Read Judgment:  MUNNI DEVI ALIAS NATHI DEVI THR LRS. & ORS.  Vs. RAJENDRA ALIAS LALL U LAL (DEAD) THR LRS. & ORS. 

Mansimran Kaur

New Delhi, May 19, 2022: The Supreme Court has held that a Hindu widow, who is in possession of the property of her husband or of the husband’s HUF, has the right to be maintained out of the said property and she is also entitled to retain the possession of that property in lieu of her right to maintenance.

Observing that Section 14(1) of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 and the explanation  thereto envisages liberal construction in favor of the females, with the object of advancing and promoting the socio-economic ends sought to be achieved by the said legislation,the Division Bench of Justice Ajay Rastogi and Justice Bela M. Trivedi dismissed the appeal instituted against the judgment of the Rajasthan High Court whereby the High Court allowed the First Appeal and dismissed the suit filed by the plaintiff questioning the absolute ownership of the original defendant, Bhorni Devi.  

Factual background of the case was such that the original plaintiff filed the suit seeking possession of the suit property along with mesne profit, against the original defendant, Smt. Bhonri Devi and other defendants. It was the case of the plaintiff that his uncle executed a will in his favor and upon his death he became the owner of the property. Thereafter, it was alleged that the original defendant started harassing the plaintiff and thus the plaintiff left the suit property on December 12, 1953. Since then the original defendant was in possession of the suit property. It was the case of the plaintiff that as per the will, he was the sole owner of the suit property, and thus he was entitled to recover the suit property from the original defendant. 

However, both the plaintiff and the defendant expired and the suit was prosecuted further by the daughter of the original plaintiff, and from the defendant’s side by the niece and nephews. The suit was decreed by Trial Court against which the first appeal was preferred by the legal representatives of the original defendant.  The said first appeal was allowed by the High Court and the appeal was instituted before this Court by the legal representatives of Munnidevi against the respondents. The question that was dealt by this Court was whether the original defendant, Bhonri Devi, the predecessor of the present respondents had become an absolute owner on coming into force the Act of 1956. 

Placing reliance on the judgments of the Top Court in V.Tulasamma and other vs. Sesha Reddy(Dead) and Raghubar Singh & Ors vs Gulab Singh & Ors., the Bench said, “ It is by virtue of Section 14(1) of the Act of 1956, that the Hindu widows limited interest gets automatically enlarged into an absolute right, when such property is possessed by her whether acquired before or after the commencement of 1956 Act in lieu of her right to maintenance.”

In addition to the aforesaid observations, it was opined that the word “possessed by” and “acquired” used in Section 14 (1) are of the wildest amplitude and include the state of owning a property.   Thus it was clear from the facts that Bhonri Devi had long settled possession of the suit property, which she had acquired in lieu of her pre-existing right to maintenance, prior to the commencement of the Act of 1956, which entitled her to become a full owner of the suit property by virtue of Section 14(1).

Thus, the Court was of the view that the High Court was right in its ruling that the original defendant had pre-existing right to maintenance in the suit property by virtue of Section 14 (1). Accordingly, the present appeal was dismissed on account of being meritless. 

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