Decided on July 25,1963



Jaganmohan Reddy, J. - (1.) The applicability of Section 14 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 falls for determination in this second appeal. The 1st defendant, who is the appellant, is the 3rd wife of one K. Brahmiah, who died in December 1943. The 2nd plaintiff is the daughter of said Brahmiah by the first wife and the 1st plaintiff is her husband. They filed the suit for a declaration that the appellant 1st defendant has only a life interest in the suit property and that the sale by her under Ex. A-2 to the 2nd defendant is not binding beyond her lifetime. The contention of the first defendant is that under the terms of a compromise entered into between herself and the 1st plaintiff in O. S. No. 319 of 1944 on the file of the District Munsifs Court, Narsaraopeta, dated 30-3-1945 (Ex. A-5), her right to a limited estate was recognised, that as such Section 14(1) of the Act becomes applicable and she gets an absolute interest in the property and consequently her sale in favour of the 2nd defendant was valid. It appears that immediately after the death of K. Brahmiah, a suit was filed by the 1st plaintiff, the son-in-law, in O.S. No. 319 of 1944 alleging that he was the illatom son-in-law, that as such he was entitled to the entire properties of late Brahmiah to the exclusion of the widow and consequently prayed for a declaration of his title and possession of the suit properties. The 1st defendant denied that there was any illatom adoption, and pleaded that she was entitled to acs. 4-00 cts. of land which was sold to her by her husband in his lifetime and that she was entitled to the limited rights as the heir of her husband. The suit was compromised. Ex. A-5 was filed in which the 1st plaintiff gave up all his claims as illatom son-in-law and other pleadings, and reciting that his wife. Thirupatamma, the daughter of late Brahmiah has been put in possession of acs. 4-00 of land that was given by late Brahmiah and which is the southern portion of items 3, 4 and 5 of the plaint schedule, that the said Tirupathamma also be paid by the 1st defendant-appellant herein a sum of Rs. 150.00 which was owed to her by her father, that the remaining portion of the land of Brahmiah in D. Nos. 186/1, 186/2 and 173 which was ac. 1-50 cents (within the boundaries specified therein) be sold by the 1st defendant-appellant herein to discharge the debts contracted by her husband and the debts mentioned by the defendant in the answer, that the plaintiff or his wife should not in future during lifetime of the defendant, litigate in any manner or claim for more in the property of Brahmaiah, that the defendant shall enjoy the property sold to her by late Brahmiah on 11-2-1943 under registered sale deed as absolute property and the remaining properties the defendant shall enjoy as life estate and the parties should bear their own costs. It is the interpretation of the terms of this decree that has given rise to different judgments, the trial Court holding that the appellant did not acquire any property under this decree within the meaning of Sub-section (2) of Section 14 of the Hindu Succession Act, the first appellate Court holding otherwise.
(2.) The learned advocate for the appellant. Sri P. Ramachandra Reddy contends that the words life estate were used, rather loosely in the compromise decree by the pleaders clerk to connote a limited estate which the widow would be entitled to under the Hindu Law and consequently if Section 14 read in this way, the appellant does not acquire any property within the meaning of Sub-section (2) of Section 14. It would be necessary to understand the operation of Sub-section (1) whereunder a widow would have her limited rights enlarged to those of absolute rights. In support of his contention he has cited several decisions to which reference will be made presently hereafter. Sri Venkata Subba Rao, learned advocate for the respondents, on the other hand submits that the first appellate Court on the evidence has held that the intention of the parties was to create a life interest and not a limited interest. He further contends that where the language of a document is clear and unambiguous, effect must be given to it and that where there is ambiguity evidence can be adduced to determine the intention of the parties. Consequently he submits that whether by reading the document as such or holding that it is ambiguous and treating the evidence in the case to warrant the intention of the parties, it is clear that the widow acquired properties under the decree because it is not a limited estate that she acquired but a life-estate.
(3.) Before examining these contentions it is necessary to read the provisions of Section 1 which are as under: "14 (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 sub-section "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 gift from any person, whether a relative or not, before, at or after his 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." It may be seen that before the Hindu Succession Act was enacted, under the Hindu Law a female Hindu could only acquire a limited interest. It is different from a life estate as understood in the English Law. Though, limited ownership as understood in the Hindu Law or a life estate as understood in the English law, the holder enjoys the same during the life time only, there is this difference, however, namely that the limited owner under the Hindu law is entitled to alienate and dispose of property for necessity or for debts binding on her husband while a life estate owner is not entitled to so dispose of or deal with the property. In either estate the effect of the section is to abrogate the stringent provisions of Hindu Law against the rights of female Hindus. It is thus clear from a reading of Section 14 Sub-sections (1) and (2) that where a female heir acquired properties and is in possession of the same her rights are enlarged and she gets absolute interest unless, of course, such acquisition is under a will, gift, or any other instrument or under a decree or order of a Civil Court or under an award where such decree or order prescribed a restricted estate in such property. The question is whether the terms of the compromise intended to recognise merely the right of the widow under the Hindu Law, namely, of a limited estate or confer a restricted right upon her within the meaning of Sub-section (2) of Section 14. In Khunni Lal v. Gobind Krishna Narain, ILR 33 All 3 56 (PC) construing a compromise entered into 1860 which was held to be a family arrangement between the several members of the family of the disputes, each one relinquishing all claim in respect of all property in dispute other than that falling to his share, and recognising the right of the other as they had previously asserted it to the portion allotted to them separately, their Lordships observed at pages 366-367: "The real nature of the compromise is well expressed in a judgment of the High Court of the North-West Province in 1868 in the suit of Newa, Kunwar against her sister Chhattar Kunwars husband--Lalla Oudh Beharee Lall v. Kanee Mewa Koonwar, 3 Agra H.C.R. 82 (84). The learned Judge says as follows: The true character of the transaction appears to us to have been a settlement between the several members of the family of their disputes, each one relinquishing all claim in respect of all property in dispute other than that falling to his share and recognising the right of the others as they had previously asserted it to the portion allotted to them respectively. It was in this light, rather than as conferring a new distinct title on each other, that the parties themselves seem to have regarded the arrangement, and we think that it is the duty of the Courts to uphold and give full effect to such an arrangement. Their Lordships have no hesitation in adopting that view. The true test to apply to a transaction which is challenged by the reversioners as an alienation not binding on them is whether the alienee derives title from the holder of the limited interest or life-tenant. In the present case Khairati Lal acquired no right from the daughters of Daulat, for "the compromise", to use their Lordships language in Rani Mewa Kuwar v. Rani Hulas Kuwar, 1 Ind App 157 (166) (PC)" is based on the assumption that there was an antecedent title of some kind in the parties, and the agreement acknowledges and defines what that title is." In both these caws, namely in 1 Ind App 157 (166) (PC) as well as in the case before their Lordships of the Privy Council, the relinquishment or family settlement recognised the rights of each person to a share under the Hindu Law, and as such these decisions do not deal with the cases of compromises whereunder rights are either restricted or enlarged. Their Lordships in a latter case in Hiran Bibi v. Sohan Bibi, AIR 1914 PC 44 referring to the case of ILR 33 All 356 (PC) observed that the facts of that case bring it within that decision. In other words the compromise in question was in no sense of the word an alienation by a limited owner of family property but a family settlement, in which each party takes a share of the family property by virtue of the independent title which is, to that extent, and by way of compromise, admitted by the other parties. Even in so far as recognition of the right of each party is concerned in Hindu law, the subsequent Privy Council decision seems to indicate that each party under the compromise as a family settlement takes it by way of independent title. If they acquire any property by independent title certainly it cannot be said! that it is not an acquisition under the decree or under the family settlement. Reference has been made to the case of Akkamma v. Pitchamma, 1945-2 Mad LJ 266: (ALR 1945 Mad 537) to indicate the view taken by the Privy Council in Nathu Lal v. Babu Ram, 63 Ind App 155: (AIR 1936 PC 103) and 1 Ind App 157 (PC). Wadsworth, J. stated that there is nothing in Nathulals case, 63 Ind App 155: (AIR 1936 PC 103) which conflicts with the decision of the Judicial Committee in 1 Ind App 157 (PC). What was held in Nathulals case, 63 Ind App 155: (AIR 1936 PC 103) was that there is a finding that the case asserted by the widow was not true and a recital that she had admitted before the arbitrators the truth of the facts asserted by her adversaries so that that there was the obvious impossibility in applying the ordinary rule that the title which she got under the award would be deemed to be the title which she claimed in the absence of any indication to the contrary. The ratio decidendi of that case is not the subsequent judicial determination of the title considered in the award proceedings but the fact that the award itself contains a clear indication, of the nature of the title given to the widow, so as to leave no room for interference from the nature, of her claim which she had expressly abandoned before the arbitrators. In the circumstances it was held in that case that the compromise merely acknowledged the title which V, the widow claimed and purported to confer no new title upon her. Accordingly V got only a limited estate and not an absolute estate. In Sampathkumari v. Lakshmi Ammal, AIR 1963 Mad 50 a Bench of the Madras High Court construed the words of Section 14 (2) of the Hindu Succession Act. In doing so their Lordships referred to the terms of partition deed. It was held that the widows had acquired that right even previously by inheritance as widows of their husband and the partition merely divided the properties allotting some to the 1st defendant and the rest to the 4th defendant. In that context it was observed at page 60: "The word acquired means that prior to the acquisition the widows could not have had any interest in the lands whatever." Similarly in Rathinasamy v. Nagammal, AIR 1963 Mad 133 where two widows entered into an arrangement whereby B relinquished her rights in respect of a portion of the property and with reference to the suit property, she (B) said she would possess and enjoy the property for her life-time and after her, A and her daughters were to take the properties, it was held that B was already the owner of the property in her own right as a widow and she did not acquire any right under the release deed, that hence Section 14 (2) did not apply and that she was the absolute owner of the half she was in possession by virtue of Section 14(1) of the Act. It may be stated that in all these cases the widows right was recognised and consequently it was held that she got no new right or acquired no property either under the family settlement or under a decree. What has to be seen in this case is whether on the interpretation of the compromise decree, it could be held whether the widows pre-existing right was recognised. It cannot be doubted that if the 1st plaintiffs claim that he was the illatom son-in-law was upheld the widow would have no right to the property except a right to maintenance. No doubt the widow denied the allegation made by the 1st plaintiff. The compromise showed that the 1st plaintiff was prepared to give up his right on certain terms. If merely he gave up his rights with the view that after the widows death his wife, 2nd plaintiff, would have the property, there can be no question of her existing right being recognised. But the compromise deed does not do that. In lieu of giving up his right, the widow is to transfer acs. 4-00 of land to his wife allegedly on the ground that this was promised by K. Brahmiah in his life-time as Pasupu-Kumkuma and that she should pay Rs. 150/ as if it was a debt due from her husband to the and plaintiff. The trial Court, however, has held that there was no such promise by late Brahmiah to give any land as Pasupu-kumkum. Be that as it may, it is one of the terms of the compromise that some property should be given to the 2nd plaintiff. Secondly, her right to pay the husbands debts was restricted to a specified property, namely, ac. 1-50 ceats and thirdly, she was to have acs. 4-00 cts. sold by her husband as her absolute property and fourthly that the remainder of the property she has to enjoy as a life-interest. The learned advocate contends that this life-interest is the same as limited estate. But I am inclined to accept the contention of the learned advocate for the respondent that if that was so there was no necessity for making any provision for the payment of debts of her husband and restricting her right to alienate property for payment of those debts to ac. 1-50 cts. This, in my view, gives the clue to the intention of the properties. That apart, evidently the parties led evidence in respect of the intention of the parties while interpreting the compromise and the first appellate Court gave a finding on that evidence that the parties intended to create life interest and not a limited interest. The lawyer appearing for the plaintiffs gave evidence and he said that the intention was to confer only a life interest and not a limited interest and that is WHY the document was so drafted. But it it is pointed out that it was not he that drafted the compromise but that same lawyers clerk drafted it and the advocates on both sides put their signatures thereto. Be that as it may, as I said on a perusal of the terms of the compromise itself, it would appear that the right of the widow was being restricted because the 1st plaintiff was anxious to see that the widow would not sell any property other than what was specified therein in order to discharge the debts. That certainly is a limitation upon her rights. Supposing the debts were more or that there was a legal necessity at some subsequent date she would not be entitled to sell if her interest was only a life interest. On an interpretation of the compromise deed, I have no doubt that she got a restricted right than what she was entitled to under Hindu Law. Consequently the provisions of Sub-section (2) of Section 14 are applicable. In this view the first appellate Court is right and this second appeal is dismissed with costs. No leave.;

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