1996 and in AIAC No.52 of 1977 (Inams) dated 16-1-1997 for the lands in their occupation in Vepaguntas village as illegal and void and consequently set aside the same and direct the respondents not to interfere with the possession and enjoyment of their respective properties by the individuals as well as the members of the societies.
2. These writ petitions are off-shoot of an order issued by the Government in G.O. Ms. No.578, Revenue (Endowments-IV) Department, dated 19th August, 2000, whereunder the Government agreed to regularise the encroachments over the lands belonging to Sri Simhachalam Devastanam as per the guidelies indicated in the G.O.
3. To appreciate the case of the petitioners, the factual background that led to filing of this writ petition has to be considered. In the year 1956 the A.P. Legislature passed A.P. (Andhra Area) Inams (Abolition and Conversion into Ryotwari) Act, 1956 to abolish and convert certain Inam lands into ryotwari lands and the same came into force with effect from 14th December, 1956. The relevant sections for deciding this lis are Sections 3, 4, 7 and 8 of A.P. (A.A.) Inams (Abolition and Conversion into Ryotwari) Act (for short ‘the Act’).
4. Under Section 3(1) of the Act, the Tahsildar may suo motu or on an application enquire and determine:
(i) whether a particular land in his jurisdiction is an inam land;
(ii) whether such inam land is in ryotwari, zamindari or inam village;
(iii) whether such inam land is held by any institution.
5. Under Section 3(2) the Tahsildar has to cause a notice to be published in the village or town where the inam lands are situate, in the prescribed manner requiring every person or institution claiming an interest in any such inam land, to file before him, a statement of particulars in respect of items to determine the nature of land within the prescribed time.
6. Under Section 3(3) the Tahsildar after giving the persons or institutions concerned a reasonable opportunity of adducing any evidence in support of their cases and after examining any relevant document in the possession of the Government has to determine whether the land in question can be classified in any of the three categories enumerated above.
7. Under Section 3(4) any person or institution aggrieved by the order under Section 3(3) can file an appeal before the Revenue Court within sixty days from the date of communication of the decision.
8. Under Section 3(5) the decision of the Revenue Court under sub-section (4), and in case no appeal is filed, the decision of the Tahsildar under sub-section (3) shall be final.
9. Under Section 3(6) the decision of the Revenue Court or the Tahsildar as the case may be shall be published in the District Gazette at the earliest possible time.
10. Under Section 3(7) every decision of the Revenue Court, or the Tahsildar is binding on all persons and institutions claiming an interest in any such inam land, notwithstanding that such persons or institutions have not filed any application or statement, or adduced any evidence or appeared or participated in the proceedings before the Tahsildar or the Revenue Court as the case may be.
11. Under Section 4 the inam lands have to be converted into ryotwari lands and the persons or institutions holding such land as inamdar on the date of commencement of the Act is entitled for a ryotwari patta. Sub-clause (2)(a) says that if such a land is held by any institution on the date of commencement of this Act, such institution shall be entitled to a ryotwari patta in respect of that land. Under Section 7 of the Act, the Tahsildar may either suo motu or on an application filed by any person or an institution, determine whether any of the persons or institutions are entitled to a ryotwari patta in accordance with the provisions of Section 4 and grant them ryotwari patta in the prescribed form after holding an enquiry and after giving the persons interested a reasonable opportunity of being heard and after examining all the relevant records. Under sub-section (2) the aggrieved person may file an appeal before the Revenue Court within sixty days from the date of receipt of the order.
12. Under sub-section (3) the decision of the Revenue Court under sub-section (2), and where no appeal is filed, shall be final.
13. Under Section 8, in case any particular land is declared to be in occupation of the inam land on 7th January, 1948 under Section 5, or if there is no such tenant, the tenant in occupation of the land on the date of commencement of this Act, shall have a right of permanent occupancy in that land and the said right shall be heritable and shall be transferable by sale, gift or otherwise. Under sub-rule (2)(i) where any tenant having a right of permanent occupancy fails to pay rent due by him to the institution (a) in respect of a period after commencement of the Act within sixty days from the date when rent became payable and sub-clause 2(ii) says that if the use of the land in any manner which materially the value of the land and renders it unfit for agricultural purposes, it shall be lawful for the institution to evict such tenant as provided in Section 9.
14. The procedure for conducting enquiry under Section 3 of the Act is given in the A.P. (Andhra Area) Inams Abolition and Conversion into (Ryotwari) Rules, 1957 (for short ‘the Rules’). Under Rule 3(I)
every application under sub-section (1) of Section 3 shall be filed in writing giving all the particulars of the land and the claim under sub-rule (2). The notice referred to in sub-section (2) of Section 3 shall be given in Form 1 and shall require every person or institution claiming an interest in the lands specified in such notice to file before the Tahsildar the statement of particulars referred to in the said sub-section, within a period of thirty days from the date of publication of such notice. Under sub-rule (3) notice referred to above shall be published in the village or town where the lands specified in such notice are situate in the manner specified therein i.e., by affixture of notice in the Chavadi or in some conspicous place in the village or town, and by beat of tom-tom in the village or town. Under sub-rule (4) the notice issued under sub-rule (2) shall be affixed to the notice board of the Office of the Tahsildar concerned and in a case where the lands specified in such notice are situate within a panchayat or a muncipality, to the notice board of the office of such panchayat or municipality. Under sub-rule (5) a copy of the notice referred to in sub-rule (2) shall also be served on the person or institution, if any, making an application uder sub-section (1) of Section 3 and on all other persons known or believed to be interested in the lands specified in the notice. Under sub-rule (6) the notice can be delivered by tendering it to the person, and, in case of an institution, to the trustee, manager, executive officer person in charge of the institution, or to his agent or to any adult member or his family, or where none of the above courses is practicable, by affixing it at his last known place of residence or by sending it to his last known place of residence by registered post acknowledgment due.
15. From the above, it is seen that an order passed by the Tahsildar after conducting an enquiry determining the tenure of the land under Section 3(i) of the Act is an appealable order and the decision passed by the Revenue Court in case an appeal is filed or the order of the Tahsildar is binding not only on the persons and institutions that participated in the enquiry, but also on all other persons or institutions who have not participated in the enquiry. If the land is declared as an inam land held by the institution, under Section 7 the institution is alone entitled for a ryotwari patta and if any declared tenants or any occupant of the land either on the specified date i.e., 7th January, 1948 or when the Act came into force i.e., 14th December, 1956 he shall have a right of permanent occupancy in that land, which is heritable and transferable. But such right of permanent occupany cannot be claimed if the tenant fails to pay the amount due to the institution within the period specified either before or after commencement of the Act or if the use of the land in any manner materially impairs the value of the land or renders it unfit for agricultural purposes.
16. After the Act came into force the Special Deputy Tahsildar (Inams) Visakhapatnam in a suo motu enquiry held by him under Section 3 of the Act declared five villages i.e., Adivivaram, Vepagunta, Venkatapuram, Pursuhothapuram, Cheemalapalli on different dates in the year 1977 and 1978 under different orders as inam lands. Before these orders were passed by amending Act 20 of 1975, Section 2-A is introduced to the effect that all communcal lands, porambokes, grazing lands, waste lands, forest lands, mines and quaries, tanks, tank-beds and irrigation works, streams and rivers, fisheries and ferries in the inam lands shall stand transferred to the Government and vest in them free of all encumbrances. The introduction of this section led to a spate of litigation between the temple and the Government over some of the lands in question. The Commissioner, Survey, Settlement and the Land Records, Andhra Pradesh, Hyderabad, in exercise of suo motu
powers vested in him under Section 14-A of the Inams Abolition Act held that certain lands held to be poramboke lands vested in the Government under Section 2(A) in Case No.V2/862 of 1996, dated 23-10-1997. Questioning the said proceedings, the Devasthanam filed Writ Petition No.32800 of 1997. When the matter came up for final hearing, the Government issued Orders in G.O. Ms. No.406, Revenue (Endowments-IV) Department, dated 20-6-2000 declaring that the Devasthanam will have full and effectual subsisting valid title to the entire hill (Acres 5279.57 cents including S.No.275 of Adivivaram village, Visakhapatnam Rural Mandal) subject to the condition that the Devasthanam should keep the land and maintain the same as per the directions and guidelines issued by the Government from time to time to utilise the land for the benefit and to upkeep the temple for specific purposes which are pious in nature i.e., to support the religious activities of the Devasthanam. Because of this controversy the proceedings under Section 3(1) of the Act were delayed and ultimately the special Deputy Tahsildar held that these five villages are inam lands held by Simhachalam Devesthanam. As the dispute between the Government and the Devesthanam was going on even after declaration that the lands in question are inam lands and they vested in the Institution, the proceedings under Section 7 of the Act could not be completed for a long time and ultimately pattas were granted in favour of the Devasthanam to the villages of Adiviviaram on 18-8-1996 and 14-8-1996, Vepagunta on 29-5-1996 and 16-1-1997, Venkatapuram on 14-8-1996, Purushothapuram on 5-9-1996 and Cheemalapalli on 6-9-1996. In the meantime several persons purchased the land as house sites from various land grabbers and both permanent and semi-permanent constructions were made on the land. After obtaining ryotwari pattas, when Devesthanam tried to exercise its rights of ownership, several people approached this Court by way of filing writ petitions by contending that they cannot be dispossessed from the lands without following due process of law and those writ petitions came up for hearing. Having sympathised with the people who parted their valuable monies saved from their hard earnings in favour of the land grabbers in purchasing the lands without verifying the title, this Court impressed upon the Government to regularise this unauthorised occupations as pucca constructions have come up on the lands and if these people are asked to vacate the premises at this length of time, it will be a heart burning to them and with great difficult nearly after 1 1/2 years of persuasion, the Government ultimately agreed to alienate the lands subject to the conditions mentioned therein in G.O. Ms. No.578, Revenue (Endowments-IV) Department, dated 19-8-2000. While the Counsel appearing for the petitioners in those Batch of writ petitions have taken time to get instructions from their clients, a new set of individuals filed these writ petitions by contending that the very decision given by the Deputy Tahsildar declaring that the land in question as inam lands as ab initio void and illegal as the proceedings were ex parte and the orders were passed by the Deputy Tahsildar without giving notice of hearing to the persons whose names were mentioned in revenue records in Gillman’s Survey conducted in the year 1903.
17. The principal contention of the learned Counsel for the petitioners is that in an enquiry under Section 3 of the Act, the Tahsildar is expected not only to cause publication of the notice as per sub-section (2) of Section 3, but also to serve the same on the persons or institutions, if any making an application under sub-section (1) of Section 3 and on all other persons concerned. As the Tahsildar failed to serve individual notice on persons who are in possession of the lands on the date of abolition of the inams, the entire proceedings
are vitiated and they have to be set at nought as the mandatory obligation cast upon the Tahsildar to serve notice was not complied with. In fact, he relied on an unreported judgment of this Court in Sree Sree Sree Satya Pramoda Theertha Swami v. Goli Nagamma, WA No.396 of 1977, dated 12-12-1985. In this judgment a Division Bench of this Court held that failure to give notice to the persons who are said to be interested in the lands, the entire proceedings become null and void and any consequent decision taken thereon will be non est. The full text of the judgment was not made available to this Court by the Counsel. But from a reading of the short-notes published in 1986 (1) APLJ at page 51 it is seen that their Lordships, having dealt with Rule 3(5), drew an inference that the Deputy Tahsildar had knowledge of the interestedness of the persons said to be in occupation of the lands as one of the Counsel brought to the notice of the Deputy Tahsildar that the land was an inam land and it was in the occupation of several ryots who had been enjoying the occupancy rights under Estates Land Act. But under Section 3(2) of the Act it is only a public notice that is contemplated but not an individual notice. The manner of publication of this public notice is specified in Rule (3) of the Rules. Further under Section 3 of the Act, it is open to the occupants to approach the Tahsildar for determination of the nature of the land or the Tahsildar on his own can initiate proceedings suo motu. Rule 3(1)(2) deals with the applications to be filed by the applicants and the notice prescribed in Form 1 has to be served on every person or institution claiming interest over the lands. Sub-rule (3) states that notice referred to in sub-rule (2) has to be published in the village or town where the lands are situated either by affixture in the Chavadi or if there is no Chavadi, in some conspicuous place in the village or town and by beat of tom-tom in the village or town. Further under sub-rule (4) a copy of the notice referred to in sub-rule (2) shall also be affixed to the notice board of the Office of the Tahsildar concerned and also in the notice board of the office of such panchayat or municipality where the lands are situated.
18. Admittedly, in this case the proceedings were initiated by the Tahsildar suo motu and it is not the case of the petitioners herein that he has not given a notice as contemplated either under Section 3(2) of the Act or Rule 3(3) of the Rules. In fact, white dealing with the Vepagunta village, the special Deputy Tahsildar in his order AIAC 52 of 1977, dated 28-11-1977 categorcially stated that a notice in Form-I has been issued on 8-11-1977 under Section 3(1) of the Act and it has been got published as required under the Rules. The notice have been got served on all the persons interested and the notices intended to the title deed holder i.e., Simhachalam Devasthanam was sent to its Executive Officer by registered post on 8-11-1977. From this it is evident that to the extent possible the Deputy Tahsildar has not only complied with the provisions of Rule 3(3) by publishing the notice in conspicuous places as contempalated under Rule, but also served notices on the individuals who are in occupation of the lands in question. It is also interesting to note from this order that on 28-11-1977 at the time of enquiry about 200 cultivating tenants appeard and they conceded that the lands in question are inam lands in an inam village held by the Devasthanam. Further, the specific case of the tenants was that the Devasthanam granted patta to their ancestors and the lands were being sold or transferred without interference by Devasthanam since time immemorial and therefore they may be eventually grnated pattas by the Government under the provisions of the Act.
19. Now coming to the case of the petitioners, I have gone through the evidence
filed in support of the writ petition. Except stating that they have purchased the lands in the recent years, they have not traced their title to any of the occupants who are in possession of the lands at the time when the Act came into force. In fact, I have seen two or three sale deeds produced by the Counsel. In the sate deeds the vendors did not trace their title to the property nor established their relationship with the so-called persons whose names were shown in revenue records pursuant to the Gillman’s survey that has taken in the year 1902. For instance, in the year 1970 father of the first petitioner i.e., Gorle Appa Rao purchased an extent of 642 sq. yds. of land in S.No.193/ABZ of Vepagunta village from the female children of late Atchamma, the first wife of one late Dasari Appanna. Even as per the information furnished by the petitioners in Gillman’s survey, the name of one Dasari Ramaswamy was shown at S.No.193-A and from the sale deed it is seen that the vendors in this case are the daughters of one late Atchamma, wife of Appanna. No information is forthcoming as to how Appanna is related to Ramaswamy. Further Appanna was having more than one wife. That apart, it is only the female children of late Atchamma that conveyed property. From this it is seen that there are no particulars with regard to the land in occupation of Mr. Ramaswamy and how it was devolved on his legal heirs and nothing is forthcoming from this sale deed. Even two or three sale deeds are of this nature. Further, the occupancy rights of the tenants as on 7-1-1948, when the estates were abolished or on the day when the Inams Abolition Act came into force i.e., 14th December, 1956, are alone protected, but not the rights of the persons who are showsn in the revenue records pursuant to Gillman’s survey which has taken place half a century back. To claim occupany rights, the tenants have to pay rent to the institution and for the period immediately before the commencement of the Act, within sixty days from the date of commencement of this Act and for the period after commencement of the Act, within sixty days from the date when the rent became payable. In other words, the tenant is expected to pay arrears of rent to the institution prior to the commencement of the Act within sixty days after commencement of the Act and he shall continue to pay the rent for every year within sixty days from the date when the rent becomes payable. Under Section 8(2)(ii) if the tenant uses the land in any manner which materially impairs the value of the land and renders it unfit for agricultural purposes, the tenant cannot claim any occupany rights under Section 8 of the Act. Admittedly, in this case it is not the case of the petitioners that their vedors or their predecessors in title ever paid rent to the institution either before or after the commencement of the Act. That apart, the lands ceased to be agricultural lands and the same was converted and sold by the land grabbers as house sites to the petitioners herein, who win their turn, constructed permanent, semi-permanent buildings, thatched houses etc., taking advantage of the long drawn litigation between the temple and the Government over the communal lands in question.
20. Firstly, the notice contemplated under Section 3(2) of the Act being a public notice, I am of the considered opinion that there is no need to give any individual notices as contemplated under Rule 3(5) of the Rules. Even assuming for a moment that individual notice has to be served on the persons interested in the lands, such a situation will arise only when it is established that the Tahsildar is having knowledge of the persons who are having interest in the lands in question. In this case it is clearly seen from the order of the Tahsildar that he has taken all the steps expected of a diligent person while conducting enquiry to determine the nature of the land. In fact, a Division Bench of
this Court in Sri Malleswara Swami Van Temple, Dharavaram v. Juttiga, 1971 (1) An.WR 27 while considering the effect of Section 3(2) of the Act ruled in para 8 as under:
“A careful reading of this sub-section would disclose that it is obligatory on the part of the Tahsildar to cause to be published in the village or town where the inam lands are situated a notice in the prescribed manner. Such a notice should require every person or institution claiming an interest in any such inam land to file before him a statement of particulars in respect of the items mentioned in sub-section (1). Thus the duty of the Tahsildar is to publish the notice in the village or town where the lands are situated in the prescribed manner. It does not cast any duty to serve individual notices upon the persons who claim to be interested in the inam lands regarding which enquiry is being held. From a reading of sub-section (2), it becomes clear that it speaks only a general notice published in the village or town in the prescribed manner. It does not postulate individual notices to any one.”
Their Lordships, having considered the effect of Rule 3(5) of the Rules on which the Counsel for the petitioners placed reliance, observed as follows:
“10. Before sub-rule (5) is attracted it has to be shown that the Special Deputy Tahsildar who was making an enquiry under Section 3 knew or believed that the petitioners were interested in the lands specified in the notice. The section or the said sub-rule does not cast any duty upon the Tahsildar to make any effort to find out as to who are the persons can be said to be interested in the lands specified in the notice. If he by some method or other happens to actually know or the believed that the petitioners were interested in the lands specified in the notice then the sub-rule which is couched in a mandatory and imperative language casts an obligation upon the Tahsildar to issue notice to such person. If the Tahsildar does not know or believe that the petitioners were interested in the lands specified in the notice it is obvious that it was not obligatory on the part of the Tahsildar to have issued notice to the petitioners.”
Hence the question of giving individual notices by the Tahsildar will arise only if he by some method or other happens to actually know or he believes that the petitioners were interested in the lands specified in the notice, then the sub-rule which is couched in a mandatory and imperative language casts an obligation upon the Tahsildar to issue notice to such persons, but not otherwise. Further, this judgment was delivered on 6th November, 1970 and on the day when the Tahsildar determined the nature of the land in the year 1977 the judgment of the Court was in force and as such, the petitioners cannot find fault with the procedure followed by the Tahsildar. The Judgment on which the Counsel for the petitioners placed reliance was rendered in the year 1985 long after the nature of the land was determined by the Deputy Tahsildar and the clock cannot be set in reverse direction to suit the convenience of the petitioners. In answer to this query, Counsel for the petitioners tried to contend that as the issue is being decided now, the latest view of the Court has to be given credence. But as observed by me supra, the facts and circumstances of the case were not at all available to this Court. Even from the short notes available their Lordships, held that the proceedings are vitiated for non-issuance of notice to the persons interested by clearly observing that one of the Counsel brought this fact to the notice of the Tahsildar who failed to
comply with the obligation cast upon him under Rule.
21. Further, I have gone through the entire evidence filed in support of the petition and the petitioners have neither disclosed the particulars of their vendors nor they alleged that the Tahsildar is having knowledge of the interestedness of their vendors and their predecessors in title over the lands in question. For the reasons stated above, I am in respectful agreement with the decision of this Court in Sri Malleswara Swami Vari Temple, Dharamvaram, 1986 (1) APLJ 51 (SN), and hold that the obligation on the part of the Tahsildar to give individual notices to the persons interested under the law under Rule 3(5) (2) of the Rules will arise only when he comes to know of the interestedness of the people by some method or other, but not otherwise. Accordingly, the first contention is rejected.
22. Nextly the petitioners seek aid of this Court to put the clock in reverse direction by thirty years after the orders passed by the Deputy Tahsildar which have become final. As observed supra, even assuming for a moment that the petitioners are not having any knowledge of the decision of the Deputy Tahsildar that the lands in question are inam lands, admittedly the institution has given pattas to these villages in the year 1997 and some of the occupants approached this Court by filing writ petitions and for the last three or four years there was hue and cry in the area as this Court made the Officials of the Government as well as the Devasthanam to visit the area and record the particulars of all the occupants i.e., name of the occupant, extent of the land, nature of the construction so on and so forth and the Official Committee met so many times under the Chairmanship of Collector to decide the market value of the property and thereafter the report of the Committee was placed before the Cabinet Sub-Committee and on the basis of the decision taken by the Cabinet, G.O. Ms. No.578, Revenue (Endowments-IV) Department, dated 19-8-2000 was issued. At that stage the present writ petitions are filed and it is interesting to note the submissions made in Para 9 of the affidavit filed in WP No.18339 of 2000 and the same is extracted below :
“I submit that this G.O. is wholly inapplicable to the petitioners as this could be issued only in respect of admitted properties of 5th respondent.”
But not even a whisper is made in the affidavit as to why the petitioners have kept quiet for over thirty years and are knocking the doors of this Court at this belated stage. The law is well settled on laches and the Courts are not expected to unsettle the settled things at the instance of persons who approached the Court more to defeat the law of the land than to have any respect for the same. Even on ground of laches this writ petition is liable to be dismissed.
23. Further, as far as the locus standi of the petitioners are concerned, even as per their own material papers filed in this Court, the names of some persons were shown as occupants in the revenue records, but their title to the property was never recognised by the revenue authorities. That apart, they failed to produce any evidence to show that any of their vendors or their predecessors in title are in occupation of the land in January, 1947 when the estates were abolished or when the present Act i.e., Inams Abolition Act came into force on 14th December, 1956. In one word, it is nothing but abuse of process of Court and the petitioners want to deny the fruits of the efforts made by the temple in establishing its title over the property and in enjoyment of the properties as per their wish, by using the Court as a lever to circumvent the law of the land. Hence I hold that the
petitioners have no locus standi to question the proceedings of the Deputy Tahsildar either under Section 3 or Section 7 of the Act i.e., determination of the nature of the land or in granting ryotwari patta to the institution.
24. Further, the Counsel for the petitioners wants that the Court should examine various proceedings commencing from Gillman’s survey, which cannot be accepted by this Court as this Court is exercising only power of judicial review but not acting as a fact finding authority. The law is well settled on this aspect that the Courts in exercise of its discretionary power under Article 226 of the Constitution of India will not adjudicate the disputed questions of law.
25. In the normal course I would have initiated proceedings for perjury, but I am leaving the petitioners as they being gullible persons who were already cheated by land grabbers. Further, I am letting off the petitioners with a stern warning not to resort to this sort of dilatory tactics knowing fully well that they have no title to the property and in coming in the way of enjoyment of the lands by the real owner. In fact, during the course of hearing in other batch of writ petitions, it came to light that the Government issued instructions to the Sub-Registrars concerned not to register the sale deeds in respect of the lands in question, in view of the pendency of the litigation. But some of the vendors or vendees approached this Court by filing writ petitions and this Court seemed to have held that the Government is not having power to issue such instructions and the Registrar has to take a decision whether to register the document or not on his own after hearing all the concerned under Section 71 of the Registration Act and only on the basis of that judgment, most of the registrations in this case were effected by the Sub-Registrar. But financial institutions or the departments in which the petitioners or members of the petitioner associations would not have given house loans simply on the basis of registered sale deed without verifying the ownership rights over the lands in question. In one way or the other, every institution in this country is contributing its own share in making the people to drift away from the path of obedience to the law of the land.
26. In the result, the writ petitions are dismissed with exemplary costs. Advocate fee is Rs.10,000/- in each of the writ petitions.