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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

उत्तराधिकारियों को विधवा की संपत्ति में भी हिस्सा

                         
                                         

  REPORTABLE

                 IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

               CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION

                     CIVIL APPEAL NOS.3162-3163 OF 2010


SHREYA VIDYARTHI                       ...APPELLANT

   VERSUS

ASHOK VIDYARTHI & ORS.                 ...RESPONDENTS

    J U  D G M E N T

RANJAN GOGOI, J.

1.     The appellant before us is the 8th Defendant in Suit No. 630 of  1978
which was instituted by the first-respondent herein as the  plaintiff.   The
said suit filed for permanent  injunction  and  in  the  alternative  for  a
decree of partition and  separation  of  shares  by  metes  and  bounds  was
dismissed by the learned Trial Court.  In appeal, the  High  Court  reversed
the order of the Trial  Court  and  decreed  the  suit  of  the  respondent-


plaintiff with a further declaration that he is entitled to 3/4th  share  in
the suit property, namely, House No. 7/89, Tilak Nagar, Kanpur  whereas  the
appellant (defendant No. 8 in the suit) is entitled to the  remaining  1/4th
share in the said property.  Aggrieved, these appeals have been filed.

2.    The relevant facts which will have to be  noticed  may  be  enumerated
hereinunder.


       In  the  year  1937  one  Hari  Shankar  Vidyarthi  married   Savitri
Vidyarthi, the mother of the  respondent-plaintiff.   Subsequently,  in  the
year 1942, Hari Shankar Vidyarthi was married for the  second  time  to  one
Rama Vidyarthi.   Out  of  the  aforesaid  second  wedlock,  two  daughters,
namely, Srilekha Vidyarthi and Madhulekha Vidyarthi (defendants 1 and  2  in
Suit No. 630 of 1978) were  born.   The  appellant-eighth  defendant  Shreya
Vidyarthi is the adopted daughter of  Srilekha  Vidyarthi  (since  deceased)
and also the legatee/ beneficiary of a Will left by Madhulekha Vidyarthi.


3.    The dispute in the present case revolves around the  question  whether
the suit property, as described above, was  purchased  by  sale  deed  dated
27.9.1961 by Rama Vidyarthi from the joint family funds or out  of  her  own
personal funds. The suit property had  been  involved  in  several  previous
litigations between the parties, details of which may now  require  a  close
look.


4.    In  the  year  1968  Suit  No.  147/1968  was  instituted  by  Savitri
Vidyarthi (mother of the  respondent-plaintiff)  contending  that  the  suit
property being purchased from the joint family  funds  a  decree  should  be
passed against the daughters of Rama Vidyarthi  from  interfering  with  her
possession.  This suit was dismissed under the provisions of Order VII  Rule
11 CPC on account of failure to pay the requisite court fee.   In  the  said
suit  the  respondent-plaintiff  had  filed  an  affidavit  dated  24.2.1968
stating that he had willfully relinquished all his rights and interests,  if
any, in the suit property. The strong reliance placed on the said  affidavit
on behalf of the appellant in the course of the arguments  advanced  on  her
behalf needs to be dispelled by the fact that an actual reading of the  said
affidavit discloses that such renunciation was only in respect of the  share
of Rama Devi  in  the  suit  property  and  not  on  the  entirety  thereof.


Consistent with the above position is the  suit  filed  by  the  respondent-


plaintiff i.e. Suit No. 21/70/1976 seeking partition  of  the  joint  family
properties.  The said suit was  again  dismissed  under  the  provisions  of
Order VII Rule 11 CPC for failure to pay the requisite court fee.   It  also
appears that Rama  Vidyarthi  the  predecessor-in-interest  of  the  present
appellant had filed Suit No. 37/1969 under Section 6 of the Specific  Relief
Act for recovery of possession of two rooms  of  the  suit  property  which,
according to her, had been forcibly  occupied  by  the  present  respondent-
plaintiff.  During the pendency of the aforesaid  suit  i.e.  37/1969   Rama
Vidyarthi had passed away. The aforesaid suit was decreed in favour  of  the
legal heirs of the plaintiff-Rama Vidyarthi namely, Srilekha and  Madhulekha
Vidyarthi on 4.2.1976.

5.    It is in the aforesaid fact situation that the suit out of  which  the
present appeals have arisen i.e. Suit No. 630  of  1978  was  filed  by  the
present respondent-plaintiff impleading  Srilekha Vidyarthi (mother  of  the
appellant) and Madhulekha Vidyarthi (testator of the Will in favour  of  the
appellant) as defendants 1 and 2 and seeking the reliefs earlier noticed.


6.    The specific case pleaded by the plaintiff in the suit  was  that  the
plaintiff’s father,  Hari  Shankar  Vidyarthi,  died  on  14.3.1955  leaving
behind  his  two  widows  i.e.  Savitri  Vidyarthi  (first  wife)  and  Rama
Vidyarthi (second wife).  According to the plaintiff, the second  wife  i.e.
Rama Vidyarthi had managed the day to  day  affairs  of  the  entire  family
which was living jointly.  The  plaintiff  had  further  pleaded  that  Rama
Vidyarthi was the nominee of an insurance policy taken out by  Hari  Shankar
Vidyarthi during his life time and that she was  also  receiving  a  monthly
maintenance of a sum of Rs.  500/-  on  behalf  of  the  family  from    the
“Pratap Press Trust,  Kanpur”  of  which  Hari  Shankar  Vidyarthi  was  the
managing trustee.  In the suit filed,  it  was  further  pleaded  that  Rama
Vidyarthi received a sum of Rs. 33,000/- out of  the  insurance  policy  and
also a sum of Rs. 15,000/-  from  Pratap  Press  Trust,  Kanpur  as  advance
maintenance allowance. It was claimed that the said  amounts  were  utilized
to purchase the suit property on 27.9.1961.  It  was,  therefore,  contended
that the suit property is joint family property having  been  purchased  out
of joint family funds.  The plaintiff had further stated  that  all  members
of the family including the first wife, the first  respondent  and  his  two
step sisters i.e. Srilekha and Madhulekha Vidyarthi had  lived  together  in
the  suit  property.   As  the  relationship   between   the   parties   had
deteriorated/changed  subsequently  and  the  plaintiff-respondent  and  his
mother (Savitri Vidyarthi) were not permitted to  enter  the  suit  property
and as a suit for eviction was filed against the  first  respondent  (37  of
1969) by Rama Vidyarthi  the  instant  suit  for  permanent  injunction  and
partition was instituted by the respondent-plaintiff.

7.    The plaintiff’s suit was resisted by  both  Srilekha  and  Madhulekha,
primarily, on the ground that the  suit  property  was  purchased  by  their
mother Rama Vidyarthi from her own funds  and  not  from  any  joint  family
funds.  In fact, the two sisters, who were arrayed as defendants 1 and 2  in
the suit, had specifically denied the existence of any joint family  or  the
availability of any joint family funds.


8.    The Trial Court dismissed the suit by  order  dated  19.8.1997  citing
several reasons for the view  taken  including  the  fact  that  respondent-
plaintiff was an attesting witness to  the  sale  deed  dated  27.9.1961  by
which the suit property was purchased in the name of Rama  Vidyarthi;  there
was no mention in the sale deed that Rama  Vidyarthi  was  representing  the
joint family or that she had purchased the suit property on  behalf  of  any
other person.  The learned Trial Court further held that in  the  year  1955
when Hari Shankar Vidyarthi had died there was no joint family in  existence
and in fact no claim of any joint family property was raised until the  suit
property was purchased in the year 1960-61.  The Trial  Court  was  also  of
the view that if the other members of  the  family  had  any  right  to  the
insurance money such a claim should have been lodged by way  of  a  separate
suit. Aggrieved by the  dismissal  of  the  suit,  the  respondent-plaintiff
filed an appeal before the High Court.

9.    Certain facts and events which had occurred  during  the  pendency  of
the appeal before the High Court will require a specific notice as the  same
form the basis of one limb of the case projected by the appellant before  us
in the present appeal, namely, that the order of the High Court  is  an  ex-
parte order passed without appointing a legal  guardian  for  the  appellant
for which reason the said order is required to be set aside and  the  matter
remanded for a de novo consideration by the High Court.

10.   The first significant fact that has to be noticed in  this  regard  is
the death of Madhulekha Vidyarthi during the pendency of the appeal and  the
impleadment of the appellant as the 8th respondent therein  by  order  dated
31.08.2007. This was on the basis that the appellant is the sole legal  heir
of  the  deceased  Madhulekha.   The  said  order,  however,  was  curiously
recalled by the High Court by  another  order  dated  10.10.2007.  The  next
significant fact which would require notice is that upon the  death  of  her
mother  Srilekha  Vidyarthi,  the  appellant-defendant  herself   filed   an
application for pursuing  the  appeal  in  which  an  order  was  passed  on
16/18.05.2009 to the effect that the appellant  is  already  represented  in
the   proceedings  through  her  counsel  (in  view  of  the  earlier  order
impleading the appellant as legal heir of Madhulekha). However, by the  said
order the learned counsel was given liberty to obtain  a  fresh  vakalatnama
from the appellant which, however, was not so done.  In the  aforesaid  fact
situation, the High Court proceeded to consider the  appeal  on  merits  and
passed the impugned judgment on the basis of consideration of the  arguments
advanced by the counsel appearing on behalf of the appellant at the  earlier
stage, namely, one Shri A.K.  Srivastava  and  also  on  the  basis  of  the
written arguments submitted on behalf of the  deceased  Srilekha  Vidyarthi.
It is in these  circumstances  that  the  appellant  has  now,  inter  alia,
contended that the order passed by the High Court is without appointing  any
guardian on her behalf and contrary to the provisions of Order  XXXII  Rules
3, 10 and 11 of the CPC.

11.   Insofar as the merits of the appeal  are  concerned,  the  High  Court
took the view that on the facts before it, details of which will be  noticed
in due course, there was a joint family in existence  in  which  the  second
wife Rama Vidyarthi  had  played  a  predominant  role  and  that  the  suit
property was purchased out of the joint family funds  namely  the  insurance
money and  the  advance  received  from  the  Pratap  Press  Trust,  Kanpur.


Insofar as the devolution of shares is concerned, the High  Court  took  the
view that following the  death  of  Hari  Shankar  Vidyarthi,  as  the  sole
surviving male heir, the respondent-plaintiff became entitled to 50% of  the
suit property and the remaining 50% was to be divided between the two  wives
of Hari Shankar Vidyarthi  in  equal  proportion.  Srilekha  and  Madhulekha
Vidyarthi, i.e. defendants 1 and 2 in the suit, as daughters of  the  second
wife, would be entitled to share of Rama Vidyarthi, namely, 25% of the  suit
property.  On their death, the appellant would be entitled to the  said  25%
share whereas the remaining 25% share (belonging to the  first  wife)  being
the subject matter of a Will in favour of her minor grand-children (sons  of
the respondent-plaintiff),  the  respondent-plaintiff  would  also  get  the
aforesaid  25%  share  of  the  suit  property  on  behalf  of  the  minors.


Accordingly, the suit was decreed and the order of  dismissal  of  the  suit
was reversed.

12.   The aforesaid order of the High Court dated 12.08.2009  was  attempted
to be recalled by the appellant-8th defendant by filing  an  application  to
the said effect which was also dismissed by the  High  Court  by  its  order
dated 24.11.2009.   Challenging  both  the  abovesaid  orders  of  the  High
Court, the present appeals have been filed.


13.   Having heard learned counsels  for  the  parties,  we  find  that  two
issues in the main arise for determination in these appeals.  The  first  is
whether the High Court was correct in passing the order dated 24.11.2009  on
the recall application filed by the appellant and whether, if the  appellant
had really  been  proceeded  ex-parte  thereby  rendering  the  said   order
untenable in law, as claimed, should the matter  be  remitted  to  the  High
Court for reconsideration.  The second question arising is  with  regard  to
the order dated 12.08.2009 passed by the High Court in First Appeal No.  693
of 1987 so far as the merits thereof is concerned.


14.   The detailed facts in which the appellant-8th  defendant  came  to  be
impleaded  in  the  suit  following  the  death  of   Madhulekha   Vidyarthi
(defendant No.  2)  and  thereafter  on  the  death  of  Srilekha  Vidyarthi
(defendant No. 1) has already been seen.  From the  facts  recorded  by  the
High Court in its order dated 24.11.2009 it is clear and  evident  that  the
appellant had participated in  the  proceeding  before  the  High  Court  at
various stages through counsels. Therefore, there  is  no  escape  from  the
conclusion that the order passed in the appeal was not an ex-parte order  as
required to be understood in law. The appellant was  already  on  record  as
the  legal  heir  of  Madhulekha  Vidyarthi  (defendant  No.  2)   and   was
represented by a counsel.  The High court had passed its final  order  after
hearing the said counsel and upon consideration  of  the  written  arguments
filed in the case.  In  its  order  dated  24.11.2009  the  High  Court  has
observed that full opportunity of hearing on  merits  was  afforded  to  the
appellant.  Even before us, the appellant has been heard at  length  on  the
merits of the  case.   In  these  circumstances  there  can  hardly  be  any
justification  to  remand  the  matter  to  the  High  Court  for  a   fresh
consideration by setting aside the impugned order.


15.   Insofar as the merits of the order of the  High  Court  is  concerned,
the sole question involved is whether the suit  property  was  purchased  by
Rama Vidyarthi, (defendant No.1) out of the joint family funds or  from  her
own income.  The affidavit of Rama Vidyarthi in Suit No. 147 of  1968  filed
by Savitri Vidyarthi discloses that she was looking after the family as  the
Manager taking care of the respondent No.1, her step son  i.e.  the  son  of
the first wife of Hari Shankar Vidyarthi.  In  the  said  affidavit,  it  is
also admitted that she had received the insurance money following the  death
of Hari Shankar Vidyarthi and the same was used  for  the  purchase  of  the
suit property along with other funds which she had  generated  on  her  own.
The virtual admission by the predecessor-in-interest  of  the  appellant  of
the use of the insurance money to acquire the suit property is  significant.


Though the claim of absolute ownership of the suit property  had  been  made
by Rama Vidyarthi in the aforesaid affidavit, the said claim  is  belied  by
the true legal position with regard to the claims/entitlement of  the  other
legal  heirs  to  the  insurance  amount.  Such   amounts   constitute   the
entitlement of all the legal heirs of the deceased though the same may  have
been received by Rama Vidyarthi as the nominee of  her  husband.  The  above
would seem to follow from the view expressed by this Court in  Smt.  Sarbati
Devi & Anr. vs. Smt. Usha Devi[1] which is extracted below. (Paragraph 12)

“12. Moreover there is one other strong  circumstance  in  this  case  which
dissuades us from taking a view contrary to the decisions of all other  High
Courts and accepting the view expressed by the Delhi High Court in  the  two
recent judgments delivered in the year 1978 and in the year  1982.  The  Act
has been in force from the year 1938 and  all  along  almost  all  the  High
Courts in India have taken the view that a mere  nomination  effected  under
Section 39 does not deprive the heirs of their rights in the amount  payable
under a life insurance policy. Yet Parliament has not  chosen  to  make  any
amendment to the Act. In such  a  situation  unless  there  are  strong  and
compelling reasons to hold that all these decisions  are  wholly  erroneous,
the Court should be slow to take a different view. The reasons given by  the
Delhi High Court are unconvincing. We, therefore, hold  that  the  judgments
of the Delhi High Court in Fauza Singh case and in Uma Sehgal  case  do  not
lay down the law correctly. They are, therefore, overruled. We  approve  the
views expressed by the other High Courts on the meaning  of  Section  39  of
the Act and hold that a mere nomination made under Section  39  of  the  Act
does not have the  effect  of  conferring  on  the  nominee  any  beneficial
interest in the amount payable under the life insurance policy on the  death
of the assured. The nomination only indicates the hand which  is  authorised
to receive the amount, on the payment of which  the  insurer  gets  a  valid
discharge of its liability under the policy. The  amount,  however,  can  be
claimed by  the  heirs  of  the  assured  in  accordance  with  the  law  of
succession governing them.”

16.    The fact that the family was peacefully living together at  the  time
of the demise of Hari Shankar Vidyarthi;  the  continuance  of  such  common
residence for almost 7 years after purchase of  the  suit  property  in  the
year 1961; that there was no discord  between  the  parties  and  there  was
peace and tranquility in the whole family were also rightly  taken  note  of
by the High Court as evidence of existence of a joint family. The  execution
of sale deed dated 27.9.1961 in the name of Rama Vidyarthi and  the  absence
of any mention thereof that she was acting on behalf  of  the  joint  family
has also been rightly construed by the High  Court  with  reference  to  the
young age of the plaintiff-respondent (21 years) which  may  have  inhibited
any objection to the dominant  position  of  Rama  Vidyarthi  in  the  joint
family,  a  fact  also  evident  from  the  other   materials   on   record.


Accordingly, there can be no justification to cause  any  interference  with
the conclusion reached by the High Court on the  issue  of  existence  of  a
joint family.


17.   How could Rama Vidyarthi act as the Karta of the HUF in  view  of  the
decision of this Court in Commissioner of  Income  Tax  vs.  Seth  Govindram
Sugar Mills Ltd.[2]  holding that a Hindu widow cannot act as the  Karta  of
a HUF which role the law had assigned only  to  males  who  alone  could  be
coparceners (prior to the amendment of the Hindu Succession  Act  in  2005).
The High Court answered the question in favour of the   respondent-plaintiff
by relying on the decision of this Court   in  Controller  of  Estate  Duty,
Madras Vs. Alladi Kuppuswamy[3] wherein the rights enjoyed by a Hindu  widow
during time when the Hindu Women’s Rights to Property Act, 1937 remained  in
force were traced and held to be akin to all rights enjoyed by the  deceased
husband as a coparcener though the same were bound by time  i.e.  life  time
of the widow (concept of limited estate) and without any authority or  power
of alienation. We do not consider it necessary to go into  the  question  of
the applicability of the ratio of  the  decision  in  Controller  of  Estate
Duty, Madras (supra) to the present case inasmuch as in the above  case  the
position of a Hindu widow in the co-parcenary and her right to  co-parcenary
property to  the  extent  of  the  interest  of  her  deceased  husband  was
considered in the context of the specific  provisions  of  the  Estate  Duty
Act, 1953. The issue(s) arising presently are required to be  answered  from
a somewhat different perspective.


18.   While there can be no doubt that a Hindu Widow is not a coparcener  in
the HUF of her husband and, therefore, cannot act as Karta of the HUF  after
the death of her husband the two expressions i.e. Karta and Manager  may  be
understood to  be  not  synonymous  and  the  expression  “Manager”  may  be
understood  as  denoting  a  role  distinct  from   that   of   the   Karta.
Hypothetically,  we  may  take  the  case  of  HUF   where  the  male  adult
coparcener has died and there is no male coparcener surviving or as  in  the
facts of the present case,  where  the  sole  male  coparcener  (respondent-
plaintiff - Ashok Vidyarthi) is a minor.  In such a situation obviously  the
HUF does not come to an end.  The mother of the male coparcener can  act  as
the legal guardian of the minor and also look after his role  as  the  Karta
in her capacity as his (minor’s) legal guardian.  Such a situation has  been
found, and in our opinion rightly, to be consistent  with  the  law  by  the
Calcutta High Court in Sushila Devi  Rampuria  v.  Income  Tax  Officer  and
Anr.[4] rendered in the context of the provisions of the Income Tax Act  and
while determining the liability of such a HUF to assessment under  the  Act.
Coincidently the aforesaid decision of the Calcutta High Court  was  noticed
in Commissioner of Income Tax vs. Seth Govindram Sugar Mills Ltd. (supra).


19.   A similar proposition of law is also to be found in  decision  of  the
Madhya Pradesh High Court in Dhujram v.  Chandan  Singh  &  Ors.[5]  though,
again, in a little different context.  The  High  Court  had  expressed  the
view that the word ‘Manager’ would be consistent with the law if  understood
with reference to the mother as the natural guardian and not  as  the  Karta
of the HUF.


20.   In the present case,  Rama  Vidyarthi  was  the  step  mother  of  the
respondent-plaintiff -Ashok Vidyarthi who at the time of the  death  of  his
father - Hari Shankar Vidyarthi, was a minor.  The respondent plaintiff  was
the  only  surviving  male  coparcener  after  the  death  of  Hari  Shankar
Vidyarthi. The materials on record  indicate  that  the  natural  mother  of
Ashok Vidyarthi, Smt. Savitri Vidyarthi, had played  a  submissive  role  in
the affairs of the joint family and the step  mother,  Rama  Vidyarthi  i.e.
second wife of Hari Shankar Vidyarthi had  played  an  active  and  dominant
role in managing the said affairs. The aforesaid role of Rama Vidyarthi  was
not opposed by the natural mother, Savitri Vidyarthi.  Therefore,  the  same
can very well be understood to be in her capacity as the step mother of  the
respondent-plaintiff-Ashok Vidyarthi and,  therefore,  consistent  with  the
legal position which recognizes a Hindu Widow acting as the Manager  of  the
HUF in her capacity as  the  guardian  of  the  sole  surviving  minor  male
coparcener. Such a role necessarily has to be distinguished from that  of  a
Karta which position the Hindu widow cannot assume by  virtue  of  her  dis-
entitlement to be a coparcener in the HUF of her  husband.  Regrettably  the
position remain unaltered even after the amendment of the  Hindu  Succession
Act in 2005.

21.   In the light of the above, we cannot find any error  in  the  ultimate
conclusion of the High Court on the issue in  question  though  our  reasons
for the aforesaid conclusion are somewhat different.

22.   Before parting we may note that the history of the earlier  litigation
between the parties  involving  the  suit  property  would  not  affect  the
maintainability of the suit in question (630 of 1978).  Suit No.37  of  1969
filed by Rama Vidyarthi was a suit under Section 6 of  the  Specific  Relief
Act whereas Suit No.147 of 1968 and Suit No. 21/70/1976 filed by first  wife
Savitri Vidyarthi and Ashok Vidyarthi, respectively,  were  dismissed  under
Order VII Rule 11 CPC on account of non-payment  of  court  fee.   In  these
circumstances, the suit out of which the  present  appeal  has  arisen  i.e.
Suit No. 630 of 1978 was clearly maintainable under Order VII Rule  13  CPC.

23.   The apportionment of shares of the parties in the suit  property  made
by the High Court, in the manner discussed above,  also  does  not  disclose
any illegality or infirmity so as to justify any correction  by  us.  It  is
our considered view that having held and rightly that the suit property  was
a joint family property, the  respondent-plaintiff  was  found  entitled  to
seek partition thereof and on that basis the apportionment of shares in  the
suit property between the plaintiff and the contesting eighth defendant  was
rightly made by the High Court in accordance with the reliefs sought in  the
suit.

24.   For the aforesaid reasons, we do not find any merit in these  appeals,
the same are being accordingly dismissed.  However,  in  the  facts  of  the
case we leave the parties to bear their own costs.

   J.RANJAN GOGOI
J.N.V. RAMANA
NEW DELHI
DECEMBER 16, 2015.

-----------------------
[1]    1984 (1) SCC 424
[2]    AIR 1966 SC 24
[3]    [1977 (3) SCC 385]
[4]    AIR 1959 Cal 697
[5]    1974 MPL J554