In a significant judgment aimed at ensuring “right of equality” of a daughter in a Hindu Undivided Family, the Supreme Court Tuesday held that she will have coparcenary right, or equal right to family property by birth, irrespective of whether her father was alive or not as on September 9, 2005 — when Parliament recognised this right by amending the Hindu Succession Act of 1956.
Effectively granting retrospective status to the amendment, a Bench of Justices Arun Mishra, S Abdul Nazeer and M R Shah ruled: “The provisions contained in substituted Section 6 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 confer status of coparcener on the daughter born before or after amendment in the same manner as son with same rights and liabilities…Since the right in coparcenary is by birth, it is not necessary that father coparcener should be living as on 9.9.2005.”
The decision by the three-judge Bench is significant since three separate two-judge Benches of the apex court had previously given contrasting decisions on the issue in different cases following the amendment.
Writing for the Bench, Justice Mishra stated: “If a daughter is alive on the date of enforcement of the Amendment Act, she becomes a coparcener with effect from the date of the Amendment Act, irrespective of the date of birth earlier in point of time… daughters cannot be deprived of their right of equality conferred upon them by Section 6.”
“Concerning gender discrimination to a daughter who always remains a loving daughter”, the Bench recalled the Supreme Court’s words in a 1996 case: “A common saying is worth pressing into service…A son is a son until he gets a wife. A daughter is a daughter throughout her life.”
The judgment noted that several cases on this issue were pending before courts and were already delayed. “We request that the pending matters be decided, as far as possible, within six months,” the Bench said.
Hearing an appeal by Delhi resident Vineeta Sharma on a suit for partition of family property filed in February 2002 following her father’s death in December 1999, the Bench said it had to settle the law, given the different judgments delivered earlier.
During the pendency of Sharma’s suit in a trial court, a two-judge Bench of the Supreme Court, hearing another case in November 2015, interpreted Section 6 of the amended Act to apply to “living daughters of living coparceners as on 09.09.2005 irrespective of when such daughters were born”.
On the basis of this ruling, the trial court dismissed Sharma’s suit, prompting her to file an appeal in the Delhi High Court.
Then, in February 2018, another two-judge Bench of the Supreme Court held in a separate case that the amended Section 6 recognised rights of daughters as coparceners since birth in the same manner as sons. But just two months later, in April 2018, a two-judge Bench hearing another case reiterated the judgment of November 2015.
The Delhi High Court relied on the November 2015 and April 2018 decisions to reject Sharma’s appeal following which the matter reached the apex court.
Senior Advocate Bishwajit Bhattacharyya, who represented Sharma, said: “The ruling is a huge advancement towards rendering gender justice in furtherance of Article 15 of the Constitution of India. Discrimination between a male coparcener and a female coparcener has been set right. India’s Constitution has reigned supreme,” he said.
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