Petition filed in 1914, verdict comes in 2022
Passing a recent verdict in a Bihar court, the judge felt compelled to say: “The long delay in the resolution of the case is a mockery of justice and a paradox of human life.”
Additional district judge Shweta Singh of the Ara civil court was delivering the judgment, after toiling over termite-damaged files, in a land case that had continued for 108 years, down four generations of litigants.
Another case, relating to an unpaid Rs 800 loan, dragged on for 75 years before the district court in Buxar settled it last week.
When the land case began in 1914 over a three-acre plot, the First World War had just started.
According to court records, the plot at Koilwar in Bhojpur district belonged to Nathuni Khan, who died in 1911. His descendants fought over his property and moved court.
One of Nathuni’s descendants “sold” the plot to Darbari Singh while another “sold” the same plot to Lakshman Singh, resulting in a dispute between the two buyers. They moved court in 1914.
On March 11 this year, the judgment went in favour of Darbari’s descendants.
The three-acre plot now has a highway running along it, and its price has shot up to Rs 5 crore an acre.
“I still can’t believe that the case has been resolved. But the other side has the option of moving Patna High Court and approaching the Supreme Court later,” Darbari’s great-grandson Atul Singh, who secured a copy of the 18-page judgment only this week, told reporters.
The disputed plot is in the state government’s possession. Atul will be approaching the sub-divisional magistrate to get the plot released.
Atul’s lawyer Satyendra Narayan Singh’s father Badri Narayan Singh and grandfather Shivvrata Narayan Singh too were lawyers and had represented Darbari’s descendants in the case.
“Judge Shweta Singh worked very hard to arrive at the decision. Termites had damaged many papers connected to the case, but she assembled them and studied them,” Satyendra said.
Satyendra said: “What made the case tougher was that it was connected with the cases relating to the division of Nathuni Khan’s property among his descendants (some of whom moved to Pakistan during the Partition) and the sale of the same plot to two different people.”
Last week, Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana had regretted the slowness of India’s “complex and expensive” justice delivery system, highlighted the “22 per cent vacancies” in the district courts and urged the lower judiciary to walk the extra mile to help the often hapless litigants.
The other case was filed by Bhikari Lal, resident of Buxar Chowk, in 1947 for the recovery of Rs 800 given to Gupteshwar Prasad, resident of Chakarhansi village. Both are now dead.
There was a decision in favour of Bhikari in 1970, but Gupteshwar failed to pay up and Bhikari moved an execution suit.
As the case continued, the sons of Bhikari and Gupteshwar too died but the grandsons kept up the fight till judge Nitin Tripathi delivered the verdict last week.
Tripathi ordered Gupteshwar’s grandson Suryanath Chaurasiya to deposit Rs 3,584, including the principal and the interest. Suryanath promptly did so. The court is now waiting for Bhikari’s grandson to come and claim the money.
Officials of the Buxar court said that one reason behind the delay was the repeated redrawing of Bihar’s district map, which caused the case to be transferred from one court to another.
Originally, the area was part of the old Shahabad district, with Ara as its headquarters where the case was filed. Shahabad was divided in 1972 to create the Bhojpur (which included Ara and Buxar) and Rohtas districts. When Buxar became a district in 1991, the case was shifted to the new Buxar district court.