Citation(s): AIR 2020 SC 3717, (2020) 9 SCC 1
Date of the case: 11 August, 2020
Appellant: Vineeta Sharma
Respondent: Rakesh Sharma & Ors.
Bench/Judges: Justice Arun Mishra, Justice S. Abdul Nazeer and Justice M.R. Shah
Legal Provisions: Hindu Succession Act (30 of 1956) S.6(1)(a), Proviso, Expln.1 (as amended by Act 39 of 2005)
- The Hindu Succession Act was enacted in the year 1956 following the ancient Mitakshara law of Hindus. When this legislation was passed, the legislators did not feel the necessity for giving equal coparcenary rights to daughters as that of the sons in the ancestral property of the father. This was because of the belief that the daughter will be a part of another family after her marriage and therefore, should not be given any rights to inherit her father’s property.
- Section 6 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 dealt with the devolution of interest in the coparcenary property after the death of a Hindu male and upheld the rule of survivorship that made only the sons of a Joint Hindu family as coparceners.
- However, the 2005 Amendment to Hindu Succession Act, 1956 abrogated the ‘Survivorship rule’ that identified only the sons of a Joint Hindu family as the co-parceners of that family and introduced ‘Testamentary & Interstate rule’, thereby identifying even the daughters of the family as co-parceners.
- The amendment came into force on 09.09.2005. Therefore, the issue of whether or not a daughter born before the year 2005 would be given coparcenary powers emerged. Another important query that arose was whether or not both the father and daughter had to be alive on September 9th, 2005 in order to effectuate the provisions of the amended law.
- This question was first discussed in the case of Prakash v. Phulavati in the year 2016. The Supreme Court bench constituting Justice Anil Dave and Justice A.K. Goyal held that it is necessary for the father to be alive on the date at which the amendment came into force and only the living coparcener’s living daughter could enjoy the coparcenary rights.
- Following this, in the year 2018, the 2-judge bench of Supreme Court constituting Justice A.K. Sikri and Justice Ashok Bhushan declared in the case of Danamma & Anr. v. Amar that even if the father died before 09.09.2005, the daughter will still enjoy coparcenary rights.
- These two Supreme Court decisions were in disagreement with one another and caused a lot of uncertainty.
Mr. Dev Dutt Sharma who was the father of Vineeta Sharma and Rakesh Sharma passed away before September 9, 2005. Vineeta Sharma, the appellant, filed a lawsuit for a share of her father’s ancestral property against members of her family, including her brother Rakesh Sharma. The High Court of Delhi held that the appellant did not possess any coparcenary rights and that she could not claim any property as per the 2005 Amendment to Section 6 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956.
Vineeta Sharma filed an appeal in the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India questioning the interpretation of the statute & the contradictory judgements passed by the Supreme Court.
- Whether a daughter can claim coparcenary rights as per the 2005 Amendment to Section 6 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 if the father has passed away before 09.09.2005?
- Whether daughters born before the 2005 Amendment can claim coparcenary rights as per the Hindu Succession Act?
- Whether the Amendment to Section 6 of Hindu Succession Act, 1956 is retrospective, prospective or retroactive in nature?
Arguments put forward by the Solicitor General of India
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta who represented the Union of India argued that the amendment to Section 6 of the Hindu Succession Act should only have prospective effect and not apply retrospectively. Moreover, he emphasized upon the retroactive nature of the amendment. He contended that ancestral property rights are acquired by birth, and any changes made to the law after the birth of a person should not affect the rights acquired prior to such amendments. Solicitor General Tushar Sharma also claimed that by applying the amendment retrospectively, it would be unfair to the male coparceners who had already acquired their rights and would result in the disruption of settled property rights.
Arguments advanced by the Amicus Curiae
Mr. R. Venkataramani who was the learned Senior Counsel and Amicus Curiae put forward his viewpoint stating that the Amendment Act of 2005 applies prospectively which means that the right for a daughter over her ancestral property arrived only by the amendment and not by her birth which means it applies only to those daughters who were born after the amendment. He also pointed out that on the death of a coparcener father, the daughter will not enjoy coparcenary rights as there will be no surviving coparcener from whom the daughter will inherit. Mr. V.V.S. Rao, Senior Counsel & Amicus Curiae had also shared the same viewpoint by upholding the decision in the case of Mangammal v. T.B. Raju & Ors.
Arguments made by the Appellants
Adv. Amit Pai and Adv. Sameer Shrivastav who appeared for the appellant side argued that the decision in Phulvati cannot be said to be laying down the correct law as Section 6 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 gives all daughters the coparcenary right irrespective of whether their father is alive or not. They argued that this amendment was sought to remove the gender-based distinction in the law and grant equal rights to daughters in ancestral property. They also pointed out that the coparcenary right is inherited by birth irrespective of gender. The learned counsels also pleaded before the Hon’ble Supreme Court that a simple disagreement over the amendment’s tone should not be in conflict with its main purpose.
The Supreme Court bench consisting of Hon’ble Justice Arun Mishra, Justice S. Abdul Nazeer and Justice M.R. Shah held that everyone has the ultimate right to inherit family property just by virtue of him/her being born to a Hindu Joint family. Therefore, right to partition is created by the birth of the daughter itself and it is immaterial whether the coparcener/ father was dead or alive on the date at which the amendment came into effect. The court overruled the verdict given in the case of Prakash v. Phulvati and stated that the coparcenary rights transfer from father to a daughter and not from a living coparcener to a living daughter.
The three-judge panel pointed out that the provisions of Section 6 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 was neither prospective nor retrospective in nature and is indeed retroactive in nature. The Supreme Court further stated that the estimation of property shares could vary even after a preliminary decree was issued, subject to the birth of a new member or the death of any current member, regardless of gender. Therefore, the share worth of the existing property would increase for other individual coparceners, i.e., both son & daughter in the event of a coparcener’s death. In a similar way, the value of the share will immediately drop upon the birth of a boy or a girl.
The court stated that the distribution of shares and the notional division were not final because the birth of a new coparcener or the death of any existing coparcener could increase or decrease the shares of the other coparceners. Due to the fact that a notional division of property is not the same as an actual division and that the coparcenary property does not cease to exist just because a division is made prior to November 9, 2005, it was also determined that a daughter can claim a share of the joint family property even if she is a juvenile.
For centuries, women have endured systemic deprivation, oppression, and marginalization across societies around the world. Discriminatory laws and societal norms have constrained their rights and freedoms, limiting their potential and relegating them to subordinate roles. However, a remarkable transformation has taken place as laws have emerged to empower and uplift women, challenging the status quo and fostering gender equality.
Despite the right to equality provided by the Constitution of India, laws protecting women’s property and inheritance rights have always challenged patriarchal norms that historically deprived them of their rightful share. A considerable change in societal attitudes and practices has enabled women to inherit ancestral property, claim ownership, and secure their economic well-being which has brought about a significant change in societal attitudes and practices.
This case of Vineeta Sharma v. Rakesh Sharma & Ors. relates to how Section 6 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, and its 2005 amendment, should be interpreted. The amendment aims to prevent gender-based discrimination in succession issues, notably with relation to rights to ancestors’ property. The Vineeta Sharma case establishes a legal precedent that upholds women’s rights and serves as a guideline for situations regarding gender discrimination in succession-related concerns in the future. It gives women a foundation on which to demand justice in similar circumstances and exercise their rights.
- Arya S
3rd year B.com LL.B.
Kerala Law Academy Law College, Trivandrum
 Prakash v. Phulvati, (2016) 2 SCC 36
 Danamma & Ors. v. Amar, (2018) 3 SCC 343
 Mangammal v. T.B. Raju & Ors., (2018) 15 SCC 662
 INDIA CONST. art. 14