Skip to content


The Commissioner of Income-tax Vs. Gomedalli Lakshminarayan - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectDirect Taxation
CourtMumbai
Decided On
Case Number Civil Reference No. 15 of 1934
Judge
Reported inAIR1935Bom412; (1935)37BOMLR692; 159Ind.Cas.424; [1935]3ITR367(Bom)
AppellantThe Commissioner of Income-tax
RespondentGomedalli Lakshminarayan
Excerpt:
.....section 55 - hindu undivided family-family consisting of the sole surviving coparcener and female members-income derived through survivorship is income of the family-super-tax-hindu law-distinction between hindu undivided family and coparcenery.;where an undivided hindu family consists of a person, his mother, and his wife, the income received by right of survivorship by the person as the sole surviving male member of the family is liable to be taxed as the income of a hindu undivided family for the purposes of super-tax under section 55 of the indian income-tax act, 1922, and not as his own individual income.;vedathanni v. commissioner of income-tax, madras (1932) i.l.r. 56 mad. 1, followed.;in re moolji sicka (1934) cal. unreported, dissented from.;there is a sharp distinction in..........the circumstances of the case, the income received by right of survivorship by the sole surviving male member of a hindu undivided family can be taxed in the hands of such male member as his own individual income, or it should be taxed; as the income of a hindu undivided family, for the purposes of assessment to super-tax, under section 55 of the indian income-tax act, 1922.2. the facts are that there was a joint hindu family consisting of a father and his wife and a son and his wife, the son being the present assessee. the father died in 1929 before the year of assessment, so the joint hindu family then consisted of the son, his mother and his wife, and the question raised by the commissioner appears to me to admit the existence of a joint hindu family. of such existence, i think,.....
Judgment:

John Beaumont, Kt., C.J.

1. This is a reference made by the Commissioner of Income-tax under Section 66(2) of the Indian Income-tax Act, and the first question Raised is,

Whether, in the circumstances of the case, the income received by right of survivorship by the sole surviving male member of a Hindu undivided family can be taxed in the hands of such male member as his own individual income, or it should be taxed; as the income of a Hindu undivided family, for the purposes of assessment to super-tax, under section 55 of the Indian Income-tax Act, 1922.

2. The facts are that there was a joint Hindu family consisting of a father and his wife and a son and his wife, the son being the present assessee. The father died in 1929 before the year of assessment, so the joint Hindu family then consisted of the son, his mother and his wife, and the question raised by the Commissioner appears to me to admit the existence of a joint Hindu family. Of such existence, I think, there can be no question. It is clear law that you may have a joint Hindu family consisting of one male member and female members who are entitled to maintenance, although that does not mean that every Hindu who possesses a wife and a mother is necessarily a member .of a joint Hindu family, as Mr. Justice Lort-Williams seems to think in the Calcutta case referred to below. The question raised is whether the assessee is to be assessed as an individual or as a member of the joint Hindu family, and the importance of the question lies in this, that for the purposes of super-tax he will be allowed a larger exemption if he is taxed as the manager of a joint Hindu family than if he is taxed as an individual.

3. The Income-tax Act refers in various sections to a Hindu undivided family, though that expression is nowhere defined. A Hindu undivided family is a unit for taxation under Sections 3 and 55, and under Section 14(1) it is provided that the tax shall not be payable by an assessee in respect of any sum which he receives as a member of a Hindu undivided family ; which seems to mean that as a Hindu undivided family is taxed as a unit, the individual members thereof are not liable to be charged in respect of what each member receives as his or her share of the joint income. The nature of a Hindu undivided family was perfectly well-known to the legislature when the Indian Income-tax Act was drafted, and it was well-known that the expression ' Hindu undivided family ' includes females, and is much wider than the expression ' coparcenery' which includes only the males in whom the joint family property is vested. It is argued by the Advocate General that the Act, dealing as it does with property, when it refers to a Hindu undivided family, really means to denote the coparceners, that is to say, male members of the family in whom the family property is vested. I see no ground for arriving at that conclusion, since the meaning of the two expressions was well-known when the Act was drafted, and the legislature has thought fit to use the wider expression rather than narrower one. I have no doubt that this was deliberate. The more liberal allowance to a joint family in respect of super-tax was presumably given because the whole income of the family would not go to one, individual. If there were a large number of male members, each member would get only a small portion of the income, and it would be hard to charge the family with super-tax merely because the joint income was over the limit at which super-tax commences for an individual. But the same principle would apply, though perhaps to a less extent, to the case of a Hindu joint family consisting of one male member and several female members entitled to maintenance, where maintenance might absorb a large share of the family income.

4. It has been held by a special bench of the Madras High Court in Veda-thanni v. Commissioner of Income-tax, Madras that one male member and the widows of deceased coparceners can form a joint Hindu family, and that therefore the arrears of maintenance received by a widow of a deceased coparcener are exempt from tax under Section 14 (1) of the Act. If we were to accept the view contended for by the Advocate General, I think we should have to differ from the basis of that decision, and I see no reason for so doing. We have also been referred to a decision, at present unreported, of a division bench of the Calcutta High Court consisting of Lort-Williams and Jack JJ. (In the matter of Moolji Sicka and five other assessees, decided on December 13, 1934). We have only an uncertified copy of the judgment, and therefore I hesitate to deal in any detail with the reasoning in the judgment, but the effect of the decision appears to be that references in the Income-tax Act to a Hindu undivided family should be read as referring to coparcenery. I am unable to agree with that view, which seems to me inconsistent with the words of the Act. I think, therefore, the first question submitted to us must be answered by saying that the income of the assessee should be taxed as the income of a Hindu undivided family for the purposes of super-tax under Section 55. The second question ' Whether, under the circumstances of the case, the assessment as levied in this case is in order ' must be answered in the negative.

5. The Commissioner to pay the costs of the assessee to be taxed by the Taxing Master on the Original Side scale.

Rangnekar, J.

6. The question raised on this reference is whether the assessee is liable to be taxed as an individual or as a representative of an undivided Hindu family. The importance of the question lies in the fact that an undivided Hindu family is treated as a single unit for assessment under Section 3 of the Act and is also entitled to a larger exemption in the matter of assessment to super-tax.

7. The facts are that the assessee, his father, mother and wife formed a joint Hindu family. They were possessed of ancestral property which on the death of his father devolved on the assesses by survivorship, and thereafter he and his widowed mother and his wife continued to live together as members of and undivided Hindu family.

8. Under Section 2(0) of the Income-tax Act a Hindu undivided family is included, under the definition of 'person', but has not been otherwise defined anywhere in the Act. In my opinion, therefore, the expression must be construed in the sense in which it is understood under the Hindu law.

9. Under the Hindu law, an undivided Hindu family is composed of (a) males, and (6) females. The males are (1) those that are lineally connected in the male line, (2) collaterals, (3) relations by adoption, and (4) poor dependants. The female members are (1) the wife or the 'widowed wife' of a male member, and (2) maiden daughters. The commentaries mention female-slaves and illegitimate sons also as being members of an undivided Hindu. family. I shall content myself by referring to two well-known text-books. Mayne in his work at p. 344 observes as follows :-

The whole body of such a family, consisting of males and females,.. .some of the members of which are coparceners, that is, persons who on partition would be entitled to demand a share, while others are only entitled to maintenance.

Then dealing with what is called coparcenery, the learned author at p. 347 observes :-

Now it is at this point that we see one of the most important distinctions.' between the coparcenary and the general body...

I think perhaps a more accurate description of what a Hindu undivided family means is given by Sir Dinshah Mulla in his Principles of Hindu Law, 7th-. Edition., at p. 230, in these words :-

A joint Hindu family consists of all persons lineally descended from a common? ancestor, and includes their wives and unmarried daughters.

10. An undivided Hindu family in this sense differs from what is called a Hindu coparcenery, which is a much narrower body. A Hindu coparcenery includes only those male members who take by birth an interest in the coparcenery property. This is what is known as apratibandha daya or unobstructed heritage, which devolves by survivorship. These are the three generations; next to the last holder in unbroken male descent.

11. The Crown contends that the assessee was the sole surviving coparcener and therefore free to deal with the property in any way he liked, and that being so, there was no undivided Hindu family. Now under the Hindu law undoubtedly the sole surviving coparcener has wider powers to deal with property which he takes by survivorship. But these powers are subject to well: recognised rights of the female members of the family. Thus the widow of a deceased coparcener has a right to be maintained out of the family property and a right to a due provision for her residence. An unmarried daughter has-a right to maintenance and residence and to marriage expenses. Similarly the disqualified heirs, as the blind, the deaf, etc., have similar rights. If the-rights of these persons are threatened, or if the holder of the estate is dealing: with the property in a manner inconsistent with or so as to endanger the rights of these persons, he may be restrained by a proper action from acting in that manner. Similarly, the widow of a deceased coparcener may adopt a son to her deceased husband and he would therefore become a coparcener with the sole surviving coparcener. Then the expenses of religious ceremonies such as the shraddha relating to deceased coparceners have also to come out Of the property. I need not refer to the other restrictions on the power of the sole surviving coparcener. Therefore because there is no coparcenery, it does not follow that there is no undivided Hindu family. The joint status of the family does not come to an end merely because for the time being there is only one member of the family who is in possession of the family property. It is clear, therefore, that there is a sharp distinction between what is understood in the Hindu law by the expressions ' undivided Hindu family ' and ' coparcenery '. Now these two expressions which are known to every Hindu lawyer were before the legislature when the Income-tax Act came to be enacted. It is a canon of construction that one cannot impute ignorance to legislature of well-known legal expressions. The legislature must be presumed to be acquainted with not only the actual state of the law but with the legal interpretation put upon technical expressions by the Courts. If then the legislature chose to adopt a wider expression like ' undivided Hindu family ' instead of the narrower one 'coparcenery', the Courts have no option left but to construe the wider expression in the way in which it has been construed and understood under the Hindu law. To put a narrower meaning on the expression ' undivided Hindu family ' as the Crown wants us to do, would, in my opinion, be legislating instead of interpreting the section. The view which we are taking is not without authority, and I need refer only to Vedathanni v. Commissioner of Income-tax, Madras I.L.R(1932) . 56 Mad. 1. It is said that that was a decision under Section 14(1) of the Income-tax Act; but reading the judgment carefully, it seems to me that the point which has arisen before us also arose before the Judges of the Madras High Court, and the whole ratio decidendi of that case is that the expression ' undivided Hindu family ' has to be understood in the sense in which it is understood in the Hindu law.

12. The learned Advocate General has referred to an unreported decision of the Calcutta High Court and produced an uncertified copy of the judgment. I have no hesitation in saying, with respect to the learned Judges in that case, that their reasoning does not appeal to me and is opposed to the fundamental principles of the Hindu law.

13. For these reasons, I agree that the questions raised must be answered in the manner proposed by my Lord the Chief Justice.


Save Judgments// Add Notes // Store Search Result sets // Organizer Client Files //