TOPIC: GS PAPER-1
Why in News: The Supreme Court has expanded on a Hindu woman’s right to be a joint legal heir and inherit ancestral property on terms equal to male heirs.
The Supreme Court Judgement 2020
- The Supreme Court through its judgement ensured “right of equality” of a daughter in a Hindu Undivided Family.
- The Supreme Court held that a daughter will have equal right to family property by birth, irrespective of whether her father was alive or not as on September 9, 2005.
- The Bench of Justices ruled that 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.
- The Bench further added that since the right in coparcenary is by birth, it is not necessary that father coparcener should be living as on 9.9.2005.
Hindu Succession Act, 1956
- The Mitakshara school of Hindu law codified as the Hindu Succession Act 1956 which governs succession and inheritance of property of legal heirs.
- The law initially only recognised males or sons as legal heirs and not the daughters.
- The law applies to ancestral property and to intestate succession in personal property, where succession happens as per law and not through a will.
About Hindu Undivided Family
- In a Hindu Undivided Family, several legal heirs through generations can exist jointly.
- Traditionally, only male descendants of a common ancestor along with their mothers, wives and unmarried daughters are considered a joint Hindu family.
- The legal heirs hold the family property jointly.
Applicability of the Law
- The law applied to everyone who is not a Muslim, Christian, Parsi or Jew by religion.
- Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains and followers of Arya Samaj, Brahmo Samaj are also considered Hindus for the purposes of this law.
- The amendment recognised women as coparceners or joint legal heirs for partition arising from 2005.
- Section 6 of the Act was amended that year to make a daughter of a coparcener also a coparcener by birth “in her own right in the same manner as the son”.
- The law also gave the daughter the same rights and liabilities in the coparcenary property as she would have had if she had been a son.
Questions from the September 2005 Amendment & Views Taken
- The first question was if the law applied retrospectively.
- The second question was if the rights of women depended on the living status of the father through whom they would inherit.
Views Taken by the Courts
- Different benches of the Supreme Court had taken conflicting views on the issue. Different High Courts had also followed different views of the top court as binding precedents.
- In Prakash v Phulwati (2015), a two-judge Bench headed by Justice A K Goel held that the benefit of the 2005 amendment could be granted only to “living daughters of living coparceners” as on September 9, 2005 (the date when the amendment came into force).
- This implies that the 2005 Amendment had recognised the coparcenary rights of living daughters who had living coparceners as on 9th Sept 2005.
- In February 2018, a two-judge Bench headed by Justice A K Sikri held that the share of a father who died in 2001 will also pass to his daughters as coparceners during the partition of the property as per the 2005 law. This was contrary to the 2015 ruling.
- Then in April that year, another two-judge bench, headed by Justice R K Agrawal, reiterated the position taken in 2015.
- These conflicting views by Benches of equal strength led to a reference to a three-judge Bench in the current case.
- The ruling now overrules the verdicts from 2015 and April 2018.
Impact of Recent Judgement on the September 2005 Amendment
- Now the Supreme Court says that a Hindu woman’s right to be a joint heir to the ancestral property is by birth and does not depend on whether her father was alive or not when the law was enacted in 2005.
- It settles the law and expands on the intention of the 2005 legislation “to remove the discrimination as contained in section 6 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 by giving equal rights to daughters in the Hindu Mitakshara coparcenary property as the sons have”.
- This implies that the three judge bench of the Supreme Court has effectively granting retrospective status to the amendment of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956.
Significance of the Judgement
- The decision by the three-judge Bench is significant since three separate two-judge Benches of the apex court had previously given contrasting decisions on the issue in different cases following the amendment.
- The ruling is a huge advancement towards rendering gender justice in furtherance of Article 15 of the Constitution of India as any discrimination between a male coparcener and a female coparcener has been set right by the Supreme Court in accordance with the principles enshrined in Indian Constitution.
- The judgement will also ensure speedy disposal of such cases which have long been pending before other courts of the country as the Supreme Court also directed High Courts to dispose of cases involving this issue within six months since they would have been pending for years.
Other Similar Views
- The 174th Law Commission Report had also recommended this reform in Hindu succession law.
- Even before the 2005 amendment, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu had made this change in the law, and Kerala had abolished the Hindu Joint Family System in 1975.
- Solicitor General Tushar Mehta also argued in favour of an expansive reading of the law to allow equal rights for women.