In a recent decision1 , the Supreme Court of India ("Supreme Court") reiterated that the burden to prove that a 'property' is a joint property of a Hindu Undivided Family ("HUF"), lies on the person claiming such a property as a HUF property.
Mangat Ram had four sons namely, Madhav Prashad, Lal Chand, Ram Chand and Umrao Lal. Ram Chand and Lal Chand severed ties with the family and had no connection with the property of the family, thereby leaving Madhav Prashad and Umrao Lal as the two branches in the family of Mangat Ram. Bhagwat Sharan ("Plaintiff"), the grandson of Umrao Lal, filed a suit for a claim in the HUF property, against the grandsons of Madhav Prashad ("Defendants").
Trial court and High Court proceedings
The trial court decreed the suit in favour of the Plaintiff and held that the alleged properties were indeed the properties of the HUF and granted the Plaintiff a share to the extent of 2.38% therein. On appeal, the High Court of Madhya Pradesh ("High Court") set aside the decree of the trial court and the same was confirmed in the review proceedings. The decision of the High Court in the review proceeding was challenged before the Supreme Court by way of a special leave petition filed by the Plaintiff.
Plaintiff's arguments before the Supreme Court
The Plaintiff argued that it was Umrao Lal who started the trading business which was later joined by Madhav Prashad. However, since Madhav Prashad was the elder brother, the name given to the business was 'Munshi Madhav Prashad HUF'. It was also the case of the Plaintiff that both Madhav Prashad and Umrao Lal lived together, carried on the business jointly and purchased various properties during the course thereof. The Plaintiff further contended that as the Karta, Madhav Prashad and thereafter his son, Hari Ram, who took over the HUF business as the Karta following the death of Madhav Prashad, illegally transferred some of the properties of the HUF in their personal names, thereby depriving the Plaintiff of his right over the HUF properties.
In support of his allegations, the Plaintiff relied upon the recitals of a mortgage deed executed in respect of some of the properties ("Mortgage Deed") to show that the alleged HUF properties were jointly owned by the sons of Madhav Prashad and sons of Umrao Lal.
Supreme Court's decision
The Supreme Court, while relying on the judgment of Bhagwan Dayal v. Reoti Devi2 , held that the burden to prove a property being a part of a HUF was on the person who alleges the same.
The Supreme Court further held that where one of the co-parceners had separated from the other members of a joint family, there could be no presumption that the rest of the co-parceners continued to constitute a joint family. It was further held that for a HUF to be in existence, it must comprise of all the members of the joint family with its head being the de facto Karta, some property had to necessarily form the nucleus of such a joint family and there had to be purchase of properties on behalf of the HUF from the fund coming out of the nucleus of the joint hindu family.
The Supreme Court held that the Plaintiff had failed to prove that an HUF had been constituted by Mangat Ram and/or that there was any property which formed the nucleus of the said joint family or that there was a 'jointness' of the alleged family or that the property/ properties belonged to such a joint family or that it was purchased through funds derived from the business of the joint family. The Supreme Court further held that the Mortgage Deed merely established the existence of a business jointly run by Madhav Prashad and Umrao Lal and did not aid the Plaintiff in substantiating its claim over existence of a HUF or that of the alleged HUF properties.
Accordingly, the Supreme Court dismissed the challenge filed by the Plaintiff and affirmed the decision of the High Court.
The decision assumes importance in reinforcing the Latin maxim, 'semper necessitas probandi incumbit ei qui agit', i.e., the necessity of proof always lies with the person who lays the charges.
1 Bhagwat Sharan (Dead Thr. LRS.) v. Purushottam & Ors. [Civil Appeal 6875 of 2008 decided on April 3, 2020]
2 AIR 1962 SC 287
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