Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Leading judgment on distinction between S 14(1) and S 14(2) of Hindu succession Act relating to property rights of woman

 In the case of V. Tulasamma(supra), the learned Judge, Justice S. Murtaza Fazal Ali, speaking for the Bench, succinctly and in a lucid manner while analyzing the true scope of Section 14(1) and (2) of the Act held as under:

Section 14(1) and the Explanation thereto of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 provide that any property possessed by a female Hindu, whether acquired before or after the commencement of the 1956 Act, shall be held by her as full owner thereof and not as a limited owner; and that 'property' includes both movable and immovable property acquired by her by inheritance or devise, or at a partition, or in lieu of maintenance or arrears of maintenance, or by gift from any person, whether from a relative or not, before, at or after her marriage, or by her own skill or exertion, or by purchase or by prescription, or in any other manner whatsoever, and also any such property held by her as stridhana immediately before the commencement of the 1956 Act. The language is in the widest possible terms and must be liberally construed in favour of the females so as to advance the object of the Act and promote the socio-economic ends, namely, to enlarge her limited interest to absolute ownership in consonance with the changing temper of the times sought to be achieved by such a long legislation.

Section 14(2) provides that nothing contained in Section 14(1) shall apply to any property acquired by way of gift or under a will or any other instrument or under a decree or order of a civil court or under an award where the terms of the gift, will or other instrument or decree, order or award prescribes a restricted estate in such property. It is in the nature of a proviso and has a field of its own without interfering with the operation of Section 14(1) materially. The proviso should not be construed in a manner so as to destroy the effect of the main provision or the protection granted by Section 14(1) or in a way so as to become totally inconsistent with the main provision.

Section 14(2) applies only to instruments, decrees, awards, gifts, etc. which create independent and new titles in favour of the females for the first time and has no application where the instrument concerned merely seeks to confirm, endorse declare or recognize pre-existing rights. In such cases, a restricted estate in favour of a female is legally permissible and Section 14(1) will not operate in that sphere. Where, however, an instrument merely declares or recognizes a pre-existing right such as a claim to maintenance or partition or share to which the female is entitled, Section 14(2) has absolutely no application and the female's limited interest would automatically be enlarged into an absolute one by force of Section 14(1) and the restrictions placed, if any, under the document would have to be ignored. Thus, where a property is allotted or transferred to a female in lieu of maintenance or a share at a partition, the instrument is taken out of the ambit of Sub-section (2) and would be governed by Section 14(1) despite any restrictions placed on the powers of the transferee.

The use of terms like 'property acquired by a female Hindu at a partition', 'or in lieu of maintenance', or 'arrears of maintenance' etc. in the Explanation to Section 14(1) clearly makes Sub-section (2) inapplicable to these categories which have been expressly excepted from the operation of Sub-section (2).

The words 'restricted estate' in Section 14(2) are wider than limited interest as indicated in Section 14(1) and they include not only limited interest but also any other kind of limitation that may be placed on the transferee.

40. Similarly, while explaining the ratio of V. Tulasamma (supra) and how one has to read the ratio for being applied to the facts of a particular case, this Court in the case of Sadhu Singh v. Gurudwara Sahib Narike and Ors., MANU/SC/8475/2006 : (2006) 8 SCC 75 again succinctly discussed the applicability of Section 14(1) and (2) of the Act and on facts involved therein held that the facts involved would attract Section 14(2) of the Act. Justice Balasubramanyan speaking for two Judge Bench held in paras 13 and 14 and 15 as under:

13. An owner of property has normally the right to deal with that property including the right to devise or bequeath the property. He could thus dispose it of by a testament. Section 30 of the Act, not only does not curtail or affect this right, it actually reaffirms that right. Thus, a Hindu male could testamentarily dispose of his property. When he does that, a succession under the Act stands excluded and the property passes to the testamentary heirs. Hence, when a male Hindu executes a will bequeathing the properties, the legatees take it subject to the terms of the will unless of course, any stipulation therein is found invalid. Therefore, there is nothing in the Act which affects the right of a male Hindu to dispose of his property by providing only a life estate or limited estate for his widow. The Act does not stand in the way of his separate properties being dealt with by him as he deems fit. His will hence could not be challenged as being hit by the Act.

14. When he thus validly disposes of his property by providing for a limited estate to his heir, the wife, the wife or widow has to take it as the estate falls. This restriction on her right so provided, is really respected by the Act. It provides in Section 14(2) of the Act, that in such a case, the widow is bound by the limitation on her right and she cannot claim any higher right by invoking Section 14(1) of the Act. In other words, conferment of a limited estate which is otherwise valid in law is reinforced by this Act by the introduction of Section 14(2) of the Act and excluding the operation of Section 14(1) of the Act, even if that provision is held to be attracted in the case of a succession under the Act. Invocation of Section 14(1) of the Act in the case of a testamentary disposition taking effect after the Act, would make Sections 30 and 14(2) redundant or otiose. It will also make redundant, the expression "property possessed by a female Hindu" occurring in Section 14(1) of the Act. An interpretation that leads to such a result cannot certainly be accepted. Surely, there is nothing in the Act compelling such an interpretation. Sections 14 and 30 both have play. Section 14(1) applies in a case where the female had received the property prior to the Act being entitled to it as a matter of right, even if the right be to a limited estate under the Mitakshara law or the right to maintenance.

15. Dealing with the legal position established by the decisions in Tulasamma and Bai Vajia v. Thakorbhai Chelabhai the position regarding the application of Section 14(2) of the Act is summed up in Mayne on Hindu Law thus:

Sub-section (2) of Section 14 applies to instruments, decrees, awards, gifts, etc., which create independent and new title in favour of females for the first time and has no application where the instruments concerned merely seek to confirm, endorse, declare or recognise pre-existing rights. The creation of a restricted estate in favour of a female is legally permissible and Section 14(1) will not operate in such a case. Where property is allotted or transferred to a female in lieu of maintenance or a share at partition the instrument is taken out of the ambit of Sub-section (2) and would be governed by Section 14(1) despite any restrictions placed on the powers of the transferee. (See p. 1172 of the 15th Edn.)

41. Reading of the aforementioned principle of law laid down in the cases of V. Tulasamma and Sadhu Singh (supra), it is clear that the ambit of Section 14(2) of the Act must be confined to cases where property is acquired by a female Hindu for the first time as a grant without any pre-existing right, under a gift, will, instrument, decree, order or award, the terms of which prescribe a "restricted estate" in the property. Where, however, property is acquired by a Hindu female at a partition or in lieu of right of maintenance, it is in virtue of a pre-existing right and such an acquisition would not be within the scope and ambit of Section 14(2) of the Act, even if the instrument, decree, order or award allotting the property prescribes a "restricted estate" in the property.

IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

Civil Appeal No. 21784 of 2017 (Arising out of SLP (C) No. 32044/2016)

Decided On: 12.12.2017

Ranvir Dewan Vs. Rashmi Khanna and Ors.


Hon'ble Judges/Coram:


R.K. Agrawal and Abhay Manohar Sapre, JJ.
Read full judgment here: Click here

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