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Commissioner of Wealth-tax, Andhra Pradesh Vs. T. Yasodamma - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectDirect Taxation
CourtAndhra Pradesh High Court
Decided On
Case NumberCase Referred No. 11 of 1978
Judge
Reported in(1984)38CTR(AP)33; [1984]146ITR445(AP)
ActsWealth Tax Act, 1957 - Sections 27(1); Hindu Succession Act - Sections 8, 12 and 14; Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956 - Sections 8 and 12
AppellantCommissioner of Wealth-tax, Andhra Pradesh
RespondentT. Yasodamma
Appellant AdvocateM.S.N. Murthy, Adv.
Respondent AdvocateS. Dasaratharama Reddy, Adv.
Excerpt:
.....awarded by the tribunal was enhanced to rs.8,20,000/-. - it is well known that there can be no hindu joint family (except amongest nairs in malabar) cosisting of persons descended from a female ancestress. the supreme court answered this question by holding that even after the death of bhagirath the property in the hands of dulichand remained joint family property because bhagirath's widow was still alive and continued to enjoy the right of maintenance out of the joint family properties and hence when the 2nd plaintiff was adopted by bhagirath's widow, sitabai, the adopted son become a coparcener of dulichand in the said properties. authorities as well as the tribunal. 388) :i would also like to add that even without the adoption, on certain authorities of the supreme court and his..........by way of a partition becomes her absolute property. it is true that according to s. 8 of the hindu adoptions and maintenance act, the assessee is competent to adopt a boy but such an adoption does nor result in divesting her of the property which has already vested in her. proviso (c) to s. 12 of the said act expressly declares that though an adopted child shall be deemed to be the child of his or her adoptive father or mother for all purposes with effect from the date of the adoption, the adopted child shall not divest any person of any estate which vested in him or her before adoption. it may be noted that there is a distinction between an adoption made by a male hindu holding ancestral properties and a female hindu. if a male hindu holding ancestral properties makes an adoption,.....
Judgment:

Jeevan Reddy, J.

1. The question referred for our opinion under s. 27(1) of the W.T. Act, 1957, is :

'Whether, on the facts and in the circumstances of the case, the Appellate Tribunal was justified in holding that the status of the assessee is that of Hindu undivided family for the purpose of wealth-tax ?'

2. The assessee, Smt. T. Yasodamma, is the daughter-in-law of one T. Chinna Venkata Subbaiah. Her husband predeceased Chinna Venkata Subbaiah. On Novermber 2, 1970, a partition took place between Chinna Ventaka Subbaiah and the assessee. The assessee has an unmarried daughter. In the assessment proceedings under the W.T. Act, the assessee claimed that she together with her daughter constituted a Hindu undivided family and must be assessed as such. The relevant assessment years are 1971-72, 1972-73 and 1973-74. The WTO negatived her contention and assessed her as an individual. During the relevant years, exemption limit for an HUF was higher than that for the individual; that is why the controversy. On appeal, the AAC agreed with the WTO that the assessee cannot be said to constitute a Hindu undivided family merely because she had a daughter. On further appeal, the Tribunal, purporting to follow the decision of the Supreme Court in Smt. Sitabai v. Ramchandra, : [1970]2SCR1 , held that the assessee, together with her daughter, can be said to constitute an HUF and must be assessed as such. Thereupon, the Revenue asked for the obtained this reference. A fact which requires to be stated for the sake of clarity is that the assessee's husband died prior to the coming into force of the Hindu Succession Act. This fact was stated by the counsel for the assessee before us, after due verification.

3. Once the partition took place Chinna Ventaka Subbaiah and the assessee, she became the absolute owner of the property which fell to her share, by virtue of s. 14 of the Hindu Succession Act. According to s. 14, any property acquired by a female by way of a partition becomes her absolute property. It is true that according to s. 8 of the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, the assessee is competent to adopt a boy but such an adoption does nor result in divesting her of the property which has already vested in her. Proviso (c) to s. 12 of the said Act expressly declares that though an adopted child shall be deemed to be the child of his or her adoptive father or mother for all purposes with effect from the date of the adoption, the adopted child shall not divest any person of any estate which vested in him or her before adoption. It may be noted that there is a distinction between an adoption made by a male Hindu holding ancestral properties and a female Hindu. If a male Hindu holding ancestral properties makes an adoption, the adopted boy gets an equal right with his father in the ancestral properties the moment he is adopted. But where a female Hindu makes an adoption after the coming into force of the Hindu Succession Act, the adoption does not result in divedsting her of the property which is already vested in her and the adopted son does not get any right in that property by virtue of the adoption. Once this basic position is kept in mind, it would be clear that the capacity of or the possibility of - the assessee to adopt a boy, does not make any difference to the position obtaining in the relevant assessment years, viz., that she is the absolute owner of the properties and should be assessed only as an individual. Indeed, we find that there is a direct decision of the Orissa High Court on this point in Rukmini Bai Rathor v. CWT : [1964]54ITR430(Orissa) . After considering the several decisions of the Privy Council and the Indian High Courts and also the provisions of the Hidnu Succession Act, the learned judges observed as follows (p. 439) :

'The Hindu Succession Act has introduced far-reaching changes in the structure of the Hindu law of inheritance and succession, and a Hindu widow by virtue of section 14 of that Act, may become a 'fresh stock of descent', but as she has become full owner of her husband's properties, her children, if any, by her first husband, her adopted son if she cares to adopt, and her children if she gets married again, will all be her heirs and in that sense she and her children may form one joint family but none of them can have any right, by birth, in her property; and hence the Hindu joint family as ordinarily understood in Hindu law cannot be brought into existences. It is well known that there can be no Hindu joint family (except amongest Nairs in Malabar) cosisting of persons descended from a female ancestress. If Parliament intended that this new type of Hindu joint family should also be recognised as a Hindu undivided family when it passed the Wealth-tax Act in 1957, it would surely have made its intention clear by giving separate definition in the appropriate section of that Act. 'That was also a case where a Hindu widow successed to the properties which her deceased husband had obtained on partition and had become the absolute owner of such properties under s. 14 of the Hindu Succession Act. She was having a minor unmarried daughter entitled to maintenance from the assessee. Her contention was that she along with her minor unmarried daughter constituted HUF for the purposes of the W.T. Act, 1957. On the reasoning mentioned above, the plea was negatived.

4. We must now deal with the decision of the Supreme Court in Smt. Sitabai v. Ramchandra, : [1970]2SCR1 , from which the Tribunal has derived a principle contrary to the one we have stated above. It is necessary to briefly state the relevant facts to understand the principle enunciated therein. Dulichand and Bhagirath were brothers owning certain ancestral properties. Plaintiff, Sitabai, was the widow of Bhagirath, who pre-deceased Dulichand some time in 1930. After Bhagirath's death, Sitabai was living with Dulichand as a result of which connection an illegitimate child (defendant - Ramchandra) was bron in 1935. Dulichand died on March 13, 1958. Some time before the death of Dulichand, Sitabai adopted the second plaintiff, Suresh Chandra, and an adoption deed was executed on 4th March, 1958. After the death of Dulichand, Ramchandra took possession of the joint family properties whereupon Sitabai and her adopted son instituted the suit for ejectment of the defendant, Ramchandra, who it may be remembered, was the illegitimate son of Sitabai and Dulichand. Ramchandra, the defendant, constested the suit on the ground that Dulichand had in his lifetime surrendered the lands to the jagirdar, who made a resettlement of the same lands with the defendant. So far as the house was concerned, his contention was that Dulichand had executed a will bequeathing the said house exclusively to the defendant. When the matter came to the High Court it held that the 2nd plaintiff, the adopted son, become the son of Sitabai from the date of adoption but did not obtain any coparcenary interest in the joint family properties because, according to the High Court, on the date of adoption, Dulichand was the sole coparcener and there was nobody else to take a share in his property. The first question which the Supreme Court considered was whether the High Court was right in holding that the 2nd plaintiff did not become a coparcener of Dulichand in the joint family properties by virtue of his adoption. The Supreme Court answered this question by holding that even after the death of Bhagirath the property in the hands of Dulichand remained joint family property because Bhagirath's widow was still alive and continued to enjoy the right of maintenance out of the joint family properties and hence when the 2nd plaintiff was adopted by Bhagirath's widow, Sitabai, the adopted son become a coparcener of Dulichand in the said properties. The Surpeme Court then considered ss. 5 to 12 of the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956, and observed that the adoption of a child brings about a total severance of his ties in the family of his natural birth and he becomes a son in the adopted family with all the rights of a son. The adopted son becomes not only the son of the adopting mother but also the adoptive father though the adoptive father may not have but also alive on the date of adoption. But the Surpeme Court had no occassion in this case to consider whether the adopted son divests the adoptive mother of the properties of which she is the absolute owner and/or whether the adopted son gets share in the properties in the hands of the adoptive mother, by virtue of the adoption. The main distinguishing fact in the Supreme Court case is that on the date the 2nd plaintiff was adopted by Sitabai, Dulichand was alive and because Sitabai was alive and was entitled to maintienance out of the properties of which her husband was a coparcener, the character of the properties in the hands of Dulichand remained to be joint family properties. If so, the 2nd plaintiff on his adoption became a coparcener entitled to a half share in all the joint family properties. But that is not the situation here. Here he assessee has become the absolute owner and even if tomorrow she adopts a boy the adopted son would not, by virtue of the adoption, divest her nor would he have any rights in the assessee's properties by virtue of the adoption. We are, therefore, unable to see any principle in the decision of the Supreme Court which supports the Tribunal's view that, because she can make an adoption and bring a family into existence, she must be treated as an HUF.

5. We may in this connection refer to the subsequent decison of the Supreme Court in C. Krishana Prasad v. CIT : [1974]97ITR493(SC) , where it is held that family always means a group and that plurality of persons is an essential attribute of a family. A single person, whether male or female, it is held, does not constitute a family and that a family consisting of a single individual is a contradiction in terms.

6. We may finally refer to the decision of the Supreme Court in Surjit Lal Chandra v. CIT : [1975]101ITR776(SC) . After elaborately considering the principle of Hindu law and the several relevant decisions, Chandrachud J. (as he then was) observed that there are two classes of cases, each requiring a different approach. One category falling within the rule of Gowli Buddanna's case : [1966]60ITR293(SC) , is where property which belonged to a subsisting undivided family comes into the hands of and is owned by a sole surviving coparcener or where the family consists of widow of deceased coparceners as in the case of CIT v. Veerappa Chettiar : [1970]76ITR467(SC) . In this category of cases, merely because the joint family properties come to be owned by a sole surviving coparcener or by widows of the deceased coparceners, they do not cease to be joint family properties. The other category is represented by Kalyanji's case (Kalyanji Vithaldas v. CIT [1937] 54 ITR 90 where the property, which did not belong to a subsisting undivided Hindu family, acquires the character of joint family property in the hands of the assessee. In this category of cases, it was emphasised, the composition of the family is a matter of great relevance for, though a joint Hindu family may consist of a man, his wife and daughter, the mere existence of a wife and daughter will not justify the assessment of income from the joint family property in the states of the head as a manager of the joint family. But none of these two categories contemplate a case where a Hindu widow who is or becomes the absolute owner of the property in her hands, makes an adoption after the coming into force of the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act. In such a situation, as we have held above, there is no divesting and hence the widow cannot say that because she can make an adoption and thus bring a family into existence she must be assessed as an HUF.

7. MR. Dasaratharama Reddy, counsel for the assessee, relied upon a decision of the Patna High Court in Savitri Devi v. CIT : [1976]104ITR385(Patna) . That was also a case where a Hindu widow, who had become the absolute owner of her husbands's property by virtue of s. 14 of the Hindu Successions Act, made an adoption after the coming into force of the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956, and thereafter claimed that she must be assessed as an HUF. This claim was negatived by the W.T. authorities as well as the Tribunal. On a reference, the Patna High Court held that when the widow adopted the boy - and she had an unmarried daughter in existence - a joint Hindu family came into existence, even assuming that it was not existing before. It was therefore observed that she must be assessed as an HUF. Having so held, the court went further and observed (p. 388) :

'I would also like to add that even without the adoption, on certain authorities of the Supreme Court and his court, a joint Hindu family was existence consisting of the widow of Atmaram and her daughter. It is to be remembered that when Atmaram died his natural born son was surviving. Undoubtedly, the joint family was in existence or a Hindu undivided family was there, as a widow could adopt a child. In such a situation, on the authorities of this court in Panna Lal Rastogi v. Commissioner of Income-tax : [1967]65ITR592(Patna) and that of the Supreme Court in N. V. Narendranath v. Commissioner of Wealth-tax : [1969]74ITR190(SC) , it can be safely held that the Hindu undivided family was always in existence irrespective of the death of the natural born son of Atmaram or the adoption being made later.'

8. It is upon these observations that Mr. Dasaratharama Reddy relies. (In the Patna case, it may be stated, at the time of the death of the assessee's husband, a son born to them was in existence; he died unmarried before the coming into force of the Hindus Succession Act). With great respect to the learned judges of the Patna High Court we are unable to follow the principle behind the above observations. On the death of natural son and upon the coming into force of the Hindus Succession Act, the widow became the absolute owner. If so, it cannot be said that any joint family was still in existence. Moreover, s. 12(c) of the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act does not appear to have been brought to the notice of the learned judges. We are, therefore, unable to agree with the above observations. We are also of the opinion that the decision of the Supreme Court in N. V. Narendranath v. CWT : [1969]74ITR190(SC) , does not support the above reasoning. In this case, the Supreme Court held that there need not be at least two made members to form a Hindu undivided family as a taxable unit for the W.T. Act and that, under the Hindu system of law, a joint family may consist of a single male member and his wife and daughter(s). It was nowhere held in this decision that a Hindu widow who is or has become the absolute owner of the property and is having only an unmarried daughter, can claim to be assessed as an HUF, merely because she can adopt a boy in future.

9. The next decision relied upon is CWT. v. V. Pannalal Rastogi : [1974]96ITR110(Patna) The question considered in this case was whether a male member of a family, who received certain properties on a partition and whose family consisted only of himself and his wife (there being no issues) should be assessed as an HUF or should be assessed as an individual only. It was held that the should be assessed as an HUF. We see no analogy between that case and the case before us. There, a male member was in existence.

10. The last decision of the Supreme Court relied upon is CIT v. Veerappa Chettiar : [1970]76ITR467(SC) , where it is held that under the Hindu law it is not predicated of a Hindu joint family that there must be a male member in existence. Even after the death of the sole male member, so long as the property, which was originally of the joint Hindu family, remains in the hands of the widows of the members of the family and is not divided among them, the joint family continues. We are equally unable to see how this decision is of any help to the assessee herein.

11. For the above reasons we answer the question referred to us in the negative, that is, in favour of the Department and against the assessee. There will be no order as to costs.


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