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Angamuthu Muthirian and anr. Vs. Sinnapennammal and ors. - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectProperty
CourtChennai
Decided On
Reported inAIR1938Mad364
AppellantAngamuthu Muthirian and anr.
RespondentSinnapennammal and ors.
Cases ReferredMt. Rajpali Kunwar v. Surju Rai
Excerpt:
.....the will, to agree to give them a half of the property. it was held that it was a perfectly bona fide family settlement and the above observations of the privy council were made with reference to this state of facts. govind krishna narain (1911) 33 all 356 is satisfied in this case. they are all members of a joint family and the property is being enjoyed by themselves and their sons who have thus acquired immediate benefits and so far as any possible reversiouer in that family is concerned, namely, defendants 3 to 6 are their sons, they cannot challenge the settlement and defendant 2 did really represent them and their interest in the compromise......said property as heir to her son ganesa muthiriyan and he was the presumptive reversionar to the estate. chinnammal in her written statement denied that she took the property as her son's heir. she sat up an independent title as the devisee under her husband's will. she alleged that all the property which her husband died possessad of was his self-acquired property, that shortly before his death he made an oral will to the effect that in case his son ganasa muthiriyan should die before attaining majority both his wives should enjoy his property for their lives and thereafter his daughters the plaintiffs herein should take the property absolutely and that she was in possession and management of the property, in pursuance of the said will. thus the claim set up was a denial of any.....
Judgment:

Venkataramana Rao, J.

1. Two questions which are of some importance were raised in this appeal. The one is whether the word 'sister' in Act 2 of 1929, includes a half-sister; and the other relates to the validity and binding nature of an arrangement embodied in a compromise decree in a litigation between the mother of a last male owner and the next presumptive reversioner concerning his estate. The relevant facts are not in dispute. One Muthukaruppa Muthiriyan died in 1921 possessed of property both moveable and immovable and leaving him surviving his two wives Chinnammal and Ammachi Ammal and a son Ganesa Muthiriyan by the said Chinnammal and two daughters, the plaintiffs in this suit, by Ammachi Ammal. Ganesa Muthiriyan died on 11th October 1924 unmarried and Ammachi Ammal died on 12th October 1924. Muthukaruppa Muthiriyan's property thus came into the sole possession of Chinnammal. The next presumptive reversioner to the estate of Ganesa Muthiriyan was his paternal uncle, that is his father's brother Neelamaga Muthiriyan, defendant 2 in this suit. On 10th March 1926 Neelamega Muthiriyan filed a suit, O.S. No. 85 of 1926 on the file of the Court of the District Munsif of Srirangam against Chinnammal and others for an injunction restraining Chinnammal and her brother from committing waste of the property in bar possession and for appointment of a Receiver in respect thereof. His claim was on the footing that Chinnammal inherited the said property as heir to her son Ganesa Muthiriyan and he was the presumptive reversionar to the estate. Chinnammal in her written statement denied that she took the property as her son's heir. She sat up an independent title as the devisee under her husband's will. She alleged that all the property which her husband died possessad of was his self-acquired property, that shortly before his death he made an oral will to the effect that in case his son Ganasa Muthiriyan should die before attaining majority both his wives should enjoy his property for their lives and thereafter his daughters the plaintiffs herein should take the property absolutely and that she was in possession and management of the property, in pursuance of the said will. Thus the claim set up was a denial of any subsisting estate of Ganesa Muthiriyan and any outstanding reversion.

2. After the trial had begun, and evidence had been partly taken, common friends appear to have intervened and brought about a settlement of the matters in dispute and the terms of the settlement were reduced to writing in a razinamah dated 22nd July 1927 and a decree was obtained thereon. The result of the settlement was that the property then available and in the possession of the widow except) jewels was divided into two halves, one half to be enjoyed by Chinnammal for her life and thereafter by the plaintiffs absolutely and the other half by Neelamega Muthiriyan and his sons. The jewels in the possession of Chinnammal were declared to be her absolute property. The suit against the other defendants was withdrawn, each party bearing his respective costs. The above arrangement was given effect to and the parties entered into possession of their respective shares and have been in enjoyment thereof. Two years after this decree, the Hindu Law of Inheritance Amendment Act (Act 2 of 1929) was passed and came into force in February 1929 in and by which a sister would be entitled to succeed in preference to a paternal uncle and his descendants. Two years thereafter in January 1931 the present; suit was instituted by the plaintiffs alleging that by virtue of the said Act they became the presumptive presumptive reversioners to the estate of Ganesa Muthiriyan, that the said compromise that the not operate in any manner whatsoever as against their reversionary right (vide para. 11 of the plaint) and they therefore prayed for a declaration that the said decree could not operate as against them vide, relief (a) in the prayer of the plaint]. They imp leaded as parties to the trait in addition to Chinnammal the said Neelamega Muthiriyan and his four sons who are respectively defendants 2 to 6 in the suit. They pleaded that the plaintiff ware not heirs Under the Hindu Law all as administered in this presidency, that Act 2 of 1929 did not confer on them any right and that the arrangement embodied in the said decree was a bona fide family settlement binding on fells; reversioners to the estate of Ganasa Muthiriyan and in any event on the plaintiff a on whom benefits were conferred thereunder. The learned Subordinate Judge negatived all their pleas and gave a decree to the plaintiffs declaring that the said decree is not binding on them. It is against this decree that this appeal has been preferred by defendants 3 and 4, Defendant 2 died since the institution of the suit and his sons defendants 3 to 6 are on record as his representatives.

3. The questions which fall to be decided are (1)(a) whether the plaintiffs as half-sister of Ganesa Muthiriyan were his heirs before the Act came into force and (b) whether the word 'sister' in the said Act includes a half-sister; (2) whether the compromise of the said decree in O.S. No. 85 of 1926 is a family settlement and if so, is it binding on the plaintiffs. There is no direct decision in this presidency recognizing a half-sister as an heir to the estate of a person dying intestate though she is assumed to be so in Kumaravelu v. Viranna Gouudan (1882) 5 Mad 29. and Lakshmanammal v. Tiruvengada (1882) 5 Mad 241. In fact the claims of a sister were not recognized in provinces where the Mitakahara law prevails except in Bombay on the ground that she was not mentioned as an heir in the Mitakahara. Her claim was however ultimately recognized in Madras on the ground that she would be a Bhinna Gothra Sapinda and therefore a heritable bhandra the list of bandhus mentioned in Mitakshara having been considered to be only illustrative and not exhaustive : Kutti Ammal v. Radhakrishna Aiyan (1876) 8 M.H.C.R. 88. Lakshmanammal v. Tiruvengada (1882) 5 Mad 241. and Balamma v. Pullaya (1895) 18 Mad 168. On the same principle, a half-sister would be a heritable bandhu though in the order of succession she would be postponed to a full-sister. The plaintiffs must therefore be held to be included in the list of hairs to the estate of Ganesa Muthmyan even before the said Act came into force.

4. The next question is whether 'sister' includes a half-sister in Act 2 of 1929. The word 'sister' is a plain English word and according to the rule of law governing the construction of statutes it must receive its plain, ordinary and grammatical meaning. So interpreted, a sister is a 'woman born of same parents as one-self.' This meaning has to be adhered to unless it is repugnant to the context or it is in variance with the intention of the Legislature as apparent from the Act. It seams to us that this interpretation would carry out the intention of the Legislature and any other would frustrate it. If one looks at the surrounding circumstances attending the passing of the Act and the cause and the necessity of it, as it is legitimate to do, if there is any doubt, the matter is put beyond doubt. Before the Act many near relations of a person dying intestate did not inherit to him at all in certain provinces and in others were postponed to distant relations ramotely connected with him by ties of blood. It was felt that his obvious injustice should be remedied by an alteration in the law and the Legislature did so in regard to certain specified relations. The Preamble of the Act shows what its object is, viz. 'to alter the order in which certain heirs...are entitled to succeed.' The word 'certain' means definite or particular. What is meant by the expression 'certain heirs' is specified heirs. In Clause 2, four heirs who fulfil a particular description are specified. It is the order which was fixed for them in the then state of the law that was intended to be altered. Clause 2 says that the heirs therein mentioned shall in the order so specified be entitled to rank in the order of succession next after a father's father. In provinces where the sister and the half-sister are recognized as heirs Under the Mitakshara law, the order that is assigned to the half-sister is after the sister and not on a level with the sister. She has thus a distinct and separate order.

5. The order that is sought to be displaced is only in the case of a sister and not in the case of a half sister. This is consistent with the object of the Act which has for it the principle of propinquity of blood, Before the Act, in Madras, a sister's son would exclude the sister though she is more closely related to him by ties of blood, the reason being that Under the Mitakshara the male bandbu excludes the female. But this principle was deliberately superseded by the Act in favour of the principle of affinity and hence a sister had been preferred to a sister's son. If therefore a sister were to include a half-sister she would exclude a sister's son, an interpretation which would defeat the intention of the Legislature. In Mt. Kabootra v. Ram Padarath (1935) 22 A.I.R. Oudh 332 the Full Bench of the Allahabad High Court has taken the view that a sister would not include a half sister. This decision has been followed in Mt. Kabootra v. Ram Padarath (1935) 22 A.I.R. Oudh 332 Mulla in his Book on Hindu Law, Edn. 8, also states that a half sister not being mentioned in the Act will retain the place hitherto assigned to her as an heir in the presidencies where her right of heir ship is recognized. We think this is the correct view and therefore hold that 'sister' does not include a half sister in Act 2 of 1929 and the plaintiffs are not therefore the presumptive reversioners to the estate of Ganesa Muthiriyan.

6. The next question is whether the compromise decree is binding on the plaintiffs. It is sought to be supported on the ground that it is a bona fide family settlement. It cannot be doubted that it is competent to a Hindu female holding a limited interest in the estate she holds as the heir of the last male owner to enter into a family settlement with the reversioners to the estate. Courts in India and the Privy Council have applied the principles of English law relating to family settle-merits to such settlements. In doing so, Courts have always regard to the nature of the interest possessed by such a limited owner and the reversioners to the estate and the limitations on their power recognized by the law to which they are subject. A Hindu widow is the owner of the estate which she inherits for the time being and fully represents it whether in litigation or otherwise. The interest of a reversioner is only a spas successions and it cannot be made the subject-matter of any bargain. The arrangement entered into by the widow with the reversioners must not be a device to divide the estate between her and the reversioners to defraud the actual reversioners when the succession opens. Subject to these limitations, a family settlement bona fide entered into by a Hindu widow will be valid and binding on the reversion. The question of bona fides is to be considered with reference to the data when the transaction was entered into. When therefore Chinnammal compromised the said litigation, O.S. No. 85 of 1926, what were the circumstances and the state of affairs of the family? The property to which the claims were advanced by the respective parties were made the subject-matter of the litigation. The result of the litigation, if the contentions of the parties are upheld would be this: If Chinnammal succeeds, there is no estate of Ganesa Muthiriyan and no question of reversion to his estate; neither defendant 2 nor his sons and grandsons nor anybody can succeed at any time as heirs to his estate. If the contentions of defendant 2 were to prevail the plaintiffs will lose their rights as remainder men with absolute rights Under the alleged will of Muthukaruppa Muthiriyan and they will be relegated to the position of distant heritable handhus of Ganesa Muthiriyan with a very remote prospect of ever succeeding to his estate.

7. It will be seen that the existing body of reversioners to the estate of Ganesa Muthiriyan on the date of the compromise were defendant 2, after him his four sons and after them his grandsons, the plaintiffs and the brother of Chinnammal who as the maternal uncle of Ganesa Muthiriyan would be a nearer bandhu than the plaintiffs. Thus the reversion to the estate will be in the family of defendant 2 for, at least three generations and the possible ravarsionars who are likely to be affected by any arrangement entered into are the descendants of the plaintiffs, taking fine normal course of events Chinnammal was entitled to enjoy the property during her life, the plaintiffs are persons who may be said to have a possible interest in the estate but a remote possibility. The affect of the said settlement is this: Chinnammal sacrificed her life-interest in half of the property for the rest of her life; the plaintiffs ware secured a vested remainder with absolute rights in half the property and their right as devisees Under the will of their father was to that extent recognized, and defendant 2 secured for himself and his descendants the present possession of half the property and thus the reversionary interest; in the said half which in one event his family would never have got, Therefore the claims of all persons who had any actual or possible interest in the property were taken into account and adjusted, In one view defendant 2 represented or must be deemed to have represented all the reversioners who were then existing, including the plaintiff; In another view, the said Chinnammal must be deemed to have represented the plaintiffs in that she put forward their separate claims as devisees Under their father's will, being in possession of the estate Under the said will. The parties came to this arrangement with the aid of common friends and under legal advice as is evidenced by Ex, 3, the razinamah. Under such circumstance, can it be said that the settlement was not bona fide to secure family peace and avoid litigation? Does it violate any rule of law for a Court to decline to give effect to it? Mr. Sasha Ayyangar contends that it is not bona fide, having regard to the nature of the claim advanced by Chinnammal as it would have been vary difficult to substantiate it. The question is not whether the matter was really doubtful but whether the parties considered it so. It is immaterial whether Chinnammal found it impossible or difficult to prove the claim was one which imperiled the reversion. She asserted that the declaration was made by the husband in the presence of several people; the razinamah recites the claims and the mediators seem to have considered them. Absolutely no evidence has been given in this case to show any want of bona fides. Once it is found that there was a real dispute as to title to the property between the widow and the reversioners and it required settlement and the settlement arrived at is proved to be bona fide, the contention that it is a device to defeat the estate fails.

8. In Sureshwar Misser v. Mt. Maheshrani Mistrain (1921) 8 A.I.R. P.C. 107 the facts ware as follows: On a N died in April 1906 leaving a widow, four daughters and a son. The son died and the mother succeeded to the estate. The daughters set up a will of their father under which they claimed title to the immovable properties left by him on failure of the son with a certain provision for the widow. M, the next reversioner filed a suit for a declaration that the will was invalid, that the son got the property and that the mother was entitled to a woman's interest and on her death he would be the next presumptive reversioner to the estate. Both the mother and the daughters opposed the suit and than a compromise was arrived at, the result of which was that half the property was taken by the reversioner and the other half was taken by the daughters and both the reversioners and daughters gave certain property to the widow. The form in which this com. promise was arranged was a surrender by the widow to the next reversioner and then a transfer by the reversioner to the daughters. Sometime later M died and the nephews of M who became the next presumptive reversioners filed a suit for a declaration that the compromise was in. valid. Their Lordships held that it was a bona fide family settlement and not an arrangement to divide the estate and dismissed the suit. The observations of Lord Dunedin at pp. 108 and 109 may be usefully referred to in this connection:

An arrangement, by which the reversioner as a consideration for the surrender promised to convey a portion of the property to a nominee or nominees of the lady surrendering, might well fall Under the description of a device to divide the estate. It is here that the fact of the arrangement being a compromise becomes o Importance. Once the bona fldes is admitted, we have the situation of a contest under which, if decision were one way, the estate was carried to the daughters away from the family and a litigation in the course of which the estate would probably be much diminished. This situation made it a perfectly good consideration for the lady in order to avoid these results to consent to give up her own rights by surrender, On the other hand, it was a good consideration for the reversioner to get rid of the will and in a question with the daughters, who would take all by the will, to agree to give them a half of the property. The arrangements of the compromise cannot be stigmatized as a device to divide the estate between the surrendering lady and the nearest reversioner, and cannot now be taken exception to.

9. No doubt in this case the compromise took the shape of a surrender. Their Lordships viewed the matter not only as a surrender but also as a compromise. As pointed out by their Lordships in Ramsumran Prasad v. Mt. Shyam Kumari (1922) 9 A.I.R. P.C.366 , the mode by which a compromise is carried into effect is immaterial if the compromise was reasonable and prudent. The above reasoning of their Lordships in Sureshwar Misser v. Mt. Maheshrani Mistrain (1921) 8 A.I.R. P.C. 107 would apply to this case having regard to the similarity of facts.

10. We shall now deal with some of the cases relied on by Mr. Sesha Ayyangar for the position that the settlement now in question cannot be held to be binding on the reversioners. The case on which he placed most reliance was Khunni Lal v. Govind Krishna Narain (1911) 33 All 356 and particularly the following observations therein at p. 367:

The true teat to apply to a transaction which is challenged by the reversioners as an alienation not binding on them is, whether the alienee derives title from the holder of the limited interest or life-tenant. In the present case Khairati Lai acquired no right from the daughters of Daulat, for, 'compromise' to use their Lordships' language in Rani Mewa Kuar v. Rani Hulas Kuwar (1873) 1 I.A. 157 is based on the assumption that there was an antecedent title of some kind in the parties, and the agreement acknowledges and defines what that title is.

11. In that case, Ratan Singh, the father, and Daulat Singh, the son, formed members of a joint family and Ratan Singh abandoned Hinduism and adopted Muhammadaniam. Daulat Singh predeceased his father leaving his widow Sen Kunwar and two daughters. Ratan Singh subsequently died leaving his widow Rani Raj Kuwar. After the death of both Ratan Singh and Sen Kunwar disputes arose between the daughters of Daulat and Khairati Lai a grandson of Ratan Singh, each claiming title to the property, one claiming title on the ground that Ratan Singh, by conversion forfeited his right in the joint property and Daulat became entitled to the entire property, while the other contending that the conversion had not extinguished the rights of Ratan Singh and that on the death of Daulat, he became enticed to the property. It was in this state of circumstances a compromise was entered into, dividing the property into two shares. It was held that it was a perfectly bona fide family settlement and the above observations of the Privy Council were made with reference to this state of facts. No doubt, each party set up title to the property but this condition is not absolutely necessary. Their Lordships of the Privy Council explained this case in a later case in Ramsumran Prasad v. Mt. Shyam Kumari (1922) 9 A.I.R. P.C. 366 Lord Phillimore referring to 33 All 5639 observed thus at p. 747:

The property belonged to one or other or possibly both, of the parties to the dispute and the compromise proceeded upon the footing that it was uncertain in which o them the title was. As their Lordships, put it, it was based on the assumption that there was an antecedent title of some kind in the parties and the agreement acknowledged and defined what that title was.

12. It will be seen from these observations that it is enough even if the property belonged to one or the other and it need not necessarily belong to both. The title set up in this case was a complete title in the widow and the plaintiffs under the will of Muthukarruppa Muthirian and a complete denial of the reversion. Therefore the compromise must be deemed to have proceeded on the assumption of an antecedent title of some kind in the widow and the plaintiffs based on the said will and the test laid down in Khunni Lal v. Govind Krishna Narain (1911) 33 All 356 is satisfied in this case. The next case relied on by Mr. Sesha Ayyangar was Rani Mewa Kuar v. Rani Hulas Kuwar (1873) 1 I.A. 157. In that case a person gave up his reversionary right to the estate in consideration of getting some personal advantage in some other estate and their Lordships rightly held that the person had no right to bargain away the chances of his descendants in order to get for himself un immediate share in some other estate and the compromise arrived at by him cannot be held to be binding on the next reversioners. Mr. Sesha Ayyangar also laid considerable emphasis on the Full Bench decision in Mt. Rajpali Kunwar v. Surju Rai : AIR1936All507 and particularly the observation that a reversioner has no right to obtain a share in the property exclusively for himself and his descendants. But the facts of the present case are different. Defendant 2 in entering into the compromise did not obtain anything exclusively for himself or for his descendants. The interests of the plaintiffs are also safeguarded. So far as the family of defendant 2 was concerned, it was a benefit which he obtained not only for himself but for the entire joint family of his sons and grandsons who can be the possible reversioners after him in the normal course of events. His sons defendants 3 to 6 have adopted the transaction and it will not be open to them in any future litigation to repudiate it. They are all members of a joint family and the property is being enjoyed by themselves and their sons who have thus acquired immediate benefits and so far as any possible reversiouer in that family is concerned, namely, defendants 3 to 6 are their sons, they cannot challenge the settlement and defendant 2 did really represent them and their interest in the compromise.

13. Therefore on a consideration of the entire circumstances of this case we are of the opinion that the arrangement embodied in O.S. No. 85 of 1926 is a bona fide family settlement binding on the reversioners to the estate of Ganega Muthiriyan or at any rate on the SODS and grandsons of defendant 2 and the plaintiffs and the first defendant's brother who was a party to the compromise decree by which he was exonerated from the suit without costs. The plaintiffs are therefore not entitled to the declaration sought for in this suit. We accordingly allow the appeal and set aside the decree of the learned Subordinate Judge but we direct the parties to bear their own costs throughout. The memorandum of objections is not pressed. It is therefore dismissed but without costs.


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