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Rangammal Vs. Marudamuthu Muthuraja - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectFamily;Property
CourtChennai High Court
Decided On
Reported in(1970)2MLJ620
AppellantRangammal
RespondentMarudamuthu Muthuraja
Cases ReferredIn Karuppudayar v. Periathambi Udayar
Excerpt:
- .....order directing the defendant to deliver possession of the suit properties to the plaintiff. the suit property originally belonged to one marimuthu and after his death his son vridhachala inherited the same. vridhachala died on 11th january, 1949 leaving behind him his widow, ramayee to enjoy the property as limited owner. on 13th june, 1951 the said ramayee executed a settlement deed under exhibit a-6 in favour of her sister's son marimuthu, husband of the defendant bequeathing the suit property to him. ramayee died on 12th january, 1959. thereafter the settlee under exhibit a-6 also died in april, 1960. the defendant who is the sister's son filed a suit o.s. no. 13 of 1961 claiming the suit property on the basis of the settlement deed, exhibit a-6 against the plaintiff's wife and got.....
Judgment:

G. Ramanujam, J.

1. This second appeal involves an interesting question of law. It arises out of a suit to set aside a summary order directing the defendant to deliver possession of the suit properties to the plaintiff. The suit property originally belonged to one Marimuthu and after his death his son Vridhachala inherited the same. Vridhachala died on 11th January, 1949 leaving behind him his widow, Ramayee to enjoy the property as limited owner. On 13th June, 1951 the said Ramayee executed a settlement deed under Exhibit A-6 in favour of her sister's son Marimuthu, husband of the defendant bequeathing the suit property to him. Ramayee died on 12th January, 1959. Thereafter the settlee under Exhibit A-6 also died in April, 1960. The defendant who is the sister's son filed a suit O.S. No. 13 of 1961 claiming the suit property on the basis of the settlement deed, Exhibit A-6 against the plaintiff's wife and got a decree for possession on 12th March, 1962. The plaintiff had purchased the suit property by a sale deed, dated 26th March, 1962 from one Nallamuthu Raja who is said to be the reversioner to the estate of Vridhachala. In pursuance of the decree obtained by the defendant, she sought to take delivery of possession through Court and the plaintiff obstructed delivery of possession on the ground that he had absolute title to the suit property on the basis of his purchase under the said Exhibit A-1 from the reversioner. The defendant filed E.A. No. 195 of 1962 in O.S. No. 13 of 1;961 for removal of obstruction and by an order, dated 18th July, 1962 the Court ordered removal of obstruction. The plaintiff was therefore constrained to file the present suit for declaration of his title and for setting aside the said summary order, resting his case on Exhibit A-1. In the suit the plaintiff contended that Ramayee had no power to execute the settlement deed, Exhibit A-6 that in any event no right can flow to the settlee under that document after Ramayee's death on 12th January, 1959, and that the plaintiff having purchased the suit property under Exhibit A-1 from the reversioner to the estate of Vridhachala he has become entitled to the suit property.

2. The defendant on the other hand, contended that the vendor under Exhibit A-1 is not the reversioner to the deceased Vridhachala, that his sale under Exhibit A-1 in favour of the plaintiff was not valid and binding on the defendant and that her husband had acquired a valid and absolute title to the suit properly under the settlement deed Exhibit A-6. In the face of these rival contentions, the trial Court held that the vendor under Exhibit A-1 was a reversioner to the estate of Vridhachala, but that his sale under Exhibit A-1 in favour of the plaintiff though true was not valid and binding on the defendant and that the settlement deed under Exhibit A-6 in favour of the defendant's husband was valid and conveyed an absolute title to the suit property from Ramayee. In that view the trial Court dismissed the plaintiffs suit and upheld the summary order removing obstruction.

3. On appeal, the lower appellate Court agreed with the view of the trial Court that the vendor Exhibit A-1 was the reversioner to the estate of Vridhachala, but however, held that the settlement deed Exhibit A-6 executed by Ramayee in favour of the defendant's husband is invalid and ineffective for the reason that Ramayee had no right to convey absolute title to the suit property to the settlee, that after the death of Ramayee that suit properly had reverted to her husband's reversioner, Nallamuthu Raja and that the sale in favour of the plaintiff by the said reversioner was valid. Hence the defendant has come to this Court questioning the decision of the lower appellate Court.

4. The only question that arises in this second appeal is whether the settlement deed Exhibit A-6 by Ramayee conveys absolute title to the defendant's husband.

5. Admittedly Ramayee was a limited owner when she inherited the property from her husband, Vridhachala. It is the case of the defendant (appellant) that though Ramayee was a limited owner, in view of the provisions of Section 14 of the Hindu Succession Act of 1956 her limited estate has become absolute as she was in possession of the property on the date of coming into force of the said Act. The recitals in Exhibit A-6 are relied on for establishing that Ramayee continued to possess the property with a condition that the income from the suit property should be enjoyed jointly by her and the settlee till her lifetime and that thereafter the property should be taken absolutely by the settlee. It is urged that in view of the fact that Ramayee did not part with her possession of the suit property till her lifetime, her limited interest has become absolute by virtue of Section 14 of Central Act XXX of 1956, that as such the settlement will take effect as per the tenor of the document and that the settlee will get absolute interest after the lifetime of Ramayee. The trial Court, while dealing with this question, construed the recitals in Exhibit A-6 and held that Ramayee has not divested herself completely of the possession of the suit property that both herself and the settlee had continued in possession till the settlor's death and that the settlee had to enjoy it absolutely only after her death. It took the view that possession retained by Ramayee after Exhibit A-6 is sufficient to enable her to become the absolute owner on the coming into force of Central Act XXX of 1956. According to the trial Court the retention of possession by Ramayee after the settlement deed till her lifetime would be sufficient to attract the provisions of Section 1.4, since even after her limited interest had become absolute under Section 14, Ramayee has not chosen to cancel the settlement or modify it and as such the settlement deed became effective fully on her death on 12th January, 1959 making the defendant's husband as absolute owner of the suit property. In its view the property did not revert to the reversioners as contended by the plaintiff after the death of Ramayee.

6. The lower appellate Court, however, took a contrary view on the question of application of Section 14 of Act XXX of 1956. In its view the settlement deed should be construed as a deed of gift, that the ownership has vested on the settlee even on the date of the settlement itself and that notwithstanding the recital that the settlor was in enjoyment, it will not attract the provisions of Section 1.4, as Ramayee cannot be said to have possessed the suit property as a limited owner at the time of coming into force of the Hindu Succession Act of 1956. I have now to consider which of the two views is correct.

7. The learned Counsel for the appellant urges that having regard to the recitals in Exhibit A-6 this case squarely falls under Section 14 (1) of the Hindu Succession Act, that the limited estate of the settlor having become absolute in view of Section 14, the appellant's husband became a settlee of the suit property as per the tenor of the settlement deed. It is contended that the retention of possession by the settlor is sufficient to attract Section 14(l)and that the view of the lower appellate Court that ownership having vested with the settlee under Exhibit A-6, there was nothing for the application of Section 14 cannot be accepted as correct.

8. The following observations of the Supreme Court in Kotturuswami v. Veeravva : AIR1959SC577 are relied on by the learned Counsel : ' Possession in Section 14 is used in a broad sense and in the context means the state of owning or having in one's hand or power.'

9. In that case the Supreme Court considered the scope of the words 'property possessed by a female Hindu' whether acquired before or after the commencement of the Act in Section 14 of the Act, said ' Section 14 refers to property which was either acquired before or after the commencement of the Act and such property should be possessed by a female Hindu. In order that the provisions of Section 14 may apply it will have to be established that the property was possessed by her at the time the Act came into force.' On the facts of that case it was held that even though the widow was not in actual possession, possession of the alleged adopted sop whose adoption was successfully challenged was considered to be constructive possession on behalf of the widow and that the limited interest possessed by the widow became absolute and she had become full owner of her husband's estate. In the context of the facts of that case where the widow was not in physical possession but in constructive possession the Supreme Court expressed the view that the word 'possessed' used in Section 14 should be understood in a broad sense and in the context means the state of owning or having in one's hand or powers. Subbalakshmi Ammal v. Ramalakshmi Ammal I.L.R. (1964) 1 Mad. 448 : (1963) 2 M.L.J. 467 was also referred to. There Ramamurti, J., had held that the words ' possessed by a female Hindu ' in Section 14 of the Hindu Succession Act have been used in a very wide, broad and comprehensive sense, so as to include the right of possession. In that case on the death of a Hindu widow having rights under the Hindu Women's Rights to Property Act, her stridhana heirs were held entitled to take her share of the property absolutely after her death on the ground that the widow had a right to work out her rights for partition by metes and bounds and for separate possession, and that the right to possession was sufficient to attract Section 14 of the Hindu Succession Act. In Mangal Singh v. Rattno : [1967]3SCR454 the Supreme Court again considered the scope of the expression 'possessed by' in Section 14 and expressed that the expression ' possessed by ' was not intended to apply to a case of mere possession without title, that the Legislature intended this provision for cases where the Hindu female possesses the right of ownership of the property in question, that mere physical possession of the property without the right of ownership will not attract the provisions of this section. It was held therein that the section even if construed widely and broadly, would not apply at all to cases where the Hindu female may have parted with her rights so as to place herself in a position where she could, in no manner exercise her rights of ownership in that property any longer. Though the above decision appears to be against the contention put forward by the learned Counsel for the appellant he refers to a passage in that judgment which is as follows : ' The use of the expression ' possessed by ' instead of the expression ' in possession of' in our opinion was intended to enlarge the meaning of this, expression. It is commonly known in English language that property is said to be possessed by a person, if he is its owner, even though he may, for the time being, be out of actual possession or even constructive possession.'

10. As explained by the Supreme Court in Kotturuswami v. Veeravva : AIR1959SC577 earlier referred to in cases of alienation or a gift made by a Hindu widow even though that alienation or gift cannot be binding on a reversioner, the property cannot be held to be possessed by the widow for her lifetime and she at least would not possess any such rights under which she could retain actual or constructive possession from a transferee or donee. Having completely parted with her legal rights in the property she could not be said to be possessed of the property any longer. The above decisions cited by the learned Counsel may not, in my opinion, be of any help to the appellant. The appellant merely relies on the joint possession of Ramayee under Exhibit A-6 as sufficient to attract the provisions of Section 14 of the Hindu Succession Act. But as expressed by the Supreme Court in Mangal Sing v. Rattno (1968) 1 S.C.J. 487 : A.I.R. 1967 S.C. 1786 mere possession without ownership cannot be sufficient for the application of Section 14 (1). In fact the Supreme Court, in Erramma v. Veerappan : [1966]2SCR626 where a female Hindu did not possess any legal right or title to the property though she was actually in physical possession of the same, has held that the property possessed by a female Hindu as contemplated in the section is clearly property to which she has acquired some kind of title, whether before or after the commencement of the Act. It may be noticed that the explanation to Section 14 (1) sets out the various modes of acquisition of the property by a female Hindu and indicates that the section applies only to property to which the female Hindu has acquired some kind of title, however restricted the nature of her interest may be. The words as 'full owner thereof and not as a limited owner ' as given in the last portion of Sub-section (1) of Section 14 clearly suggest that the Legislature intended that the limited ownership of a Hindu female should be changed into full ownership. In other words, Section 14 (1) of the Act contemplates that a Hindu female, who, in the absence of this provision, would have been limited owner of the property, will now become full owner of the same by virtue of this section. The object of the section is to extinguish the estate called ' limited estate ' or ' widow's estate ' in Hindu Law and to make a Hindu woman, who, under the old law, would have been only a limited owner, a full owner of the property with all powers of disposition and to make estate heritable by her own heirs and not revertible to the heirs of the last male holder. The observations of the Supreme Court in Erramma v. Veerappan : [1966]2SCR626 and these in Mangal Singh v. Rattno (1968) 1 S.C.J. 487 : A.I.R. 1967 S.C. 1786 make it abundantly clear that mere possession of the widow after parting with her ownership of the property will not attract the provisions of Section 14 as there is no 'widow's estate' or limited interest to be enlarged to an absolute estate. In my view, Section 14 (1) cannot be interpreted so as to validate the illegal possession of a female Hindu. If it were to be otherwise, any possession by a female Hindu even as a trespasser will be converted into an absolute estate by the application of Section 1.4 (1) and that cannot obviously be accepted as a correct proposition of law. The words ' as full owner thereof and not as a limited owner ' in the last portion of Section 14 (1) clearly suggest that the Legislature only intended that the limited ownership of the Hindu female be changed into full ownership. There is no room for the application of Section 14 (1) in the case where the Hindu female does not possess the estate as a limited owner. The provision of Section 14 (1) cannot be attracted in case of a Hindu female who is in possession of the property of the last male holder on the date of the commencement of the Act when she is only a trespasser or permissive occupant without any right to the property. The expression ' possessed by ' in Section 14 is not intended to apply to a case of mere possession without title and the Legislature had intended this provision for cases where Hindu female possesses the limited right of ownership of the property in question and mere physical possession of the property without right of ownership will not attract the provisions of Section 14. On the facts of this case Ramayee is found to have parted with her rights so as to place herself in a position where she could in no manner exercise her rights of ownership in that property any longer and her mere possession will not convert the estate which she had parted with earlier into one of absolute estate.

11. Ramakrishnan, J., in Andal Amma v. Sivaprakasa I.L.R. (1963) Mad 360 : A.I.R. 1963 Mad. 452 has also expressed the view that the benefit of Section 14 (1) of the Hindu Succession Act cannot be availed of by Hindu female who is in possession of the property of the last male owner on the date of commencement of the Act, when she is only a trespasser without any right to the property and that it is only in those cases where there is a female Hindu with limited estate and which has to be deemed as enlarged to an absolute estate under Section 14 (1), the question will arise as to whether she was in possession of the property concerned when the Act came into force. Venkatanarasing Rao v. Lachmi Bai (1964) 2 An.W.R. 383 also laid down that mere possession of properties is not sufficient to attract the operation of Section 14 (1) of the Hindu Succession Act and it is the possession of the Hindu female as a limited owner that the section contemplates and that the emphasis in Section 14 (1) is on her being the owner although subject to certain restrictions. It was pointed in that case that if mere possession is held to be tantamount to limited ownership and capable of attracting Section 14 (1), a. female Hindu who is merely an oral lessee or who is only in permissible possession of property, will be able to claim obsolute ownership of the property. That surely is not the intention of Section 14 (1). In Karuppudayar v. Periathambi Udayar (1965) 78 L.W. 616, Ramakrishnan, J., was concerned with a case of a widow executing a settlement deed in respect of her husband's property in favour of her donee and putting him in possession of the same. The settlement deed there specifically provided that the donee will enjoy the property without making any alienation and if any alienation was found necessary the donor and the donee would jointly do so and that the donee has to take the property only after the settlor's lifetime. On a suit filed by the reversioners questioning the settlement, it was contended that the widow having retained constructively a possessory interest in the properties, that interest has become enlarged into an absolute interest under Section 14 (1) and that the interest of the widow having been transmitted to the donee, the donee had become the absolute owner of the property. The learned Judge held that the settlor having divested himself of her right of being in possession of the property there is no question therefore of her retaining any right of possession even after the execution of the gift deed either actual or constructive. The facts in this case are not ad idem with the facts in that case. However, the principle of the decision can, in my opinion, be applied to this case as well. Ramayee having executed a settlement deed she merely retained the right to enjoy the income till her lifetime jointly with the settlee and it cannot be said that she retained the right to possession. The settlee is also entitled to enjoy the property even during the lifetime of Ramayee and the restraint on the alienation imposed on the settlee also suggest that the ownership should have passed to the settlee on the date of the settlement. I have already expressed the view that even if Ramayee retained possession till her lifetime, that possessory right alone will not attract the provisions of Section 14 (1).

12. In the view, I have expressed that Ramayee having parted with her ownership under the settlement deed, there is no room, for the application of Section 14 (1). I hold that the settlement under Exhibit A-6 cannot enure to the settlee after the death of Ramayee and as such the defendant cannot claim title to the suit property on the basis of Exhibit A-6. In the result, I agree with the decision of the lower appellate Court and dismiss the second appeal with costs. No leave.


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