NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court has ruled that a widow can be a manager of a joint family in some particular circumstances. An apex court bench gave the ruling while deciding a property dispute between cousins of a family in Uttar Pradesh in a suit filed in 1978 in favour of the mother who bought the property.
A bench comprising justices Ranjan Gogoi and N V Ramana said, “Such a role (as manager) necessarily has to be distinguished from that of a Karta which position the Hindu widow cannot assume by virtue of her disentitlement to be a coparcener in the Hindu Undivided Family (HUF) of her husband. Regrettably the position remains unaltered even after the amendment of the Hindu Succession Act in 2005.”
“Though women could not be treated as Karta of a joint family, she can be a manager of a joint family, in some particular circumstances,” it said. The bench also held that the expression ‘Manager’ can be understood as denoting a role distinct from that of the Karta. The case dates back to 1978, wherein Hari Shankar Vidhyarthi had two wives, Savitri and Rama. Ashok was born to Savitri and two daughters, Sri Lekha and Madhulekha, were born to Rama. Shreya is the adopted daughter of Sri Lekha. In 1978, a suit for permanent injunction and partition was filed by Ashok against Sri Lekha Vidhyarthi. According to Ashok, his stepmother Rama had managed the day-to-day affairs of the family, which was living jointly and received a sum of `33,000 out of an insurance policy, as a nominee to the policy taken by Hari Shankar.
The amounts were used to purchase the suit property. The fact of buying the joint property was denied by Rama, who said the property was purchased with her own funds and not from any joint family funds.
The court said, “There can be no doubt that a Hindu widow is not a coparcener in the HUF of her husband and, therefore, cannot act as Karta of the HUF after the death of her husband. Hypothetically, we may take the case of HUF where the male adult coparcener has died and there is no male coparcener surviving or as in the facts of the present case, where the sole male coparcener (plaintiff - Ashok Vidyarthi) is a minor. In such a situation obviously the HUF does not come to an end. The mother of male coparcener can act as the legal guardian of the minor and also look after his role as the Karta in her capacity as his (minor’s) legal guardian.”
The court added that such a role as manager of the family has to be distinguished from that of a Karta, which position the Hindu widow cannot assume by virtue of her dis-entitlement to be a coparcener in the HUF.