In Civil Appeal No. 2435 of 2010 -SC - Mere registration of adoption deed not sufficient, cogent evidence required: Supreme Court emphasizes burden of proof in adoption cases while turning down man’s claim to inherit properties of adoptive mother
Justice C.T. Ravikumar & Justice Sanjay Kumar [20-11-2023]
New Delhi, November 20, 2023: In a significant ruling, the Supreme Court has rejected a man's claim to inherit properties from his late adoptive mother. The Court ruled that the adoption lacked sufficient proof according to legal standards, citing numerous suspicious circumstances surrounding the adoption. Furthermore, the Top Court declared the Will as invalid as it was not executed in accordance with the law, thereby denying any rights to the claimant.
In the matter at hand, the claimant, Moturu Nalini Kanth, a minor at the time, asserted absolute rights over properties owned by late Venkubayamma, based on a registered Will dated 03.05.1982. Claiming adoption by Venkubayamma, supported by a registered Adoption Deed, when he was less than a year old, Nalini Kanth filed Original Suit, seeking declaratory and consequential reliefs regarding the properties. The Principal Subordinate Judge, ruled in his favour. However, the High Court of Andhra Pradesh overturned the decision, favouring Gainedi Kaliprasad, Venkubayamma’s grandson.
The division bench of Justice C.T. Ravikumar and Justice Sanjay Kumar observed that the mere registration of a Will does not inherently validate it; it must still be proven according to legal requirements. Referring to Janki Narayan Bhoir vs. Narayan Namdeo Kadam [LQ/SC/2002/1335], the bench emphasized compliance with the requirements outlined in clauses (a), (b), and (c) of Section 63 of the Succession Act to establish the validity of a Will. Notably, the Will must be attested by two or more witnesses, each of whom must have witnessed the testator signing or affixing their mark to the Will. Additionally, the witnesses must have seen another person sign the Will in the testator's presence or by the testator's direction. The bench emphasized that a person presenting a Will must prove not only the testator's signature but also that the attestations were made properly, as stipulated by Section 63(c) of the Succession Act.
The bench further observed that in a more recent case, Ramesh Verma (Dead) through LRs. vs. Lajesh Saxena (Dead) by LRs. [LQ/SC/2016/1486], this Court had highlighted that a Will, like any other document, must be proven in accordance with the provisions of the Evidence Act. The Court had held that the proponent of the Will must present satisfactory evidence demonstrating that the testator signed the Will, was in a sound and disposing state of mind at the relevant time, understood the nature and effect of the disposition, and signed the document of their own free will. The document cannot be used as evidence until at least one attesting witness is called to prove its execution.
The bench also referred to the case of Ved Mitra Verma vs. Dharam Deo Verma [LQ/SC/2014/766], where, in the absence of living attesting witnesses, the Court had held that the examination of the Sub-Registrar, who registered the Will and provided details about the circumstances in which the attesting witnesses and the testator had signed the document, would be sufficient to prove the Will in accordance with Section 69 of the Evidence Act.
Further, the bench referred to Mst. Deu and others vs. Laxmi Narayan and others [LQ/SC/1996/1181], where this Court had observed that in view of Section 16 of the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956, whenever any document registered under law is produced before the Court purporting to record an adoption made and is signed by the persons mentioned therein, the Court should presume that the adoption has been made in compliance with the provisions of the said statute, unless and until it is disproved. It was further held that in view of Section 16 of the Act, it is open to the persons who challenge the registered deed of adoption to disprove the same by taking independent proceedings.
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In context of the present case, the bench noted that the mere registration of the Adoption Deed did not absolve the person asserting such adoption from proving that fact by cogent evidence, and the person contesting it from adducing evidence to the contrary. Various suspicious circumstances attached to the adoption ceremony of 18.04.1982 assumed significance. It was observed that Venkubayamma, ordinarily residing in Srikakulam, did not invite any of her relations from Srikakulam to attend the adoption ceremony in Berhampur, raising doubts about the clandestine manner in which the alleged adoption took place. The document also did not record any reasons for Venkubayamma's dissatisfaction with Kaliprasad, whose marriage she had performed in February 1982.
The bench also noted that the essential requirement of the 'giving and taking' ceremony for adoption, as outlined in Section 11(vi) of the Act of 1956, lacked convincing evidence in the present case.
The bench took note of the fact that Nalini Kanth was aged less than a year when the adoption deed was executed, whereas the adoptive mother, going by the document itself, was aged 70 years. Being of that age, the bench opined that it was strange that Venkubayamma would have expected this toddler to perform her obsequies after her death and such other ceremonies for her and her ancestors. Further, it was difficult to believe that a woman of such advanced years would willingly take on the responsibility of caring for an infant at that age.
The bench further noted that the Adoption Deed mentioned that the adoption took place at Sri Sri Raghunadha Swamy Temple, but the Will recorded that Venkubayamma adopted the child with the consent of his parents in the presence of relations at the house of his parents at Chandramanipeta, Berhampur. There was thus a contradiction between the Adoption Deed and the Will as to the place where the adoption took place. The bench ruled that although an attempt was made to discredit the scribe in this regard, the disparity in the two documents, drawn up within a short span of time, spoke for itself.
Consequently, the Court ruled that the adoption of Nalini Kanth by Venkubayamma on 18.04.1982 was not proven in accordance with the law, despite the registration of the Adoption Deed. The Court also deemed the adoption itself as not believable, citing numerous suspicious circumstances surrounding it.
Therefore, the bench held that Nalini Kanth could not be recognized as her heir through adoption. Additionally, as the Will dated 03.05.1982 was also not proven in accordance with the law, it did not establish any rights in his favour. Consequently, Nalini Kanth was held not entitled to claim any right or share in Venkubayamma’s properties.
Thus, the judgment and decree of the High Court was confirmed and the appeal was accordingly dismissed.
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