Married woman’s heirs on paternal side are not strangers; she can enter in family settlement with such heirs: Supreme Court

Supreme Court: The bench of Ashok Bhushan* and R. Subhash Reddy, JJ has held that when heirs of father of a female are included as person who can possibly succeed, it cannot be held that they are strangers and not the members of the family qua the female.

Factual Summary and arguments 

In the present case, Shri Sher Singh, husband of Jagno had half share in the agricultural land situate in village Garhi Bajidpur, which was suit property. Sher Singh died in 1953. Jagno after enforcement of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 by virtue of Section 14 became the absolute owner of the half share of the suit property.

She had succeeded to half share in the agricultural land and she was the absolute owner when she entered into family settlement with her nephews i.e. sons of her brother.

It was contended by the appellants that no family settlement could have been entered by Jagno in favour of defendant Nos.1 to 3, they being strangers to the family. A Hindu widow cannot constitute a Joint Hindu Family with the descendants of her brother, i.e., her parental side. Family settlement can take place only between members, who have antecedent title or pre-existing right in the property proposed to be settled. Smt. Jagno could have transferred her absolute share in favour of the respondents or to any stranger only in accordance with law by complying with the provisions of the Transfer of Property Act, 1882, the Indian Registration Act, 1908 and the Indian Stamp Act, 7 1899.

Respondents, on the hand, argued that the defendants being brother’s sons of Jagno, they were not strangers to Jagno and family settlement could have been very well entered by Jagno with them. Also, the expression “family” for the purpose of family settlement is not to be given any narrow meaning; it should be given a wide meaning to cover the members, who are by any means related.

Analysis

In Kale. v. Deputy Director of Consolidation, (1976) 3 SCC 119, the Court had elaborately considered all contours of the family settlement. This Court laid down that term “family” has to be understood in a wider sense so as to include within its fold not only close relations or legal heirs but even those persons who may have some sort of antecedent title, a semblance of a claim or even if they have a spes successionis. In the said case, Kale, with whom the two sisters of his mother entered into family settlement was not a legal heir within meaning of U.P. Tenancy Act, 1939 but the family settlement entered with Kale was upheld by the Supreme Court.

Hindu Succession Act, 1956, Section 15, deals with the general rules of succession in the case of female Hindus for properties inherited by female Hindus, which are devolved in according to Sections 15 and 16.

“15. General rules of succession in the case of female Hindus.—

(1)The property of a female Hindu dying intestate shall devolve according to the rules set out in section 16,—

(a) firstly, upon the sons and daughters (including the children of any predeceased son or daughter) and the husband;

(b) secondly, upon the heirs of the husband;

(c) thirdly, upon the mother and father;

 (d) fourthly, upon the heirs of the father; and (e) lastly, upon the heirs of the mother.”

Hence, Section 15(1)(d) indicates that heirs of the father are covered in the heirs, who could succeed and when heirs of father of a female are included as person who can possibly succeed, it cannot be held that they are strangers and not the members of the family qua the female.

The Court, hence, held that  Jagno, who as a widow of Sher Singh, who had died in 1953, had succeeded to half share in the agricultural land and she was the absolute owner when she entered into settlement. Therefore, there is no merit in the submission that the defendants-respondents were strangers to the family.

[Khushi Ram v. Nawal Singh, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 128, decided on 22.02.2021]


*Judgment by: Justice Ashok Bhushan 

Appearances before the Court by:

For appellant – Advocate Ranbir Singh Yadav

For respondent – Senior Advocate Manoj Swarup

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