Why is the Supreme Court judgment of daughters as coparceners important?

The law around the right to property inheritance of daughters was riddled with ambiguities. On August 11th, 2020 the Supreme Court cleared the air and ruled that daughters possess equal rights as coparceners. 

The plea was filed by two sisters in Karnataka claiming property belonging to their father which was denied to them on the grounds of being born prior to 2005. Through this landmark judgment in Vineeta Sharma v Rakesh Sharma, the court has affirmed that the benefit of the amendment would go to the sisters retrospectively irrespective of their date of birth. It serves as a sign of equality and progress and clarified the difference of opinions between different benches of the Supreme Court. 

The court clarified that the act applies retrospectively to cases even when the father was not alive at the time of 2005 amendment. The daughter receives her coparcenary right on her birth. Moreover, the daughter’s marriage do not affect her rights to coparcenary property.

Who is a coparcener?

A Hindu joint family consists of the lineal descendants traced to a common ancestor. Coparcenry property is the family property of a Hindu Undivided Family (HUF) and coparceners are certain members of the joint family who hold an interest in the property i.e coparcenary property.

Joint Hindu Family consists of all male members, in addition to their wives, unmarried daughters and widows but property rights and undivided interest are generally given to lineal descendants from a common ancestor within four degrees to only males of the family as coparceners. Four generation rule denotes that the lineal male descendants of a person, up until the third generation (excluding himself), acquire an interest in coparcenary property. 

It is vital to take note that Section 6 of the Act relates to intestate succession wherein, succession occurs sans a will. It must be distinguished from property bequeathed by means of a will to a specific person which may be advantageous as it helps avoid litigation and risk. 

Ancestral and self-acquired property may fall under the ambit of coparcenary property. The former is divided equally amongst the coparceners whereas, in case of the latter, the family member in ownership of the property is free to manage the property upon his own free will.

What is the Hindu Succession Act Amendment of 2005?

According to the Hindu Succession Act 1956,  a daughter was not to be considered a coparcener. However, the 2005 amendment vests equal rights and liabilities in daughters to her father’s property despite becoming a member in her husband’s undivided family as well by modifying S6 of the Hindu Succession Act. 

For instance, Ram, a father of three, passed away without leaving behind a will. His two sons, Ramesh and Karan would be deemed coparceners and possess an undivided interest in the property, whereas his married daughter Neha would possess no such interest prior to the 2005 Amendment. Conversely, following the 2005 amendment, Neha would not only be considered a member but also a coparcener and would receive similar interest in the property as Ramesh and Karan irrespective of her sex and marital status. 

This allows a woman to stake a claim upon partition of the coparcenary property in her family of birth, even after marriage. 

It is important to note that since the amendment allowed a woman to be a coparcener it automatically allows a woman to be a Karta i.e manager of the joint family. This essentially signifies that a daughter of the house has equal share in the property irrespective of her date of birth or marital status.

Why is the Supreme Court judgment important?

The 2005 amendment failed to provide clarity with respect to its applicability and scope. 

A number of ambiguities and varied positions were taken by various courts on its scope in relation to whether the daughter must be born prior to the amendment and whether it is an inherent right by virtue of birth.  The two benches of equal strength of the Supreme Court also had opposing views and so the matter was referred to a larger bench. This riddle was resolved by the Supreme Court in Vineeta Sharma v Rakesh Sharma by clarifying that the daughters gain coparcenary rights upon their birth and do not lose it even after marriage.

(The author is a 5th year student at the School Of Excellence In Law, Chennai.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Leaflet