Hindu male, owning self-acquired property executing Will giving limited estate to his wife, would not mature into an absolute right: SC

Hindu male, owning self-acquired property executing Will giving limited estate to his wife, would not mature into an absolute right: SC

The Supreme Court ruled that the Hindu male, owning self-acquired property executing Will giving limited estate to his wife, would not mature into an absolute right. 

Background 

The Will aforesaid bequeathed the testator’s estate to his son, the appellant herein, and his second wife Ram Devi (the first wife being deceased whose progeny is the appellant). Land measuring 175 kanals and 9 marla, a residential house and a Bara is Village Jundla, Haryana was bequeathed half and half to the appellant and Ram Devi. However, the nature of bequeath was different for the two. The appellant was given absolute ownership rights to the extent of his share of land and property whereas Ram Devi was given a limited ownership for her enjoyment during her lifetime with respect to her share of the land with a specific provision that she could not alienate, transfer or create third party rights over the same. Thereafter the property was to vest absolutely in the appellant after her lifetime.

Arguments

The respondents contended that Ram Devi’s right over the suit property granted under the will had crystallised into an absolute ownership right making her competent to transfer the same. The decree in the first round of litigation was contended not to operate as res judicata in the second suit as the judgment in the earlier suit was contrary to the law prevailing at the time of their consideration.

The appellant contended that the doctrine of res judicata would apply in view of the earlier adjudication as the matter of Ram Devi having a limited estate has been upheld right till the Supreme Court. The appellant had also taken possession of the suit property and execution of the judgments was under challenge before the High Court.

Decision 

The division bench of Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice M.M. Sundresh noted that The testator is, at least, clear in terms that the income derived from the property is what is given to the second wife as maintenance while insofar as the properties are concerned, they are divided half and half with the appellant having an absolute share and the wife having a limited estate which after her lifetime was to convert into an absolute estate of the appellant. 

The court added that the objective of Section 14(1) of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 is to create an absolute interest in case of a limited interest of the wife where such limited estate owes its origin to law as it stood then. The objective cannot be that a Hindu male who owned self-acquired property is unable to execute a Will giving a limited estate to a wife if all other aspects including maintenance are taken care of.   

The court stated that the rights of the respondents are derived only from Ram Devi and once the judgment is binding on Ram Devi it cannot be said that she can create rights contrary to the judgment in favour of third parties and that too was done during the pendency of the litigation.

The court set aside the impugned judgment of the single Judge of the High Court and affirmed the decree of the trial court.

Case title: Jogi Ram v/s Suresh Kumar & Ors.

Citation: Civil appeal nos.1543-1544 OF 2019 

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