Ahmad Kasim bin Adam (suing as administrator of the estate of Adam bin Haji Anwar, deceased) v Singapore Land Authority and others

JudgeAudrey Lim J
Judgment Date05 May 2020
Neutral Citation[2020] SGHC 90
Plaintiff CounselKoh Li Qun, Kelvin and Thara Rubini Gopalan (TSMP Law Corporation)
Date05 May 2020
Docket NumberOriginating Summons No 881 of 2019
Hearing Date18 November 2019,20 January 2020,27 March 2020
Subject MatterRemedies,Quashing order,Limitation period,Natural justice,Mandamus,Leave to commence judicial review,Judicial review,Administrative Law
Published date13 May 2020
Defendant CounselKhoo Boo Jin, Fu Qijing, Teo Meng Hui, Jocelyn and Enoch Wong (Attorney-General's Chambers)
CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
Citation[2020] SGHC 90
Audrey Lim J:

This matter (“OS 881”) pertains to a plot of land known as Lot 28W Mukim 27 (“the Land”) which was compulsorily acquired in 1987 (“the Acquisition”). The Land has an area of about 9,636.6 sqm and an entry from Palm Drive. The applicant, Mr Ahmad Kasim bin Adam (“Mr Ahmad”) brought OS 881 on behalf of the estate of his father, Mr Adam bin Haji Anwar (“Mr Adam”). He sought leave to apply for an order to quash the Acquisition and the award of compensation by the Collector of Land Revenue (“the Collector”) made in 1988 (“1988 Award”) pertaining to the Acquisition of the Land in so far as it relates to an area of 405.5 sqm (“the Plot”) with a house (“the House”) thereon, and to mandate the Collector to conduct a fresh inquiry in respect of the appropriate compensation to be paid to Mr Adam’s estate.

Background to the Acquisition

The Land was a Muslim cemetery. It was compulsorily acquired by the State in 1987 by a declaration under s 5 of the Land Acquisition Act (Cap 152, 1985 Rev Ed) (“LAA”) in force on 27 November 1987 (“the LAA 1987”). The declaration was published in the Government Gazette Extraordinary on 27 November 1987 (“the 1987 Gazette”).1

At the time of the Acquisition, the most recent traceable title to the Land showed that it belonged to one Mr Moona and mortgaged to one Mr Chitty. As no other interests in the Land had been registered with the Registry of Land Titles and Deeds (“the Registry”), the 1987 Gazette named Mr Moona as the “owner” and Mr Chitty as the “mortgagee” of the Land (“the paper owners”).2 Notices of Acquisition under s 8 of the LAA 1987 dated 7 January 1988 (“7 January 1988 Notices”) were addressed to the paper owners but could not be personally served on them as they could not be traced. These notices were thus posted on the Land Office’s notice board.3 The 7 January 1988 Notices called on the paper owners to appear at the Office of the Collector on 3 March 1988 to state the nature of their interest in the land, any claim in compensation that they may have and any objections to the measurements cited in respect of the Land.

On 22 January 1988, a Land Office Notice (“22 January 1988 Notice”) was posted on the Land pursuant to s 8 of the LAA 1987. It stated that the Land was required under the LAA 1987 and invited persons interested to appear at the Land Office on 3 March 1988 to state their interest in the Land and any claims to compensation.4 The 22 January 1988 Notice was posted on the Land by one Mr Halim. A copy of the same notice bore a stamp with his name as the person who posted the notice and on which was written “Posted on site”, although it is unknown precisely where on the Land it was posted. Ms Tan Hwee Ching (“Ms Tan”) from the Singapore Land Authority (“SLA”) attested that Mr Halim, who was 71 years old at the time of hearing, was unable to recall the Land.5

However, no one appeared before the Land Office to state their claims. On 18 March 1988, the Collector awarded $18,800 (ie, the 1988 Award) as compensation for the Acquisition to the paper owners under s 10 of the LAA 1987. As the 1988 Award could not be served on the paper owners, it was posted on the Land Office Notice Board on the same day. The paper owners did not collect the award and the sum was paid into court pursuant to a court order of 20 June 1988 in Originating Summons No 600 of 1988 (“OS 600 of 1988”).6

The Land was vested in the State on 12 September 1988. On that date, the Land Office’s Notice of Taking Possession (“September 1988 Notice”) was posted on the Land pursuant to s 16 of the LAA 1987. The September 1988 Notice also showed that the notice was posted on the Land by one Mr Khosni, a Land Inspector with the Land Office.7

Mr Khosni attested as follows.8 He went to Palm Drive to take possession of the cemetery. He saw houses on both sides of the road, until the road came to an end where “there was a temporary structure which looked like a house made of wood and other materials (‘the Structure’)” [emphasis in original]. He did not notice anyone around the Structure, and saw that behind the Structure was a cemetery with graves going up a high slope. The Land Office’s practice was to post the notice at a conspicuous place. Where there was a structure on the land, the practice was to post the notice on the structure. Accordingly, he posted the September 1988 Notice on the Structure. He also recalled that the Structure looked very different from other houses that he saw along Palm Drive because the other houses were permanent structures.

Mr Khosni, in his affidavit, marked the location of the Structure on a plan showing Palm Drive and the Land. Ms Tan attested that the location of the Structure as described by Mr Khosni corresponded to the location of the House on the Land.9

The cemetery was exhumed in 2009.10

Mr Ahmad’s claim

Mr Ahmad stated as follows. His grandfather helped to maintain and upkeep the cemetery, and subsequently built a Malay-style kampong house (the House) on the Land as his new permanent abode by around 1955. Thereafter, his grandfather’s family resided and occupied the Land, with Mr Adam taking care of the Land after Mr Ahmad’s grandfather passed away.11

Mr Ahmad claimed that the 22 January 1988 Notice was never posted on the Land and, in any event, Mr Ahmad and his family (who were residing on the Land at the material time) were entirely unaware of that notice. Also, notices similar to the 7 January 1988 Notices were never sent to him or Mr Adam. Even after the Collector had made the 1988 Award, Mr Adam, Mr Ahmad and his family continued to reside in the House and were oblivious to the Acquisition.12

Mr Ahmad claimed that from 1964 to 2013, the government recognised Mr Adam as the “registered owner” of the House. Mr Adam paid the property taxes from 1964 until his demise in May 1997 and for the sanitary and drainage system installed for the House in 1974. After Mr Adam’s demise, Mr Ahmad paid property taxes until 2013, and utility bills and television licences until 2016, as executor of Mr Adam’s estate.13

In March 2009, Mr Ahmad noticed that the graves in the cemetery on the Land were being exhumed. He then made inquiries and discovered that the Land had been compulsorily acquired in 1988. Feeling aggrieved, Mr Ahmad wrote a letter on 5 February 2010 (“the MP Letter”) to a Member of Parliament overseeing his constituency. In particular, he stated as follows:14 He and his family had lived in the House for more than five decades since the mid-1950s. About six months before 5 February 2010, he discovered that the Land had been acquired by the government in 1988 and his family was kept in the dark about it. He was later told by SLA to vacate the premises. He and his family never wanted and did not wish to impose any claim on the Land as they knew it was waqaf land and they believed that it was bequeathed for public use. They did not wish to challenge the government’s right to the premises, nor did they send the MP Letter “as a legal case to stake a claim on the right of the land”. That said, they were upset at not being given any notice of the Acquisition all these years. They also “concede[d]” that they were not in a capacity to challenge the vacation order and will eventually leave the House and let “the bulldozer to run it down”. However, Mr Ahmad and his family asked for some gratuity payment or another house, for the effort they had put in all those decades in maintaining the Land at their own expense. Mr Ahmad also stated that they “never registered interest nor claimed ownership by adverse possession and [they] never regretted it as [they] never owned that land”.

The MP Letter was forwarded to SLA who received it on 11 February 2010.15 The following then ensued.

Subsequent correspondence between parties

After some discussions between SLA and Mr Ahmad, SLA formally replied on 9 July 2012 to state that it was unable to accede to his request for a replacement house or payment of reasonable compensation, and also informed him that he was occupying the Land without lawful authority. SLA further stated that, on a strictly without prejudice basis, it was evaluating an ex gratia payment and would update Mr Ahmad.16 SLA then offered an ex gratia payment of $17,882.05 to Mr Ahmad on 17 October 2012 and again on 20 November 2012, which he rejected. Mr Ahmad did not make any counter-offer.17

On 22 November 2013, SLA reiterated to Mr Ahmad that he (or Mr Adam) was not entitled to remain on the Land or the House regardless of whether they were a “person interested” under the Land Acquisition Act. SLA reiterated its offer of ex gratia payment of $17,882.05. Alternatively, if they did not wish to relocate, SLA was willing to offer a Temporary Occupation Licence (“TOL”), on a without prejudice basis, for one year and which may be renewed on a yearly basis.18 Mr Ahmad did not accept the ex gratia payment or the TOL.

On 26 May 2014, SLA informed Mr Ahmad that he was in “unauthorised and unlawful occupation of the Land” as a trespasser and asked him to vacate the Land.19 On 2 July 2014, SLA informed Mr Ahmad that it could not accede to his requests to extend time to vacate the Land and for a higher compensation amount. SLA stated that, on 22 November 2013, it had offered him an ex gratia payment of $17,882.05 which he did not accept. It would allow Mr Ahmad up to early August 2014 to vacate the Land.20

On 31 July 2014, Mr Ahmad’s lawyers informed SLA for the first time that the Acquisition of the Land was carried out in breach of natural justice; that Mr Ahmad was the rightful owner in possession of the Land; and that Mr Ahmad was entitled to compensation assessed at the prevailing market rate as the “adverse possessory owner”. Mr Ahmad also requested SLA to inform him of the basis of assessment for the ex gratia payment.21

On 16 September 2014, SLA responded to re-open its offer of an ex gratia...

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1 cases
  • CBB v Law Society of Singapore
    • Singapore
    • Court of Appeal (Singapore)
    • 29 January 2021
    ...Ahmad Kasim bin Adam (suing as administrator of the estate of Adam bin Haji Anwar, deceased) v Singapore Land Authority and others [2020] 4 SLR 1447 at [90], and Axis Law Corp v Intellectual Property Office of Singapore at [2016] 4 SLR 554 at [43]. However, the cases also show that the rule......

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