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Madhuri Ghosh & Anr. V/s Debobroto Dutta & Anr.

Where An Absolute Right Is Given And The Later Provisions Trench On The Rights, They Shall Be Void.

Case Name:                 Madhuri Ghosh & Anr. V/s Debobroto Dutta & Anr.

Case Number:             Civil appeal no. 10742 of 2016

Court:                          Supreme Court of India

Bench:                          Justice R.K. Agrawal, Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman

Decided on:                 November 09, 2016

Relevant act/:              Section 14 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956.                     

BRIEF FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY:

  • One Ajit Kumar Ghosh got a will registered dated 21.01.2000, whereby he bequeathed House No.77, Ram Bagh, Allahabad to his wife and elder daughter jointly. He went on to state in the aforesaid Will that after the death of his wife and his elder daughter, various other lineal descendants would become owners of specified parts of the immovable property, namely, House No.77. The contention involved a conflict between paras 2 and 4 of the will dated 21st Jan, 2001 which raised the questions as to are the two para contrary to each other.
  • Procedural history of the present appeal:
  • After the death of Mr. Ajit Kumar Ghosh on 18th June, 2001, the widow wife and the elder daughter filed a case No.747/2001 before the Additional Civil Judge, Senior Division, Allahabad on 8th October, 2001, claiming that the plaintiffs be declared as joint owners of one half of house no.77 by virtue of the Will dated 21st January, 2000. Paragraph 1 of the plaint expressly stated that the mother-in-law of plaintiff No.1 had bequeathed house no.77 jointly to her son and daughter-in-law i.e. plaintiff No.1, and that therefore the relief claimed against the defendants, who are other family members, would be confined to a declaration of the other half of the property which was the subject matter of the bequest.
  • The trial court and the appellate court both found that only a life interest was created in the said property in favour of the widow and the elder daughter thus the second appeal in the appellate court was allowed and the decision of the trial court was reinstated.

ISSUES BEFORE THE COURT:

  • Whether the will dated 4th June, 2001 shall supersede the will dated 21st January, 2000?
  • Whether, if a testator has bequeathed his absolute interest in the property in favour of his wife, any subsequent bequest which is repugnant to the first bequeath would be invalid?
  • Whether section 14 of the Hindu Succession Act has been rightly applied herein the present case?

RATIO OF THE COURT:

  • The ld. Counsel for the appellants said that it was clear that a Will must first be read as a whole, and if various parts of it appear to conflict with each other, they ought to be harmoniously construed. In the event that this cannot be done, then if there is an absolute bequest in an earlier part of the Will, which cannot be reconciled with a subsequent bequest of the same property in a latter part of the Will, the subsequent portion of the Will will have to be declared as invalid.
  • He also argued that in any case Section 14 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 would come to the rescue even if a life interest was created in favour of the widow, inasmuch as the deceased had really provided for her share in the said immovable property in lieu of maintenance. Whereas the ld. Counsel for the respondents said that it was the intention of the testator not only to bequeath the property to the widow and the elder daughter but also to his grand children.
  • The court observed that the late testator made it clear that after his death house No.77 shall “vest” on his wife Smt. Madhuri Ghosh and elder daughter Sunanda Ghosh jointly. He also stated that after the death of his wife, the said daughter shall become the “exclusive” owner of the said house No.77 and that if his daughter was to predecease his wife, then his wife shall become the “exclusive” owner.
  • A reading of this paragraph therefore, left no manner of doubt that what is granted jointly in favour of the widow and the elder daughter is an absolute right to the property namely, house No.77. There are no words of limitation used in this paragraph and there is no indication in para 2 that only a limited interest was made in relation to wife and daughter.
  • The hon’ble court referred to the case of Ramkishorelal and Another vs. Kamal Narayan 1963 Supp (2) SCR 417 wherein the following was stated: “The golden rule of construction, it has been said, is to ascertain the intention of the parties to the instrument after considering all the words, in their ordinary, natural sense. To ascertain this intention the Court had to consider the relevant portion of the document as a whole and also to take into account the circumstances under which the particular words were used.
  • This judgment was referred to with approval and followed in Mauleshwar Mani & Ors. vs. Jagdish Prasad & Ors.(2002) 2 SCC 468 wherefrom the legal principles emerged that “where under a will, a testator has bequeathed his absolute interest in the property in favour of his wife, any subsequent bequest which is repugnant to the first bequeath would be invalid; and where a testator has given a restricted or limited right in his property to his widow, it is open to the testator to bequeath the property after the death of his wife in the same will.”
  • The hon’ble court held that when the testator has bequeathed his absolute interest in the property in favour of his wife, any subsequent bequest which is repugnant to the first bequeath would be invalid as according to the legal principle.
  • The court held that a reading of this paragraph therefore, leaves no manner of doubt that what is granted jointly in favour of the widow and the elder daughter is an absolute right to the property namely, house No.77. There are no words of limitation used in this paragraph and the court, therefore, found it very difficult to agree with the High Court in its conclusion that what is bequeathed by paragraph 2 is only a limited interest in favour of the widow and the elder daughter.

DECISION HELD BY THE COURT:

  • The hon’ble court held that it had concurrently been found by the learned Additional Civil Judge and the Additional District Judge in first appeal, that the Will dated 4th June, 2001 was not proved thus the will dated 4th June, 2001 shall not supersede the will dated 21st january, 2000.
  • That the hon’ble court did not deem it necessary to go into the other questions raised by the learned senior counsel of the appellants, the absence of pleading and the effect of Section 14 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956.
  • The appeal was, accordingly allowed and the judgment of the High Court is set aside.

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