The Supreme Court stated that a Hindu woman’s right to maintenance is a tangible right against the property which flows from the spiritual relationship between the husband and the wife.
The original plaintiff Daulalji filed the suit seeking possession of the suit property along with the mesne profits, against the original defendant Bhonri Devi, widow of Late Dhannalalji and against the other defendants, who were the tenants in the suit property. The suit property is the house property, Jaipur which was an ancestral property in the hands of Harinarayanji and his brother Ganesh Narayan ji. As per the case of the plaintiff Daulalji, he was adopted by Bakshji, who was the great grandson of their common ancestor Gopalji.
The husband of the defendant Bhonri Devi, i.e., Dhannalalji predeceased his father Ganesh Narayan Ji in 1936. Ganesh Narayan Ji died in 1938 and his brother Harinarayanji died issueless. As per the further case of the plaintiff Daulalji, Harinarayanji had executed a Will in his favour, and upon his death, he had become the owner of the suit property alongwith other properties of Harinarayanji by virtue of the said Will.
Upon the death of Harinarayanji, the defendant Bhonri Devi started harassing the plaintiff and therefore the plaintiff left the suit property, and since then the defendant was in possession of the suit property. The other defendants were the tenants in the part of suit property. The plaintiff Daulalji claimed that after the death of Harinarayanji, he being the only male member in the family as well as the legatee under the Will of Hari narayanji, had become the sole owner of the suit property and, therefore, was entitled to recover the possession of the suit property from the defendant Bhonri Devi, who had no legal right or interest in the suit property.
Advocate Puneet Jain appearing for the appellants assailing the impugned judgment passed by the High Court contended that the High Court had committed an error in holding that after the death of Ganesh Narayan ji in 1938, a limited right in the suit property was created in favour of Bhonri Devi and that the said Bhonri Devi had a right of maintenance even under the old Shastric Law, which had fructified into a full right under Section 14(1) of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956.
Senior Advocate Pallav Shishodia appearing for the contesting respondents, supporting the findings recorded by the High Court in the impugned order, contended that the exclusive possession of widow of HUF property itself would create a presumption that such property was earmarked for realization of her pre-existing right of maintenance, more particularly when the surviving coparcener did not earmark any alternative property for recognizing her pre-existing right of maintenance.
The division bench of Justice Ajay Rastogi and Justice Bela M. Trived said that there remains no shadow of doubt that a Hindu woman’s right to maintenance was not and is not an empty formality or an illusory claim being conceded as a matter of grace and generosity. It is a tangible right against the property, which flows from the spiritual relationship between the husband and the wife. The said right was recognised and enjoined by pure Shastric Hindu Law, which existed even before the passing of the 1937 or the 1946 Acts. Those Acts merely gave statutory backing recognising the position as was existing under the Shastric Hindu Law. Where a Hindu widow is in possession of the property of her husband or of the husband’s HUF, she has a right to be maintained out of the said property. She is entitled to retain the possession of that property in lieu of her right to maintenance.
The court noted that section 14(1) and the explanation thereto envisages liberal construction in favour of the females, with the object of advancing and promoting the socio-economic ends sought to be achieved by the said legislation.
The court further noted that in the Will executed by Hari Narayan ji in favour of Daulalji, there was no mention of the suit property. What was stated in the Will was that whatever movable and immovable property, which belonged to Hari Narayan ji would be devolved upon Daulalji. It was only in the Probate proceedings filed by Daulalji in respect of the said Will, he had shown the suit property in the Schedule.
The court opined that the High Court had rightly held that Bhonri Devi had pre-existing right to maintenance in the suit property that had ripened into full ownership by virtue of Section 14(1) of the Act of 1956.
Case title: Munni devi alias Nathi Devi (dead) v/s Rajendra alias Lallu Lal (dead)
Citation: Civil Appeal no. 5894 of 2019