Criminal Trident Pack: IPC, CrPC and IEA by Sr. Adv. G.S Shukla and Adv. Raghav Arora
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  • In Munni Devi alias Nathi Devi vs Rajendra alias Lallu Lal the Hon’ble Apex Court has observed that in view of a Hindu widow’s right to maintenance and by virtue of section 14(1) of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 she is entitled to absolute ownership of the property that she is being maintained out of. 
  • The Court also observed that is was by virtue of section 14(1) of the Act that a Hindu widow’s limited interest gets automatically enlarged into an absolute right, whether such property is possessed by her either before or after the commencement of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 in lieu of her right to maintenance. 
  • In the instant case, the respondent was a widow who was in exclusive possession of the property since 1953. It was the case of the applicant that after the death of his ancestor, being the sole surviving male member of the family, as well as the legatee under the will of the deceased, he was the sole owner of the property and thus, he alleged that the respondent was living in that property without any legal interest or right in the same. 
  • The respondent, on the other hand, contended that she was maintaining herself from the income arising from the property. She also submitted that the limited interest that she had in the property had enlarged into full ownership by virtue of section 14(1) of the Hindu Succession Act. 
  • While the will claimed to have been executed in favour of the applicant made no mention of the suit property, there was no documentary evidence of the will which showed that the property was bequeathed to the respondent. 
  • The trial Court had ruled in favour of the respondent, but the Rajasthan HC had overturned the trial Court’s decision and had held that the widow had an absolute right over the property in lieu of the maintenance which she was receiving from the same. Aggrieved, the appellant/respondent approached the Supreme Court. 
  • It is important to note that section 14 of the Hindu Succession Act clearly states that any property possessed by a female Hindu, whether acquired before or after the commencement of the Act, will be held by her as full owner and not as limited owner. Subsection 2 clearly states that such property would include property acquired by a female Hindu widow in lieu of maintenance or arrears of maintenance. 
  • The Court relied upon the case of V. Tulasamma and ors vs Sesha Reddy and Raghubar Singh vs Gulab Singh and ors (1998) SCC and observed  that the claim of a Hindu widow to be maintained is not an empty formality which is to be exercised as a matter of concession or indulgence, grace or generosity, but is a valuable spiritual and moral right which flows from the relationship of husband and wife. 
  • The Court further observed that in the case at hand, the respondent’s pre-existing right to maintenance, coupled with her settled legal possession of the property, would be sufficient to raise a presumption that she had a claim in the property, even though no document was executed or any specific charge was created in her favour. 
  • Thus, the appeal was dismissed and the decision of the Hon’ble HC was upheld.  
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