1. The trial court and the appellate court have concurrently found against the plaintiff, the appellant herein, and dismissed his suit for possession and for means profits. As may be presently seen, the dismissal of the suit purely due to a failure of the courts below to understand the scope of Section 14(1) and Section 14(2) of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956.
2. The appellant's suit came to be filed in the following circumstances: One Ayyalu Naidu derived some properties in a family partition as evidenced by Ex. A-2 dated 26-9-1938. He had two wifes, Krishnachi Ammal who is the mother of the respondent and Krishnaveni Ammal, the mother of the appellant. He died on 10-1-1939 leaving the appellant as the sole copartner of the erstwhile joint family. The suit properties which are of an extent of 1.56 acres were given sometime after the death of Ayyalu Naidu to Krishnachi Ammal for enjoying the usufruct therefrom towards her maintenance Krishnachi Ammal died on 19-11-1969. Thereafter the appellant claimed that the properties should revert back to him and therefore, made a demand on the respondent to surrender possession. As the demand was refused, the appellant filed his suit. The contention of the appellant was that Krishnachi Ammal had no right whatever in the properties of his father and therefore, the entire properties left behind by Ayyalu Naidu had been inherited by him. The giving of the suit properties to Krishnachi Ammal in lieu of her maintenance was by a family arrangement and therefore, the right given to her got extinguished on her death and did not get enlarged under Section 14(1) of the Hindu Succession Act so as to entitle the respondent to claim a right over them.
3. The respondent raised various contentions in the suit. She firstly stated that her mother had a right in the properties left behind by Ayyalu Naidu and, therefore, the suit properties were taken by her mother in her own right and not as a result of any concession. It was her further case that the suit properties were not given to her mother in lieu of maintenance. A post-card, Ex B-21 dated 25-10-1955 written by the appellant to Krishnachi Ammal and the respondent was also projected to contend that therein the appellant had conceded the right and title of Krishnachi Ammal to the suit properties and therefore, he was estopped from going back on that admission and claim the properties as belonging to him. The last of the defence was that prior to the filing of the instant suit, the appellant had filed O.S. No. 103 of 1970 against the lessee in occupation of the lands and tried to recover possession from him and in that suit, it had been held that the appellant was not the lessor and therefore, the judgement in that suit would operate as res judicata.
4. The trial Judge as well as the appellate Judge took the view that by reason of the Hindu Women's Rights to Property Act, 1937, as extended to agricultural lands by the Hindu Women's Right to Property Act of 1947, Krishnachi Ammal was entitled to a share in her husband's properties and therefore, the limited estate derived by her, became enlarged by virtue of Section 14(1) of the Hindu Succession Act 1956. Alternately, they took the view that since the properties had been given to Krishnachi Ammal in lieu of maintenance, it must be held that the suit properties had been acquired by Krishnachi Ammal in lieu of maintenance and therefore, the case would fall under Section 14(1) of the Hindu Succession Act. The further finding was that the admission made by the appellant in the post-card written by him, would stop him from denying the respondent's title to the suit properties and setting up title in himself.
5. Mr. S. G. Ramachandra Iyer, the learned counsel for the appellant, contends that the judgments of the courts below are partly erroneous since each one of the findings against the appellant is not in accordance with law. It is firstly contended that Krishnachi Ammal could not have derived any right under the Hindu Women's Rights to Property Act, 1937, as amended by Act II of 1938 because the properties left behind by Ayyalu Naidu were all agricultural lands. It is further contended that the operation of the 1937 Act was extended to agricultural lands in the State of Tamil Nadu only by Madras Act 26 of 1947 and that Act did not have retrospective effect. Both these contentions have to be accepted as they are unassailable. Consequently it follows that on the death of Ayyalu Naidu in the year 1939, his windows were not entitled to claim any right in his properties and the entire properties would have been inherited by the appellant as the sole surviving coparcener. The courts below were, therefore, not correct in holding that by reason of the Hindu Women's Rights to Property Act, 1937 and Act 26 of 1947, Krishnachi Ammal became entitled to a share in the properties of her husband.
6. The other finding of the courts below that since the suit properties had been given to Krishnachi Ammal in lieu of maintenance, it has to be held that the case would fall under Section 14(1) of Act 30 of 1956 is also clearly erroneous. There are a number of pronouncements of this court as well as the Supreme Court which precisely point out the conditions and circumstances under which a female Hindu possessed of property as a limited owner could claim enlargement of the estate under the provisions of the Act. It is not every case of possession of property by a female Hindu that would attract the operation of Section 14(1). It is unnecessary for me to dilate more on the subject, as the position can be more succinctly set out by reference to the ratio in decided cases. Eramma v. Veerupana : 2SCR626 was a case where, after the death of a sole male holder in the year 1936-37, his two step-mothers got into possession of the properties left by him. The nearest heirs of the last male holder claimed the properties and filed a suit to recover possession. During the pendency of the proceedings, Act 30 of 1956 came to be enacted and there fore, the step-mothers claimed that they had become full owners of the properties in their possession. This contention was repelled by the Supreme Court and it was pointed out that they had no right whatever in the properties at the time of the last male holder's death and therefore, their possession of the properties could only be that of trespassers and therefore, they were not entitled to claim any enlargement of the estate. The Supreme Court then pointed out the circumstances under which a female Hindu can validly claim a property in her possession to have been acquired as contemplated under the Act, in the following words:
'The Explanation to sub-section (1) of Section 14 defines the word 'property' as including 'both movable and immovable property acquired by a female Hindu by inheritance or devise.......'. Sub-section (2) of Section 14 also refers to acquisition of property. It is true that the Explanation has not given any exhaustive connotation of the word 'property' but the word 'acquired' used in the Explanation and also in sub-section (2) of S. 14 clearly indicates that the object of the section is to make a Hindu female a full owner of the property which she has already acquired or which she acquire after the enforcement of the Act. It does not in any way confer a title on the female Hindu where she did not in fact possess any vestige of title.'
Yet another case, Naraini Devi v. Ramo Devi, : 3SCR55 also throws light on the scope and effect of sub-sections (1) and (2) of Section 14. That was a case where one Naraini Devi, whose husband died in the year 1925, was given certain properties in an award on January 4, 1946 for enjoyment during her life. The question then arose as to whether the properties given under that award would become her absolute properties by reason of Section 14(1) of the Hindu Succession Act. The Supreme Court held against the widow and observed as follows:
'In the present case, Smt. Naraini Devi's husband died in 1925. In the presence of her sons, the widow did not get any share or interest in the house left by her husband under the Hindu Law as then applicable. In short, she had no preexisting right or interest in the house in question. It was the award dated January 4, 1946 that created a restricted estate for her in the house in question. Her case thus falls squarely within the ambit of sub-section (2) of Section 14 of the Hindu Succession Act. Her interest, therefore, came to an end on her death which took place during the pendency of these proceedings.'
The ratio in this case would directly apply to the facts of the present case. Since Ayyalu Naidu died in 1939, long before Act 30 of 1956 was enacted, it follows that in the presence of the appellant the widows of Ayyalu Naidu did not get any share or interest in the lands left behind by him. The arrangement by which Krishnachi Ammal was subsequently given the suit properties in lieu of maintenance created only a restricted estate as referred to in Section 14(2) of the Act. The Courts below seem to have been influenced by the fact that the Hindu Women's Right to Property Act, 1937 was passed before the death of Ayyalu Naidu. But that enactment can have no impact whatever on the landed properties left behind by him. A right in agricultural lands was created in favour of Hindu women only by Act 30 of 1947 and therefore, any earlier death of a male holder will not confer on a Hindu woman a right in agricultural lands.
7. The Courts below also seem to have placed reliance on the decision of Ramamurti, J., in Chellammal v. Nallammal, : (1971)1MLJ439 to hold that Krishnachi Ammal had a vested interest in the properties of her husband. But, that judgment has been overruled by a Division Bench of this Court in S. Kachapalaya v. V. Subramania, AIR 1972 Mad 279. In that case the entire case law on the subject had been elaborately considered. After noticing Pattabiraman v. Parijatham Ammal, : AIR1970Mad257 , V.S. Reddi v. Tulasamma, : AIR1969AP300 , Gurunadham Chetti v. Navaneethamma, : AIR1967Mad429 and Thayammal v. Salammal, : AIR1972Mad83 , the Bench held that if a Hindu widow had obtained certain lands for maintenance for the first time under a compromise or a decree or award etc., she got only a life estate and not an absolute estate and as per the intendment of the parties at the time of the arrangement, the property would revert to the joint family and therefore, the case would fall under Section 14(2) of the Hindu Succession Act. In the light of these decisions, it may be seen once again that the giving of the properties to Krishnachi Ammal was limited and restricted grant and would not have the effect of enlarging her rights by reason of Section 14(1). At the time the lands were given to her, she had no pre-existing right to a share in her husband's properties and the sub-sequent grant could not have the effect of conferring on her a right which was non-existent. The grant was only for a limited purpose and for a limited time and would automatically cease when the time ran out. Unfortunately, the Courts below have construed the words 'acquired by a female Hindu............... in lieu of maintenance or arrears of maintenance occurring in the Explanation to Section 14(1) to mean that every case of possession of property by a female Hindu in lieu of maintenance would fall under Section 14(1). That is certainly not the law and that is not the provision contained in Section 14(1). A limited grant in lieu of maintenance would be nothing more than a restricted estate as contemplated in Section 14(2).
8. With regard to the other finding of the Courts below viz., that Ex. B-21 would operate as estoppel, that finding too is clearly unsustainable. The postcard was written in the year 1955 when Krishnachi Ammal was admittedly alive. Having regard to the fact that the suit lands had been given earlier to Krishnachi Ammal for enjoyment during her lifetime, it necessarily follows that the appellant had stated nothing more in the letter than acknowledging Krishnachi Ammal's right to be in possession of the lands during her lifetime. Merely because he has stated therein that the respondent was also entitled to the properties along with her mother, it cannot mean that the limited grant in favour of Krishnachi Ammal became enlarged into one of an absolute grant. In any event, there is no question of estoppel against title. In so far as the appellant's suit, O. S. No. 103 of 1970 against the lessee is concerned, it is seen that the lease had been created by either Krishnachi Ammal or the respondent. In such circumstances, the lessee was entitled to resist the appellant's suit in ejectment and contended that the appellant was not his lessor and therefore, he was not entitled to terminate the lease and ask for possession. The decision in that suit can have no effect whatever on the controversy between the parties in the present action.
9. In the result, the appeal succeeds and will stand allowed. The judgments of the Court below will stand set aside and the appellant's suit will stand decreed. Having regard to the relationship between the parties, they are directed to bear their respective costs throughout. The appellant will however, be entitled to mesne profits from the date of suit, the quantum of which is directed to be decided in separate proceedings under Order XX, Rule 12 of the Civil Procedure Code. No leave.
10. Appeal allowed.