Abolition of Limited Estate in The Light of Hindu Succession Act, 1956

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    The privilege of possession of title is significant for one’s opportunity and advancement. In ancient times, the rule of inequality prevailed in society, owing to which females could not avail of their fundamental right of property. But in today’s era, females enjoy certain freedoms. Limited Estate

    However, many women do not meet their privilege, either because they are uneducated or are ignorant of their legal rights. Though the ancient law was disgraceful for women, our present legal system has taken many steps to uplift the status of women in society. One of the steps is providing property rights to females and other such rights concerning their property. This article analyses the concept under Section 14 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 in light of the abolition of a limited estate.

    Stridhan and women’s estate

    Prior to 1956, the possessions of women were cut up into two heads:

    a) Stridhan and

     b) Women’s Estate.

    Stridhan

    The term stridhan is derived from the words ‘stri’, which means ‘women’, and ‘Dhana’, meaning ‘property’, and the term etymologically conveys women’s property. This concept stems from the smiritikars. In today’s era, it is overwhelmed in all social classes and land.

    According to the smiritikars and old schools of Hindu Law, the stridhan adds up to those possessions which a woman acquired in the form of gifts, which only comprised of mobile property, including from strangers, the gift at the time of marriage, etc. 

    Women’s Estate

    The following two classifications of possessions have been appraised as women’s estate:

    1. Possessions by Inheritance.
    2. Partition Share.

    The principle has many specifications like it gives women a pure proprietorship over the property, absolute legality of disposal or alienation, the power to hand over the possessions, the property can be moved on her own beneficiaries after death, and she has the legality to do anything with the assets. 

    In Janaki Ammal v. Narayanasami[1], the Privy Council very aptly observed: 

    “Her right is of the nature of a right of property; her position is that of the owner; her powers in that character are, however, limited… So long as she is alive, no one has any vested interest in succession.” 

    The ability of disposal over the possessions are finite and this restriction interprets the idea of the estate, however, these impediments are not restricted for the reversioner. 

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    There are various types of rights available to the holder of women’s estate like the power of management, alienation, surrender.

    Section 14, Hindu succession act, 1956.

    The Hindu Succession Act, 1956 has made a radical change by enhancing the situation in support of widows and other holders by putting an end to the conversion of ‘limited estate’ into ‘absolute ones’. The act grants heritage dimension over the female heir and identifies her states as finite owner.

    Section 14 of the Succession Act,1956 states as follows:- 

    Property of a female Hindu to be her absolute property-

    (1) Any property possessed by a female Hindu, whether acquired before or after the commencement of this Act, shall be held by her as full owner thereof and not as a limited owner.

    Explanation. — In this subsection, the property includes both movable and immovable property acquired by a female Hindu by inheritance or devise, or at a partition, or in lieu of maintenance or arrears of maintenance, or by a gift from any person, whether a relative or not, before, at or after her marriage, or by her own skill or exertion, or by purchase or by prescription, or in any other manner whatsoever and also any such property held by her as stridhana immediately before the commencement of this Act.

    (2)Nothing contained in sub-section (1) shall apply to any property acquired by way of gift or under a will or any other instrument or under a decree or order of a civil court or under an award where the terms of the gift, will or other instrument or the decree, order or award prescribe a restricted estate in such property.

    The constitutional validity of Limited Estate

    In Partap Singh v Union of India,[2] the constitutionality of Section 14, Hindu Succession Act,1956 was challenged.

    Facts: The provision was challenged by the petitioner as he claimed that arrangements of Section 14 are unfair and the advantage is only for a woman. The applicant further affirmed that the arrangements of Section 14 were unclear and questionable. A male Hindu passed on in 1932, abandoning two widows, and the petitioner, a received child and an extensive proportion of rural land. Incompatibility of an understanding, every one of the widows were given 1/3rd portion of the title, in lieu of their maintenance. One of the widows gave up her share in favour of the petitioner, in 1943. In 1945, the applicant filed the suit against the other widow, looking for a declaration that she had no legality, title or enthusiasm, of any kind, in property remembering for the offer that she was given in lieu of her maintenance. During the litigation, a compromise was concurred, in which the parties agreed that the widow would be permitted to retain one-third share in the property. And on her death, the petitioner would be entitled to take the ownership. However, after the commencement of this Act, the widow granted the property in her own to one of her family members. The petitioner challenged this transaction. The applicant stood up that his case falls under Section 14(2) and not under Section 14(1). The candidate further tested the Constitutional legitimacy of Section 14 itself.

    Held: While settling on the conflict of the solicitor that Area 14 is prejudicial as it favours just the females, the Court held that the State, under Article 15(3), is enabled to institute exceptional enactment for the ladies and youngsters. Therefore, the request of the solicitor was legitimately excused by the Apex Court.

    Women’s Estate: Pre-1956

    The consequences of Section 14 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 have been ex-post facto. But this is not executed in those cases where the property was inherited and possession was alienated before 1956.

    In Anandibai And Anr. vs Sundarabai [3], the High Court has observed: –

    “the expression ‘any property possessed by a female Hindu’ in Section 14 means ‘any property owned by a female Hindu’ at the date of the commencement of the Act, and, these words are prospective in their application. Any property ‘acquired before’ the commencement of the act shall be the absolute property. The expression ‘whether acquired before or after the commencement of this act’ shows that section is operative retrospectively.”

    According to Section 14 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, there are two essential conditions for the implementation of the same: 

    1. Possession of belongings conferred on her, and
    2. Title of the estate after the commencement of the Act.

    Possession of belongings conferred on her

    It is the principle of this act, that for the ownership of the possessions it is necessary for the female to have a title to the property. The supreme court said, “The word ‘possessed’ in the S.14 is used in a broad sense and in the context means the state of owning or having in one’s hand or power.”[4]

    Title of the estate after the commencement of the Act

    In various judgments, the Supreme Court and the High Court held that the aspects of ‘Property’ and ‘Possession’ are to be given comprehensive elucidation. In Santosh v. Saraswathibai[5], the court held that the possession will become finite when the title is given to the women by way of maintenance over which she had legality, although the title is in the possession of a trespasser it will be her constructive possession.

    The decision in Radha v. Hanuman[6] iterated that Section 14 does not apply when the female has no possessions over the property after the commencement of this act and the old Hindu law continues to apply and the act also includes actual and constructive possession.

    Women’s Property: Post-1956

    In Krishnamma v. Kumaran Krishnan[7], it was held “As per this section, any title of ownership female gets in the partition and she has possession in the property whether before or after the commencement of this act the ownership will be her absolute property.”

    Property which is given in lieu of maintenance

    In Suba v. Gauranga[8], it was held that a female has a limited estate under the arrangement of family and she acquired an estate in lieu of maintenance. The court viewed the matter in perspective of Section 14(2), and though the limited estate cannot be transferred into a limited estate by virtue of Section 14 (1).

    Under a decree or Award

    In the case of Seth Badri v. Kanso[9], whereby virtue of decree, certain possessions were allotted in the partition as her share, the supreme court held that S.14(2) did not apply. There should be an interpretation of the words ‘possessed’ and ‘acquired’.

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    Under an agreement or compromise

    In the case of Mahadevo v. Bansraj[10], an agreement was entered between the widow and reversioners. The content was that she would have the estate as a finite title and consequently of this, she won’t cut trees however after the beginning of the demonstration she began developing a structure and chop down the trees. The suit was being filed by the reversioners to prevent her. The court held that compromise cannot fall under Section 14(1). 

    Under a will

    In case Bhawra v. Kashi Ram[11], it was held that where only life estate is conferred under a will, S.14(2) will apply, and the estate will not become a full state.”

    Dowry

    It is a traditional concept in which gifts have been given to the daughter as part of ‘stridhan’ and if anyone refuses to give to her on demand then there is a breach of trust.

    Conclusion

    From ancient society to today’s world the legality of possessions of ownership has been undergoing changes due to the dynamic nature of society, but now the stance has got to equality before the law and the status of rights of women has been recognized. Both men and women have the same legality in today’s era. 

    Section 14 of the Hindu Succession Act,1956 put an end to women’s estate and reversioner’s right under old Hindu law still remain in existence. Section 14(1) has retrospective effect, and according to this the conversion of women’s estate is possible only when she has ownership of possession after the commencement of the act and section 14(2) uses the word “any other instrument”.

    Despite many legalities available to the female but there is a certain limitation which is put up by the society and family, as a consequence of this they are not aware of their rights and the judiciary plays a crucial role by implementing the act and many making a huge number of regulations in favour of women but in our country, the uneducated system still prevails and many women are illiterate and they do not have any idea about their possession rights.

    REFERENCES of Limited Estate

    1. (1916) 43 I.A. 207.
    2. AIR 1985 SC 1695
    3. AIR 1965 MP 85.
    4. Gummalappura v. Setra, AIR 1966 SC 577.
    5. AIR 2008 SC 1786.
    6. AIR 1966 SC 216.
    7. AIR 1982 Ker 137.
    8. 1971 Orissa 242.
    9. (1972) 2 SCC 586.
    10. AIR 1971 All 515.
    11. AIR 1994 SC 1202.
    12. Paras Diwan and Peeyushi Diwan, Laws of Intestate and Testamentary Succession, (3rd ed.), 2006.
    13. The Hindu Succession Act, 1956, s.14.
    14. The Hindu Women’s Right to Property Act, 1937.

    BY- Diksha Raj | Delhi Metropolitan Education

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