The Supreme Court has held that a sale of minor's property by guardian can be avoided only by filing a suit to set aside the deed within the period of limitation prescribed under Article 60 of the Limitation Act, which is three years from the date of attaining majority by the minor.
In case the minor has died before attaining majority, as it happened in the case before the SC, the legal representatives of the minor should bring the suit within 3 years from the date on which the minor would have attained majority.
The bench of Justice Ashok Bhushan and K M Joseph was dealing with an appeal by the plaintiffs in a suit for declaration of title and possession of immovable property. Notably, the plaintiffs omitted to seek the prayer for setting aside the sale deeds, which turned fatal to the case.
The plaintiffs were the cousins of one Palanivel, who died while still being a minor. Palanivel was bequeathed a property by Will executed by his grandfather Petha Gounder. Balaraman, father of Palanivel, executed sale deeds in respect of the property in 1981, on behalf of Palanivel, who was then a minor. Balaraman died in 1983. His son Palanivel died in 1986, as a minor. After that, in 1986, Palanivel's mother executed release deeds, giving plaintiffs absolute rights in respect of the property (which was already sold by Balaraman in 1981).
Based on the release deeds, the plaintiff filed the suit in 1992 against the defendants, who were conveyed the property in 1981 by Balaraman. Though the trial court decreed the suit, the appellate courts set it aside, leading the plaintiffs to move the SC.
Article 60 of Limitation Act applicable instead of Article 65
The appellate courts had held the suits to be time-barred. Since the suit property belonged to a minor, the sale deeds in respect of the property had to be invalidated by filing suit to set aside deeds within the period of three years from the date of attainment of majority by the minor as per Article 60 of Limitation Act, held the appellate courts.
In SC, the plainttifs-appellants contended that 12 years limitation period was applicable based on Article 65 of the Limitation Act. Since the sale deeds were executed without the permission of court, they were void ab initio, and there was no need to seek their cancellation, contended the plaintiffs.
But, the SC did not agree, and held that Article 60 was applicable in the case instead of Article 65. The judgment authored by Justice Ashok Bhushan held :
Now, coming to Article 65, on which reliance has been placed by learned counsel for the appellants. The said period of limitation is available when suit is filed for possession of immovable property on any interest therein based on title. The present is a case where by registered sale deeds the property was conveyed by the father of the minor was eonominee party. Thus, when sale deed was executed by Balaraman he purported to convey the right of the minor also. The sale deeds being voidable and not void, plaintiffs cannot rely on Article 65.
Sale of minor's property without Court's leave voidable and not void; So deed has to be set aside
The Court noted that as per Section 8(2) of the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act 1956, permission of the Court was necessary for the guardian to sell minor's property. Sale in violation of Section 8(2) is voidable as per Section 8(3). Therefore, the sale remains valid until set aside by the Court. A document which is voidable has to be actually set aside before taking its legal effect
Therefore, the Court ruled :
The alienations, which were voidable, at the instance of minor or on his behalf were required to be set aside before relief for possession can be claimed by the plaintiffs. Suit filed on behalf of the plaintiffs without seeking prayer for setting aside the sale deeds was, thus, not properly framed and could not have been decreed.
Release deed by mother of minor cannot avoid sale
The apex court further held that the release deed executed by the mother of the minor cannot give any rights to the plaintiffs, so long as the sale deeds were subsisting under law.
In the event of death of minor, any person claiming under the minor also can seek to set aside the sale deed, as per Section 8(3). But the mother has not done so, and has instead executed release deeds. The Court observed :
We are, thus, of the considered opinion that in the present case it was necessary for the person claiming through minor to bring an action within a period of three years from the date of the death of the minor to get sale deed executed by Balaraman set aside.
The Court concluded that that the sale deeds executed by Balaraman were not repudiated or avoided within the period of limitation as prescribed by law.
Hence, the appeals were dismissed.