No absolute property right for woman in restricted will

New Delhi: A Hindu woman who gets property from her husband through a will cannot have absolute right over it unlike property inherited by her through succession, the Supreme Court has ruled.

In other words, though the Hindu Marriages Act provide absolute right to a woman on the property inherited through succession from her husband, she cannot have the same privilege if the property devolves on her through a "will" with restricted clauses.

A bench of justices P Sathasivam and H L Gokhale passed the ruling while upholding an appeal filed by a land owner Jagan Singh challenging the right of his widowed sister-in-law Dhanwanti to sell her plot which was gifted through a will by her husband Umrao Singh.

Umrao Singh in his will had stated that his wife Dhanwanti will be the owner his plot, but would not have any right to dispose off the property. However, after the death of her husband, Dhanwanti attempted to sell the plot which was challenged by Jagan Singh.

Both the trial court and the Allahabad High Court rejected his plea on the ground that Dhanwanti enjoyed the protection of the Hindu Marriages Act under which she had absolute right to enjoy, dispose or gift the property to any person.

However, upholding his appeal, the apex court said, "Section 14 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 undoubtedly declares in sub-section (1) thereof that a property of a female Hindu is her absolute property, but it creates an exception in sub-section (2) which provides that sub-section (1) will not apply to any property which is given away by instruments such as by way of a gift or under a will.

"In the present case Umrao Singh had made a will, and under that he had created a restricted estate in favour of respondent No.1 which was permissible under this section 14 (2)," Justice Gokhale writing the judgement said.

The apex court cited its ruling in the 1971 Karmi Vs. Amru case said that a widow who succeeds to the property of her deceased husband on the strength of his will, cannot claim any right other than those conferred by the will.

"Thus life estate given to her under a will cannot become an absolute estate under the provisions of Section 14 (2) of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956.

"Respondent No.1 was entitled to a share in the land on account of that will only, and not on the basis of her own independent right." The will giving her a share had restricted it to her life time which Umrao Singh was entitled to do under Section 169 (1) of the U.P. Act, and the same would remain restricted in view of Section 14 (2) of Hindu Succession Act, 1956, " the bench said.

The apex court further said that the purported sale effected by Dhanwanti to another woman during the pendency of the dispute was not valid.

The bench said that Section 52 of the Transfer of Property Act forbids any such sale transaction of a disputed property which is the subject matter of litigation unless a final decree had been passed in favour of either parties to the dispute.