With land or property related litigation accounting for two-thirds of all civil cases pending in the Indian courts, evidence to establish legal title has taken a centre stage. Conflicting laws, administrative incompetence, and a lack of awareness among the population is clogging the judicial pipeline. Courts have therefore been conferred with multiple opportunities to analyse the legal implications of the various documents involved in property transaction and an unwavering opinion on the lack of standing of ‘Revenue Records’ in an ownership claim has emerged.
Mutation Entry in the Revenue Records does not Create or Extinguish Title Over Land/ Property
In practice, often, in a dispute over title of a land/property, it is seen that the parties assert their title by placing reliance upon their name being reflected in the revenue records. On this point, recently, the Supreme Court, with characteristic clarity in Prahlad Pradhan & others Vs. Sonu Kumhar & others which was decided on October 16, 2019,[i] reiterated that the mutation entry in the revenue records does not create or extinguish title over the land, nor such entry has any presumptive value on the title of such land.
In reaching the above conclusion, the Supreme Court relied upon the following judgments:
- In In Smt. Bhimabai Mahadeo Kambekar (D)Th. LR Vs. Arthur Import and Export Company which was decided on January 31, 2019[ii] as well as in Sawarni (Smt.) Vs. Inder Kaur[iii], the Supreme Court had held that the mutation of a property in the revenue record does not create or extinguish title nor does it have any presumptive value on the title. It only enables the person in whose favour mutation is ordered, to pay the land revenue in question.
- In Balwant Singh & Anr. Vs. Daulat Singh (dead) by L.Rs. & Ors.[iv], similar observations were made by the Supreme Court, where it was held that a party is not divested of his title in the suit property as a result of mutation entry.
- In Narasamma & Ors. Vs. State of Karnataka & Ors.[v], the Supreme Court reiterated the above position by observing that it is true that the entries in the revenue records cannot create any title in respect of the land in dispute.
Importance of Mutation Entries
In view of the findings of the Supreme Court in the present case, and as per the law already laid down by the Supreme Court, it is an inevitable conclusion that mutation entries in respect of any land on the revenue records do not create or extinguish title. What is then the need for mutation entries?
Mutation entries are maintained for fiscal purposes, to ensure that the land revenue is paid by the person whose name is recorded thereon. Although they are not a direct evidence of legal title, they nevertheless could be used for corroboration. Further, apart from assisting authorities in fixing taxpayer’s liabilities, they are of significance while resale of a property. Also, non-filing would attract penalties. Furthermore, the procedure, cost, and documents required while applying for mutation differ from state to state. States now provide for e-mutation services to ease the process.
Mutation entries are generally challenged on the ground that they were made surreptitiously or fraudulently or a sale deed relating to a particular transaction was fraudulently made and therefore void.
Difference Between ‘Revenue Records’ and ‘Title Documents’
Primarily, lands get transferred/conveyed from one person to another through a registered sale deed (a record of the property transaction between the buyer and seller). Other documents used to establish ownership include the record of rights (document with details of the property), property tax receipts, and survey documents. Hence, there appears two terminologies i.e., (1) revenue records of the land and (2) title documents which describes the owner of the property or land. To understand better “Revenue Record” is a generic expression that includes documents such as the Index of Lands, Record of Rights, Tenancy and Crops, Mutation Register, Disputed Cases Register, etc. It also includes geological information regarding the shape, size, soil type of the land, and economic information related to irrigation and crops. Whereas, a title deed/document talks about the rightful ownership of a person over a land. Apart from the ownership, title deed also speaks of the rights, obligations, and mortgage obligations of the owner.
Land Title is a document that determines the ownership of land or immovable property. Having a clear land title protects the rights of the titleholder against other claims made by anyone else to the property. In India, land ownership is determined through various records such as title documents that are registered and survey records issued by the Government.
Currently, land can be transferred from one party to another through sale, gift, inheritance, mortgage, and tenancy. The Transfer of Property Act, 1882 provides that the right, title, or interest in immovable property (or land) can be transferred only by a registered instrument. The Registration Act, 1908, is the primary law that regulates the registration of land-related documents. Therefore, currently, all sale deeds/title documents relating to land or immovable property transfer are registered under the Registration Act, 1908.
“Revenue Record” is a generic expression that includes documents such as the Index of Lands, Record of Rights, Tenancy and Crops, Mutation Register, Disputed Cases Register, etc. It also includes geological information regarding the shape, size, soil type of the land, and economic information related to irrigation and crops. Whereas, a title deed/document talks about the rightful ownership of a person over a land. Apart from the ownership, the title deed also speaks of the rights, obligations, and mortgage obligations of the owner.