Hindu Widow's Limited Interest In Property Gets Enlarged Into Absolute Right U/s. 14(1) Of Hindu Succession Act - SC
A Supreme Court Bench of Justice Ajay Rastogi and Justice Bela M Trivedi upheld a judgment passed by the Rajasthan High Court, regarding property dispute and the right to maintenance of a Hindu window.
To that end, the Court opined that "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."
Senior Advocate Mr Pallav Shishodia appeared for the Respondents and Mr Puneet Jain appeared on behalf of the Appellants.
The original Plaintiff – Daulalji, filed the suit seeking possession of the suit property along with the mesne profits, against the original defendant - Smt. Bhonri Devi, widow of Late Shri Dhannalalji and against the other defendant Nos. 2 to Nos. 12, who were the tenants in the suit property. The suit property was an ancestral property in the hands of Harinarayanji and his brother Ganeshnarayanji.
Daulaji was adopted by Sri Bakshji, who was the great grandson of their common ancestor Gopalji. Dhannalalji, predeceased his father Ganeshnarayanji in 1936. Ganeshnarayanji's brother Harinarayanji died issueless shortly after the death of Ganeshnarayanji. Harinarayanji had executed a Will in favour of Daulaji, and upon his death, Daulaji had become the owner of the suit property along with other properties of Harinarayanji. However, upon the death of Harinarayanji, Bhonri Devi started harassing the Daulaji and therefore he left the suit property. Since then, Bhonri Devi was in possession of the suit property. The defendant Nos.2 to No.12 were the tenants in the part of suit property.
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 Bhonri Devi, who had no legal right or interest in the suit property.
The suit was resisted by Bhonri Devi, and she denied that any Will was executed by Harinarayanji in favour of the Daulalji.
Bhonri Devi and Daulaji died, and then the suit was prosecuted by the daughter of Daulaji – Munnidevi, and the nephews and niece of Bhonri Devi. The suit was decreed by the Trial Court, and the First Appeal was preferred by the representatives of Bhonri Devi. During the pendency, Munnidevi also died and her legal representatives were substituted in her place.
The First Appeal was allowed by the High Court, and then the representatives of Munni Devi, i.e., the Appellants, approached the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court opined that Bhonri Devi would not be conferred with the rights under Hindu Women's Right to Property Act, 1937, since her husband died in 1936. However, the court did take note of the right to maintenance of Hindu widow that was recognised in Shastric law, before the Act of 1937.
Placing reliance on a catena of judgments including V.Tulasamma and other vs. Sesha Reddy(Dead), the Court opined that a 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. To that end, the Court opined that the words "possessed by" used in Section 14(1) of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, 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. To that end, the Court opined that "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."
On perusing the documents on record, the Court found that the rent was being paid to Bhonri Devi, and she was also paying the house tax. Other government documents also reflected that Bhonri Devi was in possession of the suit house before and after the death of Harinarayanji.
To that end, the Court opined that "The afore-stated facts and circumstances clearly established that Bhonri devi had long settled possession of the suit property, which she had acquired in lieu of her pre-existing right to maintenance, prior to the commencement of the Act of 1956, which entitled her to become a full owner of the suit property by virtue of Section 14(1) of the said Act. Her exclusive possession of suit property after the death of Harinarayanji in 1953 i.e., prior to coming into force of the said Act in 1956, was not only not disputed but was admitted by the plaintiff Daulalji in the plaint itself. Her pre-existing right to maintenance from the estate of the HUF of her husband was also well established."
Therefore, the Supreme Court held that the High Court had rightly opined that Bhonri Devi had pre-existing right to maintenance in the suit property that had ripened into full ownership by virtue of Section 14(1) of the Act of 1956, and dismissed the Appeal for being devoid of merits.