On Thursday, the Supreme Court held that the self-acquired property of a Hindu male dying intestate would devolve by inheritance and not succession and a daughter would be entitled to inherit such property, or property obtained in the partition of a coparcenary or a family property.
The Supreme Court, on Thursday, held that a daughter of a male Hindu dying intestate would be entitled to inherit that male’s self-acquired property or property obtained in the partition of a coparcenary or a family property.
The judgment, pronounced in the case of Arunachala Gounder vs. Ponnuswamy, was given by a two-judge bench comprising Justices S. Abdul Nazeer and Krishna Murari. The bench pronounced the judgment in an appeal filed against a January 1, 2009 order of the Madras High Court, dismissing the appeal against the trial court judgment. Both the trial court and the high court found that the daughter was not eligible to inherit such property.
The facts of the case
Marappa Gounder, the late male Hindu in question, passed away in 1949, leaving behind his sole daughter Kuppayee Ammal, who also died, issueless, in 1967. The property in question was the late Marappa Gounder’s self-acquired property, purchased independently in 1938 through a court auction.
The suit for partition was filed by late Marappa Gounder’s brother’s daughter. The plaintiff, one of the five heirs of the late Marappa Gounder’s brother, filed the suit on the ground that upon Marappa Gounder’s death, his property was inherited by his daughter Kuppayee Ammal. Whereas subsequent to Kuppayee Ammal’s death in 1967, late Marappa Gounder’s brother’s five children (one son and four daughters, including the plaintiff) were equally entitled to 1/5th share each of the property.
Whereas the defendants submitted that as per the provisions of the Hindu law prevailing prior to 1956, late Marappa Gounder’s brother’s son was his sole heir and inherited the suit properties and was in possession and enjoyment of the same, succeeded by his legal representatives upon his demise.
The view of the trial court and the High Court
The trial court, after considering the evidence, came to the conclusion that the suit property would devolve upon the sole son of the deceased’s brother, by survivorship and that the brother’s daughters had no right to file the suit for partition. The findings of the trial court were also confirmed by the High Court in the first appeal.
The Supreme Court’s view and analysis
The issue, before the Supreme Court, for consideration, was whether the late Marappa Gounder’s sole surviving daughter Kuppayee Ammal would inherit the self-acquired property by inheritance or it would devolve by survivorship, upon the father dying intestate, prior to the enactment of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 (HSA).
Referring to customary Hindu law as well as judicial pronouncements, the bench observed that the rights of female heirs, especially the wives and daughters are recognised in law.
The Court pointed out that, as per the Mitakshara law, the property of a Hindu male is devolved upon his death, keeping in mind the following propositions:
“(1) Where the deceased was, at the time of the death, a member of joint and undivided family, technically called coparcenary, his undivided interest in the coparcenary property devolves on his coparceners by survivorship.
(2) (i) Even if the deceased was joint at the time of his death, he might have left self-acquired or separate property. Such property goes to his heirs by succession and not to his coparceners;
(ii) If the deceased was at the time of his death, the sole surviving member of a coparcenary property, the whole of his property, including the coparcenary property, will pass to his heirs by succession ;
(iii) If the deceased was separate at the time of his death from his coparceners, the whole of his property, however acquired, will pass to his heirs by succession ;
(3) If the deceased was re-united at the time of his death, his property will pass to his heirs by succession.”
The bench further held that in the case of Gopal Singh v Ujagar Singh,(1954), it was observed by the Supreme Court that “the daughter succeeds to the self-acquired property of her father in preference to collaterals”.
The Court, therefore, proceeded to hold that if a property of a male Hindu dying intestate is a self-acquired property or obtained in the partition of a coparcenary 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.
On the Hindu Succession Act, 1956
With regard to the enactment of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, the Court remarked that the main scheme of the HSA was 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.
Discussing in detail Sections 14 (property of a female Hindu to be her absolute property) and 15 (general rules of succession in the case of female Hindus) of the HSA, the Court remarked that the legislative intent of enacting Section 14(1) was to remedy the limitation of a Hindu woman who could not claim an absolute interest in the properties inherited by her but only had a life interest in the estate so inherited.
Whereas, Section 15(1) of the HSA goes to show that the property of Hindu females dying intestate is to devolve on her own heirs, as per the enumerated list in the sub-section. Section 15(2) carves out exceptions to this, only with regard to property acquired through inheritance and is confined to the property inherited by a Hindu female either from her father or mother, or husband or father-in-law and where she dies without any heirs.
If a female Hindu thus dies intestate and issueless, the property inherited 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. If a female Hindu dies leaving behind her husband or any issue, then Section 15(1)(a) would come 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 HSA.
The Court, in its conclusions, observed that 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.