Author: Abhinav Awasthi.
2019 SCC OnLine SC 1499
NAMES OF PARTIES
Appellant: Radha Bai
Respondents: Ram Narayan and Others
Justice A.M. Khanwilkar;
Justice Dinesh Maheshwari.
The present case before us relates to the issues of succession and devolution of property in a Hindu family. The courts have had to deal with questions related to succession in property for decades given the complexity of the Hindu system. Two schools of thought govern the Hindu law of property, namely Mitakshara and Dyabhaga. The Hindu Succession Act which was part of the larger Hindu Code Bill aimed at reforming the Hindu personal laws were passed in the year 1956 and amended several times thereafter keeping in mind the contemporary cultural changes. The Act was aimed at amending and modifying the laws related to succession among Hindus and the interpretations of different provisions of the act have brought considerable controversy and confusion. This case relates to the rights of a class 1 heir, the rights of transferring the property by one who holds it absolutely and other such issues.
This case is important in the sense that it settles the law relating to Hindu succession. Different high courts in the country had given different interpretations but the Apex Court in this case finally laid to rest the confusion regarding the law. However, the Court didn’t do complete justice by bringing full gender parity in Hindu succession law. This makes this case study very interesting.
- The land in question was owned as well as possessed by Sukhdeo who was a Hindu by religion and was governed by the Mitakshara school.
- The land which is the subject matter of the dispute came to Sukhdev as an ancestral property and his 2 sons namely Janakram and Pilaram had joint shares in that land by being coparceners.
- Janakram had 2 sons, namely Sonu and Saheblal. The appellant (i.e. Radhabai) in the case is the daughter of Saheblal. The Appellant’s father died in 1957.
- Janakram, Saheblal’s father died in 1982 and Sukhdev, the original holder of the property died in 1965. So, Saheblal, the appellant’s father, predeceased both his father and his grandfather.
- Radhabai, the appellant, on the death of her mother Laxmibai, went to get the suit property to be mutated in her name but when she went there she was informed that the suit property had been transferred through an instrument of a sale deed by Janakram to his grandsons i.e. the sons of his son Sonu, namely, Ram Narayan, Jaya Narayan and Rohit Kumar who are the 3 defendants in the case. The above-mentioned sale deed was executed in the month of July 1979.
- Another thing that came up was that Janakram and his brother Pilaram had decided mutually to partition the property after the death of their father Sukhdeo in the year 1965. This partition took place in 1967.
- The appellant went to the court and demanded a decree to the effect that the disputed land be partitioned and the appellant receives her share in that property. The Trial Court dismissed the contention of the appellant but the court of the first appeal ruled in favour of the appellant herein. High Court then overturned the decision of the first appellate court to give relief to the original defendants. Now, the case has reached the Supreme Court.
- Whether the partition that took place between JanakRam and Pilaram was valid?
- Whether after the said partition, Janakram became the exclusive owner of the suit property and had the right to dispose of it according to his will?
- Whether the land which was the subject matter of the suit held by Janakram as his separate property or whether it became the ancestral property of the plaintiff-appellant on the demise of Sukhdeo and Janakram and so whether the doctrine of survivorship or succession applies?
The contentions of the petitioner primarily proceeded on the ground that the second appellate court in dismissing her claim had made an error manifestly by not applying the doctrine of survivorship and saying that Radhabai, the plaintiff-appellant merely had a spes successionis in the property of Janakram. Relying on several decisions of the past, the petitioner supported her arguments. The case laws relied upon were Gurupad Khandappa Magdum v. Hirabai Khandappa Magdum and Others1 and the case law of Ramesh Verma (Dead) Through Legal Representatives v. Rajesh Saxena (Dead) By Legal Representatives and Another2. The petitioner stated that Section 6 of the Hindu Succession Act 1956 applied squarely to this case and that since her father Saheblal died after coming into the force of the act, the notional partition scheme applied to this case. The petitioner also made a prayer to the effect that the partition was illegal and void since it was ancestral property.
On the other hand, the respondents have contended that since the plaintiff was not a class 1 heir according to the Hindu Succession Act at the time of the demise of Sukhdeoo, the property was succeeded to by the 2 sons of Sukhdeo i.e. Pilaram and Janakram. In law, Saheblal, the plaintiff appellant’s father, could not have claimed any right over the property while his father Janakram was still alive and since Saheblal died before Janakram, there is no question of any right in the plaintiff. A consequent point raised by the respondents is that after the partition between JnakRam and Pilaraam, Jnakram became the exclusive owner of the property and held it as his separate property over which he had complete control and ownership. The respondents have also placed reliance on numerous cases to strengthen their arguments namely Chandrakanta and Others v. Ashok Kumar and Others3, Rai v. Hardeo. Sakuntala Devi and Others4 and Commissioner of Wealth Tax, Kanpur and Others v. Chander Sen and Other5.
The Court heard the arguments and counterarguments of both sides and decided to discuss Section 6 of the Hindu Succession Act 1956 to bring some clarity to the issue. After doing that, the court went on to throw some light on the very concept of a Hindu Mitakshara coparcenary and what are the numerous incidences of a coparcenary to arrive at a sound and correct judgment by referring to SBI v. Ghamandi Ram6. Court further went on to discuss the interpretations and the interplay among sections 4,6,8 of the HSA 1956 as well as the concept of Class 1 and Class 2 heirs as they were discussed in the CWT v. Chander Sen case mentioned above.
One important thing that the court emphasized there was that Class 1 heirs include the son of a predeceased son but not the son of a living son i.e. grandson. The Court, after considering the conflicting judgments of various high courts regarding interpretations of provisions of the Act, finally decided that the express language of Section 8 of the Act can not be overlooked and that after partition, the son holds his share of the partitioned property as his separate property and is free to deal with it in any way he wants. Since Saheblal, Radhabai’s father died before both Sukhdeo, his grandfather and Janakram, his father, he could only have claimed through his father, therefore no right in the property arose for his daughter, the plaintiff Radhabai.
The law in this regard was pretty clear. There were no ambiguities as to the letter of the law. However, it had been interpreted by different high courts in different manners which had resulted in creating a lot of confusion regarding the rights of grandsons vis-a-vis rights of sons of pre-deceased sons and what the status of the property in the hands of these respective people after the inherited property has been partitioned. The Hon’ble Supreme Court has applied the law of the land correctly in this decision and tried to resolve the conflict between the varying decisions of various high courts. The court reasoned that the express language of the provision must be given effect and any anomalies that have come into existence must be cleared.
The court followed the course laid down in its earlier judgment of Uttam v Saubhag Singh and others7 wherein it had laid down that on a combined reading of Sections 4,8 and 19 of the Act, it becomes clear that after the partition of the joint property has taken place, the grandson has no right or claims to that property whatsoever since it is separate property in the hands of his father who is the exclusive owner of that property according to Section 8 of Hindu Succession Act. The legal position has been reiterated by the courts many times and has been made clear in this regard now. So, a person can not inherit from someone who did not have any interest in that property himself/herself.
The Hindu law relating to the property has been subjected to much debate and controversy. Attempts at reform were made in the 1950s by bringing the Hindu Code Bill which included the Hindu Succession Act to bridge the divide between men and women and bring parity in treatment. However, much was still left to be desired to achieve gender parity when it came to property rights. Courts have had to balance the Act a lot, on one hand giving effect to the spirit behind the law and on the other hand not changing the law itself through judicial activism.
Subsequent amendments to the Act have advanced the cause of equality a lot. Daughters have been given the right to become coparceners as well as the manager of the family under the newly amended laws. The courts have adopted a safe approach most of the time. However, the Supreme Court has maintained consistency in applying the law. It has consistently held that the property after partition becomes separate property in the hands of the holder and not another joint property in his own joint family. This is the plain and simple import of Section 8 of the Act. Alternatively, it can be said that this approach of applying the law in its plain and grammatical meaning without looking at the underlying spirit has resulted in steady but slow progress in achieving equality in property rights. Perhaps, the courts could have done more to prompt the political class to change the laws quicker and more comprehensively.
- Gurupad Khandappa Magdum v. Hirabai Khandappa Magdum and Ors. 1978 (3) SCC 383.
- Ramesh Verma (Dead) Through Legal Representatives v. Lajesh Saxena (Dead) By Legal Representatives and Anr. 2017 (1) SCC 257.
- Chandrakanta and Ors. v. Ashok Kumar and Ors. 2002 (3) MPLJ 576.
- Rai v. Hardeo. Sakuntala Devi and Ors. 2008 (7) SCC 46.
- Commissioner of Wealth Tax, Kanpur and Ors. v. Chander Sen and Ors. 1986 (3) SCC 567.
- SBI v. Ghamandi Ram 1969 (2)SCC 33.
- Uttam v. Saubhag Singh and Others 2016 4 SCC 68.