Widow’s Right to Disposition of Property under Hindu Law

(ii) For religious purposes.

Limited owner could not alienate the movable or immovable property by will.

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Legal Necessity:

A widow can dispose of the property acquired from her husband for necessity; however the necessity may be religious or wordly. However her right is wider with respect to religious purposes than the worldly purposes. She had to prove the necessity for worldly purposes with strict proofs and force. She can dispose of the property for wordly necessities in the same manner and circumstances as it is done by the managers of minor’s property or by Karta.

The most important feature of the disposition is the necessity and benefit. Hence any disposition shall be valid if it falls within the ambit of reasonable necessity. Any disposition shall continue to be valid, if once the legal necessity has been established by the benefactory of the property and this fact will have no relevance that the necessity arose due to the bad condition of the widow.

Following purposes fall under the ambit of religious purposes:—

(1) The performance of the obsequial ceremonies of the deceased owner and payment of his debts.

(2) Performance of such religious ceremonies which were supported to conduce the spiritual benefit and welfare of the deceased and others.

(3) Journey to Gaya for the obsequial ceremonies of the deceased husband.

(4) Pilgrimage (teerth yatra) to setubandh.

(5) Dinner at Gaya, gifts to Pujari there, and gift to the pirohit of the family.

(6) Obsequial gift at the time of immoral acts, gifts for Ponds or for construction of the temples.

The Supreme Court in the case of Kanila Devi v. Baccholal Gupta, observed that “one of the principles which clearly emerge from the decisions on the subject was that a Hindu widow in possession of the estate of her deceased husband can make an alienation for religious acts which are not essential or obligatory but are still pious observances which conduce to the bliss of the deceased husband’s soul. In the case of essential or obligatory acts, if the income of the property or property itself not sufficient to cover the expenses, she is entitled to sell whole of it, but for the acts which are pious and which conduce to the bliss of deceased husband’s soul, she can alienate reasonable portions of the property.”

Effects of alienation made without legal necessity and without the consent of reversioners:

Any disposition of the property by a limited owner (widow) shall not be binding upon the next reversioner if the disposition is without the consent of reversioners or without any legal necessity. However such disposition shall not altogether be void, rather it shall be voidable at the option of the reversioners.

This option can be exercised by them either before they acquire possession or afterwards. When the reversioners consent to the alienation in totality or partially, then in absence of evidence to the contrary, such alienation shall be deemed to have been made in legal necessity and will be binding on all.

In Rangaszvami case the Privy Council has held that when the alienation is supported by partial or total necessity, in that case if necessity is not proved in itself and it is not shown that the alienee purchased it with bona fide knowledge of such necessity, the alienation would not be binding upon the reversioners.

The Supreme Court too has held in Sebbu Chettes Family v. Raghava Mudaliyar, that if a presumptive reversioner is a party to an arrangement called a family arrangement and takes benefit under it, he would be precluded from disputing the validity of the said arrangement when reversion falls open and he becomes the actual reversioner.

The doctrine of ratification may also be invoked against a presumptive reversioner who, though not a party to the transaction, subsequently ratifies with full knowledge of his rights by assenting to it and taking benefit under it. The mere receipt of benefit under an arrangement by which a Hindu widow alienates the property of deceased husband would not however, preclude a presumptive reversioner from disputing the validity of the said alienation.

Following observations also have been made by the Supreme Court in Radha Rani v. Íànuman Pd., in this context—

“In the case of an alienation by a Hindu widow without legal necessity, the reversioners are not bound to institute a declaration suit during the lifetime of widow. They can sue after her death (the alienee) for possession of the alienated property treating the alienation as nullity without the court’s intervention, In the case of the death of the widow during the pendency of the declaratory suit; her heirs are not necessary parties to the suit”.

Since the reversioners are not entitled to the possession at the time of the suit, the next reversioners are entitled to sue for a bare declaration and thus Section 42 of the Specific Relief Act shall not be applicable. Hence the views expressed in Íànuman Pd. v. Indrawale case are no longer a good law.