- It is under the sections 14 to 16 in The Hindu Succession Act, 1956 where matters related to the succession of property of Hindu females is delt with.
- Inherited property of a Hindu female dying issueless and intestate goes back to the source. (‘Back to source’ –is either the heirs of her parents or husband.)
Since time immemorial society has been patriarchal in nature. They view woman to be subservient and dependent, the laws that govern our society, are ironically, no exception.However there have been major changes and amendments enacted that make us move to a more just and impartial future.
The Hindu Succession Act, 2005 is one such amended act enacted to remove gender discriminatory provisions in the Hindu Succession Act, 1956.Under the amendment, “the daughter of a coparcener shall by birth become a coparcener in the same manner as the son.”The Sections 14 to 16 under The Hindu Succession Act, 1956 deals with the succession of property of Hindu females.
Section 14 basically states that any property that is possessed by a Hindu female shall be held hers as full ownership (thereof abolishing the “limited ownership” status). While sections 15 and 16 talk about the system and rules of property succession on the intestate death of a Hindu female.
THE CURRENT SCENARIO
The property of a Hindu female can be categorised into three main groups. Firstly, the property inherited from her parents (i.e., her father and mother), secondly property inherited from her husband or father-in-law and thirdly the self-earned property.
The system stated as per section 15 of the act is that it will firstly be divided among the children, including the children of any pre-deceased son or daughter and the husband, secondly among the heirs of the husband, thirdly among the parents of said female (i.e., her mother and father), fourthly among the heirs of the father and lastly among the heirs of the mother.
However, in section 15 sub section 2 it has clearly been stated that in case of an issueless and intestate death of a Hindu female the property would not be divided according to the system mentioned in section 15 sub section 1, rather it will go to the heirs of the father and upon the heirs of the husband. (As stated in section 15 sub section 2)
If the focusis on the “inherited property” of the Hindu female then emphasis would fall on only the first two categories of her property and not those that has been self-acquired, gifted or by received through a will, and so importance will be laid on section 15 sub section 2.
The supreme court has clearly stated that inherited property of a female Hindu dying issueless and intestate, will either go to the heirs of her parents or husband.However, if she has transferred or converted the property she inherited from her parents into some other property, then the succession will not be governed under Section 15 (2) as held in Emana v. Gudiseva AIR 1976 A.P. 337.
Similarly, if the inherited property isn’t available at the time of her death (e.g.: the identity of the property is modified or substantially altered and improved or if it is substituted) then Section 15(2) will have no application here. Thus, if she inherits property from father then sells it and out of sale proceeds, purchases another property, this property again would be her general property and Section 15(1) will apply as held in Veera Raghavamma v. G Subbarao (AIR 1976 A.P. 377).
The Hindu Succession Bill, 1954, when originally introduced within the Rajya Sabha, didn’t contain any clause like that of Sub-Section (2) of Section 15. It was only later incorporated on the recommendations of the Joint Committee of both houses of the Houses of Parliament. The intent of the legislature is clear, the property, if it originally belonged to the parents of the deceased female, should go to the legal heirs of the father.
So also, under section 15 sub section 2b of the Hindu succession act, the property inherited by a female Hindu from her husband or her father-in-law shall also under similar circumstances, devolve upon the heirs of the husband.The source from which the property was inherited by the Hindu female, which is most relevant for the main aim of devolution of her property. The fact that a female Hindu originally had a limited right and after acquiring the complete right, would not, in any way, alter the principles of succession given in Sub Section (2) of Section 15.
The Hindu Succession Act, 1956 was enacted in a time where the Hindu females of the society barely went out to work. However, the scenario now has vastly evolved. Society has progressed and woman have fought and rightfully claimed their positions in every sphere, and so came the introduction of the concepts like self-acquired property, andequal coparcener rights. The legislature hence clearly was lacking as they did not foresee this scenario.
These developments forced the re-construction of laws, thus there was the introduction of sections like 14, 15 and 16.
There was also the introduction of three alternate options for the consideration of this new concept of “self-acquired” property of Hindu females, which were the self-acquired of a female Hindu dying intestate should devolve:
First upon her heirs from the natal family, then equally upon the heirs of her husband and the heirs from her natal family and then finally upon the heirs of her husband.Similarly, they then introduced the rules and processes of the accusations / distribution of property in a more equal and non-discriminatory manner.
SUPPORTING CASE LAWS
- On 2 February, the Supreme Court ruled that under the Hindu Succession Act, daughters were legally entitled to carry the equal share of the property in her ancestral property, regardless of the year they were born in. it had been a judgement that attempted to fix decades of imbalance in Hindu inheritance rights over the property. In this case, a person had contended that his aunt has no legal entitlement to rights in his grandfather’s property. A bench of Justice AK Sikri and Ashok Bhushan held that the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 holds that a daughter would be a coparcener (holding an equal share within the undivided property) within the family’s ancestral property since birth, having equivalent rights and liabilities as of a son as amended in 2005 amendment. (Danamma @ Suman Surpur v. Amar, on 1st Feb 2018)
- It was in the case law Smt. S.N. Lakshmi vs E.M. Nagaraju on 17 November, 2021 where it was held that any property inherited by a Hindu female from her parents (i.e her father or mother) shall transmit, in the absence of any son or daughter of the deceased not upon the other heirs referred to in section 15 sub-section (1) in the order specified therein, but upon the heirs of the father.
- In Tavidisetty Venkateswara Rao vs Tavidisetty Nageswara Rao on 26 September, 2003, where the learned Counsel for the appellant strenuously contended that the plaintiff did not establish and prove that the suit property was Sthreedhana property lately Ramulamma having purchased an equivalent, together with her own monies which he’s entitled to half share as per Section 15(1) of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956. It has also been contended by him that since the property in question was purchased by Ramulamma by removing her inherited property from her father, the plaintiff wouldn’t have any right in light of Section 15(2) of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956. In other words, the learned Counsel for the appellant would contend that it’s Section 15(2) and not Section 15(1) of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, would govern this case, which the court learned Single Judge were in error in applying Section 15(1) of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956.
- S. Krishnamurthy vs N. Aswathaiah (Dead) By L. Rs on 17 October, 2005 – stated that if there are no heirs of the husband of the deceased to claim the property, the property shall be taken over by the Government as a matter of escheat. The learned Counsel has relied upon the decision in the case of State of Punjab v. Balwant Singh and Ors. AIR 1991 SC 2301 : 1992 Supp. (8) SCC 108.
The Supreme Court held that section 15 subsection 2 of the Hindu succession act is an exception to section 15 sub section 1, observing that the law is silent on a Hindu female's self-acquired property. This hence cannot be considered property under section 15(2)(a), and decided in favour of the husband's relatives.
It was observed that the basic aim of the legislature when enacting this section was to ensure that the inherited property of a Hindu female dying issueless and intestate would go back to the source through which it came from.
The bench said that the Act lays down a consistent and comprehensive system of inheritance and applies, inter-alia, to persons governed by the Mitakshara and Dayabhaga Schools and also to those governed previously by the Murumakkattayam, Aliyasantana, and Nambudiri Laws.
If a Hindu female had inherited property from her parents (i.e., father or mother) and not from the father’s or mother’s side the heirs then it falls into 2 categories:
1. Sons, daughters, sons and daughters of pre-deceased son or daughter
In the time of non-existence of any of the preferential heirs like sons, daughters, etc, the property passes upon the heirs of subsequent category intestate’s father. In other words, the property inherited by a female from her parents, within the absence of her children, will revert to her father’s heirs. The ‘husband’ is excluded here.
Thus, where a Hindu female died leaving her daughter from a previous marriage and therefore the second husband and property that she had inherited from her father, it had been held that since the deceased had inherited the property from her parent, her daughter alone would be entitled to succeed and therefore the husband here cannot succeed as held in Radhika v. Anguram (1994) 5 SCC 761.
Similarly A ‘step-son’ isn't a problem and can't inherit the property of a lady that she inherited from her parents as held in Lachman Singh v. Kirpa Singh AIR 1987 SC 1616.
2. Heirs of the father
In this category, according to Section 16, the father is deemed dead immediately after the female Hindu died. Here, even if the father is still alive, his property will not go to him rather it will go to his heirs.
Similarly, there is another anomaly i.e, whether the property is inherited from the father or mother, in both the cases, the devolution will be upon the ‘heirs of the father’. Thus, even if she inherits from her mother, the heirs of the Hindu females’ moth will not be able to succeed.
3. Property inherited from husband or father-in-law (Section 15, sub section 2b)
Under this section that the husband shall be deemed to have died immediately after the female Hindu died. Furthermore, when a Hindu female has been married more than once, the properties inherited by her form said marriages should go to the respective husband’s heirs and the respective fathers-in-law’s heirs.
Though we must recognise and appreciate the changes and amendments that have been put across as steps towards a more non-discriminatory society that sees all humans as equals, we must also acknowledge that there is much more progress left to be done as we havent yet attained the said goal.
My personal opinion, though it may not always be possible, would be to always make a will. Irrespective of gender, property owned by one should, on the death of said person, be passed onto whomever said person would like it to go. The present law has led to arbitrary results, where the property passes on to the persons, whom if the intestate would have been alive, would never have wanted his/her property to go upon. This unfortunate outcome of the law has also been recognised in the case of Mamta Dinesh Vakil v. Bansi S. Wadhwa.
However, on the flip side one must recognise the main aim of the legislation is the majority and not that of a few misfortunate outcomes that occur. Due to this, the best way to overcome, would be, to always be open to amendments and developments and slowly but steadily move to a more refined legislation that causes the least to no misfortunate outcomes.
I’d also like to add that when it comes to any questions regarding inherited property distribution of a Hindu female dying issueless and intestate then, the answer is that which is stated in section 15 sub section 2 which says that the property mainly flows back to the source. (The source here being that of the heirs of her parents or husband.)