Introduction

The Hon’ble High Court of Delhi, in its landmark verdict pronounced in the matter of Mrs Sujata Sharma v Shri Manu Gupta & Ors [CS (OS) 2011/2006], has held that the eldest woman member of a Mitakshara Hindu Undivided Family (HUF) can be its “Karta / Manager”. The ruling came on a suit filed by the eldest daughter of a HUF in North Delhi.

This ruling is pivotal as it takes the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005 which amended Section 6 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 (HSA) to its logical conclusion.

Background

Prior to Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005, according to Section 6 of the HSA, in an HUF, the share in the coparcenary property of a Hindu male dying intestate used to devolve upon his sons (also known as coparceners) only and not upon his daughters. On 9 September 2005, Section 6 of the HSA was amended by the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005 which removed this discrimination by giving equal rights to daughters in the Hindu Mitakshara coparcenary property as that to a son. Pursuant to the said amendment, a daughter of a coparcener (i.e., her father) shall, by birth, (i) become a coparcener in the same manner as a son, (ii) be entitled to the coparcenary property in the same manner as a son, (iii) be subject to the same liabilities in respect of the coparcenary property as that of a son, and (iv) be responsible to discharge the debts of her father, grandfather or great-grand father contracted by them after the commencement of the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005, in the same manner as a son.

The amendment does not have a retrospective effect, and if a coparcenary property has been partitioned or disposed of before 20 December 2004, the above amendment shall not affect such property, and a daughter cannot claim any right over such property.

Details of the Judgement and Analysis

The issue which was to be decided in this case was whether the plaintiff, being the first born amongst the existing coparceners of the HUF, would by virtue of her birth, be entitled to be its Karta.

The HUF in question is known as D. R. Gupta & Sons, HUF, whose Karta was Mr D.R. Gupta. He had 5 (five) sons namely (i) Mr Kishan Mohan Gupta, (ii) Mr Mohinder Nath Gupta, (iii) Mr Jatinder Nath Gupta, (iv) Mr Ravinder Nath Gupta, and (v) Mr Bhupinder Nath Gupta. Mr Kishan Mohan Gupta was the eldest son.

D R Gupta & Sons, HUF, held on a long term lease a bungalow situated in Delhi and some movable properties and shares.

Mr D R Gupta died on 1 October 1971 leaving behind him the aforesaid 5 (five) sons together with their respective families. Mr Kishan Mohan Gupta being the eldest son, became the Karta of the HUF. The plaintiff is the eldest daughter of Mr Kishan Mohan Gupta. As time passed, all the aforesaid 5 (five) sons also died and the 1st defendant, being the son of one of the younger brother of Mr Kishan Mohan Gupta declared himself as the Karta of the HUF by virtue of being the eldest living male member of the said HUF.

Such claim of the 1st defendant as Karta of the HUF was challenged by the plaintiff on the ground that after the death of her father and her uncles, she is the senior most member / coparcener of the HUF and hence she is entitled to be the Karta of the HUF. In view that the plaintiff is the eldest member of the HUF, her being a woman cannot be seen as a disqualification from being its Karta since this disqualification has been removed by the amendment brought about under Section 6 of HSA in the year 2005. Further, it has been also held by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India in Tribhovan Das Haribhai Tamboli v Gujarat Revenue Tribunal and Ors. (AIR 1991 SC 1538) that a Karta of an HUF would always be the senior most member of the HUF.

The plaintiff further contended that by virtue of the new provision, a daughter of a coparcener in an HUF now becomes a coparcener in her own right and thus enjoys rights equal to those hitherto enjoyed by a son of a coparcener. The implications of this fundamental change are wide. In view that, a daughter now stands on an equal footing with a son of a coparcener, she is now invested with all the rights of a coparcener, including the right to act as a Karta of the HUF.

The 1st defendant objected to such a claim of the plaintiff and contended that the amendment to Section 6 of HSA only granted equal rights to a daughter to be regarded as a coparcener equal to those to a male member, but it did not extend to granting a daughter a right in the management of HUF property. The 1st defendant also contended that in view that the plaintiff has been married, she cannot be considered to be an integral part of the HUF.

The Hon’ble High Court of Delhi observed that it is rather an odd proposition that while women would have equal rights of inheritance in an HUF property, this right could nonetheless be curtailed or fettered when it comes to the management of the same. The clear language of Section 6 of HSA does not stipulate any such restriction nor did the plaintiff’s marriage alter the right to inherit the coparcenary property to which she succeeded after her father’s demise. Therefore, the submission on behalf of defendant is untenable.

The Hon’ble High Court of Delhi further held that the impediment which prevented a woman member of an HUF from becoming its Karta was that she did not possess the necessary qualification of coparcenership. Now that this disqualification has been removed by the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005, there is no reason why Hindu women should be denied the position of a Karta. If a male member of an HUF, by virtue of his being the first born eldest, can be a Karta, so can a female member.

Comment

The Hon’ble High Court of Delhi has now cleared this position in law and has provided a clear and unambiguous interpretation to the object and reasons of the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005 by extending the applicability of the amendment to not only Hindu women being recognised as coparceners on equal footing with a son, but also recognising the eldest woman member of the HUF as the Karta of the HUF and its properties.

This judgement would have a far reaching effect in most of the HUF in the country where female are the eldest surviving member.