I, as the former Chairman of Law Commission of India, suo moto took up for consideration the necessity of amending section 15 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 which deals with general rules of Succession in the case of female Hindus dying intestate in view of the fact that there have been vast changes in the social scene in the past few years.
The Law Commission felt that where amendments have been made entitling a woman to inherit property from her parental side as well as from her husband's side, it is justified if equal right is given to her parental heirs with the heirs on her husband's side to inherit her property earned by her own skill, in case she dies intestate. Further, social justice demands that the women should be treated equally both in the economic and social sphere.
It is, in this context, the Commission proposed an amendment to section 15 of the Hindu Succession Act. To achieve the objective stated above, Report No. 207 has been submitted by me.
Scheme of Succession in the case of a Hindu Female
Section 15 of the Hindu Succession Act propounds a definite and uniform scheme of Succession to the property of a female Hindu who dies intestate. There are also rules set out in section 16 of the Hindu Succession Act which have to be read along with section 15 of the Act.
Section 16 of the Hindu Succession Act provides for the order of succession and the manner of distribution among heirs of a female Hindu.
Relevance of Source of Acquisition
The group of heirs of the female Hindu dying intestate is described in 5 categories as 'a' to 'e' of section 15(1) which is illustrated as under:
In a case where she dies intestate leaving property, her property will firstly devolve upon her sons and daughters so also the husband. The children of any pre-deceased son or daughter are also included in the first category of heirs of a female Hindu ;
In case she does not have any heir as referred to above , i.e , sons, daughters and husband including children of any pre-deceased sons or daughters (as per clause 'a') living at the time of her death, then the next heirs will be the heirs of the husband;
Thirdly, if there are no heirs of the husband, the property would devolve upon the mother and father;
Fourthly, if the mother and father are not alive, then the property would devolve upon the heirs of the father which mean brothers, sisters etc;
The last and the fifth category is the heirs of the mother upon whom the property of the female Hindu will devolve in the absence of any heirs falling in the four preceding categories.
This is the general rule of Succession, but the section also provides for two exceptions which are stated in sub-section (2). Accordingly, if a female dies without leaving any issue, then the property inherited by her from her father or mother will not devolve according to the rules laid down in the five entries as stated earlier, but upon the heirs of father. And secondly, in respect of the property inherited by her from her husband or father-in-law, the same will devolve not according to the general rule, but upon the heirs of the husband.
The basis of inheritance of a female Hindu's property who dies intestate would thus be the SOURCE from which such female Hindu came into possession of the property and the manner of inheritance which would decide the manner of devolution.
Self Acquired Property - A Grey Area
The term 'property' though not specified in this section means property of the deceased inheritable under the Act. It includes both movable and immovable property owned and acquired by her by inheritance or by devise or at a partition or by gift or by her skill or exertion or by purchase or prescription. The section does not differentiate between the property inherited and self-acquired property of a Hindu female; it only prescribes that if a property is inherited from husband or father-in-law, it would go to her husband's heirs and if the property is inherited from her father or mother, in that case, the property would not go to her husband's, but to the heirs of the father and mother.
This section has not clearly enumerated and considered about succession of a female Hindu property where it is self-acquired. Or to put it this way, the Legislators did not contemplate that Hindu females would be in later years having self-acquired property and in certain cases, where her heirs in the first category fail, the property would devolve totally upon her husband's heirs who may be very remotely related as compared to her own father's heirs.
This is very aptly illustrated by the following illustration :- A married Hindu female dies intestate leaving the property which is her self-acquired property. She has no issue and was a widow at the time of her death. As per the present position of law, her property would devolve in the second category, i.e. to her husband's heirs. Thus, in a case where the mother of her husband is alive, her whole property would devolve on her mother-in-law. If the mother-in-law is also not alive, it would devolve as per the rules laid down in case of a male Hindu dying intestate i.e. if the father of her deceased husband is alive, the next to inherit will be her father-in-law and if in the third category, the father-in-law is also not alive, then her property would devolve on the brother and sister of the deceased husband.
Thus, in case of the self-acquired property of a Hindu married female dying intestate, her property devolves on her husband's heirs. Her paternal and maternal heirs do not inherit, but the distant relations of her husband would inherit as per husband's heirs.
In the present scenario, when amendments are made to the effect that women have been entitled to inherit property from her parental side as well as from husband's side, it will be quite justified if equal right is given to her parental heirs along with her husband's heirs to inherit her property.
It is, therefore, proposed that in order to bring about a balance, section 15 should be amended, so that in case a female Hindu dies intestate leaving her self-acquired property with no heirs, as mentioned in clause 'a' of section 15, the property should devolve on her husband's heirs and also on the heirs of her paternal side.
If this amendment is brought about, the effect will be as under:
A married Hindu female dies intestate leaving self-acquired property at the time of her death, the only surviving relatives are her mother-in-law (L) and her mother (M).
| As per the present law, her property would devolve entirely on ‘L’ and ‘M’ will not get anything from her property.
|| By proposed amendment, her mother-in-law and mother should equally inherit her self-acquired property.
A married Hindu female dies intestate leaving self-acquired property and she has no heirs as per cause ‘a’ of the Schedule, the only surviving relatives are her husband’s brother and sister (BL & SL) and her own brother and sister (B&S)
| As per the present law, her property would normally devolve upon ‘BL’ and ‘SL’. ‘B’ and ‘S’ do not inherit anything from her in this property.
|| y proposed amendment, her own brother and sister should equally inherit along with her brother-in-law and sister-in-law.
In section 15 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, 15(2)(c) be added: <
"If a female Hindu leaves any self-acquired property, in the absence of husband and any son or daughter of the deceased (including the children of any pre-deceased son or daughter), the said property would devolve not upon heirs as mentioned in sub-section (1) in the chronology, but the heirs in category (b) + (c) would inherit simultaneously. If she has no heirs in category (c), then heirs in category (b) + (d) would inherit simultaneously".
The above amendment, though suggested by the Law Commission as early as in June 2008, is still pending with the Union Law Ministry. The amendment was suggested in larger public interest.