1. The first question referred to us by the Income-tax Commissioner is:
Whether maintenance and arrears of maintenance received by a widow of a member of a joint undivided Hindu family is not exempt from taxation under Section 14(1) and other sections of the Act.
2. The facts of the case may be briefly stated. The Vadapathimangalam family in East Tanjore District consisted of two brothers up to 1912, Somasundara and Ramalinga. Ramalinga died in December, 1912, leaving a widow. She is the assessee in this case and the reference to us was made at her instance. Somasundara died in January, 1925, leaving two widows. In July, 1925, an adoption was made to him. The adopted son, a minor, is now the sole male member of the family and holds the estate. Ramalinga's widow sued him for maintenance with arrears. The Subordinate Judge of Negapatam gave her a decree for maintenance at the rate of Rs. 6,000 per annum and for arrears amounting to Rs. 69,000. There was an appeal to the High Court. On appeal, the decree was confirmed by our brothers Curgenven and Sundaram Chetty, JJ. We are informed that leave to appeal to the Privy Council has been granted, but it is not necessary that this reference should wait till the Privy Council appeal is disposed of.
3. On the first question referred to us, the Commissioner stated his view as follows:
It has been represented to me that at one time the rights of a son's wife Or widow amounted to membership of the family with an interest in the family property. But modern judicial decisions have, I understand, modified the law as laid down in the Smriti texts. The effect of those decisions is that the petitioner cannot be said, on the facts of this case, to be a member of a Hindu undivided family. Nor can it be said that she received the maintenance allowance as a member of a Hindu undivided family for the widow of a deceased coparcener in an undivided family would be entitled to receive maintenance from the surviving members of the family although such, members become divided subsequently to her husband's death.
4. The Commissioner has not referred to any actual decisions. So far as the Hindu Law is concerned, there is little scope for any doubt. As to text-books, it is enough to refer to Strange's Hindu Law, Vol. I, page 171, where widows entitled to maintenance are referred to as dependent members of the family; Mayne's Hindu Law, Section 270, second paragraph; G.C. Sarkar's Hindu Law, 6th Edn., page 294, where female members of a joint family are enumerated inclusive of widows of male members, and Mulla's Hindu Law, page 550. It is enough to refer to the decision of the Privy Council in S.V.P. Raghunanda Deo v. S.B.K. Patta Deo . But this point does not require any elaboration as it is practically conceded by the learned advocate appearing for the Commissioner. But he contended that where the family has been reduced to a single male member, though there are a number of widows of deceased coparceners and other persons entitled to maintenance from him, there is no joint family. This is not the question referred to us by the Commissioner who assumes that there is an undivided Hindu family in the case. But even this contention I do not think is tenable. The passage already referred to from Mulla's Hindu Law relying on Surendra Nandan v. Sailaja Kant Das Mahapatra I.L.R. (1891) 18 Cal. 385 and the Privy Council decision in Bachoo Hurkisondas v. Mankorebai (1907) L.R. 34 IndAp 107 : I.L.R. 31 Bom. 373 : 17 M.L.J. 343 (P.C.) shows that there can be a joint family with a single member provided there are other members entitled to maintenance from the estate. It is unnecessary for us to express any opinion in this case on
(1) cases where there is a single male member and there are no widows of deceased coparceners entitled to maintenance;
(2) cases where the surviving male members effect a partition between themselves while continuing to pay maintenance to widows of deceased coparceners.
5. So far as the case before us is concerned, undoubtedly there is a joint family and also the petitioner in this case is entitled to maintenance as the widow of a deceased coparcener, and receives it as member of an undivided Hindu family.
6. The only further question that arises is, whether there is anything in the Income-tax Act which produces anomalous results if we adopt the above construction. Far from there being any anomaly we find the result is consonant with justice and purposes of the Act. The object and scope of Section 14 is to prevent the Crown from taxing twice over. If there is any section in the Act which enables the holder of the estate in making his return to deduct the amounts of maintenance paid by him to the widows of deceased coparceners, then the effect of the above construction would be to prevent the Crown from taxing the income even once. But it is'admitted before us that there is no such provision in the Act. If widows are not exempted by reason of the above construction, the Crown would undoubtedly be taxing twice over. Our construction makes the result consistent with the equities of the case.
7. Another contention referred to before us by the learned advocate is that the sole male member now holding the joint family property would himself be exempt from any taxation. I am unable to agree with this suggestion. He cannot be said to receive the income of the estate as member of an undivided family. He receives his income by reason of business or investment or from some other source. He does not receive the income from any other person by reason of his being a member of a joint family. The language of the section is strictly applicable only to widows of deceased coparceners, to disqualified heirs and maidens in the family receiving maintenance. This contention therefore is not tenable. I say nothing in this case about super-tax from a Hindu joint family.
8. The result is that the first question should be answered in favour of the petitioner. If this is answered, the other two questions do not arise.
9. My Lord the Chief Justice and Cornish, J., agree.
10. The petitioner will have his costs of this petition, viz., Rs. 250.
11. His deposit of Rs. 100 will be refunded to him.