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RULES OF SUCCESSION IN THE DEVOLUTION OF PROPERTY

INTRODUCTION

The Hindu Succession Act came into effect on the 17th of June 1956.[1] The Act was sanctioned by the Parliament of India to codify and amend the law among the Hindus relating to succession. The greatest benefit of the Act is that it lays down a uniform and comprehensive system of inheritance, which applies to all Hindus. The Act ensures that there are equal rights given to sons and daughters. The succession law deals with the rules of devolution of property in the case where a person dies intestate, without making a will. If a person dies without making a will his property will devolve to the other surviving members.[2] A will is a legal document that ensures that the property will devolve as per the testator (a person who has made a will) and the heirs will have the right to receive the shares of the property. After a person dies, the succession of the property will be either testamentary or intestate. If a person has made the will, the succession of the property will be testamentary. And if a person dies without making a will the property’s succession will be intestate.

DEVOLUTION OF PROPERTY IN THE CASE OF A MALE HINDU

There are four Classes of heirs under the Hindu Succession Act, of 1956. If heirs in Class I are present they will eliminate all the other heirs and the property will devolve upon the Class I heirs. This means that if any heirs are falling under class I of the Act, they will exclude all other heirs, for instance, those falling under class II. Therefore, the relatives mentioned in Class I are described as ‘preferential heirs’. If in case, an heir falling under category I am present, it will eliminate all other categories and the entire share of the property will be taken by him. Further, if an heir falling under category I am not present but each of the heirs in category II is present, an equal part of the property will be shared among themselves. The property will be distributed among Class II heirs if heirs in Class I are not present.[3] The rule under Class II is different from that of Class I.  

As per the rule, the heirs in the latter category will be eliminated if an heir in the primary category survives. Also, an equal amount of the share of the property is given to an heir under the same category. At last, if there are no heirs present in Class I and Class II of the Act, the property will devolve upon the agnates and cognates of the deceased, and if there are no agnates[4] then upon the cognates of the deceased.[5]

EXPRESSION “DYING INTESTATE”

Regarding the expression ‘dying intestate’ in Section 8[6] of the Act (above), the Supreme Court has held that these words mention two things namely, (i) dying without any will at all, or (ii)dying after having made an invalid will.[7]

DEVOLUTION OF PROPERTY IN THE CASE OF A FEMALE HINDU

The property of a female Hindu shall devolve upon her children, children of any pre-deceased son or daughter, and husband of the deceased. In the second place, the heirs of her husband. If there are no heirs of her husband then the property would devolve upon her parents. If there are no surviving parents then upon the heirs of her father. Finally, if there are no heirs of her father then upon the heirs of the female’s mother.[8]

CASE LAWS RELATING TO SECTION 15 OF THE HINDU SUCCESSION ACT

In the recent case of Kamal Anant Khopkar v. Union of India[9], the petitioner argued that Section 15[10] of the Hindu Succession Act discriminates against women, and infringes Article 15[11] of the Constitution of India,1950. It challenges the constitutional validity of Section 15[12] of the Hindu Succession Act, of 1956 on the basis that there is unfair treatment given to women in the devolution of the property of women if she dies intestate in comparison to rules of devolution of the property where a male dies intestate.

The petition was represented by advocates Mrunal Dattatraya Buva and Dhairyashil Salunkhe, which highlights Section 15[13] of the 1956 Act, which states that the husband’s heirs have the first right over the property of an intestate female. That means the first preference is given to the family of the husband, even before the intestate woman’s parents.    

ANALYSIS

The rights of the woman are discriminated and her property is not inherited by her original heirs. The rules of succession for both males and females should be uniform and unbiased and women should get equal rights as men. In the landmark judgment in the case of Arunachala Gounder v Ponnusamy[14], the court held that the daughters have the right to inherit their father’s self-acquired property. It deals with the property rights of Hindu women and widows under the Hindu Succession Act. Further, if a Hindu female dies intestate, the property she had acquired from her father will devolve to the heirs of her father but the property acquired from her husband will devolve to the heirs of her husband. In this judgment, the court held that after the father’s death, the property would devolve by inheritance, not survivorship. Section 15[15] of the Act was discriminatory and created different inheritance systems for both males and females. But after the amendment of this Act, equal rights are given to both males and females. The main motive of this Act is to bring equality between both men and women regarding property rights and forbid discrimination on the ground of gender mentioned in Article 15[16] of the Indian Constitution.

CONCLUSION

This article has explained some basic terms and definitions used in the Hindu Succession Act, of 1956. If a Hindu male dies leaving behind a will his property transfers upon the classes of heirs mentioned above. If the heirs mentioned in the initial category are not present then the property shall be transferred to the heirs mentioned in the latter category and so on. However, there are different rules mentioned in every category to which the property is distributed.

In India, when we talk about property rights more rights were provided to sons and the daughters had fewer or no rights to the property of their father or husband. But after the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, of 2005  the latest law that came into force was to restore property rights under Hindu law by making it gender-neutral. The main objective behind the stabilization of this right is to promote gender equality without any discrimination against them. After this amendment, Hindu Succession Law became more gender-neutral by providing equal coparcenary rights to daughters as sons.

Author(s) Name: Nidhi Majethia (Rizvi Law College, University of Mumbai)

References:

[1] The Hindu Succession Act, 1956

[2] The Hindu Succession Act, 1956, sec 8 (The provision states the property of a male Hindu dying intestate)

[3] The Hindu Succession Act, 1956, sec 9

[4] The Hindu Succession Act, 1956, s 3 (1) (a) (The provision states the definition of agnate)

[5] The Hindu Succession Act, 1956, s 3 (1) (c) (The provision states the definition of cognate)

[6] The Hindu Succession Act, 1956, s 3(g) (The section defines the term ‘Intestate’)

[7] Smt. Manshen & Ors. v. Tej Ram & Ors, (1980) AIR 367

[8] The Hindu Succession Act, 1956, s 15 (1) (The provision states the property of a female Hindu dying intestate)

[9] Kamal Anant Khopkar v. Union of India & Ors, (2018) W.P. (C) No. 1517/2018

[10] The Hindu Succession Act, 1956, s 15 (1) (The provision states the property of a female Hindu dying intestate)

[11] Indian Constitution, 1950, art.15

[12] Ibid

[13] Ibid

[14] Arunachala Gounder (Dead) by LRs v Ponnusamy & Ors (2011) Civil Appeal No. 6659/2011

[15] Ibid

[16] Indian Constitution, 1950, art.15