LIMITED ESTATE OF A WIDOW

IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION

CIVIL APPEAL NOs. 5063-5065 of 2005

Shivdev Kaur (D) By Lrs. & Ors.          …Appellants

Versus

R.S. Grewal                         …Respondent

 

J U D G M E N T

      Dr. B.S. Chauhan, J:

      1.          These appeals have been  preferred  against  the  impugned judgment and order dated 2.7.2004 passed by the High Court of Punjab & Haryana at Chandigarh in Regular Second Appeal No.  257  of  1982  and      Regular Second Appeal No. 608 of 1982 and Cross Objection No. 14-C  of 1982 by which the High Court has affirmed the judgment  of  the  first appellate court as well as the trial court so far as the nature of the rights of the appellant in the suit property are concerned.

      2.    Facts and circumstances giving rise to these appeals are that:

      A.    One Dr. Hira Singh had acquired a huge  property  in  his  life   time. He executed various deeds creating certain rights in  favour  of  his sole son Dr. Shivdev Singh Grewal and two daughters, namely,  Smt.   Dayawant Kaur and Dr. Shivdev Kaur including the Will dated 16.9.1944,  creating certain rights in favour of the  appellant.  Dr.  Hira  Singh   died on 11.4.1945.

      B.  Shri Shivdev Singh Grewal and Smt. Dayawant  Kaur  died  leaving  behind their children.  Dr. Shivdev Kaur claimed certain rights on the  basis of the Will dated 16.9.1944, and for the same  she  filed   Suit  No. 161/399/74 on 4.10.1974  against her  nephew for   mandatory  injunction seeking  his eviction  from  the  suit  premises  claiming  absolute right/ownership over the same in view of  the  provisions  of  Section 14 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 (hereinafter referred  to   as the `Act  1956’). The respondent/defendant  contested  the  suit  denying such a right.

      C.    During the pendency of the said suit,  the espondent/defendant  also filed Suit No. 80 of 1976, against  the  appellant/plaintiff  for  permanent injunction restraining her from transferring/alienating  the suit property. The trial  court  vide  judgment  and  decree  dated  28.4.1978   decided the Suit No. 161/399/74,   holding    that   appellant/plaintiff had no absolute  right/ownership  over  the  suit      property. The trial court vide judgment  and  decree  dated  4.6.1979  passed in Suit No. 80/1976, held to  the  effect  that  the  appellant      would not interfere in any manner in respect of the agricultural lands  etc., however, she would not be dispossessed from the  suit  premises  and it would be subject to the final decision of the another suit.

      D.    Aggrieved, both parties filed appeals and cross-objections.  The  appellate court dismissed  the  appeal filed  by  the respondent on 22.10.1981. On the same day, appeal filed by the appellant was allowed  to certain extent. However, so far as the issue relating to conversion of the life interest into  absolute  title  was  decided  against  the  appellant.

      E.  Aggrieved, respondent filed RSA Nos. 257 and 608  of  1982,  and  appellant filed  RSA No. 608/1982 and cross-objection bearing No.  14-C/1982.

      F.    The appellant executed a Will dated 28.2.1991 in respect of  the  suit property creating  a  trust  in the name  of  her  father  and      appointing Shri Sudarshan Singh Deol and Brig Inderjeet Singh  Dhillon  as the  trustees.  She  further made Codicil  dated  25.8.1995.  The appellant died on 15.2.1998  and thus  executors  of  her  Will  got    impleaded.  

      G.    The High Court allowed both the RSAs filed by the respondent and  dismissed the claim of the appellant.

            Hence, these appeals.

      3.    Shri Devender Mohan Verma, learned counsel appearing  on  behalf of the appellant, has argued that the appellant had become a widow  at      a very young age. She was maintained by her in laws, thus, her father took pity on her and as she was a  destitute,  brought  her  back  and created a “life interest”  in  her  favour  in  respect  of  the  suit property by executing a Will dated 16.9.1944.  She started residing in the suit property. Her father died in 1945. After commencement of  the Act 1956, right of “life interest” stood  crystallised  into  absolute right and title. Therefore, the courts below erred in  deciding  the issue against her.  Thus, the appeals deserve to be allowed.

      4.  Per contra, Shri  R.K.  Dhawan,  learned  counsel  appearing  on behalf of the respondent, has opposed the appeals contending that  the       appellant cannot be  permitted  to  introduce  a  new  case  that  the      appellant was a destitute. She was a well qualified person and MBBS doctor. She had acquired large properties from the family of her late husband.  More so, father of the  appellant  had  created  only  “life interest” in her favour in the suit property by  executing  the  Will. Section 14(2) of the  Act  1956  does  not  provide  that  such  “life interest”  would  stand   converted   into   absolute   ownership   on commencement of the said Act.  There are concurrent findings of  facts on this issue and, thus, the appeals  lack merit and are liable to  be dismissed.

      5. We have considered the rival submissions made  by  the learned      counsel for the parties and perused the records.

      6. The document creating  a  limited  right,  “life  interest”  in      favour of the appellant i.e.  Will dated 16.9.1944 so far  as the relevant part is concerned reads as under:

               “I give this Kothi situated at Iqbal  Road  to  my  daughter

               Bibi Shivdev Kaur subject to the rights of Bibi Shiv  Charan

               Kaur, mentioned above, for life time, who  after  my death

               will remain abad in this Kothi and get benefit thereof. If

               she wishes, she can get the benefit of its rent also as  per

               necessity and can use the income of rent.  But these  rights

               are only for her life time.  She can not alienate this kothi

               or the site relating thereto, in  any  way,  or  create  any

               charge thereon, nor she can mortgage gift, sell or  transfer

               it.  My son Shibdev Singh aforesaid shall also be  the  sole

               owner of this Kothi subject to the above mentioned rights.”    

  7.    It is evident from the aforesaid part of the Will  that  only  a life interest had been created in favour  of  the  appellant  by  that Will. Therefore, the sole question for our consideration remains as to whether such limited  right  got converted into absolute  right  on commencement of the  Act 1956.

      8.    Section 14 of the Act 1956 reads as under:

             “14. Property of a female Hindu to be her absolute property.

(1)  Any property possessed by a female Hindu, whether

             Acquired before or after the commencement of this Act, shall be

             held  by her as full owner thereof and not as a limited owner.

             (2) Nothing contained in sub- section (1) shall  apply  to  any

             property acquired by way of gift or under a will or  any  other

             instrument or under a decree or order of a civil court or under

             an award where the terms of the gift, will or other  instrument

             or the decree, order or award prescribe a restricted estate  in

             such property.”

             (Emphasis added)

      9.    The aforesaid statutory provisions  provide  for  conversion of       life interest into absolute title on commencement  of  the  Act  1956, however, sub-section (2) carves out an exception to  the  same  as  it      provides that such right would not be conferred where  a  property  is     acquired by a Hindu female by way of gift or under a Will or any other       instrument prescribing a restricted estate in that property.

      10.   In Mst. Karmi v. Amru & Ors., AIR 1971 SC 745,  a similar  issue       was considered by this Court and after examining the contents  of  the Will came to the conclusion that where a woman succeeded some property on the strength of a  Will,  she  cannot  claim  any  right  in  those properties over and above what was given to her under that Will.   The life estate given to her under the Will would not become  an  absolute estate under the provisions of the Act 1956 and, thus,  such  a  Hindu female cannot claim any title to the suit property on the basis of the Will executed in her favour.  (See also: Navneet Lal @ Rangi v.  Gokul & Ors., AIR 1976 SC 794;  and  Jagan  Singh  (Dead)  Through  LRs.  v. Dhanwanti & Anr., (2012) 2 SCC 628).

      11.   In Sadhu Singh v. Gurdwara Sahib Narike  & Ors., AIR 2006  SC  3282, this Court again considered the issue, held as under:

                 “When he thus validly disposes of his property by providing

              for a limited estate to his heir, the wife or  widow  has  to

              take it as the estate falls. This restriction on her right so

              provided, is really respected by  the  Act.  It  provides  in

              Section 14(2) of the Act, that in such a case, the  widow  is

              bound by the limitation on her right and she cannot claim any

              higher right by invoking Section 14(1) of the Act.  In  other

              words, conferment of a limited estate which  is  otherwise

              valid in law is reinforced by this Act by the introduction of

              Section 14(2) of the Act and excluding  the  operation  of

              Section 14(1) of the Act, even if that provision is  held  to

              be attracted in the case  of a succession  under  the  Act.

              Invocation of Section 14(1) of the  Act in the case of  a

              testamentary disposition taking effect after the  Act,  would

              make Sections 30 and 14(2) redundant or otiose. It will  also

              make redundant, the expression “property possessed  by  a

              female Hindu” occurring in  Section  14(1) of the Act.  An

              interpretation that leads to such a result  cannot  certainly

              be accepted. Surely, there is nothing in the  Act  compelling

              such an interpretation. Sections 14 and 30  both  have  play.

              Section 14(1) applies in a case where the female had received

              the property prior to the Act  being  entitled  to  it  as  a

              matter of right, even if the right be  to  a  limited  estate

              under  the  Mitakshara law or the  right  to maintenance.

              (Emphasis added)

      12.   Shri Verma, learned counsel for  the  appellant  placed  a  very heavy reliance on the judgment of this Court in Balwant Kaur & Anr. v.       Chanan Singh & Ors., AIR 2000 SC 1908,  contending  that  a  destitute       Hindu daughter if acquires such a right, it would  stand  crystallised in absolute title.  There is a complete fallacy in his   argument.  In the said case, this Court held that all the clauses of the  Will  must be read together to find out the intention of the testator. The court held:  

                 “…This is obviously on the principle that the  last  clause

                 represents the latest intention of the testator. It is true

                 that in the earlier part of  the  Will, the testator  has

                 stated that his daughter Balwant Kaur shall  be  the heir,

                 owner and title-holder of his entire remaining moveable

                 and immovable property but in the later part of the same

                 Will he has clearly stated that on the death of Balwant 

                 Kaur, the brothers of the testator shall  be  the  heirs 

                 of  the property. This clearly shows that the recitals in the

                 later part of the Will would operate and make Appellant 1

                 only  a limited estate-holder in the property bequeathed

                 to her.”

                                        (Emphasis added)

 

      13.   Thus, in view of  the  above,  the  law  on  the  issue  can  be summarised to the effect that if a Hindu female has been given only a “life interest”, through Will or gift or any other document  referred to in Section 14 of the Act 1956, the  said  rights  would  not  stand crystallised   into  the  absolute  ownership  as   interpreting   the provisions  to  the   effect   that   she   would   acquire   absolute ownership/title into the property  by  virtue  of  the  provisions  of Section 14(1) of the Act 1956, the provisions of Sections 14(2) and 30 of the Act 1956 would become otios.

            Section 14(2) carves out an exception to rule provided  in  sub-

      section (1) thereof, which clearly provides that  if  a  property has

      been acquired by a Hindu female by a Will or gift, giving her  only  a

      “life interest”, it would remain the same even after commencement  of

      the Act 1956, and such a Hindu female cannot acquire absolute title.

      14.   Whether person is destitute or not, is a question of  fact.  The       expression ‘destitute’ has not been defined  under  the  Act  1956  or under  the  Code  of  Criminal  Procedure,  1973,  or  Code  of  Civil       Procedure, 1908.   The dictionary meaning is  “without  resources,  in     want of necessaries”. A person can be held destitute when no one is to       support him and is found wandering without any settled place of  abode       and without visible means of subsistence.  In  the  instant  case,  no      factual foundation has ever been laid  by  the  appellant  before  the      courts below in this regard. In such a fact-situation, the issue  does not require consideration.

      15.     All the courts have taken a consistent  view  rejecting  the       claim of the appellant of having acquired an absolute  title.   We  do not see any cogent reason to interfere with the concurrent findings of facts. Appeals lack merit and are accordingly dismissed.

                      ….…………..……………………….....................J.   

                         (Dr.  B. S. CHAUHAN)

 

                    ……..………….…………….................................. J.

                    (FAKKIR MOHAMED IBRAHIM KALIFULLA)

 

      New Delhi,   

      March 20, 2013.

 

 

 

 

 

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