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Arunachala Gounder (Dead) by L.Rs. v/s Ponnusamy: A Case Study Over Succession And Inheritance Right Of Females Dying Intrastate

Property in question is the self-acquired property of Marappa Gounder which was purchased through a court auction.

Marappa Gounder died intrastate. Suit for partition was filed by Thangammal, daughter of Ramasamy Gounder, claiming 1/5th share of property on the allegation that all five of them are children of Ramasamy Gounder. Ramasamy Gounder is the predeceased brother of Marappa Gounder. He left behind his only daughter Kuppayee Ammal who died undisputedly.

Case was filed by Plaintiff/Appellant that the property should be inherited by Kuppayee Ammal after the death of Marappa Gounder and after the death of Kuppayee Ammal said property should be inherited by all the five children of Ramasamy Gounder and are entitled to 1/5th share each.

It was disputed what was the date of death of Marappa Gounder. Whether it was 11.05.1949 or 14.04.1957. It was concluded by the Trial Court that Marappa Gounder died on 15.04.1949 and thus, the property shall devolve, as per the rule of survivorship, upon the sole son of deceased Ramasamy Gounder.

This finding was challenged in the High Court. The High Court upheld the finding and said the property should devolve as per the rule of survivorship.

Issues Raised:
The Hon'ble Court has determined the following issues for the adjudication of the present case:
  • What is the nature and course of a succession of the suit property?
  • Whether a Hindu daughter could inherit her father's separate property and die intestate before the enactment of the Hindu Succession Act of 1956?
  • What would be the manner of a succession of the said property after the death of such a daughter?

Contentions of Appellant:
Under the law of Mitakshara, the right to inheritance depends upon propinquity i.e., proximity of relationship. Since, the daughter has closer proximity to the relationship, she would inherit the property from the father instead of the father's brother's son and daughter.

There are three classes of heirs recognized by:
  • Mitakshara
  • Gotrajasapindas
  • Samanodakas
  • Bandhus
The first class succeeds before the second and the second succeeds before the third.

It is mentioned in Mulla's Hindu Law that a daughter is not disqualified to inherit separate property of her father and when a male Hindu dies without a son leaving only daughter, his separate property would devolve upon the daughter through succession and the property will not devolve upon the brother's son through survivorship.

Contentions of Respondent:
The property was purchased out of the family funds and thus, it was a joint property, and on his death, since he had no male heir, the Defendant as a coparcener succeeded to the estate.

The Trial Court scrutinized evidence and then came to the conclusion that the paternal uncle of Plaintiff, Marappa Gounder, died prior to the enforcement of the Act , and thus, the daughter was not having any right to inherit the property left by her deceased father. The only heir available at the time of death of Marappa Gounder was Guranatha Gounder, the son of Ramasamy Gounder, who was none other than the father of the Defendants.

Neither any issue was framed nor any evidence was led by the Plaintiff-Appellant throughout the entire proceedings to establish that property purchased in the Court auction in the year 1938 was a self-acquired property of Marappa Gounder and thus, it would be presumed that it was a joint family property leaving no rights in his daughter to inherit the same.

To get to any conclusion, learned judges thought that it is important to look into the ancient texts, like Shruties and Smrities, and the commentaries on Hindu law related to the succession. There were also few cases that were considered by the learned judges. In one of these cases Pranjivandas Tulsidas vs. Dev Kuvarbai 1 Bomb. HC B 131 "A Hindu owning separate property died without a male issue, leaving behind-a widow, four daughters and a brother and male issues of other deceased brothers.

The Court observed that the widow was entitled to a life estate in the property and subject to her interest the property would devolve to the daughters absolutely in preference to the brother and the issue of the deceased brothers". The Court referred to the digest of 'Yajnavalkya ' states that:

'What has been self-acquired by any one, as an increment, without diminishing the paternal estate, likewise a gift from a friend or a marriage gift, does not belong to co-heirs'. Upon reading the case of Katama Natchiar v. Srimut Rajah Mootoo Vijaya Raganadha Bodha Gooroo Sawmy Periya Odaya Taver the Hon'ble Apex Court culled out the following principles:

The law of succession follows the nature of property and of the interest in it.

Thelaw of partition shows that as to the separately acquired property of one member of a united family, the other members of the family have neither community of interest nor unity of possession.

The Court referred to the case of Ghurpatari and Ors. V. Smt. Sampati and Ors.

In this case, referring to various commentaries, it was stated that the right of daughter and daughter's son to inherit the property was well recognized in the Mitakshara law and the daughter ranks fifth in the order of succession and the daughter's son ranked sixth. In the case of Lal Singh and Ors. v/s Roor Singh and Ors. it was held that daughters and daughter's son have a preferential claim to the non-ancestral property as against the collaterals. In the case of Gopal Singh and Ors. v/s Ujagar Singh and Ors. it was observed that "In regard to the acquired property of her father, the daughter is preferred to the collaterals."

After looking to all cases and commentaries the court answered the question Nos. 1 and 2 are as under:
"If a property of a male Hindu dying intestate is a self-acquired property or obtained in partition of a coparcenary or a family property, the same would devolve by inheritance and not by survivorship, and a daughter of such a male Hindu would be entitled to inherit such property in preference to other collaterals."

Question No. 3 is related with the old customary Hindu Law, for which there are contradictory opinions between the schools of Hindu Law related to order of succession to be followed after the death of such a daughter inheriting the property from his father. The answer for Question No. 3 related to this Conflict was given as:

"This conflict of opinion may not be relevant in the present case inasmuch as since Kupayee Ammal, daughter of Marappa Gounder, after inheriting the suit property upon the death of Marappa Gounder, died after enforcement of Hindu Succession Act, 1956, which has amended and codified the Hindu Law relating to intestate succession among Hindus."

Section 14 of the Act declares property of a female Hindu to be her absolute property. Section 14(1) converted all limited estates owned by women into absolute estates and the succession of these properties in the absence of a will or testament would take place in consonance with Section 15 . Section 16 of the Act also comes in the picture for this case. This Section gives three rules related to order of Succession and manner of distribution among heirs of a female Hindu.

By applying the above rationale the Hon'ble Apex Court held that the judgment and decree dated 01.03.1994 passed by the Trial Court and confirmed by the High Court vide judgment and order dated 21.01.2009 are not liable to be sustained and are hereby set aside.

It was also said by the court that it is unfortunate that neither the Trial Court nor the High Court adverted itself to the settled legal propositions which are squarely applicable in the facts and circumstances of the case.

In Mitakshara females are included as heirs in succession as this right to inherit the her father's separate property is result of propinquity. This right was recognized even long before the enforcement of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956. This can be seen under the ancient texts likes Smrities and Shruties. even this is also included in few commentaries. According to Mulla's Hindu Law, the Mitakshara system accepts two way to transfer ownership of property in a hindu family:

Survivorship; And Succession
Property which belongs to joint family is inherited by the family members by the way of "Survivorship" and the property which is separate and belongs to only one person in the family is inherited by the way of "Succession".

Prior to the commencement of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, it was clear that the female could not inherit the joint family property because these property could be inherited by coparceners only. But it was not clear that whether a female can inherit a separate property in the same capacity as a son can. This question was answered by the Hon'ble Supreme Court in this case.

Supreme Court carefully examined the history of Hindu Succession Act, 1956, and the Customary Hindu Laws, which acknowledge females as heirs. In this judgment the Supreme Court clarified that ancient texts, commentaries and judicial precedents have crystallized and validated the daughter's right in father's separate property, even before the enactment of Hindu Succession Act, 1956.

It was also held by the Supreme Court that the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 attempts to achieve equality. In the decision the significance of Section 14 of the Act was explained. It was made clear that a property held by a hindu female is her absolute property. The way in which a property held by a hindu female dying intestate will pass to her heirs was also explained by the Supreme Court of India, which is provided under Section 15 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956.

For example, the property which was acquired by a female from her father will pass to her father's heirs and the property that was inherited by her from her husband or from her father-in-law will pass to heirs of her husband. This Section will be applied only in a case where a female is dying intestate. It was further explained that Section 15 is subjected to the rules as provided under Section 16 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956.

In this judgment the Hon'ble Apex Court has examined in detail that whether the sources of Hindu Law gives daughters right to have a share in the property of father or not. From the above case we can conclude the following points:
  1. It is very clear that succession under Hindu Law is governed by proximity and hence a daughter is capable of inheriting the Self-Acquired Property or Share received in the partition of coparcenary property of her Hindu Father dying intestate.
  2. Not only the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 recognized the rule of proximity but this rule is recognized far back in ancient text of Hindu Law also, which is crystallized and legitimized through many texts, commentaries and judicial precedents.
  3. In case of absence of will the inheritance will be done as per Hindu Succession Act and daughters being Class I heirs of their father are entitled for the share in the property.
  4. A property held by a female hindu is her absolute property in accordance with Section 14 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956.
  5. In case where a Hindu Female dying intestate her property will be inherited in accordance with the provisions given under Section 15 and Section 16 of Hindu Succession Act, 1956.

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