Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In a family property dispute wherein the legitimacy of one of the contenders was questioned, the bench of SA Nazeer and Vikram Nath, JJ has held that if a man and a woman live together for long years as husband and wife, there would be a presumption in favour of wedlock and since in the present case, the defendants had failed to rebut the presumption in favour of a marriage between the plaintiff’s parents on account of their long co-habitation, he cannot be held to be an illegitimate son.

In the case at hand, the suit property belonged to a family governed by the Mitakshara Law of Inheritance. The said property originally belonged to one Kattukandi Edathil Kanaran Vaidyar who had   four sons, namely, Damodaran, Achuthan, Sekharan and Narayanan. Achuthan had a son. Sekharan and Narayanan did not marry. Damodaran married one Chiruthakutty and they had a son by the name of Krishnan. However, the defendants contended that Damodaran never married Chiruthakutty and hence, by virtue of illegitimacy, Krishnan, the first plaintiff, cannot claim share in the property.

The Trial Court on examination of the evidence on record held that Damodaran had a long co-habitation with Chiruthakutty and that due to such co-habitation, it could be concluded that Damodaran had married Chiruthakutty and that the first plaintiff was the son born in the said wedlock.  The Trial Court accordingly passed a preliminary decree for partition of the suit property into two shares and one such share was allotted to the plaintiffs.

The Kerala High Court, however, held that the first plaintiff was the son of Damodaran and Chiruthakutty, but not a legitimate son.

Before the Supreme Court, the plaintiff argued that since their marriage took place more than 50 years prior to filing of the suit (now 90 years), there is no possibility of having any documentary evidence of their marriage. He, however, produced documents wherein there were references to periodical payments made to Chiruthakutty from the husband’s house. Witnesses also examined on behalf of the plaintiffs in support of his contention. Hence, it was submitted that the documents would conclusively show that the first plaintiff was the son of Damodaran and Chiruthakutty and the contention of the defendants that Damodaran died as a bachelor or without any legitimate son, cannot be believed at all.

At the outset, the Court reiterated the settled law that if a man and a woman live together for long years as husband and wife, there would be a presumption in favour of wedlock. Such a presumption could be drawn under Section 114 of the Evidence Act. Although, the presumption is rebuttable, a heavy burden lies on him who seek to deprive the relationship of legal origin to prove that no marriage took place.

Coming to the facts of the case, the Court took note of the contention of the plaintiffs that the marriage of Damodaran and Chiruthakutty was performed in the year 1940. There was clear evidence that the first plaintiff was born on 12.05.1942. The documents produced by the plaintiffs were in existence long before the controversy arose between the parties. Hence, these documents, coupled with the evidence of witnessed, showed the long duration of cohabitation between Damodaran and Chiruthakutty  as husband and wife.

The Court held that the defendants failed to rebut the presumption in favour of a marriage between Damodaran and Chiruthakutty on account of their long co-habitation. Hence, the impugned judgment of the High Court was set aside and the judgment and decree passed by the Trial Court was restored.

[Kattukandi Edathil Krishnan v. Kattukandi Edathil Valsan, 2022 SCC OnLine SC 737, decided on 13.06.2022]


*Judgment by: Justice SA Nazeer


For plaintiffs: Senior Advocate V. Chitambaresh

For defendants: Senior Advocates R. Basant and V. Giri

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In a case where a portion of a joint Hindu Family was alienated ‘out of love and affection’ by way of a gift deed, the bench of SA Nazeer* and Krishna Murari, JJ has explained the scope of powers of members of Joint Hindu Family and has held that a Hindu father or any other managing member of a HUF has power to make a gift of ancestral property only for a ‘pious purpose’.

In the case at hand, a gift deed was executed by the Karta of a Joint Hindi Family in favour of the appellant, who was raised by the Karta, ‘out of love and affection’ and by virtue of which the appellant was given a portion of the joint family property.

The Court, however, held that a Hindu father or any other managing member of a HUF has power to make a gift of ancestral property only for a ‘pious purpose’ and what is understood by the term ‘pious purpose’ is a gift for charitable and/or religious purpose. Therefore, a deed of gift in regard to the ancestral property executed ‘out of love and affection’ does not come within the scope of the term ‘pious purpose’.

Observing that it is irrelevant if such gift or settlement was made by a donor in favour of a donee who was raised by the donor without any relationship, the Court held that the gift deed in the instant case was not for any charitable or religious purpose.

[KC Laxmana v. KC Chandrappa Gowda, 2022 SCC OnLine SC 471, decided on 19.04.2022]


*Judgment by: Justice SA Nazeer


Counsels

For appellant/Donee: Advocate Anand Sanjay M. Nuli

For Respondent/Plaintiff: Senior Advocate Arvind Varma

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The bench of SA Nazeer and Krishna Murari*, JJ has held that if a female Hindu dies intestate without leaving any issue, then the property inherited by her from her father or mother would go to the heirs of her father whereas the property inherited from her husband or father-in-law would go to the heirs of the husband. However, if she dies leaving behind her husband or any issue, then Section 15(1)(a) of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 comes into operation and the properties left behind including the properties which she inherited from her parents would devolve simultaneously upon her husband and her issues as provided in Section 15(1)(a) of the Act.

Scheme of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 and the relevant provisions

The main scheme of the Act is to establish complete equality between male and female with regard to property rights and the rights of the female were declared absolute, completely 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 in relation to women’s property. 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 also to those governed previously by the Murumakkattayam, Aliyasantana and Nambudri Laws. 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 Pararthana 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 or Sikh by religion.

Section 15 lays down the general rules of succession in the case of female Hindus. The scheme of sub-Section (1) of Section 15 goes to show that property of Hindu females dying intestate is to devolve on her own heirs, the list whereof is enumerated in Clauses (a) to (e) of Section 15 (1). Sub-Section (2) of Section 15 carves out exceptions only with regard to property acquired through inheritance and further, the exception is confined to the property inherited by a Hindu female either from her father or mother, or from her husband, or from her father-in-law. The exceptions carved out by sub-Section (2) shall operate only in the event of the Hindu female dies without leaving any direct heirs, i.e., her son or daughter or children of the pre-deceased son or daughter.

The basic aim of the legislature in enacting Section 15(2) is to ensure that inherited property of a female Hindu dying issueless and intestate, goes back to the source.

Thus, if a female Hindu dies intestate without leaving any issue, then the property inherited by her from her father or mother would go to the heirs of her father whereas the property inherited from her husband or father-in-law would go to the heirs of the husband. In case, a female Hindu dies leaving behind her husband or any issue, then Section 15(1)(a) comes into operation and the properties left behind including the properties which she inherited from her parents would devolve simultaneously upon her husband and her issues as provided in Section 15(1)(a) of the Act.

Section 15(1)(d) provides that failing all heirs of the female specified in Entries (a)-(c), but not until then, all her property howsoever acquired will devolve upon the heirs of the father. The devolution upon the heirs of the father shall 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.

Applicability of the law on the case at hand

Suit for partition was filed by Thangammal, daughter of one Ramasamy Gounder, claiming 1/5th share in the suit property. The said Ramasamy Gounder had an elder brother by the name of Marappa Gounder. Ramasamy Gounder, predeceased his brother Marappa Gounder who died on 14.04.1957 leaving behind the sole daughter by the name of Kuppayee Ammal who also died issueless in 1967. Further case set up by the plaintiff/appellant was that after the death of Marappa Gounder, his property was inherited by Kuppayee Ammal and upon her death in 1967, all the five children of Ramasamy Gounder are heirs in equal of Kuppayee and entitled to 1/5th share each.

Noticeably Kupayee Ammal, after inheriting the suit property upon the death of Marappa Gounder, died after enforcement of Hindu Succession Act, 1956, which has amended and codified the Hindu Law relating to intestate succession among Hindus.

Since the property in question was admittedly the self-acquired property of Marappa Gounder despite the family being in 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.

Further, since the succession of the suit properties opened in 1967 upon death of Kupayee Ammal, the 1956 Act shall apply and thereby Ramasamy Gounder’s daughter’s being Class-I heirs of their father too shall also be heirs and entitled to 1/5th Share in each of the suit properties.

[Arunachala Gounder v. Ponnusamy, 2022 SCC OnLine SC 72, decided on 20.01.2022]


*Judgment by: Justice Krishna Murari


Counsels

For appellant: Advocate P.V. Yogeswaran

For respondent: Advocate K.K. Mani

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In a suit where the Karta of a Joint Hindu Family, consisting of himself, his wife and his son, had alienated a property due to legal necessity without the signature of his son, the bench of MR Shah and Sanjiv Khanna*, JJ that the Karta was entitled to execute the agreement to sell and even alienate the suit property and the absence of signature of a coparcener would not nullify the rights and liabilities arising from the agreement to sell.

Factual Background

In the case at hand, one K. Veluswamy, as a Karta of the joint Hindu family, executed the agreement to sell of the suit property for Rs.29 lakhs and had received Rs.4 lakhs in advance from the appellant. His son, V. Manjunath, challenged the alienation and the Karnataka High Court gave him a favourable verdict.

While accepting that K. Veluswamy did execute the agreement to sell for the suit property for Rs.29 lakhs and had received Rs.4 lakhs as advance, the Karnataka High Court held that the agreement to sell is unenforceable as the suit property belongs to the joint Hindu family consisting of three persons, K. Veluswamy, his wife V. Manimegala and his son V. Manjunath and, therefore, could not have been executed without the signatures of V. Manjunath.

Analysis

The Supreme Court took note of the agreement to sell which stated that the subject property is a joint Hindu family property, enjoyed jointly and that the Katha is in the joint names. The executants were in need of funds to meet the domestic necessities and, consequently, had agreed to sell the suit property. As per the agreement, if any dispute arose with regard to the sale transaction, it would be solved by the executants personally at their own risk and cost. Furthery, if there was any loan, mortgage, revenue arrears, etc. over the property, the same shall be cleared by the executants so as to execute and register the sale deed in favour of the appellant. However, the agreement to sell does mention that it would be also executed by V. Manjunath.

Important rulings on right of the Karta to execute agreement to sell or sale deed of a joint Hindu family property

Sri Narayan Bal v. Sridhar Sutar, (1996) 8 SCC 54

A joint Hindu family is capable of acting through its Karta or adult member of the family in management of the joint Hindu family property. A coparcener who has right to claim a share in the joint Hindu family estate cannot seek injunction against the Karta restraining him from dealing with or entering into a transaction from sale of the joint Hindu family property, albeit post alienation has a right to challenge the alienation if the same is not for legal necessity or for betterment of the estate. Where a Karta has alienated a joint Hindu family property for value either for legal necessity or benefit of the estate it would bind the interest of all undivided members of the family even when they are minors or widows. There are no specific grounds that establish the existence of legal necessity and the existence of legal necessity depends upon facts of each case. The Karta enjoys wide discretion in his decision over existence of legal necessity and as to in what way such necessity can be fulfilled. The exercise of powers given the rights of the Karta on fulfilling the requirement of legal necessity or betterment of the estate is valid and binding on other coparceners.

Kehar Singh (D) v. Nachittar Kaur, (2018) 14 SCC 445

Once the factum of existence of legal necessity stood proved, then, in our view, no co-coparcener (son) has a right to challenge the sale made by the karta of his family. The plaintiff being a son was one of the co-coparceners along with his father Pritam Singh. He had no right to challenge such sale in the light of findings of legal necessity being recorded against him. It was more so when the plaintiff failed to prove by any evidence that there was no legal necessity for sale of the suit land or that the evidence adduced by the defendants to prove the factum of existence of legal necessity was either insufficient or irrelevant or no evidence at all.

Ruling on facts

Considering the settled legal position, the Court held that signatures of V. Manjunath, son of Karta – K. Veluswamy, on the agreement to sell were not required. K. Veluswamy being the Karta was entitled to execute the agreement to sell and even alienate the suit property. Absence of signatures of V. Manjunath would not matter and is inconsequential. 

[Beereddy Dasaratharami Reddy v. V. Manjunath, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 1236, decided on 13.12.2021]


*Judgment by: Justice Sanjiv Khanna

Know Thy Judge | Justice Sanjiv Khanna