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MADHU KISHWAR & ORS versus STATE OF BIHAR & ORS

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1996 AIR 1864 1996 SCC (5) 125 JT 1996 (4) 379 1996 SCALE (3)640

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MADHU KISHWAR & ORS V. STATE OF BIHAR & ORS [1996] RD-SC 561 (17 April 1996)

RAMASWAMY, K.

RAMASWAMY, K.

KULDIP SINGH (J) PUNCHHI, M.M.

CITATION: 1996 AIR 1864 1996 SCC (5) 125 JT 1996 (4) 379 1996 SCALE (3)640

ACT:

HEADNOTE:

WITH
Write Petition (C) No.219 of 1986

K. RAMASWAMY, J.

These two writ petitions raise common question of law:

whether female tribal is entitled to parity with male tribal in intestate succession? The first petitioner is an Editor of a Magazine 'Manushi' espousing the causes to ameliorate the social and economic backwardness of Indian women and to secure them equal rights. Petitioner Nos.2 Smt. Sonamuni and 3 Smt. Muki Dui are respectively widow and married daughter of Muki Banguma, Ho tribe of Longo village, Sonua Block, Singhbhum District in Bihar State. The petitioner in Writ Petition No.219/86, Juliana Lakra is an Oraon Christian tribal woman from Chhota Nagpur area. They seek declaration that Sections 7, 8 and 76 of the Chhota Nagpur Tenancy Act, 6 of 1908, (for short, the 'Act') are ultra vires Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the Constitution of India. They contend that the customary law operating in the Bihar State and other parts of the country excluding tribal women from inheritance of land or property belonging to father, husband, mother and conferment of right to inheritance to the male heirs or lineal descendants being founded solely on sex is discriminatory. The tribal women toil, share with men equally the daily sweat, troubles and tribulations in agricultural operations and family management. Their discrimination based on the customary law of inheritance is unconstitutional, unjust, unfair and illegal. Even usufructuary rights conferred on a widow or an unmarried daughter become illusory due to diverse pressures brought to bear brunt at the behest of lineal descendants or their extermination. Even married or unmarried daughters are excluded from inheritance, when they were subjected to adultery by non-tribals; they are denuded of the right to enjoy the property of her father or deceased husband for life. The widow on remarriage is denied inherited property of her former husband. They have elaborated by narrating several incidents in which the women either were forced to give up their life interest or became target of violent attacks or murdered. Petitioner Nos.2 and 3 in the first writ petition sought police protection for their lives and interim directions were given.

When this court has taken up the matter for hearing, in the light of the stand of the respondents taken at that time to suitably amend the Act, by order dated December 16, 1986, the case was adjourned with the hope that the State Government would suitably amend Sections 7 and 8 of the Act.

By further order dated August 6, 1991, this court after being apprised of the State Government constituting a Committee to examine the desirability to amend the Act giving equal rights of inheritance to women, further adjourned the hearing awaiting the report of the Committee.

The State-level Tribal Advisory Board consisting of the Chief Minister, Cabinet Ministers, legislators and parliamentarians representing the tribal areas, met on July 23, 1988 and decided as under:

"The tribal society is dominated by males. This, however does not mean that the female members are neglected A female member in a tribal family has right of usufruct in the property owned by same is the property of her husband after the marriage . However, she does not have any right to transfer her share to any body by any means whatsoever. A widow will have right to usufruct of the husband's property till such time she is issueless and, in the event of her death the property will revert back to the legal heirs of her late husband. In case of a widow having offspring the children succeed the property of the father and the mother will be a care taker of the property till the children attain majority . The Sub-Committee also felt that every tribal does have some land and in case the right of inheritance in the ancestral property is granted to the female descendants, this will enlarge the threat of alienation of the tribal land in the hands or non tribals.

The female members being given right of transfer of their rights in the origin of malpractices like dowry and the like prevalent in other non-tribal societies." When the matter was taken up for final disposal and the resolution of the Board was brought to the notice of this Court by order dated October 11, 1991 this court further expressed thus:

"Scheduled tribe people are as much citizens as others and they are entitled to the benefit of guarantees of the Constitution. It may be that the law can provide reasonable regulation in the matter of succession to property with a view to maintaining cohesiveness in regard to Scheduled Tribes and their properties. But exclusion from inheritance would not be appropriate. Since this aspect of the matter has not been examined by the State of Bihar and the feasibility of permitting inheritance and simultaneously regulating such inheritance for the purpose of ensuring that the property does not go out of the family by way of transfer or otherwise we are of the view that in the peculiar facts of the case the State of Bihar should re- examine the matter." The State Government reiterated its earlier stand, as stated in an affidavit filed in this behalf. Sections 6, 7, 8 and 76 of the Act are as follows :

"6. Meaning of raiyat. - (1) "Raiyat" means primarily a person who has acquired a right to hold land for the purpose of cultivating it by himself, or by members of his family, or by hired servants, or with the aid of partners; and includes the successors-in-interest of persons who have acquired such a right, but does not include a Nundari khunt-kattidar.

Explanation.- Where a tenant of land has the right to bring it under cultivation, he shall be deemed to have acquired a right to hold it for the purpose of cultivation, notwithstanding that he uses it for the purpose of gathering the produce of it or of grazing cattle on it.

(2) A person shall not be deemed to be a raiyat unless he holds land either immediately under a proprietor or immediately under a tenure-holder or immediately under a Mundari khunt-kattidar.

(3) In determining whether a tenant is a tenure-holder or a raiyat, the court shall have regard to - (a) local customs, and (b) the purpose for which the right of tenancy was originally acquired.

7. (1) Meaning of 'raiyat having khunt-khatti rights'.- "Raiyat having & kunt katti rights" means a raiyat in occupation of, or having any subsisting title to, land reclaimed from jungle by the original founders of the village or their descendants in the male line, when such raiyat is a member of the family which founded the village or a descendant in the male line of any member of such family:

Provided that no raiyat shall be deemed to have kunt katti rights in any land unless he and all his predecessors-in-title have held such land or obtained a title thereto by virtue of inheritance from the original founders of the village.

(2) Nothing in this Act shall prejudicially affect the rights of any person who has lawfully acquired a title to a khunt kattidari tenancy before the commencement of this Act.

8. Meaning of Mundari khunt- kattidar.- "Mundari khunt-kattidar means a Mundari who has acquired a right to hold jungle land for the purpose of bringing suitable portions thereof under cultivation by himself or by male members of his family, and includes- (a) the heirs male in the line of any such Mundari, when they are in possession of such land or have any subsisting title thereto; and (b) as regards any portions of such land which have remained continuously in the possession of any such Mundari and his descendants in the male line, such descendants.

76. Saving of custom.- Nothing in this Act shall affect any custom, usage or customary right not inconsistent with, or not expressly or by necessary implication modified or abolished by, its provisions." In Ramalaxmi Ammal v. Shivanadha Perumal Sheroyar, [(1872) 14 Moors Indian Appeals 585]. the judicial Committee had held that custom is the essence of special usage modifying the ordinary law of succession that it should be ancient and invariable; and it is further essential that they should be established to be so by clear and unambiguous evidence. It is only by means of such evidence that the courts can be assured of their existence and that they possess the conditions of antiquity and certainty on which alone the legal title to recognition depends. In Abdul Hussain Khan v. Bibi Sona Dero.. [(1917-1918) 45 Indian Appeals 10], when it was pleaded that by customs of the family, the sister of an intestate Mohammedan was excluded from inheritance in favour of a male paternal collaterals, by operation of Section 26 of the Bombay Regulation IV of 1827 (a usage was in question in the suit), the Board held that the custom was not established to exclude the sister of the deceased from inheritance.

By operation of Article 13(3)(a) of the Constitution law includes custom or usage having the force of law.

Article 13(1) declares that the preconstitutional laws, so far as they are inconsistent with the fundamental rights shall, to the extent of such inconsistency, be void. The object, thereby, is to secure paramountcy to the Constitution and give primacy to fundamental rights. Article 14 ensures equality of law and prohibits invidious discrimination. Arbitrariness or arbitrary exclusion are sworn enemies to equality. Article 15(1) prohibits gender discrimination. Article 15(3) lifts that rigor and permits the State to positively discriminate in favour of women to make special provision, to ameliorate their social, economic and political justice and accords them parity. Article 38 enjoins the State to promote the welfare of the people (obviously men and women alike) by securing social order in which justice, - social, economic and political - shall inform of all the institutions of national life. Article 39(a) and (b) enjoin that the State policy should be to secure that men and women equally have the right to an adequate means of livelihood and the ownership and control of the material resources of the community are so distributed as best to subserve the common good. Article 38(2) enjoins the State to minimize the inequalities in income and to endeavor to eliminate inequalities in status, facilities and opportunities not only among individuals but also amongst groups of people. Article 46 accords special protection and enjoins the State to promote with special care the economic and educational interests of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and other weaker sections and to protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation. The Preamble to the Constitution charters out the ship of the State to secure social, economic and political justice and equality of opportunity and of status and dignity of person to every one.

The General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a Declaration on December 4, 1986 on "The Right to Development" to which India played a crusading role for its adoption and ratified the same. Its preamble cognisises that all human rights and fundamental freedoms are indivisible and interdependent. All Nation States are concerned at the existence of serious obstacles to development and complete fulfillment of human beings, denial of civil political, economic, social and cultural rights. In order to promote development equal attention should be given to the implementation, promotion and protection of civil political, economic, social and political rights.

Article 1(1) assures right to development an inalienable human right by virtue of which every person and all people are entitled to participate in, contribute to, and enjoy economic, social, cultural and political development in which all human rights and fundamental freedoms can be fully realized. Article 6(1) obligates the State to observe all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without any discrimination as to race, sex, language or religion.

Sub-article (2) enjoins that .......equal attention and urgent consideration should be given to the implementation.

promotion and protection of civil, political, economic, social and political rights. Sub-article (3) thereof enjoins that "State should take steps to eliminate obstacle to development resulting from failure to observe civil and political rights as well as economic, social and cultural and cultural right. Article 8 castes duty on the State to undertake,........ all necessary measures for the realization of right to development and ensure, inter alia, equality of opportunity for all in their access to basic resources............. and fair distribution of income.

Effective measures should be undertaken to ensure that women have an active role in the development process. Appropriate economic and social reforms should be carried out with a view to eradicate all social injustice.

Human Right, are derived from the dignity and worth inherent in the human person. Human Rights and fundamental freedom have been reiterated by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Democracy, development and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms are inter-dependent and have mutual reinforcement. The human rights for soman, including girl child are, therefore, inalienable, integral and indivisible part of universal human rights. The full development of personality and fundamental freedoms and equal participation by women in political, social, economic and cultural life are concomitants for national developments social and family stability and growth, culturally, socially and economically. All forms of discrimination on grounds of gender is violative of fundamental freedoms and human rights. Vienna Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (for short "CEDAW") was ratified by the U.N.O. on December 18, 1979. The Government of India who was an active participant to CEDAW ratified it on June 19, 1993 and acceded to CEDAW on August 8, 1993 with reservation on Articles 5(e), 16(1), 16(2) and 29 thereof.

The Preamble of CEDAW reiterates that discrimination against women, violates the principles of equality of rights and respect for human dignity; is an obstacle to the participation on equal terms with men in the political, social, economic and cultural life of their country; hampers the growth of the personality from society and family and makes it more difficult for the full development of potentialities of women in the service of their countries and of humanity. Poverty of women is a handicap.

Establishment of new international economic order based on equality and justice will contribute significantly towards the promotion of equality between men and women etc. Article 1 defines discrimination against women to mean "any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose on impairing or nullifying the recognized enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, all human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field." Article 2(b) enjoins the State parties while condemning discrimination against women in all its forms, to pursue, by appropriate means, without delay, elimination of discrimination against women by adopting "appropriate legislative and other measures including sanctions where appropriate, prohibiting all discriminations against women" to take all appropriate measures including legislation, to modify or abolish existing laws, regulations, customs and practices which constitute discrimination against women.

Clause (C) enjoins to ensure legal protection of the rights of women on equal basis with men through constituted national tribunals and other public institutions against any act of discrimination to provide effective protection to women. Article 3 enjoins State parties that it shall take, in all fields, in particular, in the political, social, economic and cultural fields, all appropriate measures including legislation to ensure full development and advancement of women for the purpose of guaranteeing them the exercise and enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms on the basis of equality with men. Article 13 states that "the State parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in other areas of economic and social life in order to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women'. Article 14 lays emphasis to eliminate discrimination on the problems faced by rural women so as to enable them to play "in the economic survival of their families including their work in the non- monetized sectors of the economy and shall take... all appropriate measures...." Participation in and benefit from rural development in particular, shall ensure to such women the right to participate in the development programme to organize self groups and cooperatives to obtain equal access to economic opportunities through employment or self- employment etc. Article 15(2) enjoins to accord to women equality with men before the law, in particular, to administer property......." The Parliament has enacted the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993, Section 2(b) defines human rights to mean "the rights relating to life, liberty, equality and dignity of the individual guaranteed by the Constitution, embodied in the international Conventions and enforceable by courts in India". Thereby the principles embodied in CEDAW and the concomitant Right to Development became integral parts of the Indian Constitution and the Human Rights Act and became enforceable. Section 12 of Protection of Human Rights Act charges the Commission with duty for proper implementation as well as prevention of violation of the human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Article 5(a) of CEDAW to which the Government of India expressed reservation does not stand in its way and in fact Article 2(f) denudes its effect and enjoins to implement Article 2(f) read with its obligation undertaken under Articles 3, 14 and 15 of the Convention vis a-vis Articles 1, 3, 6 and 8 of the Declaration of Right to Development.

Though the directive principles and fundamental rights provide the matrix for development of human personality and elimination of discrimination, these conventions add urgency and teeth for immediate implementation. It is, therefore, imperative for the State to eliminate obstacles, prohibit all gender based discriminations as mandated by Articles 14 and 15 of the Constitution of India. By operation of Article 2(f) and other related articles of CEDAW, the State should by appropriate measures including legislation, modify law and abolish gender based discrimination in the existing laws, regulations, customs and practices which constitute discrimination against women.

Article 15(3) of the Constitution of India positively protects such Acts or actions. Article 21 of the Constitution of India reinforces "right to life". Equality dignity of person and right to development are inherent rights in every human being. Life in its expanded horizon includes all that give meaning to a person's life including cultures heritage and tradition with dignity of person. The fulfillment of that heritage in full measure would encompass the right to life. For its meaningfulness and purpose every woman is entitled to elimination of obstacles and discrimination based on gender for human development. Women are entitled to enjoy economic, social cultural and political rights without discrimination and on footing of equality. Equally, in order to effectuate fundamental duty to develop scientific temper humanism and the spirit of enquiry and to strive towards excellence in all sphere; of individual and collective activities as enjoined in Article 51A(h) and (j) of the Constitution of India, not only facilities and opportunities are to be provided for but also all forms of gender based discrimination should be eliminated. It is a mandate to the State to do these acts.

Property is one of the important endowments or natural assets to accord opportunity, source to develop personality, to be independent right to equal status and dignity of person. Therefore, the State should create conditions and facilities conducive for women to realize the right to economic development including social and cultural rights.

Bharat Ratna Dr. B.R. Ambedkar stated, on the floor of the Constituent Assembly that in future both the legislature and the executive should not pay mere lip service to the directive principles but they should be made the bastion of all executive and legislative action. Legislative and executive actions must be conformable to, and effectuation of the fundamental rights guaranteed in Part III and the directive principles enshrined in Part IV and the Preamble of the Constitution which constitute conscience of the Constitution. Covenants of the United Nation add impetus and urgency to eliminate gender based obstacles and discrimination. Legislative action should be devised suitably to constitute economic empowerment of women in socio-economic restructure for establishing egalitarian social order. Law is an instrument of social change as well as the defender for social change. Article 2(e) of CEDAW enjoins this Court to breath life into the dry bones of the Constitution, international Conventions and the Protection of Human Rights Act, to prevent gender based discrimination and to effectuate right to life including empowerment of economic, social and cultural rights.

As per the U.N. Report 1980 "woman constitute half the world population, perform nearly two thirds of work hours, receive one tenth of the world's income and own less than one hundredth per cent of world's property". Half of the Indian population too are women. Women have always been discriminated and have suffered and are suffering discrimination in silence. Self-sacrifice and self-denial are their nobility and fortitude and yet they have been subjected to all inequities, indignities, inequality and discrimination. Articles 13, 14, 15 and 16 of the Constitution of India and other related articles prohibit discrimination on the ground of sex. Social and economic democracy is the cornerstone for success of political democracy. The Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and women, from time immemorial, suffered discrimination and social inequalities and made them to accept their ascribed social status. Among woman, the tribal women are the lowest of the low. It is mandatory, therefore, to render them socio- economic justice so as to ensure their dignity of person, so that they be brought into the mainstream of the national life. We are conscious that in Article 25 which defines Hindus, Scheduled Tribes were not brought within its fold to protect their customs and identity. We keep it at the back of our mind.

Agricultural land is the foundation of a sense of security and freedom from fear. Assured possession is a lasting road for development, intellectual, cultural and moral and also for peace and harmony. Agriculture is the only sources of livelihood for the tribes, apart from collection and sale of minor forest produce. Land is their most important natural asset and imperishable endowment from which the tribals derive their sustenance, social status, a permanent place of abode and work. The Scheduled Tribes predominantly live in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Bihar, Gujarat, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and North Eastern States, though they spread to other States sparsely.

The empirical study by Anthropologists and Sociologists reveals that the customary laws of the tribes are not uniform throughout Bharat. Even in respect of intestate succession, the are not uniform. Though the customs of the tribes have been elevated to the status of law, obviously recognized by the founding fathers in Article 13(3)(a) of the Constitution, yet it is essential that the customs inconsistent with or repugnant to constitutional scheme must always yield place to fundamental rights. In Sant Ram v.

Labh Singh, [(1965) 7 SCR 756]. this Court held that the custom as such is effected by part III dealing with fundamental rights In Bahu Ram v. Baijnath Singh [1962 Supp.

(3) SCR 724],it was held that law of pre-emption based on vicinage is void. In G. Dasaratha Rama Rao v. State of A.P.

[(1961) 2 SCR 931], this Court held that discrimination based on the ground of descent only offends Article 16(2) In India agricultural land forms the bulk of the property. In most of the tenancy laws, women have been denied the right to succession to agricultural lands. The discernible reason in support thereof appears to be to maintain unity of the family and to prevent fragmentation of agricultural holdings or diversion of tenancy right. In Atam Prakash v. State of Haryana, [(1986) 2 SCC 249], testing the validity of Section 15 of the Punjab Pre-emption Act 1930, for the aforesaid reasons this Court held that the right of pre-emption based on consanguinity is a relic of the feudal past. It is totally inconsistent with the constitutional scheme. It is inconsistent with modern ideas. The reasons which justified its recognition, quarter of a century ago, namely, the preservation of the integrity of rural society, the unity of family life and the agnatic theory of succession, are today irrelevant. Classification on the basis of unity and integrity of either the village community or the family or on the basis of the agnatic theory of succession, cannot be upheld. Due to march of history, the tribal loyalties have disappeared and family ties have been weakened or broken and the traditional rural family oriented society is permissible. Accordingly Section 15(1), clauses (1) to (3), violates fundamental rights and were declared ultra vires.

When male member has the right to seek partition and at his behest, fragmentation of family holding is effected, why not the right to inheritance/succession be given to a female? On agnatic theory, she gets a shadow, but not substance. Right to equality and social justice in an illusion. The denial is absolutely inconsistent with public policy, unfair, unjust and unconscionable. The reason of fragmentation of holding or division of tenancy right would hardly be a ground to discriminate against a woman from her right to inherit the property of the parent or husband. In V. Tulasamma v. Sesha Reddy [AIR 1977 SC 1944 at 1961], this Court, cognizant to equality in intestate succession by Hindu woman, held that after the advent of independence old human values assumed new complex; women need emancipation;

new social order need to be set up giving women equality and place of honour, abolition of discrimination based on equal right to succession is the prime need of the hour and temper of the times. In Chiranjeet Lal vs. Union of India, [1950 SCR 869, this Court held that the guarantee against the denial of equal protection of the law does not mean that identically the same rule of law should be made applicable to all persons within the territory of India in spite of difference in circumstances or conditions. It means that there should be no discrimination between one person and another. It is with regard to the subject matter of the legislation. In State of West Bengal v. Anwar Ali Sarkar [1952 SCR 869], it was held that the prohibition under Article 14 is to secure all persons against arbitrary laws as well as arbitrary application of laws. It applies to procedural and substantive law. Menaka Gandhi v. Union of India [(1978) 2 SCR 621, reiterates its creed on grounds of justice, equity and fairness lest law becomes void, oppressive, unjust and unfair.

Eugine Smith in his Indian Constitution has stated that secularisation of law is essential to the emergence of modern Indian State, foundation of which stands on twin principles of democracy and secularism. He further stated that "the existence of different personal law contradicts the principles of non-discrimination by the State". Non- discrimination is based on the philosophy of the individual, not the group, as the focal point and the basic unit of the nation. The civilization, culture, custom, usage religion and law are founded upon the community life for man's well being. The man will obey the command of the community by consent. The law formulates the principles to maintain the order in the society to avoid friction. Democracy brings about bloodless revolution in the social order through rule of law. Therefore, when women are discriminated only on the ground of sex in the matter of intestate succession to the estate of the parent or husband, the basic question is whether it is founded on intelligible diffetentia and bears reasonable or rational relation or whether the discrimination is just and fair. Our answer as no and emphatically no.

In State of Bihar v. Kameswar Singh, [1952 SCR 889], this Court had held that in judging the reasonableness in imposing restrictions Court would take into consideration public purpose in Article 39. In Kasturi Devi v. State of Karnataka, [(1980) 4 SCC 1], this Court held that if law is made to further socioeconomic justice it is prima facie reasonable and in public interest. In other words, if it is in negation, it is unconstitutional. In Chandra Bhavan Boarding House v. State of Mysore, [(1970) 2 SCR 600], it was held that "the mandate of the Constitution is to build a welfare society and aspirations aroused by the Constitution will be belied if the minimum needs of the lowest of our citizen are not met. In Narendar Prasad v. State Of Gujarat (1975) 2 SCR 317], it was held that no right in an organised society can be absolute. Enjoyment of one's rights must be consistent with the enjoyment of the rights of others. In a free play of social forces, it is not possible to bring about a voluntary harmony; the state has to step in to set right the imbalance and the directive principles, though not enforceable; mandate of Article 38, to restructure social and economic democracy, enjoins to eliminate obstacles and prohibit discrimination in intestate succession based on sex.

In Thota Sesharathamma v. Thota Manikyamma, [JT 1991 (3) SC 506], construing Section 14 of the Hindu Succession Act 1956 and its revolutionary effect on the right to ownership of the land by Hindu woman, this Court held that the validity of Section 14(1) drawn from the pre-existing limited estate held by a Hindu woman must be tested on the anvil of socioeconomic justice, equality of status and by overseeing whether it subserve the constitutional animation.

Article 15(3) relieves the State from the bondage of Articles 14 and 15(1) and charges it to make special provision to accord socioeconomic equality to woman.

The Hindu Succession Act revolutionised the therefore, endeavor to find out whether the disposition clauses in the instrument will elongate the animation of Section 14 and would permeate the aforestated constitutional conscience to relieve the Hindu female from the Sashtric bondage of limited estate. Articles 14, 15 and 16 frowns upon discrimination on any ground and enjoin the State to make special provisions in favour of the woman to remedy past injustice and to advance their socioeconomic and political status. Economic necessity is not a sanctuary to abuse woman's person. Section 14, therefore, gives to every Hindu woman full ownership-of the property irrespective of the time when the acquisition was made, namely, whether it was before or after the Act had come into force, provided, she was in possession of the property. Discrimination on the ground of sex in matter of public employment was buried fathom deep and is now a relic of the past by decisions of this court. In C.B. Methama v. Union of India, [(1980) 1 SCR 668], Air India v. Nagesh Mirza, [(1982) 1 SCR 438], and a host of other decisions are in that path, True that clauses (h) and (j) of para 3 of Schedule 6 of the Constitution give power to District or Regional Councils in North Eastern States to alter law relating to inheritance and customs;

they too are bound by the law declared under article 141 of the Constitution to be consistent with Articles 15(3), 14 and Preamble of the Constitution.

The public policy and constitutional philosophy envisaged under Articles 38, 39, 46 and 15(1) & (3) and 14 is to accord social and economic democracy to women as assured in the preamble of the Constitution They constitute core foundation for economic empowerment and social justice to women for stability of political democracy. In other words, they frown upon gender discrimination and aim at elimination of obstacles to enjoy social, economic, political and Cultural rights on equal footing. Law is a living organism and its utility depends on its vitality and ability to serve as sustaining pillar of society. contours of law in evolving society must constantly keep changing as civilization and culture advances. The customs and mores must undergo change with march of time, Justice to the individual is one of the highest interests of the democratic State judiciary cannot protect the interests of the common man unless it would redefine the protections of the Constitution and the common law if law is to adapt itself to the needs of the changing society, it must be flexible and adaptable.

Law is the manifestation of principles of justice, equity and good conscience. Rule of law should establish a uniform pattern for harmonious existence in a society where every individual would exercise his rights to his best advantage to achieve excellence, subject to protective discrimination. The best advantage of one person could be the worst disadvantage to another. Law steps in to iron out such creases and ensures equality of protection to individuals as well as group liberties. Man's status is a creature of substantive as well as procedural law to which legal incidents would attach. Justice, equality and fraternity are trinity for social and economic equality.

therefore, law is the foundation on which the potential of the society stands. In Sheikriyammada Nalla Koya v.

Administrator, Union Territory of Laccadives, [AIR 1967 Kerala 259], K.K. Methew. J., as he then was, held that customs which are immoral are opposed to public policy, can neither be recognized nor be enforced. Its angulation and perspectives were stated by the learned judge thus:

"It is admitted that the custom must not be unreasonable or opposed to public policy. But the question is unreasonable to whom? Is a custom which appears unreasonable to the Judge be adjudged so or should he be guided by the prevailing public opinion of the community in the place where the custom prevails? It has been said that the Judge should not consult his own standards or predilections but those of the dominant opinion at the given moment, and that in arriving at the decisions the Judge should consider the social consequences of the custom especially in the light of the factual evidence available as to its probable consequences. A judge may not set himself in opposition to a custom which is fully accepted by the community.

But I think, that the Judge should not follow merely the mass opinion when it is clearly in error, but on the contrary he should direct it, not by laying down his own personal and isolated conceptions but by resting upon the opinion of the healthy elements of the population, whose guardians of an ancient tradition, which has proved itself and which serves to inspire not only those of a conservative spirit but also those who desire in a loyal and disinterested spirit to make radical alterations to the organizations of existing society.

Thus, the judge is not bound to heed even to the clearly held opinion of the greater majority of the community if he is satisfied that that opinion is abhorrent to right thinking people. In other words, the judge would consult not his personal inclinations but the sense and needs and the mores of the community in a spirit of impartiality." As in other parts of the country, in Bihar, most of the tribes like Munda, Oraom and Ho practised shifting cultivation along with the settled cultivation as it has not been popular with the tribe to combine various modern productive technology. But, by passage of time, when the land has become scarce, they too have settled down to ploughing cultivation on fixed tenures. Due to diverse reasons which it is not necessary for the purpose of this case to elaborate, major part of the land slipped out from their holdings.

Notable researchers, who spent their valuable time living among the tribes, are W.G. Archer, Dy. Commissioner Santhal Pargana during 1939-40, Prof. Christopher Von Furer- Haimendorf, a German Sociologist appointed by Nizam of Hyderabad in 1940 who spent his life with the tribals in Nizam State in Andhra Pradesh as well as Arunanchal Pradesh.

Portrayed life style and customs operating among the Tribals, Haimendorf says in his "Tribes in India, the Struggle for Survival" that Chenchoo women, tribals in Andhra Pradesh, enjoy equal status with men. They can own property, but they can not inherit any substantial property.

They abide by the decision of their husbands. they are equal companions with men doing as much. if not more, of the work in maintaining the common household. She and her husband, are joint possessors of the family property insofar as it is acquired by the daily labour. In South India, in particular Andhra Pradesh, after the grant of ryotwari pattas to the tillers of the soil including the tribes, they acquire permanent right to fixed land holdings and there does not exist any discrimination in matter of intestate succession between man and woman. Issues in Tribal Development by Prof P. Ramaiah of Kakatiya University, Andhra Pradesh at. page 9 it dated that "hereditary rights rule the property distribution arrangement, It a man dies his wife and sons get equal share of property. Widow gets her husband's share form the property". At page 14 he has further stated, "land is part of his spiritual as well as economic heritage".

Dr L.P. Vidyarthi in his Tribal Development Act and Its Administration, published by Concept Publishing Co., (1986 Edn.), has stated at page 310 that the element of certainty and definiteness of custom in the tribal society is lacking because of divergent customs on the same issue adopted by different sections of the tribes. The element of antiquity is also of little aid in that behalf. In Tribal Society, custom is generally product of dominating mind, nurtured in the belief of super-natural forces and taboos than a source of spontaneous growth. It is mostly based upon the totem and taboos evolved in a particular family having the force of the family law. The custom in the tribal society is much influenced by the instinct of possessive authority and not on the basis of sociological origin but it has been carried, generation after generation, as being the family law. No scientific explanations are available, but if the custom is examined in detail it is found deep rooted on the element of totem and taboos. That is the reason that majority of the customs prevailing in the tribal society could not attain the status of law and there is no legal validity except in the cases of inheritance and some family laws like adoption and marriage. If the working and life of the tribal societies is minutely observed, it will be found that from morning till night, with the birth of a baby till death, agricultural operations are the sole occupation for livelihood; all are tagged, linked and based upon certain conduct and behaviour reflecting, nearly custom and it may be said that entire tribal society is based upon the rigid rules of custom and any society still untouched by the influence of urbanisation exists in the phenomenon of religion mixed with magic custom.

Archer in his "Tribal Law and Justice - The Santhal View of Woman" has stated in 1939-40 that the unmarried daughter has ordinarily no right at all in land. She cannot ask for partition and if her brothers separate, some land may be kept by her father or brother for financing her marriage and maintaining her, but that is to fulfill their duties towards her and does not confer upon her any rights.

At the partition, she is given no share. She has a right to maintenance. If her father or brothers or father's agnates are against discharging their duties, she can claim enough land for keeping her till marriage. She can acquire the land of her own which is her absolute property. If her father dies leaving no other heirs or agnates, she will get his land until she is married. If she is married, her sisters will share equally with her. If she has no sisters, the property goes to the village community. With regard to married daughters, he stated, that two to three bighas of land would be given as Stridhan" at the time af marriage" In respect of that property, right of the fathers brother or agnates are extinguished. The property given is her absolute property. Her children inherit her property. In their absence, it passes on to the father, brother, mother or her male agnates. With regard to the right of married woman, at page 156, he has stated that at partition the wife and children get one share and the husband gets one share. He has given instances of one Safal Hansdeak of Tharia. With regard to the right of the widow, she is like a Hindu widow having right to maintenance. If her husband died while he was joint holder with his brothers she will continue to live in the family and the situation will not differ materially from what it was in her husband's lifetime. Her right to maintenance will continue and if her husband's family neglects her without cause, she can demand sufficient land to keep herself, If there is a complete family partition the widow and her children will get the share which would have gone to her husband had he been alive. She gets life estate like Hindu widow's estate, "The Madras and their Courts" by Sarad Chandra Roy, 14th Ed. at p.244 to 451 (19159. The Origins of Chotanagpur by Sarad Chandra Roy at p. 369 to 370 (1915 Ed.) dealt with inheritance on the same lines, So they need no reiteration.

In Doman Sahu v. Buka, [AIR 1931 Patna 198], though Mundas and Mundari women in Ranchi District are akin to other tribals, since they regard themselves as Hindus, It was held that Hindu law of succession would apply to them.

In Ganesh Matho v. Shib Charan, [AIR 1931 Patna 305],, Kurmi Mahtons of Chota Nagpur adopted Hindu religion. The Division Bench held that it must be presumed that ordinarily they are governed by Hindu law in matters of inheritance and succession except insofar as parties prove any custom obtaining among them which is at variance with it. It was held that Mitakshara Hindu law of succession was applicable to them. They did not prove any special custom alleged them.

In "Law Enforcement in Tribal Areas" by S.K. Ghosh, Director, Law Institute, Calcutta, published by Ashish Publishing House at page 89 it is stated that though the Hindu Succession Act 1956 Hindu marriage Act 1954, Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act 1956 did not apply, because of their contracts with other advanced societies some changes have taken place among tribes in the observance of marriage, divorce, etc. In the event of any litigation, the tribal courts are unable to reach a definite conclusion as these customary codes as they are unwritten code. Therefore, it was recommend that a proper study of customary codes of the tribals should be made and the same may be codified properly. " "Some State governments have already taken action to codify the personal laws of important tribal groups. These laws can be gradually dispensed with or repealed when the tribals are fully assimilated with the main body of our national community" at pages 90-91 he explained the customs among the hills living in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan who constitute largest tribal group in the country of a marriage by elopement or capture or by arrangement. They are vary truthful people and they do not hesitate to speak against the culprits, though they may happen to be kith and kin.

The Garos, the Khasis and the Jhintias are the main inhabitants of Meghalya State. They observe monogamy. The daughter (Nokma Dongipa Hechik) descendant from the ancestor is chosen for marriage for common ancestors. The husband goes and lives with the wife which in Hindu law known as Illatom son-in-law. The custom is that the senior- most household of the area maintains a line of inheritance from the mother to the chosen daughter and the husband of the inheritress mother, popularly known as Nokma is accepted as the constitutional head of the A'Khing. The lands are held in common ownership of the machong, the usufruct rights are granted to all the residents of the A'Khing. Mikirs, a populous tribe in Meghalaya is patrilineal. The sons inherit property and it is divided among them. In the absence of male heirs, the nearest agnate inherits that land. The daughters have been excluded. In the absence of sons and brothers, the widow retains the property provided she marries one of her husband's clan. The Gonds in Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Orissa observe monogamy. At page 139, he has stated that the custom is heritable and transferable and right of inheritance is patrilineal. The male heirs would succeed and the females are completely excluded. The sons take equal shares, but among the Apa Tanis and the Nactes, the system of primogeniture prevails, i.e. the eldest son only inherits the father's landed property which has been softened among Apa Tanis. In Manipur, the custom among Thandon Kukis is that the property is of the Chief of the village. The practice is of shifting cultivation and the Chief distributes the plots among the groups. The system of inheritance among the Naga group is that at the death of the last owner, the succession is by patrilineal and the rules of primogeniture prevails among them. The practice is that during his life-time the father gives some land to the younger brother as well.

In a report on Codification of Customary Laws and Inheritance Laws in the Tribal Societies of Orissa by Dr.

Bhupinder Singh and Dr. Neeti Mahanti of Jigyansu Tribal Research Centre, sponsored by the Ministry of Welfare, Government of India and submitted on May 19, 1993, it is stated at page 1 in last paragraph of his preface that to reduce tribal customary laws into formal, technical, straight-jacket frame is likely to rob it of its vitality and strength. It will expose the innocent, gullible tribals to the machinations of touts, middle-men etc. The customs which differ, in whatever magnitude, from one community to other would help exploitation of the tribals by application of the traditional law. Its relevance, freshness and vitality to a considerable extent, would get weakened. Whims and fancies in dispensation of justice would be avoided.

They concluded that "we must proceed deliberately and wirely." In Chapter III at page 8 it is stated thus:

"Customary law refers to rules that are transmitted from generation to generation through social inheritance. In a close-knit simple tribal society, the people themselves want to live according to customs backed by social sanctions; to save them from objection and social ridicule of the society." At page 9, it is stated that "the major areas of interest for a tribal community is inheritance of land, forest rights and social customs like marriage, divorce, desertion, child support, death, birth etc." Santhals, one of the largest tribes of India spread over West Bengal, Orissa, Bihar and parts of Assam and Tripura. It is observed at page 30 on the "Chapter Succession to Proeprty" that the succession is in favour of the son, in his absence to the daughter, in their absence to the relative. Even among Santhals, it is not strictly patrileneal. If they have no son, succession is open to the daughter and if they have neither son nor daughter then to the relative of the family.

Some people among them preferred succession among son and daughter equally. On husband's demise. the widow gets a share in the property, as life-estate. In their conclusion at page 37, they have stated that the Santhals and Saora tribals practice patrilineal is a mode of succession. At pages 38-43, after detailed discussion it is stated that though there is considerable "on-going acculturation process", the tribes have not completely discarded the customs. At page 45, it was mentioned that though Santhal society is predominantly patrilineal, they do not strictly adhere to it. The inheritance in favour of the daughter has been softened but Soara society is conservative and less exposed to winds of change. They preferred sons to daughters only if there is no son in the family and other relatives of the family. However, the widow inherits the estate of her husband. The working group of the 7th Five Year Plan on the tribal development recommended codification of customary laws prevalent among the tribals in its report at pages 323- 24 of the Planning Commission documents. Dr. B.L. Maharde, a bureaucrat of Rajasthan Civil Services, in his "History and Culture of Girjans" in the State of Rajasthan, narrated the practices of tribals at page 84 stating that the property after the death of the father is equally divided among the sons by the village elders of Panchayat and in case of dispute. by the private Panchayat. The youngest son, since he lives with his father, is entitled to have an extra share. The grandson of his pre-deceased son is entitled to an equal share. Daughters are not entitled to inherit their fathers' property, but they can share the animal wealth. The son-in-law is entitled to equal share. The widow has right to property which she loses on her remarriage. We do not get any material as regards succession among the tribals in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat and in view of the general trend we assume that in those States also partilineal succession would be in vogue.

It would thus be seen that the customs among the Scheduled Tribes, vary from tribe to tribe and region to region, based upon the established practice prevailing in the respective regions and among particular tribes.

Therefore, it would be difficult to decide, without acceptable material among each tribe, whether customary succession is valid, certain ancient and consistent and whether it has acquired the status of law. However, as noticed above, Customs are prevalent and being followed among the tribes in matters of succession and inheritance apart from other customs like marriage, divorce etc. Cus- toms became part or the tribal laws as a guide to their attitude and practice in their social life and not a final definition of law. They are accepted as set of principles and are being applied when succession is open. They have accordingly nearly occurred the status of law. Except in Meghalaya, throughout the country patrilineal succession is being followed according to the unwritten code of customs.

Like in Hindu law, they prefer son to the daughter and in his absence daughter succeeds to the estate as limited owner. Widow also gets only limited estate. More than 80 per cent of the population is still below poverty line and they did not come at par with civilized sections of the non- tribals. Under these circumstances, it is not desirable to grant general declaration that the custom of inheritance offends Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the Constitution. Each case must be examined and decided as and when full facts are placed before the Court.

Section 2(2) of the Hindu Succession Act, similar to Hindu Marriage Act, Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, excludes applicability of customs to the Scheduled Tribes as defined by clause (25) of Article 366 of the Constitution unless the Central Government, by notification in the official Gazette otherwise directs. Explanation 11 to Article 25 does not include them as Hindus. The Chotanagpur Tenancy Act and the Santhal Parganas Tenancy (Supplementary Provisions) Act, 1949, the Bihar Scheduled Areas Regulation, 1969 intend to protect the lands of the tribals and their restoration to them Section 7 and 8 of the Act regulates the right of Khuntketti Raiyats. By operation of customary inheritance, the son and lineal descendants inherit the lands held by the tribes for the purpose of cultivation by himself or male members of his family. Section 76 read with Section 6 gives effect to custom, usage or customary right provided thereunder not inconsistent with or not necessarily modified or abolished by the provisions of the Act. The law exists to serve the needs of the society which is governed by it. If the law is to play its allotted role of serving the needs of the society, it must reflect the ideas and ideologies of that society. As stated earlier, it must keep pace with march of time with the heart beats of the society and with the needs and aspirations of the people. As seen, even among the tribals in Bihar, the customs have now undergone advancement. They prefer both son and daughter alike though not uniformly. Succession is patrilineal;

Santhals practically adapted the Mitakshara Hindu law of succession. The Hindu Succession Act modified the pre- existing law and intestate succession gives right of succession to Hindu female. Section 14(1) has enlarged limited estate known to Sastric law into absolute right of property held by a Hindu female. In the Law of Intestate and Testamentary Succession, (1991 Ed.) at page 21, Prof. Diwan has stated that Section 2(2) does not mean that Scheduled Tribes which were, prior to the codified Hindu law governed by Hindu law will not, now be governed by the Hindu law. If before codification any Scheduled Tribe was governed by Hindu law it will continue to be governed by it. However, it would be uncodified Hindu law that would apply to them. It is settled law that the procedural or substantive law which offend the fundamental right are void. Section 7 and 8 of the Act exclude woman tribals from inheritance to the Khuntkutti raiyati rights solely on the basis of sex and confine succession and inheritance among male descendants only In Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India [(1978) 2 SCR 621], this Court held that reasonableness is an essential element of equality; non-arbitrariness pervades Article 14. The Court must consider the direct and inevitable effect of the action in adjudging whether the State action offends the fundamental right of the individual. This Court sustained the validity of Passport Act by reading down the statutory provisions. Justice, equity and good conscience are integral part of equality under Article 14 of the Constitution which is the genus and Article 15 is its specie. In Harbans Singh v. Guranchatta Singh [(1991) 1 SCR 614)], this Court held that though the Transfer of Property Act did not t apply to the State of Punjab at the relevant time, the general principles contained therein being consistent with justice, equity and good conscience would apply.

Under the General Clauses Act, male includes female. In Jitmohan Singh Munda v. Ramratan singh [1958 Bihar law Journal Report 373], interpreting Mundari Khunt Kattidari widow's right to remain in possession of Mundari Khunt Kattidari tenancy, after the death of her husband, the Bihar High Court held that the widow would have life estate in tenancy rights as they have adopted Hindu law of succession. There is no reference whatsoever to the exclusion of the widow of the particular Mundari.

Therefore, in respect of Khunt Kattidari tenancy, the widow would be entitled to possession and Section a is not inconsistent with that position. In Jani Bai v. State of Rajasthan [AIR 1989 RAJ. 115], interpreting Rajasthan Colonisation Act, 1954, the Division Bench held that male descendants would include female descendants and the adult son and the daughter should be treated alike both being equally eligible for allotment under the rules under that Act. By operation of Section 13(1) of General Clauses Act, males includes females, of course, subject to statutory scheme which by now is subject to the Constitution. In Sections 7 and 8 of the Act if the words "male descendants" are read to include female descendants, the daughter, married or unmarried and the widow are entitled to succeed to the estate of the father, husband or son. Scheduled ribes are as much citizens as others and are entitled to equality. Sections 7 and 8 are accordingly read down and so on that premise are valid.

The question then is whether the interpretation is consistent with Sub-s.(2) of Section 4 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956? Entry 7 of list III of Seventh Schedule to the Government of India Act 1935 provided "Wills, intestacy and succession save as regards agricultural land." Entry 5 of the Concurrent List in the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution omitted the words "save as regards agricultural lands' and provided merely "intestacy and succession; joint family and partition". In Basavant Gouda v. Smt. Channabasawwa [AIR 1971 Mysore 151], division Bench of Mysore High Court in paragraph 11 had held that Entry 5 of the Concurrent List of the Seventh Schedule would apply to succession of agricultural lands under Hindu Succession Act. It followed the judgment of Amar Singh v.

Baldev Singh [ AIR 1960 Punjab 666] (Full Bench) in its support. The same view was taken by a Division Bench of the Orissa High Court, in a judgment rendered by B. Jagannadha Das, J., as he then was, in Laxmi Debi v. S.K. Panda [AIR 1957 Orissa 1].

In Gopi Chand v. Bhagwani Devi [AIR 1964 Punjab 272], a Division Bench of Punjab High Court had held that Sub-s.(2) of Section 4 of Hindu Succession Act does not apply to the Delhi Land Reforms Act conferring permanent tenancy rights of Bhumidar or asami, laid down in Section 50 of that Act.

If it is otherwise, it would be inconsistent with Section 4(1) of the Hindu Succession Act and would be void. In Phulmani Dibya v. State of Orissa [AIR 1974 Orissa 135] a Full Bench has held that exclusion of woman from succession to any Brahmottar grant discriminates against woman under Article 15 on ground of sex and that, therefore, become said offending Article 15(1). In Tokha v. Smt. Samman, [AIR 1977 Punjab and Haryana 406] a single Judge of that. Court held that the occupancy rights held by a limited owner (widow) before the Hindu Succession Act had come into force, enlarged as absolute property under the Punjab Occupancy Tenants (Vesting of Proprietary Rights) Act and thereby she become an absolute owner and was entitled to gift over that land as to absolute owner which was upheld.

In Mayne's Hindu Law and Usage (13th Ed.), revised by Justice A. Kuppuswami, commenting on Sub-section (2) of Section 4 of Hindu Succession Act, in paragraph 17 at page 960, it is observed that the legislature can always provide that the devolution of tenancy rights shall be dependent upon personal law, i.e.., Hindu Succession Act. The legislature can also lay down that in certain circumstances there would be one kind of succession and in different circumstances the holding shall devolve on different persons. Devolution in the case of a Bhumidari under the Uttar Pradesh Zamindari Abolition and Land Reforms Act, 1950, is not affected by Section 14 of the Hindu Succession Act as tenures created by the Uttar Pradesh did not create proprietary interest but only tenancy right. In Bajaya v.

Gopikabai [(1978) 2 SCC 542], a Bench of three Judges of this Court held that Bhumiswami and Bhumidari rights are two classes of tenure-holders of lands paying land revenue to the State and are governed by the provisions of the Hindu Succession Act. The tenancy rights having been separately dealt with by the Madhya Pradesh Land Revenue Code, the devolution of the rights of an ordinary tenancy and an occupancy tenant are in accordance with the personal law of the deceased tenant.

Sub-s.2 of Section 4 of the Hindu Succession Act, to remove any doubts, has declared that the Act shall not be deemed to affect the provisions of any law in force providing for (i) preventions of fragmentation of agricultural holdings; (ii) for the fixation of ceiling; and (iii) for the devolution of tenancy rights in respect of such holdings. It is the policy of the legislature that with a view to distribute the surplus land ceiling on agricultural land has been prescribed so that the surplus land would be distributed to the landless persons etc.

Therefore, the operation of such law was excluded from the purview of the Hindu Succession Act. This Court in Smt.

Soorja v. SDO, Rehli, Civil Appeal No.1180/84 decided on November 22, 1994, has upheld the ceiling law and held that married daughters are not entitled to intestate succession of the father nor a separate holding since the definition of "family" did not include married daughter. The devolution of the tenancy rights are governed by Entry 18 to the List II of the Seventh Schedule. Therefore, the Hindu Succession Act to that extent stands excluded. As regards the prevention of fragmentation of agricultural land, it is already held that if at the instance of sons the agricultural lands are divisible and each son is entitled to hold and enjoy his share separately daughters also would be entitled to a separate share at a partition and enjoyment therein. The fragmentation in that behalf, therefore, should not stand an impediment to the daughter's claiming an intestate succession and to claim a share in the agricultural lands.

The Hindu Succession Act regulates succession of agricultural land and the word 'property' in Sections 6 to 8, 14 and 15 and other sections in that Act would include agricultural land, Thus considered the operation of Sub- s.(1) of Section 4 will have an overriding effect for Hindu female claiming parity with Hindu male for succession to the agricultural lands held by the father, mother, etc. and sub- s.(2) does not stand an impediment for such a right of devolution.

The reason assigned by the State level committee is that permitting succession to the female would fragment the holding and in the case of inter-caste marriage or marriage outside the tribe, the non-tribals or outsiders would enter into their community to take away their lands. There is no prohibition for a son to claim partition and to take his share of the property at the partition. If fragmentation at his instance is permissible under law, why the daughter/widow is denied inheritance and succession on par with son? In Kerala State, the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 was modified in relation to its application to the State of Kerala, by amendment of Devasthanam Properties (Admission of Temporary Management and Control and Hindu Succession) (Amendment) Act, 1958 and of the (Kullaiamma Thumporan Korilakam Society Partition) Act, 1961. Kerala Hindu Joint Family Abolition Act, 1975 brought about change bringing female into the fold for succession per capita. Equally, the Hindu Succession (A.P. Amendment) Act 13 of 1986, the Andhra Pradesh Legislature took lead and amended Section 6 of the Parent Hindu Succession Act and Section 29A conferred on the unmarried daughter the status of co-parcener by birth and has given her right to claim partition and equal share along with the sons. In the event of sale by the daughter of the property obtained at the petition Section, 29C gives right to male heirs to purchase the property on payment of the consideration. In the event of disagreement on the consideration the Court having the jurisdiction is given power to determine such consideration. In the event of non- payment by male heirs, the right has been given to the female heir to sell the Property to outsiders. Karnataka and Maharashtra legislatures have followed the suit and suitably amended the Hindu Succession Act, 1950.

Throughout the country, the respective State laws prohibit sale of all lands in tribal areas to non-tribals, restoration thereof to the tribals in case of violation of law and permission of the competent authority for alienation is a must and mandatory and non-compliance renders the sale void. The Acts referred to hereinbefore prevailing in Bihar State expressly prohibit the sale of the lands by the tribals to the non-tribals and also direct resturation or recompensation by equivalent lands to the tribals.

Therefore, if the female heirs intend to alienate their lands to non-tribals, the Acts would operate as a check on their action. In the event of any need for alienation, by a tribal female, it would be only subject to the operation of these laws and the first offer should be given to the brothers or agnates. In the event of their refusal or unwillingness sale would be made to other tribals. In the event of a disagreement on consideration, the civil court of original jurisdiction should determine the same which would be binding in the partition. In the event of their unwillingness to purchase the same, subject to the permission of the competent officer, female tribal may sell the land to tribals or non-tribals. Therefore, the apprehension expressed by the State-level committee is unfounded.

The Christians in India are governed by the Indian Succession Act, 1925. It is stated that by operation of Section 1 notification issued under the Government of India Act of 1935, the operation thereof stood excluded to the tribal Christians residing in the State of Bihar. There is no such prohibition in other States. Even otherwise, though the principles of Indian Succession Act are strictly inapplicable, the general principles therein being consistent with justice, equity and good conscience should equally be applicable to the tribal Christians of the Bihar State.

I would hold that the provisions of Hindu Succession Act, 1956 and the Indian Succession Act, 1925 though in terms, would not apply to the Scheduled Tribes, the general principles contained therein being consistent with justice equity, fairness, justness and good conscience would apply to them. Accordingly I hold that the Scheduled Tribe women succeed to the estate of their parent, brother, husband, as heirs by intestate succession and inherit the property with equal share with male heir with absolute rights as per the general principles of Hindu Succession Act, 1956, as amended and interpreted by this Court and equally of the Indian Succession Act to tribal Christian. However, the right of alienation will be subject to the relevant provisions like the Act, the Bihar Scheduled Areas Regulation 1969, Santhals tAmendmet) Act, 1958, Santhal Pargaras tenancy (Supplementary Provisions) Act, 1949 as amended from time to time etc. They would be applicable to them and subject to the conditions mentioned therein. In case the tribal woman intends to alienate the land, subject to obtaining appropriate permission from the competent authority under the appropriate Act, she should first offer the land for sale to the brother or in his absence to any male lenial descendant of the family and the sale will be in terms of mutually agreed consideration and other terms etc. In case of any disagreement on consideration, the consideration shall be determined on an application filed by either party before the competent civil court of original jurisdiction over the area in which the land is situated and the decision of the civil court after adduction of evidence and consideration thereof, shall be final and binding on the parties. In case the brother or lenial descendant is not willing to purchase either by mutual agreement or as per the price settled by the civil court, the female tribal woman shall be entitled to alienate the land to the non-tribal but subject to the provisions of the appropriate Act.

The writ petitions are accordingly allowed and rule nisi is made absolute. The interim direction given for the protection of the petitioner Nos.2 and 3 in the first writ petition would continue until they voluntarily seek its withdrawal or modification in writing made to the District Superintendent of Police and an order in that behalf is passed and communicated to them.

In the circumstances, parties are directed to bear their own costs.


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