Citation – 2020 (9) SCC 1
Court – The Supreme Court Of India
Date of Decision – 11 August 2020
Parties involved – Vineeta Sharma (appellant) and Rakesh Sharma (Respondent)
Judges – Arun Mishra, S. Abdul Nazeer, M.R Shah, JJ
“No freedom is secure if your property rights are not secure” Neal Boortz. Gender equality in India has always been an critical issue and continues to be so in different aspects of life, a daughter inheriting property in India has always been an issue as she is not seen as an equal to the son of that family as she is eventually bound to leave the family after marriage. The Hindu Succession Act, 1956 was enacted for the purpose of amending and codifying laws which relate to intestate succession among the Hindus and hence brought changes with respect to succession and conferred on women certain rights which did not exist before.
In this landmark judgement the conflicts and confusion which were caused due to previous two judgements in the case of Prakash V Phulavati 2016 and another case of Danamma V Amar Singh 2018, the confusion and questions which arose due to these two cases were resolved in this landmark case of Vineeta Sharma V Rakesh Sharma. The main issue which needed to be answered in this case was whether section 6 as substituted by Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act 2005 is applicable retrospectively and in case father who was a coparcener in Joint Hindu Family was not alive when Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act 2005 came into force and whether a daughter would become a coparcener of Joint Hindu Family property.
The facts of this case were as follows.Vineeta Sharma is the daughter of Mr.Dev Dutt Sharma, she filed a case against her two brothers namely Mr.Rakesh Sharma and Mr.Satyendra Sharma as well as their mother. Vineeta Sharma’s father had three sons, one daughter and a wife, Vineeta’s father passed away on December 11, 1999 and one of his son passed away on July 1, 2001 the son who expired was unmarried. Vineeta Sharma claimed that she being the daughter of that family, she was entitled to 1/4 of the share in the property of her father. The respondents responded with the fact that Vineeta had ceased to be a member of the joint family after her marriage.
In the view of the conflicting verdicts provided in the two division bench in the case of Prakash V Phulavati and Danamma V Amar Singh the judgements of this court concerning the interpretation of section 6 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 as amended by the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005, a reference has been made in this court. A division bench of this court held that section 6 is not retrospective in its functioning and it applies when both coparceners and his daughter were alive on the date of the commencement of the Amendment Act 9-9-2005.
The issues which needed to be answered in this case in order to relieve the confusion caused before hand by certain two cases, the issues were as follows. First, Whether a daughter born before 9 November 2005 can claim equal rights and liabilities in coparcenary as that of a son. Second, whether the father coparcener should be living as on 9 November 2005. Third, whether a plea of oral partition after 20 December 2004 can be accepted as the statutory recognised mode of partition. Fourth, whether the statutory fiction of partition created by proviso to section 6 of the Hindu Succession Act,1956 as originally enacted bring about the actual partition or disruption of coparcenary.
The judgement which was delivered by the court answered all the necessary questions which had risen, the court’s decision was in fact appropriate as they excellently resolved all the issues and queries, when we go through the judgement we will understand why the court’s decision is appropriate. The judgement which was delivered stated that the provisions which are contained in substituted section 6 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 confer status of coparcener on daughter born before or after the amendment in the same manner as a son with same rights and liabilities. It also stated that rights can be claimed by a daughter who was born earlier with effect from 9-9-2005 with the savings as provided in section 6(1) as to disposition or alienation, partition or testamentary disposition which had taken place before 20-12-2004.
Since the right in the coparcener is vested by birth itself and it is not necessary that the father coparcener should be living as on 9-9-2005. The statutory fiction of partition which was created by proviso to section 6 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 which was originally enacted did not bring about actual partition or disruption of coparcener and that fiction was only for the purpose of ascertaining share of deceased coparcener when he was survived by a female heir of Class I as specified in schedule to the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 or the male relative of such female and the provisions of the substituted section 6 are required to be given full effect.
In spite of that a preliminary decree has been passed and the daughters are to be given share in the coparcenary equal to that of a son in the pending proceedings for the final decree or in an appeal. In view of thoroughness of provisions explanation to section 6(5) of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 a plea of oral partition cannot be accepted as a statutory recognised mode of partition effected by a decree of a court but however in exceptional cases where a plea of oral partition is supported by public documents and partition is finally evinced in the same manner as if it had been affected by a decree of a court and it may be accepted and a plea of partition based on oral evidence alone cannot be accepted and is to be rejected completely.
The decision regarding this case brings in change as well as conforms with the existing law as there were certain questions which needed to be answered in order have a clear picture of existing law, even after the 2005 Amendment to the Act, hence this decision has made it clear that is not necessary for the coparcenary father to be alive at the time of the commencement of the 2005 Amendment Act for allowing a daughter to inherit the coparcenary property under the purview of section 6. The decision also made it clear that section 6 confers right from birth itself which makes it unobstructed, the decision made it clear that Amendment to section 6 is not retrospective or prospective in it’s nature but in fact is retroactive. Due to this case daughters have equal rights in the coparcenary property in reality. The Apex Court has in fact paved a new footing by tackling the hurdle of equality and now it is on the subordinate courts to interpret this decision in their judgements to bring in equality and over come gender discrimination.
The reasoning given in this decision was partially consistent with previous similar cases. In the 2015-2016 case of Prakash V Phulavati it was stated by the court that the father has to be alive on the date of enforcement of the 2005 Amendment, subsequently the daughter can claim benefit under the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005. In the 2018 case of Danamma V Amar Singh it was stated by the court that the father may have died before 2005 still daughters will get equal share and are entitled to his coparcenary property. The decisions given in these two cases were conflicting in nature and their decision caused even more confusion hence in 2020 the case of Vineeta Sharma V Rakesh Sharma cleared the confusion which was caused by the previous two similar cases, this case disagreed with the 2015-2016 judgement given in Prakash V Phulavati case and pronounced the Danamma V Amar Singh case to be correct as the daughters right on property is equal to the sons right to property since their birth and stated that father being alive or not on the date of enforcement of the 2005 Amendment does not matter as their rights are protected.
Yes, the decision will significantly influence the existing law. As the confusion caused by the two previous cases was cleared by this decision now it significantly will influence the further decisions which will be made in the future in accordance to the law and it is the duty of the subordinate courts to interpret this decision in a positive manner. This decision has given clarification to the existing law related to the rights of daughter in coparcenary property and will influence in the equal treatment of daughters as to sons.
The court in its judgement has adequately justified its reasoning and their interpretation of law was appropriate, also the reasoning given by the court was logical and consistent as well as the court considered all the issues and arguments and then delivered an appropriate decision. The court was diligent in its decision making and did not omit any aspect which would have weakened the merit of its decision. All these questions are appropriately answered as the court stated that though coparcenary rights can be claimed the provisions are of retroactive application in nature and they confer benefits based on antecedent event and Mitakshara coparcenary law and this shall be deemed to include a reference to a daughter as a coparcener.
At the same moment the legislature has provided savings by adding a proviso that any disposition or alienation if there be any testamentary disposition of property or partition which has taken place before 20-12-2004 the date on which the bill was presented in Rajya Sabha shall not be invalidated and the concept of uncodified Hindu Law of unobtruscted heritage has been given a concrete shape under provisions of section 6(1)(a) and section 6(1)(b) and the coparcener right is by birth itself. It is not at all necessary that the father of the daughter should be living as on the date of the amendment as she has not been conferred the rights of a coparcener by obstructed heritage.
The policy implications which came in due to the decision of this case were that it put an end to legal ambiguity, this decision has cleared the conflict and confusion about law which was caused due to previous cases and made it clear that the amendment to the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 grants equal rights to daughters to inherit ancestral property and gives the daughter equal coparcenary rights and agrees with the spirit of equality enshrined in our Preamble as well as Article 14 of the Indian Constitution. In the spirit of our Constitution and it’s emphasis on equality the court has stated that gender cannot be a ground for denying anyone their birth right to inherit this view of the Apex Court has eliminated the male primacy over the Hindu Ancestral property.
This is a positive step towards women liberation it is a major stepping stone for women who lack in economic resources and stability and are often dependent on the male members of the family, it is worth making a note of the fact that law and not just a will decides woman’s property rights is of significant importance. There are certain alternative approaches which could possibly lead to more appropriate public policy in securing the property rights of women. In my opinion a section must be added in the Hindu Succession Act which states that when a daughter is born in a family they must make a will within one year from the daughters birth to secure her rights and these wills must be updated in every few years to make sure the property is distributed equally and that the daughter inherit her rightful share, this mandatory making of will, will possibly secure the rights without any conflicts.
As even if the law gives daughters the equal right to inherit property unfortunately they are many a times manipulated into giving up their right and most of the time are simply denied their rightful inheritance as in the Indian culture only the sons are of significant importance and are to be given everything. Adding a mandatory section in the Act will possibly be able to curb the injustice which daughters face simply because of their gender.
Before the Hindu Succession Act,1956 the shastric and customary laws varied from region to region which were governed by the Hindus and sometimes it varied in the same region on the basis of caste and after the commencement of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 the ancestral property was to be devolved on the basis of the survivorship rule and only the males were the coparceners upto three generations and women were not seen or recognised as Coparceners. After the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005 this amendment amended the section 6 and the rule of survivorship was abrogated, daughters were recognised as coparceners and succession is either testamentary or intestate succession.
The judgement passed in Vineeta Sharma V Rakesh Sharma has effectively cleared the conflicting opinions which were caused due to previous two cases in Prakash V Phulavati and Danamma V Amar Singh. In Prakash V Phulavati it was stated father has to be alive on the date of enforcement of the 2005 amendment and therefore daughters can subsequently claim benefit under the 2005 amendment act and in the case of the Danamma V Amar Singh the court stated that the father may have died before 2005 but yet daughters will get equal shares and daughters are entitled to his coparcenary property since their birth. These two decisions were conflicting and a concrete answer was needed to clear the confusion hence this concrete answer was given by the Vineeta Sharma case, This case clearly rejected the view given in the Prakash V Phulavati case and agreed with the view given in the Danamma V Amar Singh case but overruled as for the extent of crystallisation of partition, by this clarification now we have the exact criteria which needs to be followed and daughters simply cannot be denied or cheated out of their rightful shares. This very judgement cleared that the provisions contained in the substituted section 6 of the Act 1956 and confers status of coparcener on daughters born before or after amendment in the same manner as a son with the same rights and liabilities and these rights can be claimed by a daughter born earlier with effect from 9-9-2005 with savings as provided in section 6(1) as to disposition or alienation and partition or testamentary disposition which had taken place before 20-12-2004, since the right of coparcenary is by birth itself hence it is not necessary that the father coparcener should be living as on 9-9-2005.
The complete citation of the case is Vineeta Sharma V Rakesh Sharma (2020) 9 SCC 1. In The Supreme Court Of India. Civil Appeal No. Diary No. 32601 of 2018. The judges of this case were Arun Mishra, S. Abdul Nazeer and M.R Shah, JJ. The date of decision was 11 August 2020. Prakash V Phulavati (2016) 2 SCC 36. The judges of this case were Anil Dave and A.K Goyal, JJ. Danamma V Amar Singh (2018) 3 SCC 343. The judges of this case were A.K Sikri and Ashok Bhushan, JJ.
Even after the delivery of this positive judgement there is no surety of daughters getting their equal share or any share as a matter of fact, this cases judgement could have tried to bring in some concrete implications in the section itself for more mandatory division of property. Even though we live in the year 2022 daughters are still not seen as equals when it comes to their property rights, they are neglected of their birth right but the birth right of a son is seen forward and it is made sure that he inherits all the property.
Passing of laws will only aid to a certain level as the mentality of people will not be influenced by these laws, in has been inculcated in human minds since decades that only a son is a rightful heir and daughters are simply a liability with whom you are bound to part ways with eventually after their marriage hence they should not inherit any property. This is one of the reason why women are situated in lower positions and need to be given certain provisions for their upliftment, only if they were always given the status of an equal the situation right now might have been entirely different.
The word equality is meaningless and of no importance if daughters and sons are treated differently in the same family as they have shared the womb and share the same blood, the only difference is of gender. Families should not force and manipulate daughters to give up their rightful claim to property, simply because they claim their rights and fight for them they are disowned and abandoned by their families as they just want their sons to inherit every ounce of property.