On 28 August 2023, a two judge bench of the Hon'ble Supreme Court of India ("SC") comprising of Justice C.T. Ravikumar and Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia, in its decision in M. Sivadasan (Dead) Through L.Rs. & Ors. vs. A. Soudamini (Dead) Through LRs. & Ors., 2023 SCC Online SC 1078 reiterated that in order to claim rights in respect of a property under section 14 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 ('HSA'), a Hindu woman must be in possession of the property.
One Sami Vaidyar was the owner of the properties measuring 33 ½ cents and 42 cents respectively in Kozhikode, Kerala ("said Property').
Upon the death of Sami Vaidyar in 1942, his daughters filed a suit for partition and mesne profits in 1988 before the Learned Court of Principal Munsif, Kozhikode-I, Kerala claiming inheritance rights over the said Property ('Partition Suit'). The daughters claimed rights in the said Property through their mother Choyichi, who was the widow of Sami Vaidyar, who had a limited right under the Hindu Mitakshara law as well as by virtue of Hindu Women's Right to Property Act, 1937 ('HWRPA').
The Trial Court vide its order and judgement dated 03 February 1993 dismissed the Partition Suit on the ground that the said Property which is sought to be partitioned is an agricultural land to which HWRPA was not applicable, till its amendment in the year 1946 and the succession to the said Property had opened in the year 1942 itself which precedes the date of amendment.
The aforesaid judgement and order dated 03 February 1993 was upheld by the Appellate Court and finally by the High Court of Kerala vide its judgment dated 29 January 2009 in second appeal. The daughters thereafter preferred an appeal against the Kerala's High Court judgement before the SC.
Supreme Court Decision and Analysis
Upon hearing the parties, the SC held that section 14(1) of HSA has no application in the present case, as the essential ingredient of section 14(1) of HSA is the possession of the property by a woman and in the instant case the daughters were never in possession of the said Property and the possession was always with the Respondents. In Ram Vishal (dead) by LRs. & Ors. vs. Jagan Nath & Anr., (2004) 9 SCC 302, the aforesaid position of possession has been confirmed which is stated hereinbelow:
"16. In our view, the authority in Raghubar Singh case [(1998) 6 SCC 314] can be of no assistance to the respondent. As has been held by this court, a pre-existing right is a sine qua non for conferment of a full ownership under section 14 of Hindu Succession Act, 1956. The Hindu female must not only be possessed of the property but she must have acquired the property. Such acquisition must be either by way of inheritance or devise, or at a partition or "in lieu of maintenance or arrears of maintenance" or by gift or by her own skill or exertion, or by purchase or by prescription... ".
The Supreme Court further observed that the parties belonged to the Thiyyas community of Kozhikode, Kerala where ancestral property devolved only on male heirs. As per a family settlement of 1938, the said Property was specifically allotted to Sami Vaidyar and his only son Sukumaran. Therefore the widow of Sami Vaidyar i.e. Choyichi did not have any right over the said Property. Moreover, the findings of all the courts were that Choyichi was never in possession of the said Property, as such Choyichi did not get any rights under section 14 of HSA.
The Appellants submitted that the Court should reappreciate the entire case on facts and further submitted that the determination of the said Property as agricultural land was wrongly done by all three courts. However, the upon appreciating the entire evidence, the Court came to a finding that the said Property was indeed agricultural land. It further held that the Appellants have failed to show exceptional and special circumstances exist to reverse the findings.
The SC also held that the Respondents had been in possession of the said Property and the finding of adverse possession in favour of the Respondents by the trial court was never challenged by the Appellants.
In view of the aforesaid findings, the Appeal was dismissed by the SC.
The above decision of the SC reiterates that for a woman to claim a right over a property under section 14(1) of HSA, she must be in possession of the property.
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