A limited interest created in whatever form in favour of a widow who was having a pre-existing right of maintenance, becomes an absolute right by the operation of Section 14(1) of the Hindu Succession Act; Supreme Court

A limited interest created in whatever form in favour of a widow who was having a pre-existing right of maintenance, becomes an absolute right by the operation of Section 14(1) of the Hindu Succession Act; Supreme Court

Supreme Court has held that a limited interest created in whatever form, in favour of widow who was having a pre-existing right of maintenance becomes an absolute right by the operation of Section 14(1) of the Hindu Succession Act. Apex Court bench comprising of Justices M.Y. Eqbal and C. Nagappan dismissed an appeal and upheld the view adopted by High Court regarding Section 14 of the Hindu Succession Act.

Background Facts

For the sake of simplicity, the persons featured in this case are named in form of alphabetic letters. A had three wives, X,Y and Z. X and Y died during the lifetime of A. Among the wives of A, only Y had issues. A executed a will and bequeathed some property to Z as a life interest and after her life to his sons. Z in turn executed a Will and bequeathed the property to D, the defendant. Meanwhile, sole successor of A, his son sold his property to one P, the Plaintiff. The question before the court is whether the widow Z of the deceased A acquired an absolute interest in the property, which was transferred by A to her for life through a Will, by the operation of Section 14 of the Act. The Trial court had answered this question in favour of Plaintiff and High Court on appeal reversed it. Hence this appeal was filed by Plaintiff in Supreme Court.

The Law

Section 14 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 reads as follows

Property of a female Hindu to be her absolute property.—

(1) 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.

(2) 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 Will

Relevant portion of the Will of A reads as follows- “My third wife Veeraghavamma shall enjoy for life the tiled house with site and compound wall and with half right in the well covered by municipal D.No.6/875, Rajahmundry and after life time of my wife my 2nd son Narasimha Rao shall have the property with absolute rights such as gift, sale etc.”

Intention of Executant was to maintain his widow

The Court, after a holistic reading of the Will, held that the executant of the Will made arrangements for his third wife to maintain her enjoyment in the suit schedule property till her life. The intention of the executant is therefore clear that he gave the suit schedule property to his third wife Veeraraghavamma in order to hold and enjoy the suit property for her maintenance during her lifetime.

Property given in lieu of maintenance not hit by Section 14(2)

The court referred to its own decision in Nazar Singh and Others vs. Jagjit Kaur and Others, (1996) 1 SCC 35 wherein it was held that when a property is given to a female Hindu towards her maintenanceshe becomes the absolute owner thereof the moment she is placed in possession of the said property (unless, of course, she is already in possession) notwithstanding the limitations and restrictions contained in the instrument, grant or award whereunder the property is given to her. The court further said “Though no specific word has been mentioned in Exhibit A-2 that in lieu of maintenance life interest has been created in favour of Veeraraghavamma, in our opinion in whatever form a limited interest is created in her favour who was having a pre-existing right of maintenance, the same has become an absolute right by the operation of Section 14(1) of the Hindu Succession Act”.

No proof and pleadings needed to show occupation of bequeathed property

Although the counsel for appellant contended that in the absence of any pleading and proof to substantiate the plea that widow was occupying the property in lieu of maintenance, Section 14 will not be automatically attracted, the Court said that unless the factum of bequeathing the property in favour of the wife and her continuous possession are disputed, the question of pleading and proof does not arise.No one disputed the arrangement made in the Will and Veeraraghavamma continued to enjoy the said property in lieu of maintenance, the court observed.

Read the Judgment here.