The Supreme court Court bench comprising Justices Ajay Rastogi and Bela Trivedi in Munni Devi Alias Nathi Devi v. Rajendra Alias Lallu Lal case reiterated that a Hindu woman’s right to maintenance was not an empty formality or an illusory claim being conceded as a matter of grace and generosity.
On Wednesday the Supreme Court in the case of Munni Devi Alias Nathi Devi v. Rajendra Alias Lallu Lal held that in lieu 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 she is being maintained out of.
The Bench comprising Justices Ajay Rastogi and Bela Trivedi held that with the objective of promoting socio-economic ends Section 14(1) envisages a liberal construction in favour of women.
“It is by virtue of Section 14(1) of the Act of 1956, that the Hindu widow’s limited interest gets automatically enlarged into an absolute right, when such property is possessed by her whether acquired before or after the commencement of 1956 Act in lieu of her right to maintenance,“.the Court held
The petition filed in light of a dispute between two deceased members of a family was pursued through their legal representatives (LRs). The LRs of the appellant had claimed possession of the property in question along with mesne profits from the LRs of the respondent.
The respondent was a widow who was in exclusive possession of the property since 1953 and it was alleged that the respondent has been living in the property without any legal right or interest in the said property. The appellant contended that after the death of his ancestor, being the only living male member of the family as well as the legatee under the will of the ancestor, he had become the sole owner of the property.
The respondent further contended that she was maintaining herself from the income derived from the property. Further, It was submitted that the limited right that she had in the suit property by virtue of Section 14(1) of the Act had enlarged into full ownership.
On the other hand, the will that claimed to have been executed in favour of the appellant had made no mention of the suit property, there was no documentary evidence of the will purportedly bequeathing the property to the respondent.
The trial court had ruled in favour of the appellant.
The trial court order was set aside by Rajasthan High Court and held that the respondent had an absolute right over the property in lieu of the maintenance that she was receiving out of the property.
While considering the appeal the apex court’s question was whether the respondent became the full owner of the suit property in lieu of her pre-existing right of maintenance and whether such limited ownership right had fructified into full ownership by virtue of Section 14(1).
Section 14 of the Act states:
14. Property of a female Hindu to be her absolute property.
(1) Any property possessed by a female Hindu, whether acquired before or after the commencement of this Act, shall be held by her as full owner thereof and not as a limited owner.
Clause (2) makes it clear that such property would include property acquired by a Hindi woman in lieu of maintenance or arrears of maintenance.
In view of Section 14 of the Hindu, succession Act the words “possessed by” and “acquired” used in Section 14(1) are of the widest amplitude and include the state of owning property. The court Held.
The court also cited its previous precedent in V Tulasamma and other v. Sesha Reddy which held to recognize that right to maintenance is enjoined even by pure Shastric law and not just the legal statutes.
“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 gratis or generosity but is a valuable spiritual and moral right which flows from the spiritual and temporal relationship of the husband an wife.”The Court Held
Further, The appellant submitted to the court that mere right to maintenance would not create any charge on the property, and that creation of a legal charge required execution of a document, device or agreement, which the court held cannot be countenanced.
“Her pre-existing right to maintenance, coupled with her settled legal possession of the property, would be sufficient to create a presumption that she had a vestige of right or claim in the property, though no document was executed or specific charge was created in her favour recognizing her right to maintenance in the property.”The Court Held
In the light of the above arguments and citations, the Court upheld the High court’s decision and dismissed the plea.
Advocate Puneet Jain
Senior Advocate Pallav Shishodia