Married Hindu woman can enter in settlement on her parental side

The Hindu Succession Act, 1956, governs the succession and inheritance laws for Hindus, along with Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs. It only applies to intestate succession (in the case of no will) and to anyone who converts to Hinduism. 

A wife has an entitlement to an equal share of the husband’s property and in the absence of other sharers, she has full right to the entire property. A Hindu woman is the sole owner and manager of her assets whether inherited, earned or gifted. 

Order

Section 15, sub-section(1) of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 lays out the order of inheritance of the property of a female Hindu dying intestate — (a) firstly, upon the sons and daughters (including the children of any pre-deceased son or daughter) and the husband; (b) secondly, upon the heirs of the husband; (c) thirdly, upon the mother and father; (d) fourthly, upon the heirs of the father; and (e) lastly, upon the heirs of the mother.

Case facts

In the present case, certain property was inherited by a woman, Jagno after her husband passed away without any children. Jagno, after enforcement of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 by virtue of Section 14 became the absolute owner of the half share of the suit property.

She then entered into a family settlement and settled the land in favour of her brothers’ sons. Her brother’s sons filed a civil suit in 1991 before the court of Sub-Judge, Gurgaon claiming a decree of declaration as owners in possession of the land in question. Jagno did not contest this claim and filed a written statement accepting the case of her brother’s sons. The trial court, therefore, passed a consent decree in favour of Jagno’s brother’s sons on August 19,1991.

However, her late husband’s relatives (plaintiff-appellants) disapproved of such transfer. They challenged the same but their suit was dismissed by the Trial Court, District Court, and the High Court resulting in the present appeal before the Supreme Court. They contended that a Hindu widow cannot constitute a Joint Hindu Family with the descendants of her brother, i.e., her parental side. They further submitted that a family settlement can take place only between members, who have antecedent title or pre-existing right in the property proposed to be settled.

Precedent

The respondents contended that the expression “family” for the purpose of family settlement should not be given any narrow meaning and that it should be given a wide meaning to cover the members, who by any means are related.

In Kale and Ors. Vs. Deputy Director of Consolidation (1976), the Court had held that the term “family” has wider understanding which includes not just close relations or legal heirs but even those with antecedent title, a semblance of a claim or spes successionis.

Ruling in present case

The Court placed reliance on Section 15(1)(d) of the Hindu Succession Act to hold that heirs of father of a Hindu female are not strangers but are ‘family’.

The court ruled in favour of the defendants-respondents. It observed as follows-

“A perusal of Section 15(1)(d) Hindu Succession Act, 1956 indicates that heirs of the father are covered in the heirs, who could succeed. When heirs of father of a female are included as person who can possibly succeed, it cannot be held that they are strangers and not the members of the family qua the female.”

Accordingly, the appeal was dismissed.

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