A wife becomes absolute owner of property willed to her for “maintenance” by her husband and can do whatever she wants with it, the Supreme Court has held in a judgement that’s being seen as a shot in the arm for women’s rights.
A bench headed by justice MY Eqbal said simply because a will stipulated that the wife would own the property in her lifetime doesn’t mean the rights would go back to the male heirs of her deceased husband.
“It is well settled that under the Hindu Law, the husband has got a personal obligation to maintain his wife and if he is possessed of properties then his wife is entitled to a right to be maintained out of such properties,” the court ruled, saying this was a woman’s absolute right under Section 14 of the Hindu Succession Act.
“It is equally well settled that the claim of Hindu widow to be maintained is not a mere formality which is to be exercised as a matter of concession, grace or gratis but is a valuable, spiritual and moral right.”
The top court dismissed an appeal from petitioner Jupudy Pardha Sarathy who had purchased a house from the son of Andhra Pradesh resident P Venkata Subba who had three wives. Subba had in 1920 willed one of his properties in Rajahmundry district to his third wife, Veeraraghavamma, who did not have any child.
In July 1971 Veeraraghavamma executed another will in favour of one of her relatives, P Subba Rao. However, after her death in 1976, P Venkata’s son from his second wife, Narasimha Rao, sold the house to Sarathy. This sale was challenged by Subba Rao on the ground that Veeraraghavamma was the absolute owner of the disputed property.
The trial court held Veeraraghavamma had a limited right to enjoy the property and after her death it would pass on to the male heirs and upheld the sale to Sarathy.
However, the Andhra Pradesh high court in 2006 set aside the trial court order that was challenged by Narasimha Rao’s legal heirs before the Supreme Court, which declined to interfere.
What is Hindu Succession Act?
Section 14(1) of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 says a female Hindu shall be the full owner (not a limited owner) of any property possessed/held by her.
Explanation to Section 14(1) says such property includes both movable and immovable property acquired by her by inheritance or in lieu of maintenance or by gift or in any other manner including stridhana.
But Section 14(2) says, Section 14(1) shall not apply to any property acquired by way of gift or under a will or a court order where the gift, will or court order prescribes a restricted stake in the property.
SC rules that creating even a limited interest in a property in favour of a woman towards her right to maintenance would give her an absolute right in the property.
It says claim of Hindu widow to be maintained is not a mere formality which is to be exercised as a matter of concession, grace or gratis but is a valuable, spiritual and moral right.