India: By Virtue Of Her Birth, Be Entitled To Be Karta

The Delhi High Court, in one of its landmark ruling held that if a male member of Hindu Undivided Family (HUF), by virtue of his being the first born eldest, can be a Karta, so can a female member.

As per the Hindu Law, an adult member who manages the affairs of the HUF is known as Karta or Manager of the family. Only a co-parcener can become a Karta.

The Nagpur High Court in the case of CIT v Seth Laxmi Narayan Raghunathdas [1948] 16 ITR 313 (Nag.), while considering an issue as to whether a widow can be Karta of her husband's HUF, held as under –

"According to the Dayabhaga Law, the foundation of a coparcenary is first laid on the death of the father. The property of the deceased, separate as well as ancestral is inherited by his male heirs as coparcenary property and is held by them as coparceners. On the death of any one of the coparceners, his heirs succeed to his share in the coparcenary property and they become members of the coparcenary. Such heirs, in default of male issue, may be his widow or widows or his daughter or daughters. These too, though females, get into the coparcenary, representing the share of their husband or father as the case may be. A coparcenary under the Dayabhaga Law may thus consist of males as well as females. It is, therefore, obvious that under the Dayabhaga Law a widow becomes a coparcener and she can consequently become the karta of the coparcenary or the joint family, although she or any other coparcener does not possess the right of survivorship, particularly if she is the only member sui juris left in the family.

It is true that under the Mitakshara Law, no female can be a coparcener with male coparceners, presumably, because she does not possess the right to take by survivorship, but we do not think that either this right or the status of a coparcener is a sine qua non of competency to become the manager of a joint Hindu family of which she is admitted as a member."

Based on the above discussion, the Nagpur High Court held that a widow was competent to become the Karta of the Hindu undivided family consisting of herself and her two minor sons. It is notable that the High Court observed that there was no legal prohibition against the mother being the de facto manager.

The High Court further observed that it is beyond question that the Hindu Women's Rights to Property Act, 1937, have materially changed the status of a Hindu woman. If a coparcener gets interest in the joint family property by birth, she gets interest by marriage. She has as much right to enforce a partition of her share as a coparcener has and, except for the right of survivorship, her position is practically analogous to that of the coparcerner. No doubt the interest that she gets is a widow's estate, but in the matter of management of that estate she has the same rights and is subject to the same disabilities as the managing coparceners of a joint Hindu Family.

The Supreme Court in the case of CIT v Seth Govindram Sugar Mills [1965] 57 ITR 510 (SC) has held that a widow cannot be Karta of the HUF, though she can be a manager of HUF for the purposes of Incometax assessment. This decision was delivered after considering the decision of Nagpur High Court in the case of Seth Laxmi Narayan Raghunathdas (supra). The Hon'ble Court had rejected the proposition of female member being Karta of HUF only on a single ground that she did not have the legal qualification of "coparcenership" for becoming Karta because as per the well-established principles of Hindu Law only a coparcener can become the Karta of HUF. Thus, as per the law it stands today a female member cannot become Karta of HUF.

Though, thereafter the Hindu Succession Act stands amended. The Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act of 2005 have paved for the recognition of a daughter as a co-parcener by birth in her own right and accorded her the same rights in the co-parcenery property that are given to a son. Post-amendment, daughters become member of the HUF on birth and are regarded as coparcener in the same manner as a son, being subject to the same rights, duties and responsibilities.

The Hon'ble High Court of Delhi in the matter Mrs. Sujata Sharma versus Shri Manu Gupta[CS (OS) 2011/2006] held vide its order dated 22/12/2015 that Section 6 of the Hindu Succession Act is a socially beneficial legislation and accordingly, Justice Najmi Waziri broadened the definition of "Karta" in the HUF.. It gives equal rights of inheritance to Hindu Males and Females. Its objective is to recognize the rights apropos succession. Therefore, Courts would be extremely vigilant apropos any endeavour to curtail or fetter the statutory guarantee of enhancement of their rights. Now that this disqualification has been removed by the 2005 Amendment, there is no reason why Hindu women should be denied the position of a Karta.

The Court found no restriction in the law preventing the eldest female co-parcener of an HUF, from being its Karta. Further it was held that the plaintiff's father's right did not dissipate, but was inherited by the her. Nor did her marriage alter the right to inherit the coparcenary to which she succeeded after her father's demise in terms of Section 6. The said provision only emphasizes the statutory rights of females. Thus the Court decided and declared the Plaintiff as Karta.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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