SC: Daughter’s coparcenary right exists even if father wasn’t alive as on 9.9.2005

The Hon’ble Supreme Court, on 11th August 2020, in the matter of Vineeta Sharma v. Rakesh Sharma & Ors. held that since the right of daughter in coparcenary is by birth, it is not necessary that father coparcener should be living as on 9.9.2005.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court observed that:

A joint Hindu family is a larger body than a Hindu coparcenary. A joint Hindu family consists of all persons lineally descended from a common ancestor and include their wives and unmarried daughters. A joint Hindu family is one in worship and holds joint assets. After separation of assets, the family ceases to be joint. Mere severance in food and worship is not treated as a separation. (Para 22)

Hindu coparcenary is a much narrower body. It consists of propositus and three lineal descendants. Before 2005, it included only those persons like sons, grandsons, and great­grandsons who are the holders of joint property. For example, in case A is holding the property, B is his son, C is his grandson, D is great­grandson, and E is a great­great­grandson. The coparcenary will be formed up to D, i.e., great­grandsons, and only on the death of A, holder of the property, the right of E would ripen in coparcenary as coparcenary is confined to three lineal descendants. Since grandsons and great­grandsons become coparceners by birth, they acquired an interest in the property. (Para 23)

Coparcenary property is the one which is inherited by a Hindu from his father, grandfather, or great grandfather. Property inherited from others is held in his rights and cannot be treated as forming part of the coparcenary. The property in coparcenary is held as joint owners. (Para 24)

Coparcener heirs get right by birth. Another method to be a coparcener is by way of adoption. As earlier, a woman could not be a coparcener, but she could still be a joint family member. By substituted section 6 with effect from 9.9.2005 daughters are recognised as coparceners in their rights, by birth in the family like a son. Coparcenary is the creation of law. Only a coparcener has a right to demand partition. Test is if a person can demand a partition, he is a coparcener not otherwise. Great great­grandson cannot demand a partition as he is not a coparcener. In a case out of three male descendants, one or other has died, the last holder, even a fifth descendant, can claim partition. In case they are alive, he is excluded. (Para 25)

The basic concept of coparcenary is based upon common ownership by coparceners. When it remains undivided, the share of the coparcener is not certain. Nobody can claim with precision the extent of his right in the undivided property. Coparcener cannot claim any precise share as the interest in coparcenary is fluctuating. It increases and diminishes by death and birth in the family. (Para 26)

In case coparcenary property comes to the hands of a ‘single person’ temporarily, it would be treated as his property, but once a son is born, coparcenary would revive in terms of the Mitakshara law. (Para 28)

In Mitakshara coparcenary, there is unobstructed heritage, i.e., apratibandha daya and obstructed heritage i.e., sapratibandha daya. When right is created by birth is called unobstructed heritage. At the same time, the birthright is acquired in the property of the father, grandfather, or great grandfather. In case a coparcener dies without leaving a male issue, right is acquired not by birth, but by virtue of there being no male issue is called obstructed heritage. It is obstructed because the accrual of right to it is obstructed by the owner’s existence. It is only on his death that obstructed heritage takes place. (Para 43)

It is apparent that unobstructed heritage takes place by birth, and the obstructed heritage takes place after the death of the owner. It is significant to note that under section 6 by birth, right is given that is called unobstructed heritage. It is not the obstructed heritage depending upon the owner’s death. Thus, coparcener father need not be alive on 9.9.2005, date of substitution of provisions of Section 6. (Para 44)

Section 6 deals with devolution of interest in coparcenary property of a joint Hindu family governed by the Mitakshara law. The originally enacted provision of section 6 excluded the rule of succession concerning Mitakshara coparcenary property. It provided the interest of a coparcener male Hindu who died after the commencement of Hindu Succession Act, 1956, shall be governed by survivorship upon the surviving members of the coparcenary. The exception was provided that if the deceased had left surviving a female relative specified in Class I of the Schedule or a male relative specified in that Class who claims through such female relative, the interest of such coparcener shall devolve by testamentary or intestate succession, as the case may be, in order to ascertain the share of deceased coparcener, the partition has to be deemed before his death. Explanation 2 disentitled the separated person to make any claim in case of intestate succession. (Para 48)

Though the widow or daughter could claim a share, being a Class I heir in the property left by the deceased coparcener, and a widow was entitled, having a right to claim a share in the event of partition daughter was not treated as a coparcener. The goal of gender justice as constitutionally envisaged is achieved though belatedly, and the discrimination made is taken care of by substituting the provisions of section 6 Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005. (Para 49)

The daughter is treated as a coparcener in the same manner as a son by birth with the same rights in coparcenary property and liabilities. (Para 51)

It is apparent from the provisions of section 6 that the discrimination with the daughter has been done away with, and they have been provided equal treatment in the matter of inheritance with Mitakshara coparcenary. (Para 52)

In view of the provisions contained in section 6 when a coparcener is survived by a female heir of Class I or male relative of such female, it was necessary to ascertain the share of the deceased, as such, a legal fiction was created. The Explanation I provided legal fiction of partition as if it had taken place immediately before his death, notwithstanding whether he had the right to claim it or not. However, a separated Hindu could not claim an interest in the coparcenary based on intestacy in the interest left by the deceased. (Para 54)

The amended provisions of section 6(1) provide that on and from the commencement of the Amendment Act, the daughter is conferred the right. Section 6(1)(a) makes daughter by birth a coparcener “in her own right” and “in the same manner as the son.” Section 6(1)(a) contains the concept of the unobstructed heritage of Mitakshara coparcenary, which is by virtue of birth. Section 6(1)(b) confers the same rights in the coparcenary property “as she would have had if she had been a son”. The conferral of right is by birth, and the rights are given in the same manner with incidents of coparcenary as that of a son and she is treated as a coparcener in the same manner with the same rights as if she had been a son at the time of birth. Though the rights can be claimed, w.e.f. 9.9.2005, the provisions are of retroactive application; they confer benefits based on the antecedent event, and the Mitakshara coparcenary law shall be deemed to include a reference to a daughter as a coparcener. At the same time, the legislature has provided savings by adding a proviso that any disposition or alienation, if there be any testamentary disposition of the property or partition which has taken place before 20.12.2004, the date on which the Bill was presented in the Rajya Sabha, shall not be invalidated. (Para 55)

The prospective statute operates from the date of its enactment conferring new rights. The retrospective statute operates backward and takes away or impairs vested rights acquired under existing laws. A retroactive statute is the one that does not operate retrospectively. It operates in futuro. However, its operation is based upon the character or status that arose earlier. Characteristic or event which happened in the past or requisites which had been drawn from antecedent events. Under the amended section 6, since the right is given by birth, that is an antecedent event, and the provisions operate concerning claiming rights on and from the date of Amendment Act. (Para 56)

Section 6(2) provides when the female Hindu shall hold the property to which she becomes entitled under section 6(1), she will be bound to follow rigors of coparcenary ownership, and can dispose of the property by testamentary mode. (Para 60)

With respect to a Hindu who dies after the commencement of the Amendment Act, 2005, as provided in section 6(3) his interest shall pass by testamentary or intestate succession and not by survivorship, and there is a deemed partition of the coparcenary property in order to ascertain the shares which would have been allotted to his heirs had there been a partition. The daughter is to be allotted the same share as a son; even surviving child of pre­deceased daughter or son are given a share in case child has also died then surviving child of such pre­deceased child of a pre­deceased son or pre­deceased daughter would be allotted the same share, had they been alive at the time of deemed partition. Thus, there is a sea­change in substituted section 6. In case of death of coparcener after 9.9.2005, succession is not by survivorship but in accordance with section 6(3)(1). The Explanation to section 6(3) is the same as Explanation I to section 6 as originally enacted. Section 6(4) makes a daughter liable in the same manner as that of a son. The daughter, grand­daughter, or great­grand­daughter, as the case may be, is equally bound to follow the pious obligation under the Hindu Law to discharge any such debt. The proviso saves the right of the creditor with respect to the debt contracted before the commencement of Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005. The provisions contained in section 6(4) also make it clear that provisions of section 6 are not retrospective as the rights and liabilities are both from the commencement of the Amendment Act. (Para 61)

Considering the principle of coparcenary that a person is conferred the rights in the Mitakshara coparcenary by birth, similarly, the daughter has been recognised and treated as a coparcener, with equal rights and liabilities as of that of a son. The expression used in section 6 is that she becomes coparcener in the same manner as a son. By adoption also, the status of coparcener can be conferred. The concept of uncodified Hindu law of unobstructed heritage has been given a concrete shape under the provisions of section 6(1)(a) and 6(1) (b). Coparcener right is by birth. Thus, it is not at all necessary that the father of the daughter should be living as on the date of the amendment, as she has not been conferred the rights of a coparcener by obstructed heritage. According to the Mitakshara coparcenary Hindu law, as administered which is recognised in section 6(1), it is not necessary that there should be a living, coparcener or father as on the date of the amendment to whom the daughter would succeed. The daughter would step into the coparcenary as that of a son by taking birth before or after the Act. However, daughter born before can claim these rights only with effect from the date of the amendment, i.e., 9.9.2005 with saving of past transactions as provided in the proviso to section 6(1) read with section 6(5). (Para 63)

The effect of the amendment is that a daughter is made coparcener, with effect from the date of amendment and she can claim partition also, which is a necessary concomitant of the coparcenary. Section 6(1) recognises a joint Hindu family governed by Mitakshara law. The coparcenary must exist on 9.9.2005 to enable the daughter of a coparcener to enjoy rights conferred on her. As the right is by birth and not by dint of inheritance, it is irrelevant that a coparcener whose daughter is conferred with the rights is alive or not. Conferral is not based on the death of a father or other coparcener. In case living coparcener dies after 9.9.2005, inheritance is not by survivorship but by intestate or testamentary succession as provided in substituted section 6(3). (Para 64)

As per the Mitakshara law, no coparcener has any fixed share. It keeps on fluctuating by birth or by death. It is the said principle of administration of Mitakshara coparcenary carried forward in statutory provisions of section 6. Even if a coparcener had left behind female heir of Class I or a male claiming through such female Class I heir, there is no disruption of coparcenary by statutory fiction of partition. Fiction is only for ascertaining the share of a deceased coparcener, which would be allotted to him as and when actual partition takes place. The deemed fiction of partition is for that limited purpose. The classic Shastric Hindu law excluded the daughter from being coparcener, which injustice has now been done away with by amending the provisions in consonance with the spirit of the Constitution. (Para 66)

There can be a sole surviving coparcener in a given case the property held by him is treated individual property till a son is born. In case there is a widow or daughter also, it would be treated as joint family property. If the son is adopted, he will become a coparcener. An adoption by a widow of a deceased coparcener related to the date of her husband’s death, subject to saving the alienations made in the intermittent period. (Para 67)

It is by birth that interest in the property is acquired. Devolution on the death of a coparcener before 1956 used to be only by survivorship. After 1956, women could also inherit in exigencies, mentioned in the proviso to unamended section 6. Now by legal fiction, daughters are treated as coparceners. No one is made a coparcener by devolution of interest. It is by virtue of birth or by way of adoption obviously within the permissible degrees; a person is to be treated as coparcener and not otherwise. (Para 68)

It is not by the death of the father or other coparcener that rights accrue. It is by the factum of birth. It is only when a female of Class I heir is left, or in case of her death, male relative is left, the share of the deceased coparcener is fixed to be distributed by a deemed partition, in the event of an actual partition, as and when it takes place as per the proviso to unamended section 6. The share of the surviving coparcener may undergo change till the actual partition is made. The proviso to section 6 does not come in the way of formation of a coparcenary, and who can be a coparcener. The proviso to section 6 as originally stood, contained an exception to the survivorship right. The right conferred under substituted section 6(1) is not by survivorship but by birth. The death of every coparcener is inevitable. How the property passes on death is not relevant for interpreting the provisions of section 6(1). Significant is how right of a coparcener is acquired under Mitakshara coparcenary. It cannot be inferred that the daughter is conferred with the right only on the death of a living coparcener, by declaration contained in section 6, she has been made a coparcener. The precise declaration made in section 6 (1) has to be taken to its logical end; otherwise, it would amount to a denial of the very right to a daughter expressly conferred by the legislature. (Para 69)

It is not necessary to form a coparcenary or to become a coparcener that a predecessor coparcener should be alive; relevant is birth within degrees of coparcenary to which it extends. Survivorship is the mode of succession, not that of the formation of a coparcenary. (Para 75)

The daughters should be living on 9.9.2005. In substituted section 6, the expression ‘daughter of a living coparcener’ has not been used. Right is given under section 6(1)(a) to the daughter by birth. Declaration of right based on the past event was made on 9.9.2005 and as provided in section 6(1(b), daughters by their birth, have the same rights in the coparcenary, and they are subject to the same liabilities as provided in section 6(1)(c). Any reference to the coparcener shall include a reference to the daughter of a coparcener. The provisions of section 6(1) leave no room to entertain the proposition that coparcener should be living on 9.9.2005 through whom the daughter is claiming. (Para 75)

 The right to claim partition is a significant basic feature of the coparcenary, and a coparcener is one who can claim partition. The daughter has now become entitled to claim partition of coparcenary w.e.f. 9.9.2005, which is a vital change brought about by the statute. A coparcener enjoys the right to seek severance of status. Under section 6(1) and 6(2), the rights of a daughter are pari passu with a son. In the eventuality of a partition, apart from sons and daughters, the wife of the coparcener is also entitled to an equal share. The right of the wife of a coparcener to claim her right in property is in no way taken away. (Para 79)

Without partition, only undivided share can be sold but not specific property, nor joint possession can be disrupted by such alienation. Whether the consent of other coparcener is required for sale or not, depends upon by which School of Mitakshara law, parties are governed, to say, in Benares School, there is a prohibition on the sale of property without the consent of other coparceners. (Para 81)

Shares of coparceners can undergo a change in coparcenary by birth and death unless and until the final division is made. The body of coparcenary is increased by the operation of law as daughters have been declared as a coparcener. (Para 81)

When the partition has not taken place whether the statutory fiction contained in the proviso to section 6 with respect to the determination of shares of a deceased coparcener and its devolution thereunder would disrupt coparcenary. The answer is in the negative. (Para 82)

The institution of a suit for partition by a member of a joint family is a clear intimation of his intention to separate and the decisions indicate that there was consequential severance of joint status from the date when the suit was filed though there was an assertion of his right to separate by filing of the suit whether the consequential judgment is passed or not. However, we add a rider that if subsequently, the law confers a right, or such other event takes place, its effect has to be worked out even after passing of the preliminary decree. (Para 83)

The intention to separate need not be confused with the change of rights during the pendency of the suit, which has to be given full effect, to do complete justice. (Para 85)

A preliminary decree does not bring about the final partition. For, pending the final decree, the shares themselves are liable to be varied on account of the intervening events, and the preliminary decree does not bring about any irreversible situation. The concept of partition that the legislature had in mind could not be equated with a mere severance of the status of the joint family, which could be effected by an expression of a mere desire by a family member to do so. (Para 90)

Once the constitution of coparcenary changes by birth or death, shares have to be worked out at the time of actual partition. The shares will have to be determined in changed scenario. The severance of status cannot come in the way to give effect to statutory provision and change by subsequent event. The statutory fiction of partition is far short of actual partition, it does not bring about the disruption of the joint family or that of coparcenary. (Para 99)

Mere severance of status by way of filing a suit does not bring about the partition and till the date of the final decree, change in law, and changes due to the subsequent event can be taken into consideration. (Para 99)

When the proviso to unamended section 6 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 came into operation and the share of the deceased coparcener was required to be ascertained, a deemed partition was assumed in the lifetime of the deceased immediately before his death. Such a concept of notional partition was employed so as to give effect to Explanation to section 6. The fiction of notional partition was meant for an aforesaid specific purpose. It was not to bring about the real partition. Neither did it affect the severance of interest nor demarcated the interest of surviving coparceners or of the other family members, if any, entitled to a share in the event of partition but could not have claimed it. The entire partition of the coparcenary is not provided by deemed fiction; otherwise, coparcenary could not have continued which is by birth, and the death of one coparcener would have brought an end to it. (Para 101)

Legal fiction is only for a purpose it serves, and it cannot be extended beyond. (Para 101)

A legal fiction created in law cannot be stretched beyond the purpose for which it has been created (Para 101)

In case coparcenary is continued, and later on between the surviving coparceners partition takes place, it would be necessary to find out the extent of the share of the deceased coparcener. That has to be worked out with reference to the property which was available at the time of death of deceased coparcener whose share devolved as per the proviso and Explanation I to section 6 as in case of intestate succession. (Para 104)

If a daughter is alive on the date of enforcement of the Amendment Act, she becomes a coparcener with effect from the date of the Amendment Act, irrespective of the date of birth earlier in point of time. (Para 106)

The intendment of amended Section 6 is to ensure that daughters are not deprived of their rights of obtaining share on becoming coparcener and claiming a partition of the coparcenary property by setting up the frivolous defence of oral partition and/or recorded in the unregistered memorandum of partition. The Court has to keep in mind the possibility that a plea of oral partition may be set up, fraudulently or in collusion, or based on unregistered memorandum of partition which may also be created at any point of time. Such a partition is not recognized under Section 6(5). (Para 116)

Family arrangements can be entered into to keep harmony in the family. (Para 117)

Cesser of Commonality is not conclusive proof of partition, merely by the reason that the members are separated in food and residence for the convenience, and separate residence at different places due to service or otherwise does not show separation. Several acts, though not conclusive proof of partition, may lead to that conclusion in conjunction with various other facts. Such as separate occupation of portions, division of the income of the joint property, definement of shares in the joint property in the revenue of land registration records, mutual transactions. (Para 122)

There is a general presumption that every Hindu family is presumed to be joint unless the contrary is proved. It is open even if one coparcener has separated, to the non­separating members to remain joint and to enjoy as members of a joint family. No express agreement is required to remain joint. It may be inferred from how their family business was carried on after one coparcener was separated from them. Whether there was a separation of one coparcener from all other members of a joint family by a decree of partition, the decree alone should be looked at to determine the question. (Para 123)

The severance of status may take place from the date of filing of a suit; however, a decree is necessary for working out the results of the same, and there may be a change of rights during the pendency of the suit for allotting definite shares till final decree is passed. There are cases in which partition can be reopened on the ground of fraud or mistake, etc. or on certain other permissible grounds. In appropriate cases, it can be reopened at the instance of minor also.(Para 125)

A special definition of partition has been carved out in the explanation. The intendment of the provisions is not to jeopardise the interest of the daughter and to take care of sham or frivolous transaction set up in defence unjustly to deprive the daughter of her right as coparcener and prevent nullifying the benefit flowing from the provisions as substituted. The statutory provisions made in section 6(5) change the entire complexion as to partition. However, under the law that prevailed earlier, an oral partition was recognised. In view of change of provisions of section 6, the intendment of legislature is clear and such a plea of oral partition is not to be readily accepted. The provisions of section 6(5) are required to be interpreted to cast a heavy burden of proof upon proponent of oral partition before it is accepted such as separate occupation of portions, appropriation of the income, and consequent entry in the revenue records and invariably to be supported by other contemporaneous public documents admissible in evidence, may be accepted most reluctantly while exercising all safeguards. (Para 127)

The intendment of Section 6 of the Act is only to accept the genuine partitions that might have taken place under the prevailing law, and are not set up as a false defence and only oral ipse dixit is to be rejected outrightly. The object of preventing, setting up of false or frivolous defence to set at naught the benefit emanating from amended provisions, has to be given full effect. Otherwise, it would become very easy to deprive the daughter of her rights as a coparcener. When such a defence is taken, the Court has to be very extremely careful in accepting the same, and only if very cogent, impeccable, and contemporaneous documentary evidence in shape of public documents in support are available, such a plea may be entertained, not otherwise. (Para 127)

The plea of an oral partition or memorandum of partition, unregistered one can be manufactured at any point in time, without any contemporaneous public document needs rejection at all costs. We say so for exceptionally good cases where partition is proved conclusively and we caution the courts that the finding is not to be based on the preponderance of probabilities in view of provisions of gender justice and the rigor of very heavy burden of proof which meet intendment of Explanation to Section 6(5). It has to be remembered that courts cannot defeat the object of the beneficial provisions made by the Amendment Act. The exception is carved out by us as earlier execution of a registered document for partition was not necessary, and the Court was rarely approached for the sake of family prestige. It was approached as a last resort when parties were not able to settle their family dispute amicably. (Para 127)

The expression used in Explanation to Section 6(5) ‘partition effected by a decree of a court’ would mean giving of final effect to actual partition by passing the final decree, only then it can be said that a decree of a court effects partition. A preliminary decree declares share but does not effect the actual partition, that is effected by passing of a final decree; thus, statutory provisions are to be given full effect, whether partition is actually carried out as per the intendment of the Act is to be found out by Court. (Para 128)

Even if partition is supported by a registered document it is necessary to prove it had been given effect to and acted upon and is not otherwise sham or invalid or carried out by a final decree of a court. In case partition, in fact, had been worked out finally in toto as if it would have been carried out in the same manner as if affected by a decree of a court, it can be recognized, not otherwise. A partition made by execution of deed duly registered under the Registration Act, 1908, also refers to completed event of partition not merely intendment to separate, is to be borne in mind while dealing with the special provisions of Section 6(5) conferring rights on a daughter. There is a clear legislative departure with respect to proof of partition which prevailed earlier; thus, the Court may recognise the other mode of partition in exceptional cases based upon continuous evidence for a long time in the shape of public document not mere stray entries then only it would not be in consonance with the spirit of the provisions of Section 6(5) and its Explanation. (Para 128)

The provisions contained in substituted Section 6 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 confer status of coparcener on the daughter born before or after amendment in the same manner as son with same rights and liabilities. (Para 129(i))

The rights can be claimed by the daughter born earlier with effect from 9.9.2005 with savings as provided in Section 6(1) as to the disposition or alienation, partition or testamentary disposition which had taken place before 20th day of December, 2004. (Para 129(ii))

Since the right in coparcenary is by birth, it is not necessary that father coparcener should be living as on 9.9.2005. (Para 129(iii))

The statutory fiction of partition created by proviso to Section 6 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 as originally enacted did not bring about the actual partition or disruption of coparcenary. The fiction was only for the purpose of ascertaining share of deceased coparcener when he was survived by a female heir, of Class ­I as specified in the Schedule to the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 or male relative of such female. The provisions of the substituted Section 6 are required to be given full effect. Notwithstanding that a preliminary decree has been passed the daughters are to be given share in coparcenary equal to that of a son in pending proceedings for final decree or in an appeal. (Para 129(iv))

In view of the rigor of provisions of Explanation to Section 6(5) of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, a plea of oral partition cannot be accepted as the statutory recognised mode of partition effected by a deed of partition duly registered under the provisions of the Registration Act, 1908 or effected by a decree of a court. However, in exceptional cases where plea of oral partition is supported by public documents and partition is finally evinced in the same manner as if it had been affected by a decree of a court, it may be accepted. A plea of partition based on oral evidence alone cannot be accepted and to be rejected outrightly. (Para 129(v))

Copy of judgement: Judgement_11-Aug-2020

-Adv. Tushar Kaushik

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