Supreme Court: Daughter is entitled to inherit Self-acquired property of father
Fact and Issue of the Case
Suit for partition was filed by Thangammal, daughter of Ramasamy Gounder, claiming 1/5th share in the suit property on the allegations that the plaintiff and defendant nos. 5 and 6, namely, Elayammal and Nallammal and one Ramayeeammal are sisters of Gurunatha Gounder, all the five of them being the children of Ramasamy Gounder. The said Ramasamy Gounder had an elder brother by the name of Marappa Gounder. Ramasamy Gounder, predeceased his brother Marappa Gounder who died on 14.04.1957 leaving behind the sole daughter by the name of Kuppayee Ammal who also died issueless in 1967. Further case set up by the plaintiff/appellant was that after the death of Marappa Gounder, his property was inherited by Kuppayee Ammal and upon her death in 1967, all the five children of Ramasamy Gounder, namely, Gurunatha Gounder, Thangammal (Original Plaintiff now represented by legal heir), Ramayeeammal, Elayammal and Nallammal are heirs in equal of Kuppayee and entitled to 1/5th share each.
Gurunatha Gounder, died leaving behind defendant nos. 1 to 4 (Respondents herein) as heirs and legal representatives. Ramayeeammal died leaving behind defendants 7 to 9. The plaintiff-appellant, Thangammal, died leaving behind, appellant nos. 1, 3 and 4 herein and Appellant no. 1, Arunachala Gounder, since having died is represented by her legal representatives appellant no. 1, Venkatachalam and appeallant no. 2, A. Mottaiyappan.
Observation of the Court
Right of a widow or daughter to inherit the self-acquired property or share received in partition of a coparcenary property of a Hindu male dying intestate is well recognized not only under the old customary Hindu Law but also by various judicial pronouncements and thus, our answer to the question Nos. 1 and 2 are as under :-
If a property of a male Hindu dying intestate is a self-acquired property or obtained in partition of a co-parcenery or a family property, the same would devolve by inheritance and not by survivorship, and a daughter of such a male Hindu would be entitled to inherit such property in preference to other collaterals.”
In the case at hands, since the property in question was admittedly the self-acquired property of Marappa Gounder despite the family being in state of jointness upon his death intestate, his sole surviving daughter Kupayee Ammal, will inherit the same by inheritance and the property shall not devolve by survivorship.
Insofar as, question no. 3 is concerned under the old customary Hindu Law, there are contradictory opinions in respect of the order of succession to be followed after the death of such a daughter inheriting the property from his father. One school is of the view that such a daughter inherits a limited estate like a widow, and after her death would revert back to the heirs of the deceased male who would be entitled to inherit by survivorship. While other school of thought holds the opposite view. This conflict of opinion may not be relevant in the present case inasmuch as since Kupayee Ammal, daughter of Marappa Gounder, after inheriting the suit property upon the death of Marappa Gounder, died after enforcement of Hindu Succession Act, 1956 (hereinafter referred to as ‘The Act of 1956’), which has amended and codified the Hindu Law relating to intestate succession among Hindus. The main scheme of this Act is to establish complete equality between male and female with regard to property rights and the rights of the female were declared absolute, completely abolishing all notions of a limited estate.
The Act brought about changes in the law of succession among Hindus and gave rights which were till then unknown in relation to women’s property. The Act lays down a uniform and comprehensive system of inheritance and applies, inter-alia, to persons governed by the Mitakshara and Dayabhaga Schools and also to those governed previously by the Murumakkattayam, Aliyasantana and Nambudri Laws. The Act applies to every person, who is a Hindu by religion in any of its forms including a Virashaiva, a Lingayat or a follower of the Brahmo Pararthana or Arya Samaj and even to any person who is Buddhist, Jain or Sikh by religion excepting one who is Muslim, Christian, Parsi or Jew or Sikh by religion. Section 14 of the Act of 1956 declares property of a female Hindu to be her absolute property, which reads as under:-
“14. Property of a female Hindu to be her absolute property.-
- Any property possessed by a female Hindu, whether acquired before or after the commencement of this Act, shall be held by her as full owner thereof and not as a limited owner.
Explanation.—In this sub-section, “property” includes both movable and immovable property acquired by a female Hindu by inheritance or devise, or at a partition, or in lieu of maintenance or arrears of maintenance, or by gift from any person, whether 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 this Act.
- Nothing contained in sub-section (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 the decree, order or award prescribe a restricted estate in such property.”
The legislative intent of enacting Section 14(I) of the Act was to remedy the limitation of a Hindu woman who could not claim absolute interest in the properties inherited by her but only had a life interest in the estate so inherited. Section 14 (I) converted all limited estates owned by women into absolute estates and the succession of these properties in the absence of a will or testament would take place in consonance with Section 15 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956.
The scheme of sub-Section (1) of Section 15 goes to show that property of Hindu females dying intestate is to devolve on her own heirs, the list whereof is enumerated in Clauses (a) to (e) of Section 15 (1). Sub-Section (2) of Section 15 carves out exceptions only with regard to property acquired through inheritance and further, the exception is confined to the property inherited by a Hindu female either from her father or mother, or from her husband, or from her father-in-law. The exceptions carved out by sub-Section (2) shall operate only in the event of the Hindu female dies without leaving any direct heirs, i.e., her son or daughter or children of the pre-deceased son or daughter.
Thus, if a female Hindu dies intestate without leaving any issue, then the property inherited by her from her father or mother would go to the heirs of her father whereas the property inherited from her husband or father-in-law would go to the heirs of the husband. In case, a female Hindu dies leaving behind her husband or any issue, then Section 15(1)(a) comes into operation and the properties left behind including the properties which she inherited from her parents would devolve simultaneously upon her husband and her issues as provided in Section 15(1)(a) of the Act.
The basic aim of the legislature in enacting Section 15(2) is to ensure that inherited property of a female Hindu dying issueless and intestate, goes back to the source. Section 15(1)(d) provides that failing all heirs of the female specified in Entries (a)-(c), but not until then, all her property howsoever acquired will devolve upon the heirs of the father. The devolution upon the heirs of the father shall be in the same order and according to the same rules as would have applied if the property had belonged to the father and he had died intestate in respect thereof immediately after her death. In the present case the since the succession of the suit properties opened in 1967 upon death of Kupayee Ammal, the 1956 Act shall apply and thereby Ramasamy Gounder’s daughters being Class-I heirs of their father too shall be heirs and entitled to 1/5th share each in the suit properties.
This Court while analysing the provisions of Sections 15 & 16 of the Act in the case of State of Punjab Vs. Balwant Singh & Ors. Again in the case of Bhagat Ram (dead) by LRs. Vs. Teja Singh (dead) by LRs., a two-Judge Bench of this Court analysing the provisions of Sections 14, 15 and 16 of the Act reiterating the view taken in the State of Punjab Vs. Balwant Singh & Ors.(Supra), observed as under :-
“The source from which she inherits the property is always important and that would govern the situation. Otherwise persons who are not even remotely related to the person who originally held the property would acquire rights to inherit that property. That would defeat the intent and purpose of sub-Section 2 of Section 15, which gives a special pattern of succession. “
Applying the above settled legal proposition to the facts of the case at hands, since the succession of the suit properties opened in 1967 upon death of Kupayee Ammal, the 1956 Act shall apply and thereby Ramasamy Gounder’s daughter’s being Class-I heirs of their father too shall also be heirs and entitled to 1/5th Share in each of the suit properties. Unfortunately, neither the Trial Court nor the High Court adverted itself to the settled legal propositions which are squarely applicable in the facts and circumstances of the case.
Thus, the impugned judgment and decree dated 01.03.1994 passed by the Trial Court and confirmed by the High Court vide judgment and order dated 21.01.2009 are not liable to be sustained and are hereby set aside. The appeal, accordingly, stands allowed and the suit stands decreed.
The court has dismissed the case and ruled in favour of the petitioner i.e. daughter