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P. Somasundaram Vs. K. Rajammal - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectFamily;Property
CourtChennai High Court
Decided On
Reported in(1976)2MLJ444
AppellantP. Somasundaram
RespondentK. Rajammal
Cases ReferredSarupuri Narayanamma v. Kadiyala Venkatasubbiah
Excerpt:
.....and reliable evidence that at the relevant time of the execution of exhibit b-34, the testatrix velammal was in a sound and disposing state of mind and she signed the will of her own free will understanding the nature and effect of the disposition. piramu ammal and chellammal were given only a life interest, with a right to enjoy the properties as is clear from the recital that they have no right of alienation. in addition to the vesting of property in velammal, she also acquired a right to enjoy the properties along with piramu ammal and chellammal. 78 a testator, by his will, appointed his wife and nephew as his trustees and executors and gave all his properties to the trustees, upon certain trusts under which the wife was to enjoy the free use and income of his estate during his..........with past and future mesne profits.2. this litigation arose out of a will executed by one velammal under exhibit b-34, dated 23rd february, 1949, in favour of the respondents-defendant. the plaintiff in the suit questions the right and title of the testatrix to the suit properties. the relationship of the parties and their position can be appreciated from the following genealogical tree: diraviyam chettiar | ___________________________________________________ | | | arunachalam annamalai seeni | chettiar chettiar | (no issues) piramu ammal |__________________ | | | palvannan subramaniam chockalingam chettiar chettiar (son) (died)- | (no issue) chellammal | | p. somasundaram velammal (plff.)the suit properties originally belonged to one seeni chettiar, son of diraviyam chettiar......
Judgment:

S. Ratnavel Pandian, J.

1. This appeal is preferred in forma pauperis by the unsuccessful plaintiff in O.S. No. 187 of 1966 on the file of the Court of the Subordinate Judge, Madurai. The said suit was filed by him in forma pauperis for possession with past and future mesne profits.

2. This litigation arose out of a will executed by one Velammal under Exhibit B-34, dated 23rd February, 1949, in favour of the respondents-defendant. The plaintiff in the suit questions the right and title of the testatrix to the suit properties. The relationship of the parties and their position can be appreciated from the following genealogical tree:

Diraviyam Chettiar

|

___________________________________________________

| | |

Arunachalam Annamalai Seeni

| Chettiar Chettiar

| (no issues) Piramu Ammal

|__________________ |

| |

Palvannan Subramaniam Chockalingam

Chettiar Chettiar (son) (died)-

| (no issue) Chellammal

| |

P. Somasundaram Velammal

(plff.)

The suit properties originally belonged to one Seeni Chettiar, son of Diraviyam Chettiar. The said Seeni Chettiar had two brothers, viz., Arunachalam Chettiar (the eldest) and Annamalai Chettiar (the youngest). Annamalai Chettiar died issueless. Arunachalam Chettiar died leaving him two sons Palvannan Chettiar and Subramaniam Chettiar. Subramaniam Chettiar also died issueless. The plaintiff in this suit is the son of the said Palvannan Chettiar. The said Seeni Chettiar, (sic) the paternal grandfather of the plaintiff, executed a will, Exhibit A-1 dated 27th April, 1913. bequeathing life interest in favour of his wife, Piramu Ammal and daughter-in-law Chellammal with a specific term that his daughter-in-law, Chellammal and, his grand-daughter Velammal were also to reside with his wife Piramu Ammal and maintain themselves out of the income from the properties in common, with no powers of alienation. Velammal was to enjoy the properties in common with Piramu Ammal and Chellammal till their lifetime and thereafter, Chellammal and her heirs were to get the properties absolutely. There is no dispute on the above-said facts. It is the case of the plaintiff that under the will, Exhibit A-1, Velammal got only a right of maintenance during the lifetime of Piramu Ammal and Chellammal and not any vested interest or remainder in the properties. After the death of the testator of Exhibit A-1, Piramu Ammal was in possession and enjoyment of the suit properties as per the terms of the will, and Chellammal and Velammal also were maintained by Piramu Ammal out of the income of the bequeathed properties, Velammal the testatrix of Exhibit A-34, died issueless on 22nd February, 1951, after the death of her husband. Subsequently, Piramu Ammal died on 11th February, 1951 and Chellammal died on 20th July, 1955. So, the plaintiff s cage is that, Velammal, the testatrix of Exhibit B-34, had absolutely no vested interest right or title to the property especially during the lifetime of Piramu Ammal and Chellammal, and so the alleged will is void ab initio. The plaintiff's further case is that Exhibit B-34 has not been executed while in a sound and disposing state of mind and that the defendant, the legatee under the will, with the able assistance and help of her husband, partisans and friends, had exerted undue influence and coercion on the testatrix, to execute the will and so it is vitiated by fraud, undue influence and coercion. Thus the plaintiff claims that as per Exhibit A-1, he has become entitled to succeed the suit properties and to be in possession and enjoyment of the same. He challenges the occupation and possession of the suit properties, by the defendants as illegal. He sent a notice under Exhibit A-5, dated 4th July 1964 to which the defendants sent a reply under Exhibit B-32, dated 11th July, 1964.

So the plaintiff filed the suit for a declaration that he is entitled to the suit properties, and consequently, to recover possession thereafter from the defendant and for past mesne profits of Rs. 3,600 and future mesne profits and costs of suit.

3. The respondent-defendant resisted the claim of the plaintiff, stating that the plaintiff is not a reversioner of the deceased Seeni Chettiar, entitled to succeed to the suit properties, and that Velammal, who had an absolute vested right over the properties on the strength of Exhibit A-1, has executed Exhibit B-34 in favour of the defendant of her own free will and volition while she was in a sound and disposing state of mind and that the appellant herein knowing; fully well of the execution of Exhibit B-34, has been keeping quiet from 1949 till December, 1965 for a period of over I5 years and then has come forward with this false claim after the death of the defendant s husband. The defendant hai further stated in her written statement that the said Velammal lived for two years after the execution of the will under the care and protection of the defendant Rajammal who is no other than her maternal aunt's daughter. Further, the defendant had also taken a plea that the suit is barred by limitation as the plaintiff had not taken any appropriate proceedings to set aside the said will, Exhibit B-34. The defendant also pleaded that she is paying municipal tax from the year 1951 and attending to all the repairs, that the plaintiff is estopped from claiming the suit properties by his own laches, negligence and acquiescence and as such he has no cause of action and that the suit is also bad for non-joinder of parties.

4. On the above pleadings, the following issues were framed by the trial Court.-

(1) What is the nature of interest obtained by Velammal under the will of her grandfather Seeni Chettiar, dated 27th April 1913.

(2) Whether Velammal get only a right to maintenance under the will.

(3) Whether the will, dated23rd February, 1949, executed by Velammal is true,, genuine, valid and binding on the plaintiff.

(4) Whether the plaintiff is estopped from impugning the will of Velammal by his own laches, negligence and acquiescence.

(5) Whether any and what improvements have been made by the defendant to the suit building.

(6) Whether the suit as framed without a declaration regarding Velammal's will is not maintainable.

(7) Whether the defendant has in any event acquire prescriptive title to the suit properties.

(8) Whether the plaintiff is entitled to-any and what mesne profits.

(9) Whether the suit is barred by limitation.

(10) Whether the suit has been properly valued and proper Court fee paid.

(11) To what relief, if any, is the plain, tiff entitled?

Additional issues were framed on 28th October, 1967.

(1) Whether the plaintiff is the only nearest reversioner to the deceased Seeni Chettiar and if not whether the suit is maintainable.

(2) Whether the suit is bad for non-joinder of Gomathi Ammal and minor Palani alias Ramasubramanian.

5. After considering in great detail the oral and documentary evidence adduced by the plaintiff and the defendant in support of their respective contentions, and finding issues 1 to 8 against the plaintiff, the learned Subordinate Judge held that Velammal had got a full and absolute right over the suit property and not merely a right of maintenance that Exhibit B-34 is a true and genuine document executed by Velammal in a sound and disposing state of mind and it is valid and binding on the plaintiff, that the defendant has also acquired title to the property by adverse possession and that the plaintiff is disentitled to impugn the will, Exhibit B-34, by his own laches, negligence and delay. He found issues 9 and 10 and additional issues 1 and 2 against the defendant as the defendant did not press those issues. Ultimately, the learned Judge dismissed the suit with costs. It is as against this judgment and decree that the plaintiff has come forward with this appeal.

6. Mr. V.S. Subramaniam, learned Counsel for the appellant, sought to contend before us, firstly that under the will, Exhibit A-1, executed by Seeni Chettiar, Velammal, the testatrix of Exhibit B-34, had got only a right of maintenance during the lifetime of Piramu Ammal and Chellammal, and not any vested right or remainder in the properties during their lifetime, but only a contingent interest over the properties and that therefore, Velammal could not validly execute the will, Exhibit B-34, and initio. Secondly, he would contend that the profounder, the defendant, has not adduced any satisfactory and reliable evidence that at the relevant time of the execution of Exhibit B-34, the testatrix Velammal was in a sound and disposing state of mind and she signed the will of her own free will understanding the nature and effect of the disposition. He further contended that the husband of the defendant, who is an interested party, has taken a prominent and leading part in the execution of the will, Exhibit B-34, which conferred on the defendant a substantial benefit, that the attestors of the will, viz., D.Ws. 2 and 3 are the co-employees of the husband of the defendant, and D.W. 1 is a friend of the defendant's husband Muthuswami Pillai, and that all these circumstances create a legitimate suspicion which is not completely removed by the defendant to enable the Court to hold that the document by the testatrix of her own free will and volition, uninfluencd by any pressure on the part of the defendant.

7. Coming to the first contention that under Exhibit A-1, Velammal got only a right of maintenance during the lifetime of Piramu Ammal and Chellammal aid not an absolute vested right over the property, that the right she acquired was only a contingent interest, that is to say she would get a vested interest over the properties only after the lifetime of Piramu Ammal and Chellammal and that since Velammal predeceased Piramu Ammal and Chellammal, she had not acquired any absolute interest, right or title over the properties when she executed Exhibit B-34, it is not disputed that Velammal predeceased Piramu Ammal and Chellammal. But, the question is whether Velammal got a vested interest under Exhibit A-1 even during the lifetime of Piramu Ammal and Chellammal. Section 119 of the Indian Succession Act reads as follows:

Where by the terms of a bequest the legatee is not entitled to immediate possession of the thing bequeathed, a right to receive it at the proper time shall, unless a contrary intention appears by the will, become vested in the legatee on the testator's death, and shall pass to the legatee s representatives if he dies before that time and without having received the legacy, and in such cases the legacy is from the testator's death said to be vested in interest.

Explanation: An intention that a legacy to any person shall not become vested in interest in him is not to be inferred merely from a provision whereby the payment or possession of the thing bequeathed is postponed 01 whereby a prior interest therein is bequeathed to some other person or whereby the income arising from the fund bequeathed is directed to be accumulated until the time of payment arrives, or from a provision that, if a particular event shall happen, the legacy shall go ever to another person.

The recitals in Exhibit A-1 read a follows.

From the above recitals in Exhibit A-1, the intention of the testator is clear and unambiguous that all the three, viz., Piramu Ammal, Chellammal and Velammal have to maintain themselves out of the income of the properties during the lifetime of Piramu Ammal and Chellammal. Piramu Ammal and Chellammal had no rights of alienation. After the lifetime of Piramu Ammal and Chellammal, Velammal should get the properties absolutely. So on the construction of the will, the words of futurity, viz., 'after the lifetime of Piramu Ammal and Chellammal' used in the will, have to be construed as merely referring to the period of determination of the life interests of the testator's wife and daughter-in-law, as there are no other contrary terms in the will showing an intention on the part of the testator postponing the vesting till after the death of the life estate holders. There cannot be a vacuum or interregnum where there is a life estate followed by an absolute estate, because the residue must rest somewhere. In this case, what is deferred is only the possession of the entire properties in favour of Velammal and not the vesting of the properties. Piramu Ammal and Chellammal were given only a life interest, with a right to enjoy the properties as is clear from the recital that they have no right of alienation. In addition to the vesting of property in Velammal, she also acquired a right to enjoy the properties along with Piramu Ammal and Chellammal. So, under Section 119 of the Indian Succession Act, the vested interest in the suit properties had devolved on Velammal on the death of the testator subject to the charge of maintenance in favour of herself, Piramu Ammal and Chellammal, which charge of maintenance created under the will would not suspend the vesting of the properties of the legatee, Velammal.

8. In Bhagabati Barmani v. Kalicharan Singh (1911) I.L.R. 38 Cal. 468, a Hindu testator, left a will, giving possession of the properties, movabe and immovables, to his wife and mother for their lives and on their death to the sons of his sisters who were in existence and also those who might be born there' after, who should hold the properties in equal shares. The testator died the day following the execution of the will. It was held that the will gave to the sons of the sisters a vested interest in their respective shares at the testator's death, though it postponed their possession and enjoyment until the deaths of the mother and widow. In Hilaso v. Munilal I.L.R. (1911) All. 558, one Sewaram executed a will whereby he gave all his properties, after the death of himself and his wife, Mst. Mandu to his daughter Bilaso and his nephew Dulichand. Dulichand survived the testator, but predeceased Mst. Mandu. A suit was brought by the heirs of Dulichand to recover his share of the properties of Sewaram from Mst. Hilaso. The sole question that was raised in the appellate Court was whether Dulichand did not get a vested interest in the properties disposed of by the will, but merely a contingent interest, and he having died before his aunt, Mst. Mandu, whether his sons were not entitled to succeed to the property. Following the decision in Bhagabati v. Kalicharan I.L.R. (1911) Cal. 468, it was held that the nephew Dulichand took a vested interest in the properties, which-was transmissible to his heirs. In Phillip Graham Greenwood v. Phillip Graham Greenwood 181 I.C. 35 : A.I.R. 1939 P.C. 78 a testator, by his will, appointed his wife and nephew as his trustees and executors and gave all his properties to the trustees, upon certain trusts under which the wife was to enjoy the free use and income of his estate during his life. The will further empowered the wife to dispose of, at the time of her death, 1/3rd share in the whole estate in favour of any person, and as regards the 2/3rds of the estate remaining undisposed of at the time of the wife's death, the will directed that the surviving trustees should divide the 2/3rds share equally among all the brothers and sisters of the testator alive when the will was made and that should any of them predecease his wife, then the share which the deceased would have received if alive should be given to the child or children of the deceased. In that case, one of the sisters of the testator, who bad survived the testator, died unmarried and without issue during the lifetime of the testator's widow. On the death of the widow, the period for the distribution of the 2/3rds of the residuary estate given to the testator's brother and sisters having arrived, the question arose whether the estate of the deceased sister was entitled to a share in the distribution. In was held that the deceased sister's share of the residue vested in her on the death of the testator subject to the divestiture only in the event of her predeceasing the testator's widow, leaving child or children, and such event not having occurred, her representative was entitled to her share. Thus, it is clear that the right to the 2/3rd share of the residuary estate vested in the brother and sisters of the testator upon his death in spite of the fact that the distribution of the said share among them was to take effect only after the death of the testator's widow.

9. In Hazara v. Banta Singh under a will, a testator bequeathed to A, B and C, equal shares in his estate. It was provided that A and B were not to alienate the properties in any way except for the payment of their share of the debt of the testator and were to keep the property only till their lives and for their maintenance. After the death of A and B, their shares also were to go to the share of C. C. died during the lifetime of A and B. It was held, following the decision in Phillip Graham Greenwood v. Phillip Graham Greenwood's case 181 I.C. 355 : A.I.R. 1939 P.C. 78 and Hilaso's case I.L.R. (1911) All. 558, that the will gave to A and B nothing more than a life estate and it could not be interpreted to confer an absolute estate on them and that C's interest in the property bequeathed to him was a vested one which devolved on his heir on his death even during the lifetime of A and B.

10. The last mentioned case is directly applicable to the facts of this case. From the principles enunciated in the above said decisions, it is very clear that the provisions of the will in the present case leave no doubt that the testator intended to give only a limited estate in favour of Piramu Ammal and Chellammal during their lifetime for the purpose of their maintenance, by expressly providing that they were not entitled to alienate the properties in any manner.

11. The learned Counsel for the appellant contended that the will must be interpreted as creating a contingent interest in Velammal and that since Velammal died during the lifetime of Piramu Ammal and Chellammal, no interest vested in Velammal and that therefore Exhibit A-34 was void ah initio and the property must devolve only to the reversioner, viz., the plaintiff. An interest is said to be vested when it is not subject to any condition precedent, when it is to take effect on the happening of an event which is certain; whereas an estate is contingent when the right to enjoyment depends upon the happening of an uncertain event which may or may not happen. A person takes a vested interest in property at the testator's death when he acquires proprietary right in it at that time; but the right of enjoyment is only deferred till a future event happens which is certain to happen. But, a contingent interest is one in which neither any proprietary interest nor a right of enjoyment is given at the testator's death; but both depend upon future uncertain events. In this case, since the deaths of Piramu Ammal and Chellammal were certain, Velammal had acquired a vested interest in the properties on the death of the testator Seeni Chettiar, Section 119 of the Indian Succession Act clearly applies. In the absence of any contrary contention by no stretch of imagination can it be said that Exhibit A-1 created only a contingent interest, and the argument advanced by the learned Counsel for the appellant is understandable.

12. The distinction between vested and contingent interests has been very clearly made out in a decision rendered by a Division Bench of this Court, consisting of Sundaram Chetti and Walsh, JJ., in Sreehchand Sawcar v. Kasi Chetti (38) L.W. 860 : 147 I.C. 383 : A.I.R. 1933 Mad. 885, where the testator bequeathed his property to two persons for life and the remainder absolutely in favour of a specified class of persons on the termination of the life estate. It was held by their Lordships, that on the death of the testator the property became vested in that class and that the mere fact that they were not entitled to an immediate possession did not make it a contingent bequest.

13. Learned Counsel for the appellant cited a decision of the Supreme Court in Sarupuri Narayanamma v. Kadiyala Venkatasubbiah : AIR1973SC2114 , in support of his contention that the legatee Velammal could not claim the properties when she had predeceased her mother and grandmother. In that case, the instrument which came for interpretation was a gift deed. As per the terms of the gift deed, one Raghavamma and her daughter Venkatasubbamma were to take immediate possession of the property for their maintenance and were to enjoy the income from the properties alone and only after Raghavamma's death, Venkatasubbamma was to get the property absolutely. It was not a case of an immediate conferment of absolute title on Venkatasubbamma. Further, as per the terms of the settlement deed, it was arranged that in case-no female or male issue was born to Venkatasubbamma, the property should on her death pass to the settlors or their descendants and not to the heirs of the said Venkatasubbamma. In view of the above peculiar facts and on the interpretation of the various clauses of the gift deed in that case, the Supreme Court held that Venkatasubbamma predeceasing her mother, did not acquire any absolute interest in the property. But, the facts of the present case are very clear and quite different from the facts of the above-said Supreme Court case. Moreover, in this case we are directly concerned with the applicability of the statutory provisions of the Indian Succession Act to the terms of the will wherein the intention of the testator to confer an absolute vested interest on Velammal is clearly made out. So, after giving our best consideration to the facts of the present case in the light of the decisions cited above, we are definitely of opinion that the will, Exhibit A-1, in the present case conferred only a life estate on Piramu Ammal and Chellammal and the vested interest devolved on Velammal immediately after the death of Seeni Chettiar, the testator of Exhibit A-1, though the defendant would acquire the right to possession of the properties only on the death of Piramu Ammal and Chellammal,

* * *

[The discussion of facts is omitted: Ed.]

I find from the endorsement of the Sub-Registrar on Exhibit B-34 that the testatrix had admitted the execution of the wilt before him. D.W. 3 states that at the time of the registering of the will, Chellammal, one of the life estate holders had also come to the Sub-Registrar's office along with others. It is the evidence of the witnesses, D.Ws. 1 and 3 that Velammal herself read through the wilt before the execution, she being literate. The testatrix was alive for about 2 years even after the execution and registration of the will. If undue influence, coercion or fraud had in fact been exerted on her, she would have cancelled that will during the said period of two years. It is common knowledge that in matters relating to the execution of a will in respect of family properties, only persons who are related and interested in the welfare of the family would participate. There is absolutely no evidence of any surrounding circumstance to infer that Muthuswami Pillai, the husband of the defendant, had exerted any undue influence, coercion or fraud in the execution of the will. Similarly, there is nothing wrong in the legatee's husband friends and co-employees being taken as the attestors and witnesses if their action is not other-wise tainted. As we have already pointed out, the attestors D.Ws. 1 to 3 are respectable witnesses and their evidence is worthy of credence. The testatrix had executed the will in favour of the defendant who is none other than her mother's sister's daughter and the recital in the will also is that the defendant was looking after the welfare of the testatrix and it was only in consideration of all those circumstances the will has been executed in favour of the defendant This fact has not been controverted by the plaintiff by addueing proper evidence.

14. Moreover, Rajammal, the legatee under Exhibit B-34, had been paying the house-tax under Exhibits B-12 to B-22 from 1952 to 1965 as per the demand notices Exhibit, B-23 to B-31. Exhibit B-1 is the certified copy of the house-tax demand register in the name of the defendant for the years 1951 to 1960 and it has been transferred to the name of the defendant in the year 1951. It must be noted that Velammal died in the year 1951. The defendant had also made some improvements to the house as per Exhibit B-6, the blue-print submitted to the municipality and Exhibits B-37 to B-40 are the relevant records pertaining to the sanction accorded by the municipality. The plaintiff, who was admittedly residing in the same locality, had not raised his objection during those relevant periods. In view of our finding that the defendant, as the legatee under Exhibit B-34, has acquired valid title to the suit properties, the question of adverse possession does not apse. However, since the defendant had been in possession of the suit properties for more than the statutory period of 12 years, to the knowledge of the plaintiff before suit, we find that even otherwise the defendant has acquired title to the properties by adverse possession. From the foregoing discussion, we find that the ingredients of Section 63 of the Indian Succession Act, and Section 68 of the Indian Evidence Act have been satisfactorily complied with in proving the execution and attestation of the will, Exhibit B-34.

15. Coming to the brass tacks, Velammal had acquired vested interest in the suit properties on the death of the testator under Exhibit A-1, Seeni Chettiar, and there is no evidence, either documentary or oral, on the side of the plaintiff creating any suspicious circumstances so as to invalidate the execution of the will, Exhibit B-34, by Velammal in favour of the defendant, but contary to that, there is overwhelming, unassailable and acceptable evidence to show that Velammal had executed the will in a sound and disposing state of mind.

16. In the result, the appeal is dismissed, but, considering the peculiar circumstances and the relationship of parties, we make no order as to costs in this appeal. The appellant will pay the Court-fee due to Government.


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