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Movva Subba Rao and anr. Vs. Movva Krishna Prasadam Minor by Padyala Muthaiya and anr. - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectFamily;Property
CourtChennai High Court
Decided On
Case NumberCivil Revn. Petn. No. 815 of 1951
Judge
Reported inAIR1954Mad227; (1953)2MLJ561
ActsHindu Women's Rights to Property Act, 1937 - Sections 3, 3(2) and 3(3); Hindu Law
AppellantMovva Subba Rao and anr.
RespondentMovva Krishna Prasadam Minor by Padyala Muthaiya and anr.
Appellant AdvocateA. Raghaviah, Adv.
Respondent AdvocateY.G. Krishnamurthi, Adv.
Cases ReferredKunja Sahu v. Bhagaban Mohanty
Excerpt:
.....rights to property act (xviii of 1937), sub-sections, 2 and 3 of section 3--effect and scope of --widow's right under the act--nauture and extent of--coparcener's right of survivorship revives on widow's death;the true purpose of section 3(3) of the hindu women's rights to property act (xviii of 1937), is not to confer rights on persons other than the widow, but to limit her rights over the estate to which she becomes entitled under section 3(2).;seciton 3(2) does not operate as a severance of the interest of the deceased coparcener, and the right which the widow gets under the section is not as heir of her husband. it is a statutory right based on the recognition of the principle of, hindu law that the widow is the surviving half of the husband.;the right obtained by the wodow is one..........in the property the same interest as he himself had. section 3 (3): any interest devolving on a hindu widow under the provisions of this section shall be the limited interest known as a hindu woman's estate, provided however that she shall have the same right of claiming partition as a male owner."2. the argument is that section 3(2) completely puts an end to the right of survivorship possessed by the coparceners under the law as it stood prior to the act and has in consequence the effect of causing severance in status of the deceased coparcener; that the provision in section .3 (3) that the widow is to take a woman's estate means that after her death the estate will devolve on her husband's heirs, the contention be-ing that it is an incident of a woman's estate that it should revert.....
Judgment:
1. This revision has been referred by Basheer Ahmed sayeed J., for the decision of a Bench as it raises a question of considerable importance under the Hindu women's Rights to Property Act, 18 of 1937. The facts are simple. One Nagiah and his three sons Subba Rao, Sitaramayya ana Sri Krishnaiah were memoers of a joint undivided Hindu family. On 22-5-1945, Sri Krish-naiah died leaving behind a widow Ramaba-namma und a daughter Krisnna Prasadam pos-tnumously born. On 17-11-1950, Ramabanamma instituted a suit under the provisions of the Hindu Women's Rights to Property Act, hereinafter referred to as the Act, for partition of her husband's one-fourth share in the joint family properties which were set out in schedules B and C to the plaint and also for maintenance past and future at Rs. 250 per annum. That was O. S. No. 274 of 1950 on the file of the Court of the District Munsif, Tenali. Defendants 1 and 2 in the suit are the surviving brothers of the deceased Sri Krishniah and the third defendant Sitamma is the widow of Nagiah who had died before the suit. While the action was pending, the plaintiff died and thereupon I. A. No. 141 of 1951 was filed under Or. 22, R. 3, Civil P. C. for bringing on record her minor daughter Krishna Prasadam as the legal representative and for continuing the suit. The defendants resisted the application on the ground that the cause of action for partition under the Act and for maintenance was personal to the widow and that it did not survive to the daughter.

The learned District Munsif Held, following the opinion expressed by Mayne in his "Hindu Law and Usage" and certain observations occurring in the judgment of Viswanatha Sastri J. in --'Radha Ammal v. Commr. of Income-tax, Madras', (A), that on the death of the widow the estate devolved on the daughter as the heir of her father and accordingly ordered the application. It is the correctness of this view that is questioned by defendants 1 and 2 in this revision. The point for determination is whether on the death of the widow Rama-banamma, her husband's share survives to his coparceners, defendants l and 2, as contended by the petitioners or whether it devolves on his own heirs as maintained by the first respondent Krishna Prasadam. No authority directly deciding this question has been cited before us, but counsel on both sides relied on observations made in the course of Judgments in cases arising under the Act, as lending support to their respective contentions. The question, however, falls to be considered primarily on the construction of the relevant provisions of the Act because the right claimed by the respondent is not one recognised by the Hindu common law, but is wholly a creature of the Act and must be found within the four corners thereof. The contention of the first respondent is based on Sections 3(2) and 3(3) of the Act which runs as follows:

"Section 3(2): When a Hindu governed by any school of Hindu law other than the Dayabhaga school or by customary law dies having at the time of his death an interest in a Hindu joint family property, his widow shall, subject to the provisions of sub-sec. (3), have in the property the same interest as he himself had. Section 3 (3): Any interest devolving on a Hindu widow under the provisions of this section shall be the limited interest known as a Hindu woman's estate, provided however that she shall have the same right of claiming partition as a male owner."

2. The argument is that Section 3(2) completely puts an end to the right of survivorship possessed by the coparceners under the law as it stood prior to the Act and has in consequence the effect of causing severance in status of the deceased coparcener; that the provision in Section .3 (3) that the widow is to take a woman's estate means that after her death the estate will devolve on her husband's heirs, the contention be-ing that it is an incident of a woman's estate that it should revert to the heirs of the last male-holder and therefore, the daughter would take as heir and not the brothers as surviving coparceners. There is nothing, however, in the language of the Act to support the broad contention that the right of coparceners to take by survivorship is completely extinguished by Section 3(2) and that there results a severance of status by operation of the statute; nor is the argument that it is an incident of a woman's estate that it should revert to the heirs of the last maleholder quite accurate as a statement of the law.

3. Taking first the question as to the effect of Section 3 (2) on the right of survivorship, it may be noted that the section does not enact that the interest of a deceased coparcener shall devolve on his heirs as if he had become divided in status; nor does it declare that the coparceners shall have no right to take by survivorship. It is very guard-ed in its terms and limited in its operation; it merely provides that the widow shall have the same interest in the properties which her husband had. It is not a matter for surprise that a right conferred in such terms should have led to considerable controversy as to its true character and scope. Being a new right conferred in modification of the pre-existing law, the question came to be asked on what principle does this right rest; under what category of rights known to Hindu law is this right to be classed; what is its place in the Hindu jurisprudence and what are its legal incidents. Is it, that she becomes by force of Section 3(2) a coparcener with the right of survivorship? The decisions were unanimous that that was not her status. If she does not take as coparcener, then does she take it as heir? The question was answered in the affirmative in --'Jadaobai v. Puranmal', AIR 1944 Nag 243 at p. 245 (B), the reason being that the Hindu law knows of only two modes of succession--survivorship and inheritance and if survivorship is negatived there remained only the alternative of inheritance. The question there was whether a widow who sought to execute the decree obtained by her husband was bound to take out succession certificate. After holding that she was not a coparcener and did not take by survivorship, the learned Judges observed: "Survivorship having been ruled out the only other mode by which she will be clothed with the rights of her husband in the property, though to a limited extent, would be by succession or inheritance if she claims under the Hindu Women's Rights to Property Act." The question is whether there is anything in the language of the Act which supports the conclusion that the widow takes under Section 3(2) of the Act as the heir of her husband. If it was the intention of the Legislature that she should take as heir, it could have quite clearly expressed that intention by providing that she should inherit the estate as if the deceased had become divided in status without leaving, it to be gathered inferen-tially by a process of ratiocination. The language of Section 3(2) is, it must be conceded, not quite apt to convey the notion that the widow takes as heir, but it becomes intelligible and its true intent clear when recourse is had to a well-known text of Brihaspathi, the principle of which would appear to have been embodied in the section. That text runs as follows:

(Editor: The text of the vernacular matter has not been reproduced.

required.)

"When a person dies and his wife survives, half his body survives in her; when half the body of a person survives, how can another person take his property?"

According to Hindu theory, the widow is the surviving half of the deceased husband and it is on the basis of this theory that her status as heir which was at one time denied to her came to be recognised later. What the Legislature would appear to have done is to extend this theory to widows of coparceners in a Mitakshara Joint family and to have enacted that the interest of the husband will not lapse on his death, if there is a widow surviving because he is still in theory alive in his widow. The right of the widow being thus founded on the fiction that her husband continues to live in her, there can be no question of her succeeding as heir to her husband, for heirship arises only on the death of a person, whereas the basis of her title is that the husband continues to live in her. If this Is the principle underlying Section 3(2), then there can be no question of either severance of status by operation of law or of succession by the widow as heir. The true scope of Section 3(2) then is, that it modifies the preexisting law on the subject to this extent, that where under the law as it stood before the Act the Interest of the coparcener lapsed on his death, thereby augmenting the interest of the surviving coparceners, under that section the interest of the deceased coparcener does not lapse where he leaves a widow surviving. As against her, the right of the coparceners to take by survivorship is taken away. To this extent, the right of survivorship under the Mitakshara law is modified. It does not follow from this that that right has been abrogated altogether, for all times and against all persons. If a coparcener dies leaving behind a daughter and no widow, Section 3(2) has no application and the right of survivorship under the Mitakshara law stands unaffected. The precise effect of Section 3(2), therefore, seems to be that the right of survivorship which the coparceners had under the Hindu law prior to the Act is suspended as against the widow, but, in other respects, it still subsists and operates in accordance with the principles of Hindu law. The result is, that when once the widow dies, Section 3(2) has no further effect and the rights of the parties must be determined exactly as if there had been no interposition of the widow or as if the husband himself had died when the widow died. The right of the coparceners to take by survivorship which was in abeyance so long as the widow was alive comes into operation the moment she dies.

4. There is another reason why the contention of the first respondent that Section 3(2) effects a severance in status should be rejected. If Section 3(2) creates a division in status, then Interest of the deceased must descend on his heirs -- widow, daughter, daughter's sons and so forth. That would mean that the law of Mttakshara as to coparcenary is abrogated and in its place the Dayabhaga system is substituted. What Justification is there in the language of the enactment for holding that such a sweeping change was Intended? The declared object of the enactment is to confer better rights on women; and not to put an end to the Joint family system under the Mitakshara law. It is impossible to accept a construction which involves such far-reaching consequences without clear and unambiguous words in the statute.

5. It may also be noted that Section 3(2) in terms confers rights only on the widows of a deceased coparcener. This section has no application, as already stated, when the coparcener died leaving behind no widow but a daughter; under the section she will take nothing. On the construction contended for by the respondent, while the daughter will have a right of succession if the deceased coparcener left a widow surviving, she will have none if the wife predeceased the coparcener. It is impossible to reconcile this with the supposed intention of the Legislature that the interest of a deceased coparcener should devolve as if he had become divided in status. The true intention of the Legislature would appear to be to confer a benefit on the widow personally and not rights on other persons.

6. It was contended that even if Section 3(2) could not be construed as bringing about a division in status, the effect of Section 3(3) was to confer the estate on the respondent as the heir of her father and to bar the rights of defendants 1 and 2 to take the same by survivorship. The argument Is that the interest taken by a widow under Section 3(2) is described in Section 3(3) as what is known as "woman's estate" under the Hindu law; that one of the incidents which the law annexes to that estate is that on the death of the limited owner the estate devolves on the heirs of the last male-holder and that, therefore, the estate taken by the widow under Section 3(2) should devolve on her husband's heirs. The question is whether the words "woman's estate" in Section 3(3) import that the properties should devolve after the death of the widow on her husband's heirs. Reliance wss placed on the following passage in Mayne's Hindu law and Usage, 11th Edn. page 753:

"The distinctive feature of the estate is that, at her death, it reverts to the heirs of the last male owner, or to the heirs of the last full female owner in the case of Stridhana property."

With respect, it is not quite accurate to state that it is an incident of a woman's estate that it should revert to the heirs of the last maleholder. There may be considerable difficulty in describing the precise character of a woman's estate in terms of legal phraseology known to British jurisprudence. It is now a life estate as understood in that system; the widow is entitled to represent the estate in certain events; she is entitled to alienate it absolutely in case of necessity and for certain purposes recognised as proper under the law. But when all is said, the fact remains that a woman's estate is not an estate of inheritance and that is stated clearly enough by Mayne when he adds "she never becomes a fresh stock of descent". It is, therefore, a contradiction in terms to speak of woman's estate as reverting to the heirs of the last maleholder. In law, the woman's estate dies with her and there is nothing left of it which could revert. It is true that when the estate comes to an end the properties devolve on the heirs of the last maleholder. But that, however, is no more a distinctive feature of the woman's estate than is darkness a distinctive feature of the Sun, for the reason that when the Sun sets darkness comes on the scene. It would be erroneous to regard the expression "woman's estate" in Section 3(3) as enacting by implication that on the death of the widow the estate devolves on the heirs of her husband. That would in substance be substituting the Dayabhaga rule of succession in the place of the Mitakshara law of survivorship and for that, as already stated, there is no foundation in the statute. The true purpose of Section 3(3) is not to confer rights on persons other than the widow, but to limit her rights over the estate to which she becomes entitled under Section 3(2). The substance of the matter is that she cannot alienate the properties except for purposes recognised by Hindu law as proper and binding. Incidentally, it may be observed that if the widow takes as heir under Section 3(2), there is no need to enact a provision like Section 3(3) because as heir the widow will take only a woman's estate. On the other hand, if the widow takes as the surviving half of her husband, it may be open to argument whether she is not entitled to alienate the property absolutely in the same manner as her husband and the need for such a provision as it contained in Section 3(3) becomes obvious.

7. Having discussed the question with reference to the language of the statute, we may now turn to the authorities bearing on the question. In -- 'Natarajan Chettiar v. Perumal Ammal', AIR 1943 Mad 246 at p. 246 (C), the payee of a promissory note died leaving behind a widow and two sons who endorsed the note in favour of the plaintiff. One of the defences to the action was that the widow became entitled to a share in the promissory note under Section 3(2) as the heir of her husband and that without a succession certificate the suit was not maintainable. In overruling this contention Horwill J. observed;

"I agree with the learned advocate for the respondents that the widow does not obtain the right given under this section by survivorship. She was not a coparcener before her husband's death and she was not one afterwards. I do not however think that it follows that because the widow does not obtain her right by survivorship that she must obtain it by inheritance. The effect of Section 3 clauses (2) and (3) may be regaled as a survival of the husband's persona in the wife, giving her the same rights as her husband had except that she can alienate property only under certain circumstances. As the widow did not inherit her right, succession certificate is necessary."

We are in entire agreement with the reasoning & with all respect we do not agree with the contrary conclusion reached in -- 'AIR 1944 Nag 243 (B). In -- 'Satyanarayana Charlu v. Narasamma', AIR 1943 Mad 708 at p. 708 (D), the same learned Judge again observed:

"It does not follow that because the mother is not a coparcener and did not obtain the property by survivorship, she must have obtained it as an heir. She became entitled to her rights by statute."

In -- 'Seethamma v. Veerana Chetty', (E), where the question was whether a widow becoming entitled to an interest under Section 3(2) of the Act became a tenant-in-com-mon with the surviving coparceners and was entitled to call upon them to render an account of past management, the law was stated in the following terms:

"In our opinion, the status of a Hindu widow of a deceased member of a joint family governed by the Mitakshara under the provisions of the Act is not that of a coparcener but that of a member of the joint family with certain spe-cial statutory rights. The death of a coparcener who is a member of a Hindu joint family does not effect a severance or disruption of the joint family, merely because he leaves behind him a widow who has certain statutory rights under the Act. The widow cannot be regarded in any sense as the widow of a divided member. The result is that the joint family will continue as before except that the widow would have a special limited statutory right."

In -- 'Kallian Bai v. Kashinath', AIR 1943 All 188 at p. 189 (F), the payee of a promissory note died leaving behind two widows and a son. The question was whether the son was alone entitled to maintain the action without joining the two widows as co-plaintiffs. In answering the question in the affirmative, the learned Judges observed:

"The Act was intended to give better rights to women In respect of property that is the Preamble to the Act -- but there is no indication that the Act intended to interfere with the established law relating to joint family. What-ever inroads it may have made on the doctrine of survivorship, it does not effect a statutory severance or disruption of the joint family."

These authorities support the view which we have taken.

8. On behalf of the first respondent, reliance was placed firstly on the observations of Viswa-natha Sastri J. in -- (A)'. The point for decision in that case was whether a widow who becomes entitled to an in-terest in the estate under the Act becomes a coparcener and can claim to be a 'Kartha' of the joint family. Both Satyanarayana Rao and Viswa-natha Sastri JJ. negatived that claim. We are in agreement with this decision. In the course of the judgment, Viswanatha Sastri J. observed as follows:

"A widow who takes her husband's estate under Act 18 of 1937 gets it only by inheritance according to the rule prescribed by statute and not by survivorship."

and again

"It is specifically declared that the interest which she takes is only a Hindu woman's estate and that means, that on her death, it could devolve on her husband's heirs who would take it as an ancestral property."

It will be noticed that these observations were not necessary for the decision of that case. The point now under consideration did not arise for determination therein and the observations cannot be taken to be considered dicta on the question. Counsel for the respondent relied next on the following observations of Jagannadhadas J. in --'Radhi Bewa v. Bhagwan Sahu', (SB) (G),

"It is now well settled that the Act has not the effect of introducing the widow as a coparcener into the joint family along with the other coparceners, that the widow gets the interest of her husband by succession as his heir and not by survivorship, but that no disruption of the coparcenary is effected thereby..... The interest which she gets from her husband in her hands being the limited interest of a Hindu woman's estate, is subject to alienation and devolution in me same way. It follows that while her interest is an interest in the joint family property, it is not a coparcenary interest -- it is only an ex-coparcenary interest. On her death, her interest in the Joint funny property, or the share therein which she may take on separation, does not prima facie, revert back to the joint family or coparcenary as such, but goes to the heirs of her husband as the fresh stock of descent."

It must be mentioned that the point for decision in that case was whether the widow of a coparcener who had died before the Act came into force could claim the benefit of that Act. Questions as to tne nature of the title which a widow gets under Section 3(2) and the course of devolution of that estate after her death did not arise for decision and the observations extracted above cannot, therefore, be taken to be considered pronouncements in the matter. On the other hand, this is what Ray C. J. observed on this question in the same case:

"On partition, the Karta's power of management and control would be kept in abeyance in regard to the property which has fallen to a widow, for such time as she remains in its possession..... When she dies the woman's estate goes back to the joint family if it exists. The conception of Hindu law is that after woman's estate terminates, the property goes back to the stock from where it had come, m the present case, the stock is the coparcenary and coparcenary property. It is the same interest that her husband had, that means, a coparcener's interest in the coparcenary property. There is absolutely no guarantee either in the implied conception or connotation underlying the idea of Hindu woman's estate or in the language of the Act thtt would warrant the conclusion that the property should go to her husband's heirs as his separate property, he being considered to be a fresh stock of descent for the purpose of inheritance."

Reference might also be made to the decision in -- 'Kunja Sahu v. Bhagaban Mohanty', AIR 1951 Orissa 33 at pp. 36 and 37 (H). There, the question was whether a widow had the power to alienate the interest which she got under Section 3(2) of the Act. In the course of the discussion, Ray C. J. observed:

"The rule of survivorship that stands in the way of widow succeeding to her husband's estate in a joint family property is suspended for her benefit";

and again

"The general effect of the Act is that the rule of survivorship is kept in abeyance".

The first respondent also strongly relied on the following passages in Mayne on "Hindu Law and Usage", 11th Edn. at page 708:

"The interest which devolves upon her is declared to be a Hindu Woman's estate. That means that on her death it will go to her husband's heirs which cannot mean all his coparceners. In other words, on her death whether before or after partition, her interest will go to her husband's male issues who will take it as ancestral property.....In the absence of her husband's male issue, her interest will pass to the daughter, daughter's son, or other heirs of her husband."

For the reasons already given, we are unable to agree with this statement of the law.

9. To sum up, Section 3(2) of the Act does not operate as severance of interest of the deceased coparce- ner; the right which a widow gets under that section is not as heir of her" deceased husband; it is a statutory right based on the recognition of the principle that a widow is the surviving half ef her deceased husband; that the incidents of that right are those specified in the Act; that such right is one personal to the widow and comes to an end on her death, that the estate which the widow takes under Section 3(2) does not, on her death, devolve on her husband's heirs; and that the right of the coparceners to take by survivorship is suspended as against the widow of a deceased coparcener and such right reasserts itself on her death.

10. In this view, it must be held that the right claimed by Ramabanamma for partition of a fourth share in the joint family properties specified in schedules B and C and the claim for future maintenance do not survive to the first respondent. To that extent the action abates. The claim for past maintenance including therein the claim up to the date of the death of Rama-banamma stands on a different footing and it is conceded that it survives to the first respondent. The order of the lower court bringing the first respondent on record as the legal representative will, therefore, be sustained only so far as the suit relates to past maintenance. The order of the lower court will be modified accordingly. We must add that no contention has been raised before us that even on the view put forward by the first respondent, her proper remedy is to file a separate suit, to enforce her rights and not to continue the action instituted by her mother.

11. In the circumstances, the parties will bear their own costs throughout.


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