Authored By: Arju R. Jambhulkar


Introduction

The case of Vineeta Sharma v. Rakesh Sharma,[1] indeed a welcoming judgment, delivered by a three-judge bench consisting of Justice Arun Mishra, Justice S. Abdul Nazeer and Justice M. R. Shah on August 11, 2020 is a great step by the judiciary towards gender equality. This case has broadly interpreted Section 6 of the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005 (hereinafter referred to as ‘Act’) and held that the daughters become coparceners at birth even if born prior to amendment of 2005 in the Act. This article will discuss the crucial points from the judgement and clears the ambiguities in previous cases.

In this case, the plaintiff’s father had died on 11.12.1999 leaving behind three out of four sons (as one died before plaintiff’s father), one daughter and a property which he acquired during his lifetime. The daughter stated that on 21.07.2001 it was orally decided that the property (suit premises) would be divided by metes and bound and if that does not happen, the daughter would get some other property. Further, she mentioned that as her father and one of the brothers died intestate, she is entitled to the 1/4th share of the property (suit premises).

Background

The case specifically explains the interpretation of Section 6 of the Act and the legislative intent of the lawmakers for the amendment of the respective section. The intention to amend this Section 6 was to bring equality between the sons and daughters and clears that a daughter is also a coparcener by birth and that she shall have the same rights that of a son. However, in the case of Prakash v. Phulvati (2016) 2 SCC 36, the Court narrowly interpreted Section 6 of the Act, and stated that rights were conferred with only the living daughters of living coparceners. This position was rejected in the current case.

Vineeta Sharma’s case emphasized on the concepts of statutory fiction, a valid partition of the property, rights of a married and unmarried daughter (not a major question), difference between prospective, retrospective and retroactive nature of the act. It discussed the applicability of the amended Section 6 of the Act and gives a wide interpretation of the same. It also distinguished the difference prior and after the amendment from which we can also infer the appropriate legislative intent.

Analysis

  • Ambiguities in previous cases

The verdict given by the Court in Vineeta Sharma’s case is a welcoming judgment. There are number of cases pending regarding the same issue because of the legal imbroglio due to conflicting decisions in previous cases. The reason being that in Prakash v. Phulvati,[2] the Court held that both the daughter and the coparcener should be alive on the date of the commencement of the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act and also held that Section 6 is prospective. It also emphasized that registration is not necessary for the partition of a property as an operation of law. In Danamma @Suman Surpur & Anr v. Amar & Ors,[3] the Court held that even though the coparcener has died leaving two sons, a widow and two daughters behind, the Court applying the amended Section 6 has directed that everyone is entitled to 1/5th share of the property. In Mangammal v. TB Raju,[4] the Court distinguished the rights of a married and unmarried daughter. These ambiguous stances of Hindu Succession law were resolved unequivocally in Vineeta Sharma’s case. If there is a father, two sons, a daughter and they have a certain amount of property ‘X‘ and the father dies in the year 1997and meanwhile the daughter gets married in 2001, in that situation, if she wants to claim her share from the property after this judgment, she will get the property i.e.1/3rd X will be given to her.[5]

  • Concept of Heritage

The Court also distinguished the term ‘obstructed heritage’ and ‘unobstructed heritage’. The former means the right obtained when the coparcener dies without leaving any male issue and the latter one means the right obtained by birth. The daughter hasn’t conferred the right through obstructed heritage. Her right arises not due to the death of the father but by the factum of her birth. The benefits conferred by the provisions are based on antecedent events and the mitakshara coparcenary law should be deemed to include their rights.

  • Appropriate Interpretation of the terms

The Court disagreed on the concept of ‘living coparcener’ and mentioned that the amended term in Section 6 of the Act is ‘daughter of a coparcener’ and not a daughter of living coparcener. It is further added here that nothing is mentioned in law which states that the coparcener should be alive on 9.9.2005 through whom the daughter should get coparcenary rights.

  • Substantive Partition of Property

The judgment explained the difference between ‘joint hindu family’ and ‘hindu coparcenary’ in a specific manner by stating that once the partition is done, the family is no longer a joint hindu family. The parliamentary standing committee perceived that the partition should be registered or be in such a manner affected by the decree of the Court for all purposes also comes under the ambit of Section 6(5) of the Act. The notional partition would only be justified if proved by proper documentary evidence.

If there arises a situation wherein the father died in 1997 and the daughter married in 2001 and there are two sons who believe that there exist notional or oral partition when their father had died without any documentary evidence supporting the claim, then there exist no explicit or settled partition of the property. After this judgment the daughter can claim her share in the property.

  • Pertinent Claimant of the Property

Further, the Court mentioned that the originally enacted Section 6 of the Act excluded the rule of succession concerning Mitakshara Coparcenary property and added value to the mode of survivorship but now it is not the situation. It is upheld that a hindu deceased can claim partition (legal fiction concept) but a separated hindu can’t claim an interest in the coparcenary based on intestacy in the interest lest by deceased.

  • Relevant modes of Inheriting property

The Court emphasized that coparcenary is the creation of law and the share of coparcenary property fluctuates from time to time as per the deaths and births in the joint hindu family.

If in a situation if the living coparcener dies after 9.9.2005, the inheritance would not be according to survivorship but by interstate or testamentary succession as prescribed under Section 6(3)(1) of the Act. The Section 6(5) of the Act prescribes a specific way of effective partition and that too registered under Registration Act, 1908 and it does not recognize any other form of partition.

Conclusion

The Vineeta Sharma’s case considered that the operation of the law should be based upon the character or status that arose earlier. However, it mentioned that it is not necessary that a father should be alive at the date of amendment. The current case safeguards the interest of women in the share of property in case of oral settlements that are not supported with substantive documents. It mentioned that the concept of statutory fiction is for specific purpose and should not be interpreted beyond that. If any property is already partitioned, before the amendment that has same as per the final decree of the court it can’t be reopened now only on the ground that daughters are equal coparceners after the 2005 Act. The Court in this case has overruled the views to the contrary of Prakash v. Phulvati and Mangammal v. TB Raju & Ors. and partly overruled the views in the case of Danamma @Suman Surpur & Anr. V. Amar which are contrary to the views mentioned in this case.

The Mitakshara coparcenary law was not only discriminatory on the ground of gender but also was oppressive and negates the fundamental right that is guaranteed by the Constitution of India By conceding women equal rights in the hindu joint family property, the Supreme Court has detached the remnant of gender discrimination in coparcenary rights that had dawdled on regardless of change in law.

[1] Vineeta Sharma v. Rakesh Sharma (2020) S.C.C OnLine SC 641.

[2] Prakash v. Phulvati, (2016) 2 SCC 36.

[3] Danamma @ Suman Surpur & Anr v. Amar & Ors., (2018) 3 SCC 343.

[4] Mangammal v. TB Raju, (2018) 15 SCC 662

[5] Bharat Chugh, Judgment without tears| Part 1| ‘Vineeta Sharma v. Rakesh Sharma’| Supreme Court on  Daughter’s Coparcenary Rights, Bharat Chugh Demystifying the Indian law and legal system (Aug. 12, 2020, 3.00 pm)  https://bharatchugh.in/2020/08/12/unpacking-vineeta-sharma-v-rakesh-sharma-supreme-Court-on-daughters-as-coparecenars/.


The author is an undergraduate student at National Law University, Nagpur


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