Women can’t be de­nied rights as HUF heads

A woman, by virtue of be­ing the first born in a Hindu Un­di­vided Fam­ily, can be a karta, says Delhi HC

HT Estates - - HTESTATES - Su­nil Tyagi

The Hindu Suc­ces­sion Act, 1956, cod­i­fies the law re­lat­ing to in­tes­tate suc­ces­sion among H i n d u s . H ow­eve r, i t w a s ob­served that some rights pro­vided to women un­der the Act were not equal to the rights of men un­der the same statute. The en­act­ment of the Hindu Suc­ces­sion (Amend­ment) Act, 2005, brought about sig­nif­i­cant changes in the Hindu in­her­i­tance laws.

A Hindu Un­di­vided Fam­ily (HUF) is con­sid­ered a sep­a­rate le­gal en­tity which can be cre­ated by mem­bers, ei­ther lineal as­cen­dants or de­scen­dants. They are called co­parce­nary. Prior to the Amend­ment, the el­dest male mem­ber of the HUF was called the karta of the fam­ily. The po­si­tion of karta is that of the man­ager who has con­trol of the HUF and as­sets in name of the HUF. Be­fore the Amend­ment to the Act, a woman in an HUF could not be a co­parcener and there­fore had no right to seek par­ti­tion of a HUF prop­erty. The Amend­ment in 2005 changed women’s po­si­tion. They could be co­parceners and were now pro­vided the same rights as male mem­bers of the HUF.

How­ever, in a re­cent case in the Delhi High Court, the po­si­tion of the el­dest mem­ber of the fam­ily, a fe­male, as karta, was ques­tioned. The High Court of Delhi in its judg­ment on De­cem­ber 22, 2015, in the mat­ter of Su­jata Sharma (plain­tiff) vs Manu Gupta ( de­fen­dant) em­pow­ered the women to be a karta of the HUF.

In this case, the court had to de­cide whether the plain­tiff, be­ing the first- born amongst the co­parceners of the HUF prop­erty, would by virtue of her birth, be en­ti­tled to be its karta. Her claim was op­posed by a few mem­bers of the fam­ily while the oth­ers said they had no prob­lems with her be­ing the karta. The suit prop­erty was an im­move­able res­i­den­tial HUF prop­erty and some other mov­able prop­er­ties and shares.

On be­half of the plain­tiff, it was con­tended that a daugh­ter af­ter the Amend­ment to Hindu Suc­ces­sion Act in 2005 was a co­parcener in the HUF, there­fore she had equal rights as a son and that all the rights now de­volved to the daugh­ter from birth in the same man­ner as de­volved upon the son.

In con­trast, it was con­tended on the be­half of the de­fen­dant that the Amend­ment in 2005 only recog­nised the rights of a fe­male mem­ber to be equal to those of male mem­bers but it did not ex­tend to grant­ing them right in the man­age­ment of the HUF prop­erty.

The court held that it was rather an odd propo­si­tion that while fe­males would have equal rights of in­her­i­tance in an HUF prop­erty, this right could none­the­less be cur­tailed when it came to the man­age­ment of the same. The court ob­served that the clear lan­guage of the Amend­ment did not stip­u­late any such re­stric­tion.

The court also opined that the im­ped­i­ment which pre­vented a fe­male mem­ber of a HUF from be­com­ing its karta was that she did not pos­sess the nec­es­sary qual­i­fi­ca­tion of co-parcener­ship. The court said that the Amend­ment was a so­cially- ben­e­fi­cial leg­is­la­tion and it gave equal rights of in­her­i­tance to Hindu males and fe­males and that the ob­jec­tive of the Amend­ment was to recog­nise the rights of fe­male Hin­dus as co-parceners and to en­hance their right to equal­ity about suc­ces­sion. The court said t hat courts would be ex­tremely vig­i­lant re­gard­ing any en­deav­our to cur­tail or fet­ter the statu­tory guar­an­tee of en­hance­ment of their rights. There­fore, since the dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tion had been re­moved by the 2005 Amend­ment, there was no rea­son why Hindu women should be de­nied the po­si­tion of a karta. If a male mem­ber of an HUF, by virtue of his be­ing the first born el­dest, can be a karta, so can a fe­male mem­ber.

The court ob­served that it found no re­stric­tion in the law pre­vent­ing the el­dest fe­male co­parcener of an HUF, from be­ing its karta. The plain­tiff ’s fa­ther’s right in the HUF did not dis­si­pate but was in­her­ited by her. Nor did her mar­riage al­ter the right to in­herit the co-parce­nary to which she suc­ceeded af­ter her fa­ther’s demise in terms of the Amend­ment which only em­pha­sised the statu­tory rights of fe­males.

Ac­cord­ingly, the suit was de­creed in favour of plain­tiff and she was de­clared to be the karta of the HUF.

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