A critical analysis of doctrine of constructive notice in property law with reference to Ram Niwas (dead) through Lrs. vs. Smt. Bano & Ors. (2000) 6 SCC 685


The Supreme Court’s decision in Ram Niwas v. Bano[2000] 6 SCC 685  is a significant ruling in itself in that it reconciled the need to uphold fairness in future transactions  ensuring the protection of contractual rights to free and fair use of property. The notion of property rights is widely recognized and has generated discussion in many jurisdictions globally, particularly in India. The country’s property rights have not only developed over time, but also had a turbulent legal and political past founded on a variety of doctrines and principles. This article, as such, seeks to explore those principles and doctrines enshrined within statutory provisions so as to reflect upon a comprehensive analysis of the case of Ram Niwas v. Bano [2000] 6 SCC and discusses Section 3 of the Transfer of Property Act, 1882, 1882 (TPA), as well as the Doctrine of Constructive Notice in relation to Sections 19(b) and 20(2) of the Specific Relief Act, 1963.


In relation to original case in question, Respondent No. 5, the proprietor, leased a store to the appellant, a tenant, in Merta City. According to the appellant, on January 25, 1978, an agreement was made with the shop’s owner to buy it for Rs. 9200. The appellant paid Rs. 3200 and agreed to pay the rest Rs. 6000 after the sale deed was executed. The same shop was purchased by Respondent Nos. 1 through 4 (referred to as the purchasers) from the proprietor on July 24, 1978, for Rs. 20,000 through a registered sale deed. The appellant sued the owner and the buyers, for particular fulfilment of the contract. The suit was granted in favour of the appellant by the trial court. The Tenant,  who is the appellant in this case ,  dissatisfied with the Court’s verdict, went onto file a Special  Leave Appeal to the Supreme Court.

Issues before the Court

The following issues were brought before the Court in relation to the above case:

Whether the tenant (appellant) and the owner have a legitimate and authentic agreement (Ext. 1) for the sale of the shop.

Whether the buyers were legitimate buyers who didn’t know about the previous arrangement and paid fair market value.

Whether the third party didn’t know about the purported contract of sale when they paid the full sum for the contested shop?

Taking into account Section 19(b) and 20(2) of the Specific Relief Act, whether the appellant is entitled to the discretionary relief of specific performance of the contract? 


The judgement of the Apex Court reiterating upon the matter, affirmed the trial court’s decision that the tenant and owner had a legitimate contract. But the High Court ignored the more expansive meaning of notice found in Explanation II to Section 3 of the Transfer of Property Act. It stated that, should the earlier arrangement be shown to be legitimate and authentic, the buyers might be assumed to have had notice of it. As a result, the matter was remanded to the Single Judge so that she may evaluate the agreement’s legality and the appellant’s eligibility for relief under Section 20(2) of the Specific Relief Act. The courts underlined that the lower court needed to thoroughly reconsider these issues. It is to be noted that On December 15, 1984, the trial court delivered a judgment in favour of the plaintiff after thoroughly considering the evidence presented. The court ruled on all issues raised in the case, ultimately decreeing the suit in favour of the plaintiff. This means that the plaintiff’s claims were upheld, and the court found sufficient evidence to support their case. Dissatisfied with the trial court’s decision, the purchasers of the disputed property filed an appeal in the High Court of Judicature for Rajasthan at Jodhpur. This appeal was designated as SB Civil First Appeal No. 7 of 1985.A learned Single Judge Bench of the High Court reviewed the case and reappraised the evidence. In the judgment dated August 4, 1987, the judge referred to Section 19(b) of the Specific Relief Act. This section of the Act deals with the rights of bona fide purchasers, protecting those who acquire property in good faith and without knowledge of prior agreements or disputes. Upon re-evaluation, the High Court concluded that the contesting respondents (the purchasers) were bona fide purchasers. This means that they bought the property genuinely, without any knowledge of the pre-existing agreement between the plaintiff and another party. Additionally, the purchasers had paid a consideration of Rs 20,000 for the property. The High Court’s judgment effectively reversed the trial court’s decision by acknowledging the purchasers’ bona fide status. This judgment indicated that the purchasers had acted in good faith, were unaware of the prior agreement, and thus should not be penalized or have their purchase invalidated. The ruling emphasized the importance of protecting the rights of innocent purchasers who engage in transactions without any fraudulent intent or awareness of existing disputes.

Section 19[b] of the Specific Relief Act, 1963 read in conjunction with Explanation II of Section 3 of Transfer of Property Act, 1882 is as follows: 

“Specific performance may be enforced against

(b)any other person claiming under him by a title arising subsequently to the contract, except a transferee for value who has paid his money in good faith and without notice of the original contract;”

Section 19(b) of the Specific Relief Act serves as a protective measure for bona fide purchasers. It ensures that those who engage in property transactions honestly and without awareness of prior claims are safeguarded against any adverse effects stemming from previous agreements. This provision upholds the principles of fairness and justice in property transactions, promoting trust and reliability in real estate dealings. The phrase “any other person claiming under him by a title arising subsequently to the contract” in Section 19(b) of the Specific Relief Act, 1963, refers to individuals who acquire their rights or claims to a property from someone who is a party to the original contract, with the acquisition happening after the original contract has been executed. In essence this means that the new claimant’s title or claim to the property arises after the execution of the original contract. The original contract must predate the title or claim of the new party. For instance, Person A owns a piece of property and enters into a contract to sell it to Person B. This contract is executed on January 1, 2023. From this date, Person B has a contractual right to the property based on the agreement with Person A. Before the sale is completed and the property is officially transferred to Person B, Person B decides to sell their interest in the property to Person C. Person C pays Person B for this interest and receives a title transfer from Person B.  Therefore, Person C’s title or claim to the property arises subsequently to the original contract between Person A and Person B, because Person C acquires their rights after the original contract was executed. The legal implications of this kind of contractual obligation suggests that firstly, Person C’s title to the property is derived from Person B’s contractual rights under the original agreement with Person A. Person C’s claim is entirely dependent on the legitimacy and enforceability of Person B’s rights stemming from the contract with Person A. This is effectively called derived title. Secondly, since Person C’s claim arises after the original contract, it is considered a subsequent title. This is important because it determines the priority and validity of claims on the property, especially when disputes arise. It is thus a  title or claim that arises after the execution of an initial contract. Continuing from the previous scenario, Person C acquires their title to the property after the contract between Person A and Person B has been executed. Therefore, Person C’s title is subsequent to the original contract. The priority of Person C’s claim compared to any other potential claims is determined based on the timeline and nature of the title acquisition. If there are competing claims, courts will assess the sequence of transfers and the legitimacy of each to establish whose claim takes precedence. Thirdly, Section 19(b) of the Specific Relief Act, 1963, explicitly provides an exception for bona fide purchasers, which is crucial in property law. This section states:

“Except in cases when a transferee for value has paid their money without disclosing the underlying contract and in good faith.”

This provision safeguards bona fide purchasers by ensuring their title remains unaffected by prior claims or agreements they were unaware of when they bought the property. This in itself implies the following meaning in the sense that it is also fundamentally aligned to the doctrine of constructive notice.  The purchaser must have provided valuable consideration for the property. This means the property was not obtained as a gift or through inheritance, but through a transaction involving payment or something of equivalent value. The purchaser must have acted honestly, without any intention to deceive or defraud. Good faith implies a belief that the title being transferred is legitimate and that there are no hidden defects or undisclosed claims on the property. The purchaser must not have had any actual, constructive, or imputed notice of the original contract or prior claim on the property.  In this regard, in the case of Collector (LA) v. J. Sivaprakasam, (2011) 1 SCC 330, the Court explained that there are three types of notices, actual, implied and constructive. Actual notice is given to a party when it is delivered to him in person or when it is served to him directly in a formal way. Implied notice imputes knowledge of the subject matter of the notice to a party if it can be deduced from the facts that they knew about it. Constructive or presumed notice is notice that is derived from the existence of specific facts and circumstances and is based on legal presumption. 

“Constructive notice” is defined as “notice presumed by law to have been acquired by a person and thus imputed to that person” in Black’s Law Dictionary, Eighth Edition. Constructive notice, then, is simply the assumption that someone has an obligation to take notice of specific facts. Regarding the aforementioned, Section 3 of the Transfer of Property Act, 1881 specifies that: “A person is said to have notice of a fact when he actually knows that fact, or when, but for wilful abstention from an enquiry or search which he ought to have made, or gross negligence, he would have known it.” According to Part II of the explanation, the title, if any, of any person who is now in actual possession of any immovable property would be presumed to be known to anybody who acquires any immovable property, part, or interest in any such property.  As a result, it may be observed that the following fact is deemed to be known by the individual:  Consequently, we may observe that an individual is considered to have notice of the following fact: –

a. When he actually knows that fact.

b. When he ought to have known that fact but could not know or do so on account of his wilful abstention or gross negligence.

In the case of Ahmedabad Municipal Corpn. v. Haji Abdulgafur Haji Hussenbhai, (1971) 1 SCC 757, it was clarified by the Supreme Court that   that “gross negligence is indicative of a higher degree of neglect, and wilful abstention suggests conscious or deliberate abstention.” Generally speaking, negligence is defined as the failure to exercise the reasonable caution that a person of average caution would have been expected to use in the given situation. Stated differently, it refers to either doing something that a wise and reasonable man would not typically do or failing to do something that a reasonable man guided by considerations that normally rule the conduct of human affairs would do. Applying the doctrine to this case, the learned Hon’ble Judges went on to elucidate that Because “a statutory presumption of “notice” arises against any person who acquires any immovable property or any share or interest therein of the title,” according to the observation mentioned there. The terms of the renter’s possession should therefore be investigated by the person buying the property if he is aware that a tenant is occupying it.

Guidelines for courts using their discretion to order specific execution of a contract are provided by Section 20(2) of the Specific Relief Act, 1963. Even if the contract is legitimate and enforceable in and of itself, it specifies particular circumstances under which the court may decide not to order specific performance. Section 20(2): The court may legitimately use its discretion to refuse to order specific performance in the following circumstances:

(a) When the terms of the contract, the conduct of the parties during the negotiation process, or other elements cause the agreement to give the plaintiff an unfair advantage over the defendant even in cases where it is not voidable; or

(b) when the plaintiff would not experience any Section 20(2): The court may legitimately use its discretion to refuse to order specific performance in the following circumstances:

(c) in cases where the defendant entered into the agreement under conditions that, while not voidable, make it unfair to require particular performance.

Specific performance, a legal remedy compelling fulfilment of contract, differs from damages by enforcing contract terms instead of monetary compensation, particularly in unique cases. Section 20(2) of the Specific Relief Act, 1963, highlights the discretionary nature of this remedy. Courts, considering equity, fairness, and justice, may deny specific performance despite contract validity. They ensure fairness by weighing parties’ interests and conduct, preventing undue advantages, aligning with reasonable expectations, and avoiding undue hardship on defendants. The court in Ram Niwas v. Bano evaluated whether enforcing the contract would confer unjust advantage to the plaintiff and impose unforeseen hardship on the defendants, potentially leading to refusal of specific performance. This illustrates Section 20(2)’s application, emphasizing equitable considerations even in legally valid contracts.


In conclusion, the case of Ram Niwas v. Bano underscores the complex interplay between property rights, contractual obligations, and the discretionary powers of the court under the Specific Relief Act, 1963. Through a meticulous analysis of statutory provisions such as Section 19(b) and 20(2), coupled with the application of doctrines like constructive notice, the judiciary ensures that justice is served while upholding the integrity of property transactions. By balancing the interests of all parties involved and considering principles of equity, fairness, and justice, the courts strive to maintain a just and equitable legal framework in property law.


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  2. What is the Doctrine of Constructive Notice? | Desi Kanoon- Your Daily Dose of Law
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  4. Ram Niwas (Dead) Through Lrs vs Smt.Bano & Ors on 1 August, 2000 (indiankanoon.org)
  5. IInd Term_Property Law_LB204 _2022.pdf (du.ac.in)
  6. Doctrine of Bona Fide Purchaser (legalbites.in)
  7. Ram Niwas v. Bano, (2000) 6 SCC 685 (drishtijudiciary.com)
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Author: Chaitanya Krishna Talapoola, School of Law, Christ[Deemed to be] University, Bangalore

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