Dispossession connotes an ouster; it involves a situation where a person is deprived of her/his possession with the coming of another person into possession. Dispossession implies deprivation of a right to possess which is not voluntary and involves an act of ouster which displaces the person who was in possession of the property.

The expression “dispossession” is defined in Black’s Law Dictionary[1] as follows:

“Deprivation of, or eviction from, rightful possession of property; the wrongful taking or withholding of possession of land from the person lawfully entitled to it; ouster.”

The expressions “discontinuance” and “dispossession” have been defined in P Ramanatha Aiyar’s Advanced Law Lexicon[2]:

“Discontinuance means that a person in possession goes out and is followed into possession by another person. It implies that all indications of occupation have been withdrawn.”

“Dispossession or ouster is wrongfully taking possession of land from its rightful owner. The dispossession applies only to cases where the owner of land has, by the act of some person, been deprived altogether of his dominion over the land itself, or the receipt of its profits. A person cannot be dispossessed of immoveable property unless he was possessed thereof at the time.”

Dispossession presupposes the pre-existing possession of the person at a given time who was subsequently dispossessed. A person who is not in possession cannot be said to be dispossessed. Discontinuance on the other hand, embodies a notion of abandonment of possession and is sometimes described as a voluntary act of the person who discontinues possession on his own accord.

G W Paton[3] in his seminal treatise on ‘Jurisprudence’ notes that “as with most words in the English language, the word “possession” has a variety of uses and a variety of meanings, depending upon context and use”. The author tells us that “the search for one appropriate, complete meaning for the word is likely to be a fruitless one”.

Black‘s Law Dictionary[4] defines the expression “possession” thus:

“1. The fact of having or holding property in one’s power; the exercise of dominion over property.

2. The right under which one may exercise control over something to the exclusion of all others; the continuing exercise of a claim to the exclusive use of a material object.”

In Supdt and Remembrancer of Legal Affairs West Bengal v Anil Kumar Bhunja[5], the Court observed that “possession is a polymorphous term” and, therefore, it was not possible to ascribe a meaning which would apply in every context. Drawing sustenance from Salmond’s Jurisprudence, the Court noted that possession implies a right and a fact; the right to enjoy annexed to the right to property and the fact of the real intention. Possession as a concept comprehends “corpus possessionis and animus possidendi”.

The former embraces the power to use the thing in possession and the existence of a ground of expectation that the use of the possession shall not be interfered with. The latter postulates the intent to appropriate to oneself the exclusive use of the thing which is possessed.”

[1] Black‘s Law Dictionary, Tenth Edition at p. 572

[2] P Ramanantha Aiyar‘s Advanced Law Lexicon, Fifth Edition at pgs. 1537 and 1563

[3] 3 G. W. Paton and David P. Derham, A Text-book of Jurisprudence, 3rd Edition, Oxford: Clarendon Press


[4] Black‘s Law Dictionary, Tenth Edition at page 1351

[5]  (1979) 4 SCC 274