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Married Hindu Woman Can Enter 'Family Settlement' With Her Heirs On Parental Side: Supreme Court

23 Feb 2021 8:06 AM GMT
Married Hindu Woman Can Enter Family Settlement With Her Heirs On Parental Side: Supreme Court
Married Hindu woman's relatives on her parental side are not strangers for the purposes of Hindu Succession Act, the Court observed.

The Supreme Court has observed that 'family settlement' can be entered by a Hindu woman with her heirs on her parental side.

Background facts

One Badlu, was the tenure-holder of agricultural land. He had two sons Bali Ram and Sher Singh. Sher Singh died in the year 1953 issueless leaving his widow Jagno. After death of Sher Singh, his widow inherited share of her late husband, i.e., the half of the agricultural property owned by Badlu. Jagno's brother's sons filed a suit in 1991 claiming decree of declaration as owners in possession of the said agricultural land . They claimed that Jagno, who was sharer of the half share, had in a family settlement settled the land in their favour who were the brother's sons. Taking note of the written statement in which Jagno admitted this claim, the Trial Court passed a consent decree. Later, the descendants of brother of husband of Smt. Jagno filed a suit claiming that this consent decree is illegal. This suit was dismissed and later the High Court dismissed the second appeal.

The heirs of the brothers of Jagno appealed to the Supreme Court. One of their contention was that Jagno, as a married woman, was not competent to enter into 'family settlement' with her own brothers' heirs.

The following were the issues in the case:

(1) Whether the decree dated 19.08.1991 passed in Civil Suit No.317 of 1991 requires registration under Section 17 of the Indian Registration Act, 1908?; and

(2) Whether the defendant Nos.1 to 3 (Jagno's brothers' sons) were strangers to defendant No.4 (Jagno) so as to disable her to enter into any family arrangement with defendant Nos.1 to 3?

The court held that in view of the fact that the consent decree dated 19.08.1991 relate to the subject matter of the suit, hence it was not required to be registered under Section 17(2) (vi) of the Registration Act and was covered by exclusionary clause.

To answer the second issue, the bench comprising Justices Ashok Bhushan and R. Subhash Reddy referred to Ram Charan Das Vs. Girjanandini Devi and Ors., 1965 (3) SCR 841, which discusses the concept of family with regard to which a family settlement could be entered. The court noted that every party taking benefit under a family settlement must be related to one another in some way and have a possible claim to the property or a claim or even a semblance of a claim.

The Court also referred to Kale and Ors. Vs. Deputy Director of Consolidation (1976) 3 SCC 119 in which it was held that term "family" has to be understood in a wider sense so as to include within its fold not only close relations or legal heirs but even those persons who may have some sort of antecedent title, a semblance of a claim or even if they have a spes successionis. Referring to Section 15 of the Hindu Succession Act, the bench observed:

"A perusal of Section 15(1)(d) indicates that heirs of the father are covered in the heirs, who could succeed. When heirs of father of a female are included as person who can possibly succeed, it cannot be held that they are strangers and not the members of the family qua the female.. In the present case, Smt. Jagno, who as a widow of Sher Singh, who had died in 1953, had succeeded to half share in the agricultural land and she was the absolute owner when she entered into settlement. We, thus, do not find any merit in the submission of learned counsel for the appellants that the defendants-respondents were strangers to the family."

CORAM: Justices Ashok Bhushan and R. Subhash Reddy
COUNSEL: Adv Ranbir Singh Yadav, Sr. Adv Manoj Swarup
CITATION: LL 2021 SC 106

Answering the first point, the court held that consent decree passed in recognition of pre-existing rights under a family settlement does not require registration under the Registration Act.

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