She is entitled to remain in possession of the whole estate known as widow’s estate and after the Act has come into force that widow’s estate was blossomed into an absolute estate by operation of Section 14(1).


[CASE BRIEF] C. MASILAMANI MUDALIAR & ORS. V/S THE IDOL OF SRI SWAMINATHASWAMISWAMINATHASWAMI THIRUKOIL & ORS.


Case name:  C.MASILAMANI MUDALIAR & ORS. V/S THE IDOL OF SRI

SWAMINATHASWAMISWAMINATHASWAMI THIRUKOIL & ORS

Court:    Supreme Court of India

Citation:  1996 AIR 1697,  JT 1996 (3) 98

Bench:   RAMASWAMY, K.

AHMAD SAGHIR S. (J)

G.B. PATTANAIK (J)

Decided on:  30/01/1996

Relevant Act/

Sections:   Section 14 of Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act,1956


Ø BRIEF FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY:

1. The appellants are the alienness, Sellathachi, widow of Somasundaram Pillai who had executed a will, Ex-A3 on 16.7.1950 bequeathing the suit properties to his wife and his cousin’s widow Janakathache mentioning thereunder that after his death the A schedule property valued at Rs.2000/ shall be owned by the aforesaid two persons and enjoyed in equal shares without any right to alienate the same and perform the charities as per their wish and after their death, Govindasrasan Pillai, s/o Peria Pillai shall be the trustee of the A schedule property.

2. With the income derived from the under mentioned land shall perform the Pooja to the idol every month on the Krithigai Satar Day and also do the charity of power feeding on the aforesaid day, and also shall put up the lamps every day at the Subramania Swamiar Temple of the aforesaid Edavankudi village and perform the Pooja and Charity of feeding the poor every month.

3. Further, B schedule property valued at Rs.1000/-, shall be owned by Govinda Rajan Pillai himself as the trustee. The revenue incurred from this property shall be used for the performance of pooja, and the charity of feeding the poor as detailed above to Swami Natha Swami and Subramania Swamy.

4. Amongst Sellathachi and Janaka Thachi, if one of the persons were to die and survived by another, the surviving Member shall have the right to enjoy the A Schedule property in its entirety. Somasundaram Pillai died in September 1950. The legatees Sellathachi and another had come into possession of the properties. Janaka Thathachi died in the year 1960.

5. In 1970, Sellathachi had appointed a power of attorney holder who had alienated the suit properties and the appellants had purchased them under registered sale deed. The suit was filed for declaration that the legatees having succeeded to limited estate under the will, the alienations made by Sellathachi were illegal.

6. The trial Court decreed the suit. The learned single Judge allowed the appeal and dismissed the suit, the Division Bench of the High Court has set aside the decree of the single Judge holding that the legatees had succeeded to restricted estate under subsection (2) or Section 14 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 and that, therefore, their rights have not blossomed into absolute estate.Thus this appeal by special leave.


Ø ISSUES BEFORE THE COURT:

1. Whether Sellathachi had become the absolute owner by operation or Sec 14 (1) of Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act?

2. Whether Sellathachi aquires a limited right under Section 14 (2).

3. Whether Doctrine of Proportionality will be applicable or not.


Ø RATIO OF THE COURT:

1. Right to equality and dignity of a person is enshrined in the Preamble of the Constitution. In S. R. Bommai v. Union of India [1994] 2 SCR 644 : AIR 1994 SC 1918 : (1994)3 SCC1) this Court held that the Preamble is part of the basic structure of the Constitution. Handicaps if any should be removed only under rule of law.

2. Personal laws are derived not from the Constitution but from the religious scriptures. The laws thus derived must be consistent with the Constitution lest they become void under Article 13 if they violated fundamental rights. Right to equality is a fundamental right. Parliament, therefore, has enacted Section 14 to remove pre-existing disabilities fastened on the Hindu female limiting her right to property without full ownership thereof. The discrimination is sought to be remedied by Section 14(1) enlarging the scope of acquisition of the property by a Hindu female appending an explanation with it.

3. Appropriate economic and social reforms should be carried out with a view to eradicate all social injustice. Further, Human Rights and fundamental freedoms have been reiterated by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

4. The Preamble of CEDAW reiterates that discrimination against women, violates the principles of equality of rights and respect for human dignity; is an obstacle to the participation on equal terms with men in the political, social, economic and cultural life of their country.

5. The court also discussed in Tulasamma vs. V.Sesha Reddi [(1977)3 SCR 261] that whatever be the kind of property, whether movable or immovable, and whichever be the mode of acquisition, it would be covered by sub-section (1) of Section 14.

6. The court in Thota Sesharathamma vs. Thota Manikyamma [(1991) 3 SCR 717, (1991) 4 SCC 312] is also a case under which the legatee had obtained under a will a limited estate known as widow’s estate, prior to the Act came into force. When the suit was laid for declaration that she became only a limited owner, this Court had considered the controversy and held that The courts would only be applying the law to the facts found as on the date when the question arose to find whether legatee has pre-existing vestige of title under law; and the nature of possession of the property held by her and whether the legatee would get the benefit of Section 149(1) of the Act.

7. Relying on Mangat Mal vs.Punni Devi [(1995) 6 SCC 88] considered the right acquired by the female under an award and held that "Maintenance, as we see it, necessarily must encompass a provision for residence. Maintenance is given so that the lady can live in the manner, more or less, to which she was accustomed.

8. It is true, as rightly contended by Shri Rangam, the learned counsel for the respondent, that a Bench of two Judges of this Court in Gumpha vs. Jaibai [(1994) 2 SCC 511]considered the effect of the will and had held that property acquired under Will does not fall under Section 14(1). In that case, the Will was executed in the year 1941 and the Testator died in 1958 after the Act had come into force. Therefore, this Court had held that she acquired right to maintenance under the Will as a restricted estate and by operation of Section 30 of the Act read with Section 14(2), she acquired a limited estate.

9. In Seth Badri Prasad vs. Srimati Kanso Devi [(1969) 2 SCC 586] the words "acquired" and "possessed" have been used in their widest connotation. Possession must be constructive or actual or in any form recognized by law. The word "acquired" must also be given the widest possible meaning. Sub-section [2] of Section 14 would come into operation only if acquisition in any of the matters indicated therein does not come under Section 14 [1] and was made for the first time, without there being any pre-existing right in the Hindu female who is in possession of the property.

10. In Mangal Singh & Ors. vs. Shrimati Rattno & Anr. [(1967) 3 SCR 454], was to consider the question whether a Hindu female who was dispossessed from the property in her possession before the Act had come into force became an absolute owner under Section 14 [1]. This Court held that the words "possessed by" instead of the expression "in possession of in Section 14 [1] was intended to enlarge the meaning of the expression possession by to cover cases of "possession in law". Even though the Hindu female was not in actual, physical or constructive possession of the property Section 14 [1] stands attracted.

11. Under these circumstances, it cannot be held that Sellathachi acquired the right to maintenance for the first time under the instrument will. The Division Bench, therefore, does not appear to have approached the problem in the correct perspective. In view of the settled legal position right from Tulasamma’s case [supra] the right acquired under the Will is in recognition of the pre-existing right to maintenance known under the Sastric law and was transformed into an absolute right under Section 14(1) wiped out the restrictive estate given under the Sastric law and Sellathachi as absolute owner of the property. The Division bench of the High Court, therefore, was not correct in holding that Sellathachi has acquired only a limited estate under the Will and Section 14(2) attracts to the restrictive covenants contained in the will limiting her right to maintenance for life time and, thereafter, the right to enjoy the income from the lands and on her demise, the income should go to the temples as mentioned in the will is not correct in law.

12. Shri Rangam then contended that when the testator has thought of providing only maintenance, to the two widows, the properties being more than 10 acres, the maintenance must be only proportionate to the needs of the widow and to that extent the widow acquires an absolute right but not the entire property. We find no force in that contention. It is to be seen that under the pre-existing law, she is entitled to remain in possession of the whole estate known as widow’s estate and after the Act has come into force that widow’s estate was blossomed into an absolute estate by operation of Section 14(1) even in the Will Ex-A1, no such restrictive covenant was engrafted giving reasonable proportion of income consistent with her needs for maintenance. On the other hand, the express covenant is that, he recognized her right to maintenance and in lieu of the maintenance property was given to her for her maintenance during her lifetime. That is the pre-existing right as per then existing law. After the Act has come into force, the limited estate has blossomed into an absolute estate. Therefore, the doctrine of proportionality of maintenance is not applicable and cannot be extended.


Ø DECISION HELD BY COURT:

1. The appeal is accordingly allowed. Judgment of the Division Bench stands set aside, and that of the single Judge stands upheld.

2. The suit stands dismissed. There shall be no order as to costs.

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