Supreme Court of India
Citation : 2007-AIR-SC2369
S.B. Sinha, J. – A question of some importance in relation to applicability of custom in the matter of inheritance and succession under the Hindu Women’s Right to Property Act, 1937 falls for our consideration in this appeal which arises out of a judgment and order dated 21.01.1991 passed by the High Court of Punjab & Haryana in Civil Regular Second Appeal No. 2166 of 1978.
2. The relationship between the parties is not in dispute, which would appear from the following genealogical table :
Jiwan Singh Hira Singh-Wife Raj Kaur Relu Singh-Wife Sobhi Raj Kaur [Wife]
[died before 09.12.84]
Nand Singh Deft. No. 4 ]
Inder Singh Mehar Singh Ass Kaur
[died in 1926] [died in 1937] [died] |
Kartar Singh, Gulzar Singh, Mukhitiar Singh
[Deft.No.1] [Deft. No. 2] [Deft. No.3]
Represented through L.Rs.
3. We are concerned with the branch of Relu Singh. He had two wives, namely, Sobhi and Raj Kaur. Raj Kaur was originally married to the brother to his brother Hira Singh, who had died in the year 2001. Relu Singh married to Raj Kaur on the death of brother under the customary law of the land. Relu Singh died in the year 1907. He was succeeded by his two wives and two sons Inder Singh and Mehar Singh alias Dalip Singh and daughter, the appellant. Inder Singh died in the yar1926 and Mehar Singh died in the year 1937. Sobhi, the first wife of Relu Singh and the mother of Mehar Singh and Inder Singh, died in the year 1950. Raj Kaur died about five years prior to the institution of the suit i.e. in the year 1970. Ass Kaur, daughter of Sobhi and sister of Mehar Singh and Inder Singh claimed share in the property. The defendants-respondents contended that after the death of her husband Hira Singh, Raj Kaur contracted Karewa marriage with Relu Singh in accordance with custom. She had a son through Hira Singh. It was urged that under the Punjab customary laws governing inheritance and succession of Sidhu Jats after the death of Relu Singh, his two sons and two widows succeeded to his estate. After the death of Inder Singh and Mehar Singh, their properties were mutated in the name of their mother Sobhi and their step mother Raj Kaur. Again purported to be in terms of the rule of survivorship in accordance with the local and tribal customs her name was mutated after the death of Sobhi. She remained in exclusive possession of the said property and upon coming into force of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, she became the absolute owner thereof. It was also contended that Sobhi was a limited owner and on her death in the year 1950, Raj Kaur succeeded to her by rule of survivorship. It was furthermore pleaded that under the customary law, the appellant herein had no right of succession in preference to the widow.
4. The courts below while holding that the appellant herein was daughter of Sobhi, opined that the parties were governed by the customary laws in the matter of inheritance and succession in terms whereof Raj Kaur succeeded to the estate of Relu Singh after the death of Sobhi and that her estate was enlarged into full ownership after coming into force of the Hindu Succession Act. The High Court held :
“_Smt. Sobhi died on December 3, 1953 and mutation regarding her share was made in favour of Smt. Raj Kaur being the co-widow of her late husband Relu Singh on July 31, 1955 i.e before coming into force of Hindu Succession Act. In para 13 of the Rettigan on Customary Law, on the death of a co-widow the other surviving widow takes the property survivorship. Revenue Officers rightly sanctioned the mutation of the estate of Smt. Sobhi in favour of Smt. Raj Kaur, her co-widow_”
5. Keeping in view the importance of the question involved, as also the fact that nobody appeared on behalf of the respondents, we requested Mr. R. Sundravardan, the learned Senior Counsel, to assist us in the matter.
6. Contentions of Mr. Sundravardan and Mrs. Palli are as under :
(i) Relu Singh having only 1/3rd share in the property; the other co- sharers thereof being Inder Singh and Mehar Singh, on his death his 1/3rd share devolved upon his two wives jointly as also, his two sons Inder Singh and Mehar Singh.
(ii) On Inder Singh’s death his interest in the property devolved upon Mehar Singh who became the absolute owner in respect thereof. On Mehar Singh’s death which took place on 05.06.1937, the properties devolved upon his mother Sobhi. On Sobhi’s death, in terms of the provisions of the Hindu Law of Inheritance (Amendment) Act, 1929, (1929 Act) the appellant herein succeeded her as heir of Relu Singh.
(iii) Sobhi having life interest in the property, on her death the same devolved upon the appellant herein as daughter of Relu Singh, as a reversioner.
(iv) A step mother being not an heir or a relation for the purpose of inheritance and succession; she could not inherit the interest of