Daughters- Equal Coparceners in HUF Property

IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA, CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION

CIVIL APPEAL NO. DIARY NO.32601 OF 2018

VINEETA SHARMA … APPELLANT(S)
VERSUS
RAKESH SHARMA & ORS. … RESPONDENTS

With
Special Leave Petitions (C) (i) No. 684 of 2016, (ii) No. 35994 of 2015, (iii) No.38542 of 2016 (iv) No. 6403 of 2019 (v) No.14353 of 2019 (vi) No.24901 of 2019 (vii) No. 17661767 of 2020

On 11th August 2020, a 3 Judge bench of the Supreme Court held that daughters have equal coparcenary rights in Hindu Undivided Family Properties.

A look the origin, differing precedents of judgments and the latest judgment:

Issue

The core of the issue relates to interpretation of Section 6 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956. The said section was amended in the Hindu Succession Amendment Act 2005. This gave rise to several conflicting interpretations and judgments.

Background

The Hindu Succession Act, 1956 was largely based on the Mitakshara law of inheritance. In the Mitakshara law, only the male descendants inherit property. The female descendants do not inherit anything (except Stridhan).

The Act

Section 6 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956
The original section 6 (prior to the 2005 amendment) stated that when a person died intestate i.e, without any written will and such person had only male heirs, the coparcenary interest will accordingly descend to his male sons, grandsons and great grandsons. Thus, only male heirs up to three generations inherited the property.

This original section 6 did not impact those families which had only male heirs. However, it proved to discriminate in families which had female heirs as well. It effectively excluded female heirs from any inheritance.

Section 6 of the Hindu Succession Amendment Act, 2005
On 5th September 2005, The Hindu Succession Act, 1956 was amended which became effective from 9th September 2005. One of the historic amendments was to remove the gender discriminatory provisions in the original Section 6 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956. Consequent to the enactment of the amendment, the daughter(s) of a coparcener shall by birth become a coparcener in her own right on par with similar rights guaranteed to the son(s). Such daughter(s) shall have same rights and liabilities of the coparcenary property as the son.

Ambiguity in interpretation

While the amendment in section 6 of the 2005 Act was held as gender neutral and a victory in favour of women’s rights, it opened a pandora’s box on its interpretation.

The issue of interpretation – whether the provision has prospective or retrospective applicability. Whether the daughter of a coparcener shall by birth become a coparcener in her own right in the same manner as the son. Would be denied her share on the ground that she was born prior to the enactment of the Act and, therefore, cannot be treated as coparcener?

Different courts interpreted it differently. While the Karnakata HC ruled that the provision had retrospective effect, the Bombay HC ruled that the section had prospective applicability.

In the case Prakash vs Phulavati, the Karnataka High Court held that the Amendment Act would be applicable to pending proceedings, even if such an amendment were prospective in its operation. This order was challenged before the Supreme Court.

In 20151, the Hon’ble Supreme Court ruled that rights under the amended section 6 are applicable to living daughters of living coparceners as on 09.09.2005 irrespective of when such daughters are born. This meant that there should be a living daughter of a living coparcener on the date of commencement of the Act of 2005. Only then daughters would be entitled to rights on coparcener properties. Else, they would not have any rights or interest in the property.

The Danamma vs Arun Kumar case was also decided based on the Phulavati case. The Trial Court and the High Court held that the daughters were not entitled to the right or share in coparcenary property since they were born prior to the enactment of the Act. Also the father died prior to the enactment of the Amendment Act, 2005. However, in 20182 the Hon’ble Supreme Court held that the amendment Act 2005 confers upon the daughter, the status of coparcener and the same rights and liabilities in coparceners properties in the same manner as the son.

The decisions in both Phulavati and Danamma case held that the Hindu Succession Amendment Act 2005 was prospective in nature.

 

The latest SC judgment
The issue came up yet again in the Vineeta Sharma Vs Rakesh Sharma3 case before a three Judge Bench of the Hon’ble Supreme Court headed by Justice Arun Mishra. After detailed deliberations, the Bench came to the following view:

  1. The previous judgments did not interpret the Hindu Succession Amendment Act 2005 correctly. The amended Section 6 did not apply prospectively or retrospectively. Rather it is applicable retroactively.
  2. A legislation shall apply retroactively when it prescribes benefits conditional upon an eligibility, that may arise even prior to the passing of such legislation.
  3. The Hon’ble SC stated that there is difference between a right to claim and the extent of claim. The Apex Court held that a Coparcener’s right to claim a share is by birth. It remains constant irrespective of the legislation and its amendments. The specific share in property available to the coparcener should be determined based on the Act and or amendment in existence. The share in property(s) keeps changing subject to births and deaths of the coparceners and their descendants.
  4. The SC was of the view that the judgment in the Phulavati and Danamma cases disentitled the female coparcener in the event of death of the father coparcener prior to the 2005 amendment. However, in the Vineeta Sharma case, the Apex court held that it is only the computation of share that will be affected on the death of the father coparcener. There is no question of deciding the daughter’s eligibility. She is eligible by birth. The Bench further held that daughter(s) need not claim rights to the property only subject to the father coparcener being alive as on the date of the 2005 amendment Act.
  5. The intention of section 6 of the Hindu Succession Amendment Act 2005 is to uphold and safeguard women’s coparcener rights of properties of their predecessor.
  6. This means that for daughters to claim succession under the amended 2005 Act, two conditions must be satisfied – their birth and being alive as on the date the Hindu Succession Amendment Act 2005 became effective.
  7. Based on the above, the SC has directed for long pending cases on similar matters to be disposed of within 6 months.

There are a few stumbling blocks though. Such cases shall be governed by Limitation Act. Oral family agreements shall not be acceptable unless substantiated by supporting partition / registration documents.  Yet, this latest Supreme Court ruling is watershed judgment in ensuring and upholding gender equality and upliftment of women’s rights especially in succession matters.

References

1 2015 SCC Online SC 1114
2 2018) 3 SCC 343
3 Civil Appeal 32601/2018
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