Kerala High Court: A Full Bench of A.M. Shaffique, Sunil Thomas and Gopinath, JJ., held that there is no limitation period for wife/divorced wife to claim her property entrusted to husband/in-laws given in the form of dowry or otherwise.
Questions involved was:
Whether trust created by a wife entrusting her property to her husband gets extinguished after the dissolution of marriage and whether she can initiate proceedings invoking Section 10 of the Limitation Act, 1963 without any limitation of time?
For the above-stated question, reference was made to the decision of Bindu K.P. v. Surendran C.K., [2018 (2) KHC 1] wherein it was held that claim of the wife or ex-wife for a dowry is not barred by any length of time.
Counsel for the appellant Sri S.K. Balachandran placed the following decision before the Court:
- Swapna v. Thankavelu, 1990 SCC OnLine Ker 168: – In the above case, a Single Judge of this Court held that when valuable articles are entrusted by the wife to the husband for safe custody, the husband remains in the position as a trustee who is bound to account to the wife all her properties at any time when she demands. The aforesaid judgment was delivered following the Supreme Court judgment in Pratibha Rani v. Surajkumar, (1985) 2 SCC 370. It was further held that if the husband is a trustee, the wife is entitled to follow the property in the possession of the trustee, and Section 10 of the Limitation Act would apply.
- Chacko v. Annamma, (1985) 2 SCC 370: – In this case, the Division Bench of this Court approved Swapna’s case stated above. In the above case, on a detailed analysis of the relevant provisions including Section 10 of the Limitation Act and the provisions of the Trusts Act, overruling an earlier judgment in Annamma v. Thressiamma, 1971 SCC OnLine Ker 86, it was held that there is a creation of trust in respect of stridhanam property and therefore Section 10 applies.
- In Bhatacharjee v. Sarathi Choudhury, 1993 SCC OnLine Ker 13, while considering the impact of Section 12 of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, the Supreme Court held that as long as the status of the aggrieved person remains, and the stridhanam remains in the custody of the husband, the wife can put forth a claim under Section 12 of the Act.
Question involved in the above reference was the following:
When there is a change in circumstances between the spouses, especially when there is a dissolution of marriage and substantial time had elapsed, whether the trust created between them would be extinguished?
Section 10 of the Limitation Act states as follows:
“10. Suits against trustees and their representatives- Notwithstanding anything contained in the foregoing provisions of this Act, no suit against a person in whom property has become vested in trust for any specific purpose, or against his legal representatives or assigns (not being assigns for valuable consideration), for the purpose of following in his or their hands such property, or the proceeds thereof, or for an account of such property or proceeds, shall be barred by any length of time.
Explanation.-For the purposes of this section any property comprised in a Hindu, Muslim or Buddhist religious or charitable endowment shall be deemed to be property vested in trust for a specific purpose and the manager of the property shall be deemed to be the trustee thereof.”
In view of the decisions referred above, it is settled that,
when the wife entrusts with the husband any property belonging to her, a trust is created and the husband is bound to return the same to his wife. If the same is not returned, the wife has a right to demand the same by filing a suit or as in the present case, file an application before the Family Court or take other necessary steps under the relevant statutes in force.
When Section 10 of the Limitation Act indicates that there is no limitation for initiating any such action, in the absence of any other statute providing for a limitation, the trustee cannot take a contention that he shall not return the trust property on account of any period of limitation. The question posed is, when the relationship between the parties gets deranged and results in divorce, whether the trust gets extinguished and the divorced wife would be entitled to invoke Section 10 of the Limitation Act and file a suit at her will and pleasure at any point in time. In such an event, the questions to be considered are (i) whether a trust had been created at any point of time, (ii) if a trust has been created and the husband remains in the position of a trustee, whether it gets extinguished on the dissolution of marriage or under any other circumstances.
Under Section 77 of the Indian Trusts Act, 1882, a trust gets extinguished only under certain circumstances. Section 77 reads as under:
“77. Trust how extinguished.— A trust is extinguished—
(a) when its purpose is completely fulfilled; or
(b) when its purpose becomes unlawful; or
(c) when the fulfilment of its purpose becomes impossible by the destruction of the trust-property or otherwise; or
(d) when the trust, being revocable, is expressly revoked.”
Hence, unless any of the above-stated eventualities as mentioned take place, which is a question of fact to be decided on a case to case basis and once a trust is created, it continues to operate, even though marriage is dissolved. However, in an instance where there is an agreement between the parties settling the obligations arising from the trust, it gets fulfilled in terms of Section 77(a).
As per the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, when a statutory trust is created in respect of dowry, the principle aforestated shall apply.
Further, the Court added that, in the case of ornaments which are given in the form of dowry, definitely, a statutory trust is created. Even otherwise, if the ornaments owned by the wife do not form part of the dowry and if there is an entrustment of gold ornaments by the wife to the husband or his parents, a trust gets created, in which event, the trustee or trustees, as the case may be, are liable to return the same and there is no limitation for claiming the same by the wife/divorced wife.
In light of the above, the Court agreed with the law laid down in Chacko v. Annamma, (1993) 1 KLT 675 and upheld the view expressed in Bindu K.P. v. Surendran C.K., [2018 (2) KHC 1]. [Sheela K.K. v. N.G. Suresh, 2020 SCC OnLine Ker 4240, decided on 24-09-2020]