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Any State Enactment Related To Agricultural Land Tenures Is Special Law: Supreme Court Upholds Section 50(A) Delhi Land Reforms Act, 1954

Arundhathi ,
  24 September 2022       Share Bookmark

Court :
Supreme Court of India
Brief :

Citation :
Civil Appeal No. 22957 Of 2017

Case Title:
Har Naraini Devi &Anr Vs Union of India & Ors

Date of Order:
September 20, 2022

Bench:
Justice Hemant Gupta
Justice Vikram Nath

Parties:
Appellants- Har Naraini Devi &Anr
Respondents- Union of India &Ors

SUBJECT

This petition was challenging an order passed by the Division Bench of the Delhi High Court which was passed on 11.09.2009, and dismissed the writ petition challenging Section 50(a) of the Delhi Land Reforms Act, 1954, as unconstitutional and ultra vires of Articles 14, 15, 254 and 21 of the Constitution of India. The case was a dispute over an agricultural property owned by Mukhtiar Singh. On his death in 1997, the land was inherited by his grandsons, as his son Ishwar Singh died in 1985. These sons are respondents no.3 and 4. In this appeal the appellants, who are the widow and daughter of Ishwar Singh, have challenged this Section 50 (a) of the Delhi Land Reforms Act, 1954 by means of a writ petition under Article 226, as they were denied of their rights of inheritance. As their appeal was dismissed by the Division Bench of the High Court, they approached the Supreme Court. The Court heard both sides and found the appellants’ arguments to have no merit and upheld the view of the Division Bnehc of the High Court.

IMPORTANT PROVISIONS

  • Section 50 (a), Delhi Land Reforms Act, 1954- This Section dealt with the general order of succession of property, from males. It says that, when a Bhumidhar or Asami being a male dies, his interest in his holding shall devolve in accordance with the order of succession of male lineal descendants in the male line of the descent. It is only after them, that a widow, or daughter comes.
  • Section 4 (2), Hindu Succession Act (omitted in 2005)- This Section says that no other law which existed before the enactment of this Act, shall be applicable to a Hindu person anymore. However, this Section was repealed by the Act 39 of 2005.

OVERVIEW

  • The appellants were the widow and daughter of Ishwar Singh, who was the son of Mukhtiar Singh, the original owner of the agricultural land. Ishwar Singh died in the year 1985.
  • On the death of Mukhtiar Singh in 1997, the inheritance belonging to deceased Ishwar Singh was inherited by his sons, who are the respondents in this case.
  • Thus, the appellants challenged the Section 50 of the Delhi Land Reforms Act, 1954, claiming that their inheritance rights were denied. It was claimed that this Section was ultra vires of articles 14,15,254 and 21 of the Indian Constitution.
  • On appealing to the Division Bench of the High Court, it was ordered that the arguments of the appellants do not stand, as the Act in question comes under the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution, and it cannot be challenged in view of Article 31 which saved laws regarding the acquisition of estates by the State. Thus, aggrieved by this judgement, the appellants have approached the Supreme Court.

ISSUESRAISED

  • Whether Section 50 (a) of the Delhi Land Reforms Act, 1954 was a violation of Article 14?
  • Would the Hindu Succession Act of 1956 prevail over Delhi Land Reforms Act, 1954?

ARGUMENTS ADVANCED BY THE APPELLANT

  • As there existed a question of repugnancy, the provisions of the Hindu Succession Act would prevail over Delhi Land Reforms Act. Article 254 of the Constitution allows this, which states that if there seems to be a contradiction between laws made by State legislature and Parliament, the one passed by Parliament would prevail over the former.
  • Section 4 (2) of the Hindu Succession Act which says that any other law before that Act came into being would cease to apply to Hindus, was deleted in 2005, and hence the respondents cannot claim inheritance based on this provision.
  • The Section under question is in violation of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Indian Constitution, which are Articles 14 and 15. These articles guarantee equal protection of all before law and prohibit discrimination based on sex. The inheritance rights denied to the appellants by means of Section 50 of the Delhi Land Reforms Act thus makes the provision ultra vires of these Articles.
  • The basic structure doctrine envisaged in the landmark judgement of Kesavananda Bharati vs State of Kerala [Writ Petition (Civil) 135 of 1970], was referred to.

ARGUMENTS ADVANCED BY THE RESPONDENT

  • Sections 51 and 53 which are about the inheritance of property of widows or female heirs cannot be challenged as Article 31 of the Constitution provides for such laws not to be deemed void under Article 14 or 19.It was to be noted that the Act under question falls under the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution since 1964.
  • The challenged provisions are similar to such laws prevalent throughout the country, with regard to holding, inheritance, and possession of agricultural land. These were in line with the Preamble of India and the Statement of Objects and Reasons of the 1954Act under question.
  • The amendment made to Section 4 (2) of the Hindu Succession Act, which allowed it to override any other laws of inheritance with regard to Hindus, does not stand valid reason for challenging the provisions of the 1954 Act, as it was valid at the time of the property being inherited by the respondents.
  • The provisions regarding succession in the 1954 Act were to be considered as a move towards a Uniform Civil Code, enabling the same to be applicable for all across religions.
  • It was also argued that an age old law that has been prevailing for a long time should not be challenged.

JUDGEMENT ANALYSIS

  • The Court held that the High Court order that did not find the appellants’ arguments to be valid grounds for quashing the Section under question, need not be interfered with.
  • It was pointed out that the argument raised by the appellants that Section 50 of the 1954 Act was repugnant, does not stand because according to Article 254, the issue of repugnancy arises only when the State Legislature and Parliament make a law on a matter listed in the Concurrent list. While the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 was made on a matter under Concurrent list, the Delhi Land Reforms Act, 1954 comes under the State list.
  • When Mukhtiar Singh died in 1997, Section 4 (2) of the Hindu Succession Act was valid. The fact that it was deleted in 2005 does not affect the inheritance rights of the respondents as argued by the appellants. According to Section 6 of the General Clauses Act, the repeal of an Act does not affect the previous enactment of it.Thus the deletion of Section 4 (2) of the Hindu Succession Act only applies to matters after 09.09.2005.
  • Not only that, the deletion of Section 4 (2) does not affect the inheritance right of the respondents as the Delhi Land Reforms Act is a special law while Hindu Succession Act was a general law. This makes the deletion of the Section 4 (2) immaterial to this case.
  • The Court referred to the judgment in Vineeta Sharma vs Rakesh Sharma [Civil Appeal No. Diary No.32601 Of 2018] has given retrospective application only to Section 6 of the 1956 Act as amended in 2005. There is no declaration regarding deletion of Section 4(2) being retrospective. This argument also, therefore, fails.
  • As the Delhi Land Reforms Act, 1954 comes under the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution, the argument of women empowerment and gender bias also does not stand.

CONCLUSION

Thus, the appeal was dismissed by the Court for the reasons stated above. No order for costs to be made was also issued.The appellants arguments challenging the validity of the provisions under Delhi Land Reforms Act, 1954 were found to be having no merit. The High Court order was upheld.

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