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Concept of Karta in Hindu Joint Family [1]

In a Hindu Joint Family, the Karta or Manager occupies a pivotal and unique place in that there is no comparable office or institution in any other system in the world. His office is independent of any other and hence his position is termed as sui generis.

Who can be a Karta?

Senior-most Male Member:

The senior-most male member of the family is entitled to this position and it is his right. His right is not subject to any agreement or any other understanding between the coparceners. He may be aged, infirm or ailing, yet if he is still alive, then he shall be entitled to Kartaship.

But once the Karta dies, the position passes to the next senior-most male member; it may be the uncle, or brother or son.

Junior Male Member:

By agreement between the coparceners, any junior male member can be made a by agreement between the coparceners, any junior male member can be made a Karta. In this case, withdrawal of the coparcener’s consent is allowed at any point of time.

Female Members as Karta:

Regarding the issue of female members of a family assuming Kartaship, there has been considerable amount of discussion in the Supreme Court of India as well as the High Courts. The Nagpur High court once held that though a mother is not a coparcener, she can be the Karta in absence of male members. But the Supreme Court reversed the Nagpur High Court’s findings in another judgment and declared that no female member can assume Kartaship whatsoever.

To put an end to this controversy, few States namely, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh & Karnataka have amended their succession laws so that equal rights are provided to females as compared to the males in the family.

Characteristics of a Karta:

Karta’s position is sui generis. As had been explained earlier, his position/ office is independent and there is no comparable office in any system in the world.

He has unlimited powers and even though he acts on behalf of other members, he is not a partner or agent.

He manages all the affairs of the family and has widespread powers.

Ordinarily he is accountable to no one. The only exception to this rule is if charges of misappropriation, fraud or conversion are levelled against him.

He is not bound to save, economise or invest. That is to say that he need not invest in land if the land prices are about to shoot up, and hence miss out on opportunities etc. He has the power to use the resources as he wishes, unless the above mentioned charges are levelled against him.

He is not bound to pay income of joint family in any fixed proportion to other members. This means that the Karta need not divide the income generated from the joint family property equally among the family members. He can discriminate one member from another and is not bound to treat everyone impartially. Only responsibility is that he has to pay everyone something so that they can avail themselves of the basic necessities such as food, clothing, shelter, education etc.

Apart from all the unlimited powers that are bestowed upon the Karta, he also has liabilities thrust on him.

Karta’s Liabilities:

Karta has to maintain all the members of the joint family properly. If there is any shortfall in his maintenance, then any of the members can sue for maintenance.

He is responsible for marriage of all the unmarried members in the family. Special emphasis is laid with respect to daughters in this case.

In case of any partition suit, the Karta has to prepare accounts.

He has to pay taxes on behalf of the family.

Karta represents the family in all matters including legal, religious and social matters.

Powers of Karta:

The powers of a Karta are divided into two parts:

Power of Alienation:

The most important case with respect to Karta’s power of alienation is Rani v. Shanta[2]. The Karta has very limited powers with respect to alienation of the joint family property. The Karta can alienate the joint family property only with the consent of the coparceners. Alienation can be done only for three purposes:

Legal Necessity: The term “legal necessity” has not been expressly defined in any law or judgment. It is supposed to include all those things which are deemed necessary for the members of the family. “Necessity” is to be understood, not in the sense of what is absolutely indispensible, but what would be regarded as proper and reasonable. If it is shown that family’s need was for a particular thing, and if property was alienated for the satisfaction of that particular need, then it is enough proof that there was a legal necessity.

A few illustrative cases are:

a) Food, shelter and clothing.

b) Marriage (second marriages are not considered a legal necessity).

c) Medical care.

d) Defence of person accused of a crime (exception to this rule is murder of a family member).

e) Payments of debts, taxes etc.

f)  Performance of ceremonies (like marriage, grihapravesham).

g) Rent etc.

Benefit of Estate: Karta, as a prudent manager, can do all those things which are in furtherance of the family’s advancement, to prevent probable losses, provided his acts are not purely of speculative or visionary nature. The last clause means that the property cannot be converted into money just because the property is not yielding enough income.

Indispensable Duties: This term implies the performance of those acts which are religious, pious or charitable. Examples of indispensable duties are marriages, grihapravesham etc. In this case there is a requirement to differentiate between alienation made for indispensable duties and gifts for charitable purposes. The difference lies in the fact that in the former case while discharging indispensable duties, the Karta has unlimited powers in the sense that he can alienate the entire property for that purpose. But in the case of gifts for charitable purposes, only a small portion can be alienated.

Note: If the alienation is not made for any of the three purposes, then the alienation is not void but voidable at the instance of any coparcener.

Other Powers:

These powers of the Karta are almost absolute. There are 9 powers in all and each of them has been dealt with in brief below:

Powers of Management: It is an absolute power. The Karta may mismanage or may discriminate between members and cannot be questioned on such aspects. But the Karta cannot deny maintenance and occupation of property to any member altogether. The check on his powers in this case is the power of “partition” vested in the coparcener.

Right to Income: All incomes of the joint family property should be brought to the Karta and it is for the Karta to allot funds to members and to look after their needs and requirements.

Right to Representation: The Karta represents the family in all matters legal, social and religious. His acts are binding on the family.

Power of compromise: The Karta has the power to compromise in all disputes relating to the family property or management. His acts are binding on the members of the family; but in case of a minor, it has to be approved by the court under O.32, Rule 7, CPC. The compromise made by the Karta can be challenged in court by any of the coparceners only on the ground of malafide.

Power to refer a dispute to Arbitration: The Karta has the power to refer any dispute with respect to family property or management to an arbitration council and the decision is binding on the family.

Power of Acknowledgement: The Karta can acknowledge any debt due to the family or pay interest on a debt or make part or full payment of principal etc. But the Karta has no power to acknowledge a time-barred debt.

Power to Contract Debts: The Karta has implied authority to contract debts and pledge the credit and property of the family. His decision is binding on the members of the joint family.

Loan on Promissory Note: When the Karta takes a loan for family purposes and executes a promissory note, then the other members may be sued as well even if they are not parties to the note. But the members are liable to the extent of their shares whereas the Karta is personally liable on the note.

Power to enter into Contracts: The Karta has the power to enter into contracts which are binding on the family.

Burden of Proof:

If the alienation is challenged in court of law, then it is for the alienee to show that there was a legal necessity. In effect, he has to show two aspects:

a) Proof of actual necessity.

b) Proof that he made a bonafide enquiries about the existence of legal necessity and that he did all that reasonable to satisfy himself of the existence of the necessity.

Thus this presentation has discussed all the important aspects with respect to Karta in a joint Hindu family, viz., who can be a Karta, the characteristics, liabilities, powers and finally the burden of proof in case of a challenge.


1. Mulla, Principles of Hind law, vol.1 20th ed. (ed. S.A.Desai), LexisNexis Butterworths New Delhi, 2008

2. Mulla, Principles of Hind law, vol.2 20th ed. (ed. S.A.Desai), LexisNexis Butterworths New Delhi, 2008

3. Sanjiva Row, Sanjiva Row’s The Indian Succession Act, 7th ed. 2000, Butterworths India, New Delhi

4. Oxford Dictionary, 13th edn, Oxford printing house, 2008

5. Collin Dictionary, Collin Harpers Publication, 2009

6. K J Aiyar’s Judicial Dictionary , 13th edn (ed P M Bakshi), Butterworths India, New Delhi, 2001

[1] Manisha Singh, National Law University, Jodhpur

[2] AIR 1971 SC 1028

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