Such a role (as manager) necessarily has to be distinguished from that of a Karta which position the Hindu widow cannot assume by virtue of her disentitlement to be a coparcener in the HUF of her husband. Regrettably the position remains unaltered even after the amendment of the Hindu Succession Act in 2005, the bench said.
Supreme Court has given quietest to a property dispute between cousins of a family in Uttar Pradesh, which arose in a suit filed in 1978. The Apex court bench comprising of Justices Ranjan Gogoi and N.V. Ramana held that, though a women could not be treated as Karta of a joint family, she can be a manager of a joint family, in some particular circumstances. The bench also held that the expression ‘Manager’ can be understood as denoting a role distinct from that of the Karta from that of the Karta.
Hari Shankar Vidhyarthi had two wives, Savitri and Rama. Ashok was born to Savitri and two daughters, Sri Lekha and Madhulekha was born to Rama. Shreya is the adopted daughter of Sri Lekha.
In 1978, a suit for permanent injunction and partition was filed by Ashok Vidhyarthi against Sri Lekha Vidhyarthi, his cousin. According to the plaintiff, Rama Vidyarthi (His step mother) had managed the day to day affairs of the entire family which was living jointly. It was further pleaded that Rama Vidyarthi received a sum of Rs. 33,000/- out of the insurance policy, as a nominee to policy taken by Hari Shankar Vidhyarthi, which were amounts were utilized to purchase the suit property. According to the defendants, the suit property was purchased by their mother Rama Vidyarthi from her own funds and not from any joint family funds. Defendants denied existence of any joint family or the availability of any joint family funds. Trial court dismissed the suit and the High court reversed the order of dismissal and decreed the suit. The present appeal is filed by Shreya, adopted daughter of the defendant, Sri Lekha.
The issue in this appeal before the Apex Court was whether the suit property was purchased by the defendant Rama Vidyarthi out of the joint family funds or from her own income? The natural question which arises here is whether, a widow can act as Karta of a joint family and purchase properties for the Joint family?
‘Manager’ and ‘Karta’ are not synonymous
The court said “While there can be no doubt that a Hindu Widow is not a coparcener in the HUF of her husband and, therefore, cannot act as Karta of the HUF after the death of her husband the two expressions i.e. Karta and Manager may be understood to be not synonymous and the expression “Manager” may be understood as denoting a role distinct from that of the Karta from that of the Karta. Hypothetically, we may take the case of HUF where the male adult coparcener has died and there is no male coparcener surviving or as in the facts of the present case, where the sole male coparcener (plaintiff - Ashok Vidyarthi) is a minor. In such a situation obviously the HUF does not come to an end. The mother of the male coparcener can act as the legal guardian of the minor and also look after his role as the Karta in her capacity as his (minor’s) legal guardian.”
The court added that such a role as manager of the family has to be distinguished from that of a Karta which position the Hindu widow cannot assume by virtue of her dis-entitlement to be a coparcener in the HUF of her husband.
Sale deed of the property in dispute is in the name of Rama Vidyarthi and there is no mention therein that, she was acting on behalf of the joint family. The court held that High Court was right in reading this sale deed with reference to the young age of the plaintiff (21 years) which may have inhibited any objection to the dominant position of Rama Vidyarthi in the joint family.
Read the Judgment here.