Female member can be Karta of HUF – Delhi HC
Brief of the Case
Delhi High Court held In the case of Mrs. Sujata Sharma vs. Shri Manu Gupta that post Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005 which amended the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, all rights which were available to a Hindu male are now also available to a Hindu female, there is no reason why Hindu women should be denied the position of a Karta. If a male member of an HUF, by virtue of his being the first born eldest, can be a Karta, so can a female member. There is no restriction in the law preventing the eldest female co-parcener of an HUF, from being its Karta. The appellant’s father’s right in the HUF did not dissipate but was inherited by her. Nor did her marriage alter the right to inherit the co-parcenary property to which she succeeded after her father’s demise in terms of Section 6. Accordingly, she is declared the Karta of D.R. Gupta & Sons (HUF).
Facts of the Case
The parties to the suit are the co-parceners of the D.R.Gupta & Sons, HUF. The issue in this case is whether the appellant (Female member), being the first born amongst the co-parceners of the HUF property, would by virtue of her birth, be entitled to be its Karta.
Contention of the Appellant
The ld counsel of the appellant submitted that pursuant to the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005 which amended the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, all rights which were available to a Hindu male are now also available to a Hindu female. She submits that a daughter is now recognized as a co -parcener by birth in her own right and has the same rights in the co-parcenary property that are given to a son. She relies upon Section 6 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956.
She also relies upon the dicta of the Supreme Court in Tribhovan Das Haribhai Tamboli v. Gujarat Revenue Tribunal and Ors. AIR 1991 SC 1538 which held that the senior most member in a HUF would become the Karta. He further relies upon the case of Ram Belas Singh vs. Uttamraj Singh and Ors. AIR 2008 Patna 8, which held that post amendment, the law is made very clear that the term “Hindu Mitakshara coparcener” used in the original Hindu Law shall now include daughter of a coparcener also giving her the same rights and liabilities by birth as those of the son.” It is not in dispute between the parties that the plaintiff is the eldest surviving member of the HUF. Accordingly, she seeks a decree in terms of the relief sought in the suit.
The learned counsel for the appellant relies upon the case of Raghunath Rai Bareja and Another vs. Punjab National Bank and Others (2207) 2 SCC 230 which held that, under the Dayabhaga School of Law, an unborn son cannot have a right in the property because the said son cannot perform Shradha whereas, under the Mitakshara School of Law, an unborn son in the womb of his mother gets a share in the ancestral property. The rights of an unborn son in the mother‟s womb under the Dayabhaga School of Law are premised on the ability of the child to offer a rice ball or to conduct such necessary rituals for the benefit of the departed souls of his ancestors. Under the Mitakshara School of Law, emphasis is on the right of inheritance of the child and therefore, it rests upon consanguinity rather on upon the inheritance efficacy. It is contended that Section 6 of the Hindu Succession Act extends this element of consanguinity to female coparceners of a HUF under the Mitakshara School of Law to all aspects of inheritance, which would include the right to manage a ritual or property as its Karta, being the eldest of the coparceners.
The appellant is the daughter of Kishan Mohan Gupta, who is one of the acknowledged coparceners of the said HUF and was thus a party. She had signed the settlement as a member of the family and her signatures would have to be read as one of the parties. Her signatures would testify that she has a share in the property otherwise her signature would not be necessary.
Further submitted that section 6(1) of the Hindu Succession Act, 1946, which devolves interest in co-parcenary right, is clear and unambiguous and does not call for any interpretation; that any reference to Hindu Mitakshara Law would be deemed to include a daughter with equal rights in the coparcenary, no other view regarding succession is permissible in view of the overriding effect as per Section 4. For literal rule of interpretation, he relies upon the dicta of the Supreme Court in Raghunath Rai Bareja and Another vs. Punjab National Bank and Others (2007) 2 SCC 230. The learned counsel further relies upon Ganduri Koteshwar Ramma & Anr. v. Chakiri Yanadi & Anr., (2011) 9 SCC 788 which, in the context of Section 6 of the Hindu Succession Act, held that rights in the co-parcenary property among male and female members of a joint Hindu family are equal on and from 9.9.2005. He submits that the legislature has now conferred a substantive right in favour of the daughters; that by Section 6, the daughter of the co-parcenar shall have same rights and liabilities in the co-parcenary property as she would if she had been a son; thus, on and from 9.9.2005, the daughter is entitled to a share in the HUF property and is a co-parcenar as if she had been a son. In the present case insofar as the plaintiff is the eldest member of the co-parcenary, her being a female cannot be seen a disqualification from being its Karta since this disqualification has been removed by the amendment brought about under Section 6 in the year 2005.
It is further submitted that this Court in Sukhbir Singh vs Gaindo Devi, RFA(OS)30/1974 (CM Application 2730/2014) has held that Section 4 of the Hindu Succession Act,1956 overrides all customs, texts, etc. to the extent that they provide anything contrary to what is contained in the Act.
The learned counsel for the plaintiff further relies upon the 174th Report of the Law Commission of India, which has argued that when women are equal in all respects of modern day life, there is no reason why they should be deprived of the right and privilege of managing HUF as their Karta. She argues that it is in this context, that Section 6 was so formulated that it covers all aspects of succession to a coparcener which are available to a male member to be equally available to a female member also.
Contention of the Respondents
The ld counsel of the respondents submitted that section 4 has to be read in the context in which it was enacted, i.e. only those customary rights have been overridden for which there is a specific provision made in the Act; that Section 6 does not specifically refer to the expression Karta of an HUF and that this right has to be gleamed from the text in Hindu law.
He submits that the S. Sai Reddy judgment only recognizes the right of the eldest male member to be the Karta; that the amendment in 2005 only recognized the rights of a female member to equal those of male members but it did not extend to granting them any right in the management of HUF property; that the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 only deals with succession to the intestate properties of a Hindu and does not purport to address the issue of the management of the estate.
He further submitted that Section 6 defines the rights only with respect to the inheritance of property and not its management; therefore, the undefined rights will have to be gleaned from customs as well as from the interpretation of ancient texts regarding Hindu religion. He submits that insofar as the right of management has not been specifically conferred on a female Hindu, the customary practice would have to be examined. In support of his contention, the learned counsel relies upon the judgement of the Supreme Court in Badshah v. Urmila Badshah Godse & Anr. (2014) 1 SCC 188. He also submits that there is a positive constitutional protection in favour of the women under Articles 14, 15 and 16 as well as in the Directive Principles for the State Policy.
Held by High Court
High Court held that in the present case, the right of the plaintiff accrued to her upon the demise of the eldest Karta. Indeed, there is a correspondence in this regard between her and the Land and Building Department. In any case, it is not denied that she is the eldest of the co-parceners. By law, the eldest co-parcener is to be karta of the HUF.
It is rather an odd proposition that while females would have equal rights of inheritance in an HUF property, this right could nonetheless be curtailed when it comes to the management of the same. The clear language of Section 6 of the Hindu Succession Act does not stipulate any such restriction. Therefore, the submissions on behalf of defendant are to the contrary are untenable.
In the case of Commissioner of Income Tax, Madhya Pradesh, Nagpur and Bhandara vs. Seth Govindram Sugar Mills, AIR 1966 SC24 the Supreme Court had held that senior most female member of a joint Hindu family, even though she has adult sons who are entitled as coparceners to the absolute ownership of the property, could be the manager of the family. She would be guardian of her minor sons till the eldest of them attains majority but she would not be the manager of the joint family for she is not a coparcener. It is clear from this judgment that the restriction that a female member of a HUF from becoming its Karta was that she did not possess the necessary qualification of co-parcenership. Section 6 of the Hindu Succession Act is a socially beneficial legislation; it gives equal rights of inheritance to Hindu males and females. Its objective is to recognise the rights of female Hindus as co-parceners and to enhance their right to equality apropos succession. Therefore, Courts would be extremely vigilant apropos any endeavour to curtail or fetter the statutory guarantee of enhancement of their rights. Now that this disqualification has been removed by the 2005 Amendment, there is no reason why Hindu women should be denied the position of a Karta. If a male member of an HUF, by virtue of his being the first born eldest, can be a Karta, so can a female member. The Court finds no restriction in the law preventing the eldest female co-parcener of an HUF, from being its Karta. The plaintiff‟s father‟s right in the HUF did not dissipate but was inherited by her. Nor did her marriage alter the right to inherit the co-parcenary to which she succeeded after her father‟s demise in terms of Section 6. The said provision only emphasises the statutory rights of females.
Accordingly suit decided in favour of appellant and she is declared the Karta.