Hindu Succession Act - HUF Property Is Presumed For Be For Widow's Maintenance When She Has Its Settled & Exclusive Possession : Supreme Court

Update: 2022-05-22 07:31 GMT

The Supreme Court observed that settled exclusive possession of a property of Hindu Undivided Family(HUf) by a widow would create a presumption that such property was earmarked for realization of her pre-existing right of maintenance.

This is more particularly when the surviving coparcener did not earmark any alternative property for recognizing her pre-existing right of maintenance, the bench comprising Justices Ajay Rastogi and Bela M. Trivedi observed.

The plaintiff Daulalji filed the suit seeking possession of the suit property alongwith the mesne profits, against the defendant Bhonri Devi, widow of Late Shri Dhannalalji and against the other defendants, who were the tenants in the suit property. The plaintiff Daulalji claimed that after the death of Harinarayanji, he being the only male member in the family as well as the legatee under the Will of Harinarayanji, had become the sole owner of the suit property and, therefore, was entitled to recover the possession of the suit property from the defendant No.1 Bhonri Devi, who had no legal right or interest in the suit property. The defendant filed written statement contending that she being the wife of Dhannalalji and daughter-in-law of Ganeshnarayanji, and thus, was in possession of the suit property as an owner and was maintaining herself from the income derived from the suit property. It was also contended that the limited right vested in her favour in the suit property, had enlarged into full ownership by virtue of Section 14(1) of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, which came into force on 17.06.1956. The suit was decreed by the Trial Court. Later, allowing the appeal, the High Court held that after the death of Shri Ganeshnarayanji in 1938, a limited right in the suit property was created in favour of Bhonri Devi and that the said Bhonri Devi had a right of maintenance even under the old Shastric Law, which had fructified into a full right under Section 14(1) of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956.

The issue thus raised before the Apex Court was whether Bhonri Devi had become an absolute owner on coming into force 15 the Act of 1956?

The court noted Section 14(1) along with the Explanation thereto, the bench noted

"in order to become a full owner and not a limited owner, of a property by virtue of Section 14(1), a female Hindu, before or after the commencement of Act of 1956, must be in possession of the property, and it must have been acquired by her 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, or any such property must have been held by her as stridhana immediately before the commencement of the Act."

Referring to the judgments in V.Tulasamma and other vs. Sesha Reddy(Dead) [(1977) 3 SCC 99] and Raghubar Singh & Ors vs Gulab Singh & Ors [(1998) 6 SCC 314], the court observed:

There remains no shadow of doubt that a Hindu woman's right to maintenance was not and is not an empty formality or an illusory claim being conceded as a matter of grace and generosity. It is a tangible right against the property, which flows from the spiritual relationship between the husband and the wife. The said right was recognised and enjoined by pure Shastric Hindu Law, which existed even 21 before the passing of the 1937 or the 1946 Acts. Those Acts merely gave statutory backing recognising the position as was existing under the Shastric Hindu Law. Where a Hindu widow is in possession of the property of her husband or of the husband's HUF, she has a right to be maintained out of the said property. She is entitled to retain the possession of that property in lieu of her right to maintenance. Section 14(1) and the Explanation thereto envisages liberal construction in favour of the females, with the object of advancing and promoting the socio-economic ends sought to be achieved by the said legislation. As explained in V.Tulasamma (supra) case, the words "possessed by" used in Section 14(1) are of the widest possible amplitude and include the state of owning a property, even though the Hindu woman is not in actual or physical possession of the same. Of course, it is equally well settled that the possession of the widow, must be under some vestige of a claim, right or title, because the section does not contemplate the possession of any rank trespasser without any right or title.

The court noted that Bhonri devi was in possession of the suit house before and after the death of Harinarayanji in 1953 and had continued to remain in possession thereafter and was collecting rent from the tenants who were in occupation of part of the suit premises since 1955, till the date of filing of the suit in 1965 by the plaintiff Daulalji. Her pre-existing right to maintenance, coupled with her settled legal possession of the property, would be sufficient to create a presumption that she had a vestige of right or claim in the property, though no document was executed or specific charge was created in her favour recognizing her right to maintenance in the property, the court said. While dismissing the appeal, the bench observed:

"Hindu woman's right to maintenance is a tangible right against the property which flows from the spiritual relationship between the husband and the wife. Such right was recognized and enjoined under the Shastric Hindu Law, long before the passing of the 1937 and the 1946 Acts. Where a Hindu widow is found to be in exclusive settled legal possession of the HUF property, that itself would create a presumption that such property was earmarked for realization of her pre-existing right of maintenance, more particularly when the surviving co-parcener did not earmark any alternative property for recognizing her pre-existing right of maintenance. The word "possessed by" and "acquired" used in Section 14(1) are of the widest amplitude and include the state of owning a property. It is by virtue of Section 14(1) of the Act of 1956, that the Hindu widow's limited interest gets automatically enlarged into an absolute right, when such property is possessed by her whether acquired before or after the commencement of 1956 Act in lieu of her right to maintenance."

Related judgment -Limited Estate Given To Hindu Wife By Way Of Will Can Become Absolute Under Sec14(1) Hindu Succession Act Only If Property Was Given For Her Maintenance: Supreme Court

Case details

Munni Devi Alias Nathi Devi (D) vs Rajendra Alias Lallu Lal (D) |   2022 LiveLaw (SC) 515 | CA 5894 OF 2019 | 18 May 2022

Coram: Justices Ajay Rastogi and Bela M. Trivedi

Counsel: Adv Puneet Jain for appellant, Sr. Adv Pallav Shishodia for respondents

Headnotes

Hindu Succession Act, 1956 ; Section 14(1) - Where a Hindu widow is found to be in exclusive settled legal possession of the HUF property, that itself would create a presumption that such property was earmarked for realization of her pre-existing right of maintenance, more particularly when the surviving co-parcener did not earmark any alternative property for recognizing her pre-existing right of maintenance. (Para 20)

Hindu Succession Act, 1956 ; Section 14(1)-  The words "possessed by" used in Section 14(1) are of the widest possible amplitude and include the state of owning a property, even though the Hindu woman is not in actual or physical possession of the same - The possession of the widow, must be under some vestige of a claim, right or title, because the section does not contemplate the possession of any rank trespasser without any right or title. [Referred to V.Tulasamma and other vs. Sesha Reddy(Dead) (1977) 3 SCC 99, Raghubar Singh & Ors vs Gulab Singh & Ors (1998) 6 SCC 314 ] (Para 14) 

Hindu Law - Hindu woman's right to maintenance is a tangible right against the property which flows from the spiritual relationship between the husband and the wife. Such right was recognized and enjoined under the Shastric Hindu Law - It was not and is not an empty formality or an illusory claim being conceded as a matter of grace and generosity. (Para 14,20)

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