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Agreement To Sell Does Not Transfer Ownership Or Title Over An Immoveable Property – Supreme Court

The Hon’ble Supreme Court in its recent ruling has once again rendered its decision adding up to the jurisprudence pertaining to transfer of ownership or title of an immoveable property basis an Agreement to Sell. What did the apex court conclude?

Factually speaking, the Appellant assailed a judgment passed by the Delhi High Court in a title dispute with the Respondent whereby the central question before the Apex Court was whether an Agreement to Sell can transfer the ownership or title of an Immoveable Property?

To rewind back the clock, the present Appellant at the inception of the title dispute was the Defendant in the civil suit before the Trial Court which was instituted by the Respondent seeking possession and mesne profits w.r.t., suit property. The suit was filed was filed on the basis of a Power of Attorney, an agreement to sell, an affidavit and a will executed in favour of the Respondent.

The suit was contested on several grounds that the appellant was the owner of the property having received the same on the basis of a Hiba (oral gift) from its owner, one Laiq Ahmed, the brother of the Appellant. The second ground on which the suit was objected was that, the suit was not maintainable as none of the documents on the basis of which the suit was filed were neither admissible nor enforceable under law.

Despite the Trial Court framing 11 issues, interestingly, all the issues were decided in favour of the Respondent with the exception of one issue and accordingly, the decree of possession and mesne profits were granted to the Respondent.

The Appellant, filed a first appeal under Section 96 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 before the Delhi High Court, the High Court confirmed the decree of possession and dismissed the appeal on the ground that, Respondent had filed the suit as an Attorney for and on behalf of its owner Laiq Ahmed and that Laiq Ahmed was not objecting to the respondent seeking possession of the suit property.

The main contentions of the Appellant were that:

  1. Court below erred in decreeing the suit for possession and mesne profits on the basis of unregistered documents i.e., Agreement to Sell, Power of Attorney, Will and Affidavit.
  2. Apart from the will, the other documents namely, Agreement to Sell, Power of Attorney would not confer any ownership right on the Respondent nor could he derive any title.
  3. The unregistered agreement to sell by itself is a document which is not enforceable in law, though it may be admissible only for collateral purposes.

On the other hand, the Respondent argued that, all the documents relied upon by the respondent as basis for the suit were the customary documents and they conferred full title on the Respondent to be the owner of the property.

Interestingly, the Respondent also contended that, due to a prohibition of transfer/ conveyance w.r.t., area where the suit property was situated, the transfer affected by way of customary documents was sufficient.

Lastly, the Respondent also took recourse to the Suraj Lamps[1] Judgment to argue that, it has a prospective application and the transaction took place w.r.t., suit property happened as early as in 2008.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court after hearing both the sides and perusing judgments on the central issue, concluded that, inspite of the findings in the Suraj Lamps Judgment, no title could be transferred with respect to immovable properties on the basis of an unregistered Agreement to Sell or on the basis of an unregistered General Power of Attorney in light of Section 17 and 49 of the Registration Act, 1908 which deals with documents mandated to be compulsorily registrable in order to withstand the force of law.

Thus, the Apex Court held in favour of the Appellant by reiterating that it is well settled that no right, title or interest in immovable property can be conferred without a registered document in light of earlier rendered judgments holding the same view and accordingly set aside the High Court judgment and dismissed the suit.

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