SC Verdict on inheritance

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SC Verdict on inheritance

  • The Supreme Court said that daughters of a male Hindu dying without a will would be entitled to inherit self-acquired and other properties obtained in the partition by the father.
  • The court also said that such daughters would get preference over other collateral members of the family such as sons and daughters of brothers of the deceased father.
  • The judgement dealt with the property rights of Hindu women and widows under the Hindu Succession Act.

About the case

  • The case involved a dispute over the property of one Marappa Gounder who died in 1949 leaving behind a daughter Kupayee Ammal who also died issueless in 1967.
  • Marappa Gounder had a brother Ramasamy Gounder who was survived by a son Gurunatha Gounder and four daughters. One of the four daughters, Thangammal, had instituted the suit seeking one-fifth share in the property of Marappa Gounder.
  • As per Thangamma’s argument, Kupayee Ammal inherited Marappa Gounder’s property and after she died issueless, it came to Sundara Gounder and through him to Ramasamy Gounder.
  • Thangammal contended that she being one of the heirs of Ramasamy Gounder was entitled to one-fifth of the share.
  • Gurunath’s children opposed this saying that when Marappa Gounder died in 1949, his daughter Kupayee Ammal was not having any right to inherit his property.
  • The only heir available then was Guranatha Gounder and from him, the property had come to them, the children claimed.

Rulings of trial court and Madras High Court

  • The trial court came to the conclusion Marappa Gounder had died prior to the enforcement of Hindu Succession Act, 1956 and, therefore, Thangammal and her other sisters were not the heirs as on the date of his death and was not entitled to partition of 1/5th share in the suit properties.
  • The court dismissed Thangammal’s suit on March 1, 1994.
  • The High Court dismissed the appeal against the trial court order in 2009.

Question before the Supreme Court

  • Whether a sole daughter could inherit her father’s separate property dying intestate?
  • If she could inherit, what would be the order of succession after the death of such daughter?

Conclusion of Supreme court

  • A two-judge bench of SC which went into ancient Hindu commentaries on inheritance as well as previous decisions by courts recognised inheritance of daughter from father’s separate estate.
  • It made clear that ancient text as also the Smritis, the Commentaries written by various renowned learned persons and even judicial pronouncements have recognised the rights of several female heirs, the wives and the daughter’s being the foremost of them”.
  • The court also said that if a female Hindu dies intestate without leaving any issue, then the property inherited by her from her father or mother would go to the heirs of her father whereas the property inherited from her husband or father-in-law would go to the heirs of the husband.
  • In case a female Hindu dies leaving behind her husband or any issue, then Section 15(1)(a) of the Hindu Succession Act will come into operation and the properties left behind including the properties which she inherited from her parents would devolve simultaneously upon her husband and her issues.
  • Applying this to the facts of the case, the court said the succession of the suit properties opened in 1967 upon death of Kupayee Ammal and therefore, the 1956 Act shall apply.
  • Thereby Ramasamy Gounder’s daughter’s being Class-I heirs of their father too shall also be heirs and entitled to 1/5th Share in each of the suit properties.