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Rights of Daughter when Father dies Intestate- Supreme Court

April 15, 2022

By Lucy Rana and Devika Mehra

The Hon’ble Supreme Court in a recent judgment[1] dated January 20, 2022 laid considerable emphasis on the importance of customary hindu succession law while pronouncing that daughters have the complete right to inherit their father’s self-acquired property even if the father dies intestate. The Apex Court also observed that Hindu Succession Act, 1956 has specific provisions that ensure that where a woman dies intestate and issueless, her property must devolve back to the source i.e. to her husband’s family or to her parents, as the case may be.

History of Succession in India

The Hindu Succession Act, 1956 was enacted, in the post-independence India, to bring a halt to the succession related disputes that occurred in the lives of Hindus in the India that became after Independence from British rule in 1947. The Act made it clear that all properties of a Hindu male, be it ancestral / coparcenary property, or the self-acquired property, shall devolve upon the made heirs of the Hindu male, with an exception to the widow of the deceased who would have only limited estate in the property of the deceased with a right to claim partition. The line of thought behind this law was the customary practice that a daughter marries into a new family, leaving behind her family of birth and thereby placing her new family as per priority. Therefore, keeping this in view, the property must devolve upon the son so that the ownership over a family property remains within the family via the son and the ownership does not dilute via the daughter.

Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005

With time the independence of women from the male members of their families including father, grandfather, husband, brother, son, et al became a prominent subject. With the changing and evolving mindset came the necessity to bring about necessary changes in the laws in force. This laid the foundation and enactment of the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005 wherein it was established that the daughters, since their birth, have equal rights and liabilities as that of sons[2] in the joint family property i.e. a daughter had become a coparcener vis-à-vis the ancestral property.

Certain questions continued to remain unanswered regarding whether this amendment had a retrospective effect which were eventually addressed to by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India via various judgments. One such judgment[3] [4] stated that Section 6 of the Act would be applicable only when the coparcener and his daughter, both were alive on the date of commencement of the 2005 Amendment. In another judgment[5], the Hon’ble Supreme Court, while agreeing with the principles laid down in the Phulavati judgment (supra), held that the 2005 amendment confers upon the daughter of the coparcener in her own right in the same manner as the son and accordingly, the female coparcener was given a share upon partition even if the father had died before the 2005 amendment came in force.

Rights of daughter unobstructed

Putting a full stop to all these questions, the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Vineeta Sharma vs Rakesh Sharma & Ors.[6] held unobstructed heritage takes place by birth while obstructed heritage takes place after the death of the owner. Under Section 6 of the Act, the rights are given by birth which means that it is unobstructed heritage, independent of the owner’s death. A coparcener’s that the finding in Phulavati that the rights under Section 6 accrue to living daughters of living coparceners as on September 09, 2005 irrespective of when the daughter was born is misconceived. Phulavati judgment overlooked the concept of creation of coparcenary at birth and hence, the judgment was overruled. Accordingly, the decisions based on Phulavati judgment were also overruled while the Danamma judgment was partly overruled.

Arunachala Gounder (Dead) by LRs. Vs. Ponnusamy and Ors.

In yet another landmark judgment in Arunachala Gounder (Dead) by LRs. Vs. Ponnusamy and Ors.[7], the bench of Justices S. Abdul Nazeer and Krishna Murari of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India held that a daughter’s right to inherit the self-acquired property of the father who died intestate is recognized under the customary Hindu laws. The Hon’ble Supreme Court laid specific emphasis on the customary Hindu laws and judicial pronouncements observing that the right of a widow or a daughter to inherit the self-acquired property or the share received in partition of a coparcenary property by a Hindu male who died intestate is well recognized under the old customs of Hindu law as well as in various judicial pronouncements.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court in its judgment dated January 20, 2022 made the following observations:

A. The Mitakshara law also recognizes inheritance by succession. However, it only recognizes succession of property which was separately owned by an individual, male or female. Females were, however, included as heirs to this property by Mitakshara Law.
B. The Madras subschool recognized that large number of female heirs could inherit i.e. son’s daughter, daughter’s daughter, and the sister who were expressly named as heirs in the Act[8]. The agnates and cognates ranked as “Bandhus” in Bombay and Madras.
C. The primary and the most relevant observation made by the Hon’ble Supreme Court were the language of Section 14 and 15 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 wherein properties acquired and / or inherited by the Hindu Female from her in-laws would, upon her intestate and issueless demise, devolve back upon her marital relations, whereas the property that she acquired and / or inherited from her maternal and paternal relations would, upon her intestate and issueless demise, devolve back upon her paternal and maternal relations. Hence, the basic aim of Section 15(2) has been to ensure that all property devolving upon a Hindu female dying intestate and issueless is devolving back to the source.

Conclusion

The Hon’ble Court observed that the ancient text as well as the Smritis and Commentaries written by various renowned persons, as well as judicial pronouncements have recognized the rights of several female heirs, the wives and daughters, being foremost of them. The views of the Mitakshara laws on the matter are unmistakable and the Vijneshwara also nowhere endorses the view that women are incompetent to inherit.[9]

If the property of a male Hindu dying intestate i.e. without writing a will is a self-acquired property or obtained in partition of a coparcenery 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.

[1] Arunachala Gounder (Dead) by LRs. Vs. Ponnusamy and Ors. Civil Appeal No. 6659 of 2011 decided on January 20, 2022

[2] Section 6 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1996

[3] Prakash & Ors. vs Phulavayi & Ors. [(2016) 2 SCC 26]

[4] Mangammal vs. T.B. Raju [(2018) 15 SCC 662]

[5] Danamma @ Suman Surpur & Anr. Vs. Amar & Ors. [(2018 3 SCC 343]

[6] Diary No. 32061 of 2018

[7] Civil Appeal No. 6659 of 2011 decided on January 20, 2022

[8] Hindu Law of Inheritance (Amendment) Act, 1929

[9] Para 64-65 of the Judgment

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