[This judgement does not seem to have received much attention from the media. The Law has been upheld, but the judgement seems discriminatory to me. I would like to know the opinions of fellow bloggers on this.
I have written in this post what little I have found on the Internet. If anyone has additional information, I would appreciate any links available.]
In the first ever judgement on this matter, the Supreme Court has laid down the rights of relatives on the property of a childless Hindu widow who has died intestate.
Intestate means without leaving a will. If she has made a will, of course, she may leave her property to whomever she chooses.
Narayani Devi was married for only three months when her husband died in 1955. She moved back in with her parents when her in-laws turned her out of her matrimonial house. She never visited her in-laws after that. She pursued further studies, got a job and made a new life for herself.
She died intestate in 1996 ‘leaving behind huge sums in various bank accounts, besides a substantial provident fund.’
“Over half a century and a protracted court battle later, her in-laws have won the right to her wealth as Narayani Devi died without leaving a will.
After Narayani’s death, her mother Ramkishori sought the grant of a succession certificate under section 372 of the Indian Succession Act.”
But Narayani Devi’s late husband’s brothers Radhacharan and others also filed a similar application. Later, her mother, Ramkishori, died and her brother, Om Prakash replaced her as the applicant.
Section 15 of the Act reads as under: “15 – General rules of succession in the case of female Hindus. –
(1) The property of a female Hindu dying intestate shall devolve according to the rules set out in section 16.– (a) firstly, upon the sons and daughters (including the children of any pre-deceased son or daughter) and the husband; (b) secondly, upon the heirs of the husband; (c) thirdly, upon the mother and father; (d) fourthly, upon the heirs of the father; and (e) lastly, upon the heirs of the mother.”
This was cited by Narayanidevi’s in-laws to substantiate their claim.
(2) Notwithstanding anything contained in sub- section (1),– (a) any property inherited by a female Hindu from her father or mother shall devolve, in the absence of any son or daughter of the deceased (including the children of any pre-deceased son or daughter) not upon the other heirs referred to in sub-section (1) in the order specified therein, but upon the heirs of the father; and (b) any property inherited by a female Hindu from her husband or from her father-in-law shall devolve, in the absence of any son or daughter of the deceased (including the children of any pre- deceased son or daughter) not upon the other heirs referred to in sub-section (1) in the order specified therein, but upon the heirs of the husband.”
This was cited by her own relatives.
There was no doubt that Narayani had herself acquired all the wealth and it was neither inherited from her parents or her in-laws, a bench of justice SB Sinha and justice Mukundakam Sharma observed.
If the property had been acquire by her from her parents,- it would have reverted back to them on her death.
It it had been acquired from her in-laws,- it would have reverted back to her in-laws.
The Supreme Court said that the law is silent on the subject of self-acquired property of a woman.
But section 15(1) does not make any distinction between self-acquired property and inherited property.
Since Narayani Devi died intestate, section 15(1) would apply, the court ruled.
Which means that her husband’s family had earlier claim on her property than her own family.
If a childless widower had died intestate his property would have gone to his family, not his in-laws.
But if a childless widow dies, her property goes not to her family, but to her in-laws.
Justifying its ‘law is blind’ approach , Justice Sinha, writing the judgment for the bench, said: ‘‘It is now a well settled principle of law that sentiments or sympathy alone would not be a guiding factor in determining the rights of the parties which are otherwise clear and unambiguous.’’
Why does this seem a travesty of Justice?
(There seems to be some problem with the DNA online newspaper link- but I have quoted from the print edition, which I have with me, in this post.
The other link- to the TOI is working.)