In a significant judgement, the Supreme Court has held that inherited property of a female Hindu dying issueless and intestate will either go to the heirs of her parents or husband.
“The basic aim of the legislature in enacting section 15(2) of the Hindu Succession Act is to ensure that inherited property of a female Hindu dying issueless and intestate, goes back to the source,” it says.
According to the bench, the main scheme of this Act is to establish complete equality between males and females regarding property rights. The rights of the female were declared absolute, altogether abolishing all notions of a limited estate.
The Act brought about changes in the law of succession among Hindus and gave rights which were, till then, unknown about women’s property, the SC says, adding, “The legislative intent of enacting section 14 (I) of the Act was to remedy the limitation of a Hindu woman who could not claim an absolute interest in the properties inherited by her but only had a life interest in the estate so inherited.”
Section 15(1)(d) provides that failing all heirs of the female specified in entries (a)-(c), but not until then, and all her property howsoever acquired will devolve upon the heirs of the father. The devolution upon the father’s heirs should be in the same order and according to the same rules as would have applied if the property had belonged to the father and he had died intestate in respect thereof immediately after her death.
“The Act applies to every person, who is a Hindu by religion in any of its forms including a Virashaiva, a Lingayat or a follower of the Brahmo, Prarthana or Arya Samaj and even to any person who is Buddhist, Jain, or Sikh by religion excepting one who is Muslim, Christian, Parsi or Jew by religion,” the division bench says.
On 12 December 1938, one Marappa Gounder had bought one property through court auction. Marappa had one brother, Ramasamy Gounder. After the death of Marappa, his property was inherited by his daughter Kuppayee Ammal. She died in 1967, after which all the five children of Ramasamy Gounder, namely, Gurunatha Gounder, Thangammal, Ramayeeammal, Elayammal and Nallammal, claimed that they are the heirs in equal of Kuppayee and entitled to one-fifth share each.
PV Yogeswaran, counsel for the appellant, submitted that under the Hindu Law, a daughter is not disqualified from inheriting the separate property of her father and when a male Hindu dies without a son leaving only a daughter, his separate property would devolve upon the daughter through succession and the property will not devolve upon brother’s son through survivorship and the Courts below have wrongly applied the principles of Hindu Law and dismissed the suit.
KK Mani, the counsel representing respondents, contended that the property in question was purchased by Marappa Gounder in court auction sale out of the family funds and thus, it was joint property, and on his death, since he had no male heir, the defendant as a coparcener succeeded to the estate.
The bench noted that the right of a widow or daughter to inherit the self-acquired property or share received in a partition of a coparcenary property of a Hindu male dying intestate is well recognised not only under the old customary Hindu law but also by various judicial pronouncements.
The Act lays down a uniform and comprehensive system of inheritance and applies inter-alia to persons governed by the Mitakshara and Dayabhaga Schools and those governed previously by the Murumakkattayam, Aliyasantana, and Nambudri Laws, the SC added.
The SC observed that in the case at hand, since the property in question was admittedly the self-acquired property of Marappa Gounder despite the family being in a state of jointness upon his death intestate, his sole surviving daughter Kupayee Ammal, will inherit the same by inheritance and the property shall not devolve by survivorship.
“In the present case since the succession of the suit properties opened in 1967 upon the death of Kupayee Ammal, the 1956 Act shall apply, and thereby Ramasamy Gounder’s daughters being class-I heirs of their father too shall be heirs and entitled to one-fifth share each in the suit properties,” it says.
While setting aside verdicts passed by Madras High Court and the trial court, the SC says, “Unfortunately, neither the trial court nor the High Court adverted itself to the settled legal propositions which are squarely applicable in the facts and circumstances of the case.”