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Restricted Right of Female Hindu on Estate – Section 14(2) of Hindu Succession Act, 1956

The purpose and legislative intent which surfaces from a combined reading of sub-sections (1) and (2) of Section 14 is that it attempts to remove the disability which was imposed by customary Hindu law on acquisition of rights by a female Hindu but it does not enlarge the right which she gets under a will etc. giving her a limited estate. Where a woman acquires a right to property for the first time under some instrument or on account of some decree of the court and restrictions on her right to alienate have been imposed in such decree or instrument, it will attract the provisions of Section 14(2) but in no case sub-section (1) of Section 14.

Thus she would be only a limited owner not an absolute owner of such property. According to Karnataka High Court, where any property is given to a female Hindu in lieu of maintenance, it will become her absolute property only if it remained in her possession. If such property has not been in her possession, Section 14(1) will not be applied.

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Sub-section (2) to Section 14 covers any kind of instruments besides the deed of gift, or will. Such other instruments may be a partition deed, a deed relating to maintenance, joint family settlement deed etc. Where any property is given to daughter-in-law for life interest through a will, she cannot validly transfer that property to another person for a period extending beyond her lifetime.

The transferee will have interest in it till the lifetime of the transferor. Similarly where any property is given to one’s daughter under a will for life interest and it was further provided that after death the property will come back to the heirs of the executor of the will, such property in possession of the daughter will not convert into absolute estate.

The terms of the will shall remain intact and Section 14(2) will not allow the property to be free from the restrictions imposed under the will. In Gaddam Rama Krishna Reddy, v. Gaddam Rami Reddy, husband created life estate will in favour of his wife, it was not in lieu of maintenance. But she was already managing the said property and the said property was gifted to son who was a minor. After her (wife) death, the said properties to devolve on son in terms of deed of gift executed prior to enforcement of Act. After some time the minor’s mother executed a sale deed in favour of someone’s.

In this case the Supreme Court held that, wife’s rights in properties would be governed by sub-section (2) of Section 14 of Hindu Succession Act, and her right would not blossom into absolute estate as contemplated under sub-section (1) of Section 14. So she has no right to transfer the property by way of sale. But where a property is given to a widow in lieu of maintenance after the commencement of the Act of 1956, it became her absolute property and if such property is alienated by her, the alienation would be valid.

In Kothi Satyanarayan v. Galla Seelhayya, certain property was given to the widow of the brother for life interest with a condition that the property will revert back to the heirs of the giver, it was held that such property will not be regarded as her absolute estate under Section 14(1) but on the other hand it would remain as a restricted estate in the hands of the widow.

Where after the partition was effected among the brothers, the mother was granted the right to residence in the house of one of the brothers till she was alive, while this right was not related to her right to maintenance, it was held that Section 14(1) will not be attracted in that case.

It is important to note that in order to determine the absolute ownership of a woman it is not necessary to take cognizance only of the terms of instrument or the decree of the Court but also the attendant circumstances under which the instrument was executed or the decree was passed.

For example, where an alienation of certain property is made by the widow prior to the commencement of the Act and its validity is challenged by the reversioners and during the pendency of the suit an agreement is reached between the parties and resultant compromise decree is passed whereby the widow gets life interest which she possesses with her after the commencement of the Act, she would become absolute owner of the same despite the terms of the compromise decree.

In this case she does not get the property under some instrument or by dint of a decree of the court but on the other hand as a result of compromise decree, hence Section 14(2) would not be attracted and the property would be her absolute property. In Kamleshwari v. Godabai, the Bombay High Court held that Section 14(2) would be attracted with respect to that property in which she acquires a new right. It would not apply where she acquires a limited estate under a partition deed.

But where she has been deprived of the right to alienation under the partition deed, the provisions of Section 14(2) would not apply. But it becomes doubtful as to whether the decision of the Bombay High Court is appropriate as all the partition deeds cannot be regarded to be of such renderings which may attract the application of Section 14(2) and the view that such partition deeds are not covered within the expression “any other instrument” does not seem correct.

According to Karnataka High Court the restrictions on the property under Section 14(2) could be imposed under some written instrument but not under some oral contract. If there does not exist any such limitation under the instrument, then absolute ownership shall be conferred with respect to that property.

In Brahmavart Sanatan Dharm Maha Mandal v. Kanhayalal Bagla and others, the Appex Court observed that the deceased created a will in clear cut terms that the property owned by him is being bequeathed to his wife with the right to deal with the property in whatsoever a manner she wishes and she was also allowed to take adoption of a son.

Along with this it was stated that the adopted son will only acquire rights in the property given to the wife after her death. The property thus left with her and she being the soul owner had unlimited right in the property. She was at liberty to dispose of that property and adopted son cannot make any claim and restrict her mother with the help of provision under Section 14(1) & (2) of the Hindu Succession Act.

Where a woman did not enjoy any right in certain property prior to the passing of the decree by the court and later on she acquires the right only by virtue of such decree but it conferred upon her only the limited right, it was held that in that case it is only Section 14(2), which would apply and not Section 14(1). The Supreme Court held the similar view in Smt. Naraini Devi v. Smt. Rama Devi.’ In this case the husband died in 1925 leaving his property in which the widow (the deceased husband’s wife) did not get any share nor did she have any share in it from before.

In 1946 as a result of an arbitration award she got a limited estate in the property leftover by the husband. The court held that such a limited estate would not be converted into absolute estate under section 14(1) even after the commencement of the Act. Such property would be covered under section 14(2).

Similarly where a female Hindu gets a landed property by way of gift over which the donor had limited ownership, the court held that although she held it even after the commencement of the Act yet it would not become her absolute estate within the meaning of section 14(1). Since the donor himself had limited estate, he could not transfer absolute estate and thus the transferee of limited estate would not become the absolute owner of it.

Where a woman gets any property under a will but it was only the life interest given there under with an express provision that she would maintain herself and her daughter out of it, it was held that such property would remain a restricted estate within the meaning of Section 14(2) even after the commencement of the Act. Similarly where certain property was given to a woman in lieu of maintenance but it was only a limited right for limited purpose and for a limited time given to her, the court held it to be a restricted estate under Section 14(2).

Where a Hindu widow sold away her property to her brother and later on he gave her a licence and possession over it for her lifetime for her usufruct and maintenance, it was held that she could not acquire any right to ownership in such property within the meaning of Section 14(1), only clause (2) would apply to such cases.

In Bhura v. Kashi Ram, a Hindu father bequeathed certain sir land and a house to his daughter. The Supreme Court after perusal of the entire will learnt that the intention of the executor was to confer only a lifetime estate upon the daughter not an absolute estate. Such a limited estate, irrespective of the daughter’s possession over the bequeathed property on the date of the commencement of the Act, could not be enlarged into an absolute estate.

In Smt. Himi d/o Smt. Lachhmu and another v. Suit. Hira Devi Widow of Budhu Ram and others equal shares in the property was granted under will to step-mother and step-daughter. There was a compromise decree between the legatees. The step mother recognised the ownership of step-daughter but was allowed to remain in possession of entire property during her lifetime.

Since the right to possession was conferred upon her for the first time under compromise decree, step-mother was held not to have become the absolute owner of step-daughter’s share. Hence the donees were bound by the obligations flowing from the consent decree which were binding upon the donor step-mother. Thus they were held not entitled to claim any better right than what the donor had in the properties.

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