The Supreme Court has ruled that when heirs of father of a female are included as persons who can possibly succeed under Hindu Succession Act, then it cannot be held that they are strangers and not the members of the family with respect to the female (Khushi Ram & ors vs Nawal Singh & ors).
A Bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan and R Subhash Reddy ruled that as per Section 15(1)(d) of the Hindu Succession Act, the heirs of the father of a Hindu female are covered under persons entitled to intestate succession of property of a female Hindu.
“A perusal of Section 15(1)(d) indicates that heirs of the father are covered in the heirs, who could succeed. When heirs of father of a female are included as person who can possibly succeed, it cannot be held that they are strangers and not the members of the family qua (sic) the female,” the Court held.
The ruling came in a case related to the property inherited by a woman, Jagno after her husband passed away without any children. Jagno, after enforcement of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 by virtue of Section 14 became the absolute owner of the half share of the suit property.
She then entered into a family settlement and settled the land in favour of her brothers’ sons.
Her brother’s sons filed a civil suit in 1991 before the court of Sub-Judge, Gurgaon claiming decree of declaration as owners in possession of the land in question.
Jagno did not contest this claim and filed a written statement accepting the case of her brother’s sons. The trial court, therefore, passed a consent decree in favour of Jagno’s brother’s sons on August 19,1991.
However, her late husband’s brother’s children (plaintiff-appellants) disapproved of such a transfer.
They challenged the same but their suit was dismissed by the trial court, district court and the High Court resulting in the present appeal before the Supreme Court.
They contended that a Hindu widow cannot constitute a Joint Hindu Family with the descendants of her brother, i.e., her parental side.
It was submitted that a family settlement can take place only between members, who have antecedent title or pre-existing right in the property proposed to be settled.
The respondents argued that expression “family” for the purpose of family settlement is not to be given any narrow meaning and that it should be given a wide meaning to cover the members, who are by any means related.
The Court placed reliance on Section 15(1)(d) of the Hindu Succession Act to hold that heirs of father of a Hindu female are not strangers but are ‘family’.
“In the present case, Smt. Jagno, who as a widow of Sher Singh, who had died in 1953, had succeeded to half share in the agricultural land and she was the absolute owner when she entered into settlement. We, thus, do not find any merit in the submission of learned counsel for the appellants that the defendants-respondents were strangers to the family,” the Court ruled.