The inheritance of property to the legal heirs is performed according to testament or will but if a person dies intestate then the transfer of property to the beneficiaries is performed as per the provisions of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956. This article provides a brief discussion of the Hindu Succession Act, of 1956, and its 2005 Amendment highlighting various changes that provide uniform order of succession with respect to the property rights of Hindu daughters.
The Hindu Succession Act of 1956, is related to the inheritance and succession of property as well as deals with intestate or unwilled succession. This Act is applicable to all Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, or Buddhists other than those under the jurisdiction of the State of Jammu and Kashmir. This Act is not applicable to people governed by the Special Marriage Act, of 1954. Moreover, it is efficiently applicable to areas of Mitakshara and Dayabhaga schools. Herein, Mitakshara School and Dayabhaga School are two popular schools of the Hindu Joint Family System on which the rules of Hindu personal law depend. Devolution of succession and Devolution by survivorship are the two modes of property devolution, according to the Mitakshara School. The survivorship rule is applicable only to the ancestral property or coparcenary property whereas the succession rule is applicable to the self-acquired property of an individual. Dayabhaga School on the other hand mainly emphasizes the succession rule.
As per Section 2 of this Act, all earlier customs, laws, and rules, applicable to Hindus were abrogated. Earlier, the female heirs were not recognized and survivorship rule in coparcenary property was applicable only to the male heirs. Coparcener is the one who shares legal rights for inheriting property, money, and title as well as denotes ‘Joint Heir’ in the Hindu Undivided Family. After the enactment of this Act, if a male dies intestate and only a female heir is left behind then the property would not devolve as per the survivorship rule and would devolve according to the provisions of the Hindu Succession Act. There are four different categories provided by the Act that illustrates the order of succession on the basis of nearness or closeness of blood including Class I heirs, Class II heirs, Agnates, and Cognates. Moreover, the HSA also provides rights to a child in womb under Section 20. It states that an unborn child in the womb at the time of the death of an intestate and is born alive will possess the same rights to inherit the property of the intestate as he or she would have if born before the death of the intestate.
Apart from this, there are certain disqualifications too which restrict an individual from inheriting the property. Under Section 24 of the Act, certain widows who re-marry after the death of their spouse are disqualified to inherit the property as widows. They are mainly classified into three categories including brother’s widow, son’s widow, and son’s son’s widow. In addition to this, any person who commits murder or assists in the commission of the murder is disqualified from inheriting the property of the murdered person or any other person as mentioned in Section 25 of the HSA. Moreover, Section 28 of the Act ensures that “No person shall be disqualified from succeeding to any property on the ground of any disease, defect or deformity, or save as provided in this Act, on any other ground whatsoever.” Under the provisions of the Hindu Succession Act (HSA), it was clear that only males were coparceners. Here, the question arises whether a daughter is a coparcener or not. This was answered after the 2005 amendment of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956.
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On September 9, 2005, the Hindu Succession Act was amended and provided daughters with equal rights to property as sons. Section 6 of the Hindu Succession Act then became a well-established section defining daughters as coparceners by birth, having equal and same rights as well as liabilities as sons. Both sons and daughters come under class I heirs. In addition, this Act also illustrates that a married daughter has the right to seek partition of the coparcenary property which is not restricted by any limitation. If a Hindu male or female dies after the commencement of the 2005 Amendment, the property will devolve by intestate or testamentary succession.
A testamentary succession is where the property is governed by a testament or a will and is passed to the beneficiaries named in it. According to Hindu Law, a Hindu male or female has the right to make a will (valid and legally enforceable) of his/her property either giving an equal share or in favor of anyone. The distribution of property will be as per the provisions of the will, not through the inheritance laws. If the will is not valid then only the laws of inheritance can be implemented for property devolution.
An intestate succession is where a Hindu male or female dies without leaving behind any valid or legally enforceable testament or will, then the property is divided among the legal heirs as per the inheritance laws.
Along with this, Section 3 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 was also omitted after the 2005 Amendment, this means the right to seek partition within a house was granted to women. Apart from all these changes, the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, of 2005, could not provide a valuable answer to one question, whether a daughter has property rights after the death of her father or not. The following case laws answer the aforementioned question.
In this case, a suit was filed by the respondent in the Trial Court of Belgaum in 1992, seeking partition of her father’s property (ancestral and self-acquired) after the death of her father on February 18, 1988. In the legal suit, the respondent claimed a separate possession of 1/7th and 1/28th share in ancestral property and some other properties respectively. This was partly allowed by the Trial Court and a share was given to the respondent as per the provisions of the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act (HSAA), 2005 (effective from September 9, 2005). The respondent approached the Karnataka High Court challenging the decision of the Trial Court. In an appeal before the High Court, she claimed that as per Section 6(1) of the Amendment Act, she had become a coparcener; therefore, entitled to have an equal share of her father’s property as sons. On the contrary, the appellant (respondent’s brother) stated that the provisions of the Amendment Act are not applicable in this case because their father died before the commencement of the Amendment Act. Here, the decision was in favor of the respondent; therefore, the appellant approached the Supreme Court and contested that the respondent could only get a share of the self-acquired property of the father. The main issue addressed in the top court was whether the provisions of the Amendment were applicable even after the death of the respondent’s father before its commencement.
The Supreme Court rejected the contention of the respondent that a daughter becomes a coparcener after her father’s death, irrespective of the fact that the date of his death is before the commencement of the 2005 Amendment Act. The respondent also contended that the Amendment Act was a social legislation; therefore, should be applied retrospectively which was not accepted by the bench (Justice Anil R. Dave and Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel ). The top Court said that the legislature has mentioned that the 2005 Act is applicable from September 9, 2005, thus it cannot be applied retrospectively. Through this judgment, it has been determined that “if both father and daughter were alive on September 9, 2005, then the provisions of the Amendment Act came into effect.”
The case was filed by the appellants against the judgment and order passed by the Trial Court and High Court which refused to give coparcener rights to them because they were born before the enactment of the Hindu Succession Act. In this case, the appellants were the daughters of Mr. Gurulingappa Savadi and Sumitrai. In 2001, Mr. Gurulingappa Savadi died leaving behind his four children (two daughters and two sons) and widow. In 2002, the respondents (Arun Kumar and Vijay) filed a suit for separate possession of the joint family property. The respondents denied giving any share to the daughters (appellants) as they were born prior to the enactment of the Succession Act as well as dowry was given to them at the time of their marriages; therefore, no share of the property was provided to them. The Trial Court stated that the widow and two sons of the deceased are the coparceners; therefore, rejecting the claims of the appellants. The same was upheld by the High Court in the year 2012. Further, the appellants approached the Supreme Court and filed a Special Leave Petition challenging the decision of both the High Court and the Trial Court.
The Supreme Court bench comprising Justices A.K. Sikri and Ashok Bhushan gave the judgment in this case. After hearing both the respondents and appellants, the bench opined that without any doubt, Section 6 of the 2005 Amendment ensures the same property rights and liabilities to daughters and sons of either living or dead parents. In this context, the Hon’ble Supreme Court said that after the death of the propositus (Mr. Gurulingappa Savadi) of the joint family, the property is equally divided among his widow and four children. The bench ordered that both appellants would be entitled to 1/5th share of the property each. Hence, the decision was in the favor of the appellants (daughters). While hearing the matter in the Supreme Court, various existing judgments and orders in the previous cases were addressed such as Prakash vs. Phulvati, Vaishali Satish Gonarkar vs. Satish Kehorao Gonarkar, and others.
It is a landmark judgment delivered by a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court stating that “Daughters possess equal property rights as coparceners as of sons under the HSA, irrespective of the enactment of the 2005 amendment.” It also stated that the daughters are coparceners by birth and possess all the rights and liabilities like sons. The primary question answered in this judgment was regarding the interpretation of Section 6 of the HSA, 1956, after the amendment of the HSA in 2005. In this case, the verdicts of Prakash vs. Phulvati and Danamma @ Suman Surpur & Anr. vs. Amar & Ors. were overruled. Conflicting verdicts were given in these cases by two-judge benches regarding the daughter’s right as a coparcener under the HSA and Amendment Act. In the Vineeta Sharma case, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court was convened consisting of Justice M.R. Shah, Justice Arun Mishra, and Justice S. Abdul Nazeer.
The case was filed by the appellant, Ms. Vineeta Sharma, against her two brothers (Mr. Satyendra Sharma and Rakesh Sharma) and their mother (respondents). The appellant’s father died in the year 1999 leaving behind his widow and three sons (one unmarried son died in 2001). 14th share of the father’s property was claimed by the appellant as daughter which was not accepted by the respondents. They stated that she (Vineeta Sharma) was no longer a part of the joint Hindu family after her marriage. The Hon’ble Delhi Court dismissed the appeal and said that provisions of the 2005 Amendment were not applicable here as their father died before the commencement of the HSAA, 2005. After hearing the contentions, the Supreme Court bench overruled the verdicts of Prakash vs. Phulvati and Danamma @ Suman Surpur & Anr. vs. Amar & Ors. The bench stated that HSAA gives a daughter the right to a father’s property from birth whether born after or before the commencement of the Amendment Act. Also, it highlighted that the daughter’s father doesn’t need to be alive at the time of commencement to entitle property rights. At last, it was determined that “Daughters are coparceners by birth and have equal liabilities as of sons in either case, born after or before the enactment of HSAA or father is alive or dead after or before the commencement of HSAA.”
In a nutshell, the Hindu Succession Act and its 2005 Amendment made Hindu women/daughters absolute owners of the property notwithstanding its source of acquisition. They provide equal rights and liabilities to Hindu daughters as that of sons with respect to the property of alive or dead parents. Not only this, but the Act also ensures the right of a child in the womb on the inherited property. Also, the provisions of the Act disqualified the rights of a murderer to inherit the property as well as discard all the grounds that exclude inheritance on the basis of deformity, disease, or physical defects.
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