Heirs of a Hindu female are not Strangers but are Family: Supreme Court of India

As per Section 15(1)(d) of the Hindu Succession Act, the heirs of the father of a Hindu female are covered under persons entitled to an intestate succession of property of a female Hindu. Supreme Court of India gave the above-cited judgment in the case of Khushi Ram vs. Nawal Singh & others [Civil Appeal no. 5167 of 2010] presided over by the bench of Hon’ble Justice Ashok Bhushan and Justice R Subhash Reddy.

In the instant case, the present appeal was made challenging the judgment of the Punjab Haryana High Court. In the present case, Smt Jagno’s husband had passed away leaving no children because of which u/s 14 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, Smt Jagno became the absolute owner of the half share of the concerned property. She later settled the property/land in favor of her brother’s son, due to family settlement action. Later on, in 1991, a suit was filed by Smt Jagno’s brother’s sons for claiming the decree of declaration as owners of the concerned land. No objections were contested against this claim and therefore the trial court had passed the decree.

Later on, the appellants (Jagno’s husband’s brother’s children) raised an objection to the above transfer and contended that a Hindu widow cannot constitute a Joint Hindu Family with the descendants of her brother, i.e., her parental side. It was submitted that a family settlement can take place only between members, who have an antecedent title or pre-existing right in the property proposed to be settled. However, the appeal was dismissed by the Trial Court, District Court as well as the High Court. The respondent’s counsel had argued that the term “Family” could not be interpreted in a narrow sense and should be understood in a wider aspect.

Observing the arguments of both parties, the Apex Court relied on section 15 of the Hindu Succession Act and stated that “Heirs of the father of a Hindu female are not strangers but are ‘family’”. The Supreme Court bench ruled that “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 a settlement. We, 41 thus, do not find any merit in the submission of learned counsel for the appellants that the defendants-respondents were strangers to the family.”

And hence, the appeal of the appellants was dismissed by the court upholding the judgments of the lower courts and the High Court. Hence, it was ruled out that the heirs of the father of a female are included as a person who can possibly succeed; it cannot be held that they are strangers and not the members of the family qua the female.

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