A Division Bench of the Supreme Court comprising of Justice L. Nageshwara Rao and Justice Sanjiv Khanna while dismissing an appeal has held that Section 8 of the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, 1956 (HMG Act) that requires a guardian of a Hindu minor to seek the permission of the Court before he disposes of any immovable property of the minor will have no application when a Karta or adult head of the family alienates joint Hindu property even if one or more coparceners are minor.

A partition deed was executed which divided the joint Hindu family properties inter se the three branches of the family. [A family tree has been reproduced in paragraph 1 of the judgement of the SC depicting the genealogy table at the time of filing the suit]. Admittedly, the validity and legality of the partition deed was not in question.

A relinquishment deed was, thereafter, executed qua 6 acres 34 guntas in the suit property by M.R. Rajashekar and M.P. Basavaraju in favour of Patel Mallegowda. The plaintiffs filed a suit seeking a declaration to the effect that the relinquishment deed was null and void.

The case was premised on the fact that plaintiff No. 4 was minor at the time of execution of the deed and hence, the fourth defendant had no right to relinquish their shares. Hence, the property remained as joint Hindu family property and ought to be partitioned equally.

The Trial Court dismissed the suit as being barred by limitation and held that defendant No. 4, being the eldest male member, was entitled to execute the relinquishment deed on behalf of his branch of the family.

The Additional Sessions Judge decreed the suit holding that defendant No. 4 was not competent to execute the relinquishment deed and the same was void. It was also held that the suit was not barred by limitation.

A Regular Second Appeal was preferred. The High Court of Karnataka held that the relinquishment deed was not void ab initio and the suit was barred by limitation. Aggrieved by this decision, an appeal came to be filed before the Supreme Court.

The Court observed that the position in Hindu law is well settled. Sections 6 and 8 of the HMG Act are not to be viewed in isolation. They should be interpreted in harmony and conjunction. The HMG Act does not envisage a natural guardian of an undivided interest of a Hindu minor in a joint Hindu family property. The Court held that it does not affect the right of the Karta or head of branch to manage and deal with joint Hindu family property.

The Court held that as per Section 12, ordinarily, no guardian shall be appointed for an interest of the minor in joint Hindu family property, and it is only when there is no adult member in management of the property – a guardian could be appointed. It was observed that the adult family member may be a male or female, not necessarily the Karta.

The Court noted that provisions of Section 8 of the HMG Act that require a guardian of a Hindu minor to seek permission of the Court before any immovable property is to be disposed of, will have no application when a Karta or adult head of the family is alienating the joint property even if one or more coparcener(s) are minor. The Court noted that in view of express terms of Section 6 and 12, Section 8 would not apply where the joint property is sold/disposed by a Karta or head even when a minor has an undivided interest. The Court noted that a coparcener cannot seek an injunction restraining Karta from alienating the joint property but has a right to challenge the alienation.

The Court noted that the father and in the absence of the father, the eldest member of the branch is entitled to act as Karta in order to represent the branch of the family. The Court clarified the judgement in M. Arumugam v. Ammaniammal and Others, (2020) 11 SCC 103 and observed that in the said case, the Court was dealing with the pre-amended Section 6 of the Hindu Succession Act which postulates deemed partition upon the death of a coparcener.

The Court proceeded to deal with the second question, which was, whether as a Karta or head of branch, defendant No. 4 could have validly executed the relinquishment deed on behalf of the branch? The Court relied upon Thamma Venkata Subbamma (Dead) By LR v. Thamma Rattamma and Others, (1987) 3 SCC 294 wherein a distinction was carved out between gifts and relinquishment by a coparcener of his share and head of branch or Karta as representative. The Court held that the former is valid and legal if the relinquishment is in favour of all other coparceners. The Court noted that gift or relinquishment would also be valid if it is with prior consent of another coparcener. The Court made the following crucial observations:-

"… However, in the present case, other aspects have to be noticed to decide the relinquishment deed's validity. First, we must again refer to the superior power that the Karta enjoys and, consequently, his greater rights and duties than other members. A Karta can alienate the property when other coparceners have given consent. It is also settled that a Karta may alienate the joint family property for value, either for legal necessity or for the benefit of the estate, to bind the interests of all the undivided members of the family, whether they are adults or minors or widows. There are no specific grounds to prove the existence of legal necessity, and it must therefore depend on the facts of each case. A Karta has wide discretion in the decision over the existence of legal necessity and as to in what way such legal necessity can be fulfilled. However, it is observed this exercise of power and rights by Karta is not beyond challenge on the limited ground of lack of existence of legal necessity or absence of benefit to the estate."

The Court considered the evidence on record and observed that documents are to be construed having regard to context and labels given to them will not carry much relevance. The Court held that in its opinion the relinquishment deed cannot be declared as null and void.

On the question of limitation, the Court noted that Article 60 would not apply as this was not a case of transfer of property by a guardian or ward. The Court held that as per Article 109, the suit ought to be filed within 12 years when alienee takes possession of the property. The Court noted that the suit would be barred by limitation as it was after 24 years of the relinquishment deed. For the same reason, the Court noted that the suit would be barred under Article 58 and 59 of the Limitation Act.

Hence, the Court upheld the judgement of the High Court and dismissed the suit as being barred by limitation.

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