The main subject-matter of ownership consists of a material object, such as land and chattels. But ownership is by no means limited to things of this category. Ownership refers to the relation that a person has with an object that he owns. It is an aggregate of all the rights that he has with regards to the said object. These rights are right in rem it means that they can be enforced against the whole world and not just any specific individual. The term “ownership” invokes thoughts of property and possession, which are integral components of this fundamental legal concept. 

At its core, ownership characterizes a person’s unique relationship with an object they possess. Encompassing a myriad of rights, ownership transcends mere possession, allowing individuals to exercise control, authority, and freedom over their property. Crucially, these rights extend beyond specific individuals, holding universal applicability, often referred to as right in rem. Distinguishing ownership from possession lies in the permanency of the bond; while possession hinges on temporary control or custody, ownership endures unless explicitly altered by legal means. With the rise of civilization, humans settled down to cultivate and produce their own food, and by abiding in one area, they developed the concept of ownership and recognized the terms ‘mine and thine’. The concept of possession emerged first, followed by the concept of ownership. The Roman Law used two unique terms: ‘possession’, which signifies physical authority over a thing, and ‘dominium’, which denotes the ultimate right to a thing. According to Holdsworth, ownership as an absolute right arose through advancements in possession law, and the term ‘ownership’ was first used in English law in 1583.

Concept of Ownership-

Jurists have defined ownership in various ways, but universally, it is acknowledged as the broadest power over a physical object. According to Black’s Law Dictionary, ownership entails a set of rights, including the right to use, enjoy, and transmit the property to others. This legal acknowledgment confers an official claim to a particular item of property.

Austin contends that ownership surpasses possession in terms of power, representing an absolute right. Ancient jurists, such as Manu in Hindu tradition, outlined seven moral ways to acquire ownership: inheritance, gain, purchase, conquest, application, employment of work, and acceptance of gifts. Gautama and Narada further elaborated on these methods, with Narada proposing twelve ways to acquire wealth, including three general modes accessible to all castes and the remaining specific to particular castes.

Therefore, ownership encompasses several key rights:

1. Right to use: The owner can use the subject-matter of ownership at their discretion.

2. Right to alienation: The owner possesses an absolute right to transfer or alienate the property. Non-owners may possess a thing, but they cannot transfer its ownership.

3. Right to income: The owner is entitled to the income generated by the property within legal limits.

4. Right to possess: The owner has exclusive control and possession of the property.

5. Right to manage: The owner has the authority to manage the property, deciding how and by whom it shall be used.

Modes of Acquisition-

Various modes exist for acquiring ownership over a thing, as elucidated by ancient Roman and Hindu jurists, including Inheritance, Gain, Purchase, Conquest, Application of wealth, Employment, and Acceptance of gifts. Many of these modes persist in modified forms today. Under modern law, modes of acquiring ownership are categorized into two main types:

1. Original Acquisition:

This mode occurs when ownership is obtained through the actions of the acquirer or specific events. It comprises three types:

  • Absolute Acquisition: Absolute ownership occurs when acquiring things that have never had an owner, termed “res nullius” by the Romans. Manu referred to this mode as Pratigraha. It can be acquired through two means i.e. “Occupatio” which in roman concept involves taking possession of ownerless things. Anyone can claim ownership by simply taking and retaining possession. Manu concurred with this view and the other way via “Specificatio” which in Roman law refers to creating a new product from someone else’s material. For example, making cloth from another’s wool or sculpture from clay collected from another’s land. This involves the rights of both the material owner and the manufacturer.
  • Accessory Acquisition: This occurs when ownership is acquired through the addition to existing property. Manu termed this mode as Prayog. The previous owner of the principal thing becomes the owner of the new whole, while the owner of the addition loses their property right, seeking compensation instead.
  • Extinctive Acquisition: Ownership is acquired by an act that extinguishes the previous owner’s title. For example, ownership through prescription, where adverse possession for a specified period grants full legal title. In India, adverse possession for 12 years extinguishes the previous owner’s ownership, transferring it to the adverse possessor.

2. Derivative acquisition:

It occurs when an individual accepts the conveyance of title from a previous owner. This mode encompasses various methods, including inheritance (intestate and testamentary), purchase, acceptance of gifts, and other inter-vivo transfers. The effectiveness of derivative ownership acquisition depends on complying with formalities outlined in relevant statutes. In India, these formalities are specified in statutes such as the Transfer of Property Act, 1882 (for immovable property), Sale of Goods Act, 1930 (for movable property), Partnership Act, 1932 (for firm property), Companies Act, 1956 (for company property), Registration Act, 1908, and other applicable laws.

In contrast, original acquisition occurs when possession is obtained over things that have never been possessed before. Objects previously owned before acquiring ownership fall under the derivative mode. Absolute acquisition occurs when something previously belonged to no one, acquired through specification or occupation. In occupation, an ownerless thing is acquired through physical control, as seen with birds or fish. Specification involves transforming material obtained from another into a new form, such as clay sculpted into a sculpture. Extinctive acquisition occurs when the ownership of the previous owner is terminated due to adverse possession by the acquirer. Accessory acquisition happens when ownership is acquired through an accession to existing property.


Ownership is a multifaceted concept that underpins property rights in India, influencing various aspects of social, economic, and legal spheres. The modes of acquiring ownership are diverse, reflecting the complex interplay of historical, cultural, and legal factors. As India transitions towards a more inclusive and equitable society, ensuring secure and accessible pathways to ownership becomes imperative for fostering sustainable development and social justice. Through robust legal reforms, effective governance, and community participation, India can strive towards realizing the constitutional ideals of equality, dignity, and justice for all its citizens.

2 Replies to “Acquisition of Ownership in Indian Context.”

  1. Thank you for the good writeup It in fact was a amusement account it Look advanced to far added agreeable from you However how could we communicate

    1. by Advocate Tanwar 2 months ago

      Hello Khaleejuae,
      You’re welcome! We are glad you enjoyed the write-up. Feel free to reach out here anytime. You can communicate through our phone number- 9311520259, or email at [email protected], or by visiting our office in person located at Unit No. 226-227, Vipul Business Park, Sohna Road, Sector 48, Gurugram, 122018, India.

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