Does the Hindi Succes­sion Act abolish Hindu woman’s limited estate and confer on her absolute property right?

Explanation (1):

In this sub-section, “property” includes both movable and immovable property acquired by a female Hindu by inheritance or devise, or at a partition or in lieu of mainte­nance of arrears of maintenance, or by gift from any person

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Whether a relative or not, before, at or after marriage, or by her own skill or exertion, or by purchase or by prescription, or in any other manner whatsoever, and also any such property held by her as stridhan immediately before the commencement of this Act.

(2) Nothing contained in sub-section (1) shall apply to any property acquired by way of gift or under a will or any other instrument or under a decree or order of Civil Court or under an award where the terms of the gift, will or other instrument or the decree, order or award prescribe a restricted estate in such prop­erty.”

The provisions of this section evolve a new conception about a property held by a female. Under the textual Hindu Law as inter­preted by various judicial decisions prior to the commencement of this Act, female property consisted of property received by her by way of gift from her relatives at any time and from strangers before the nuptial fire and at the bridal procession technically called stridhan as distinguished from one received by her from strangers after the marriage or acquired by her by mechanical arts or by inheritance or by partition in the family.

While she had absolute control over the former type of property, she had only life interest in the latter with limited right to alienate even though in her life-time, she otherwise enjoyed it as an owner.

The rever­sioners having contingent interest in the property, in order to protect it from unauthorised alienation and other acts of waste by a limited owner could sue the latter for an injunction restraining her from doing so. There were other minor differences also among the different schools of Hindu Law relating to the female’s right of disposal over such property.

Section 14 has been given retrospective effect, it converts existing woman’s estate into Stridhan or absolute estate pro­vided the following two conditions are fulfilled:

(a) Ownership of the property must vest in her, and

(b) She must be in possession of the estate when the Act came into existence. [See Deen Dayal v. Raja Ram, A.I.R. 1970 SC 1019].

In Sumeshwar v. Swami (AIR 1970 Pat. 348) explaining the distinction between sub-section (1) and sub-section (2) of Sec. 14, it was held:

“If the acquisition of the property by a female Hindu can be related to her antecedent right or interest in the property, such an acquisition, although as a limited owner or an acquisition of prop­erty in a limited sense, will confer absolute ownership on the widow,, on and from the day of coming into force of the Act.

If, however, acquisition of property cannot have any connection or relation to any of antecedent right of interest in the property of the female Hindu, and the acquisition is conditioned by a restric­tive clause, she will not become absolute owner but will be gov­erned by the restrictive clauses mentioned in the gift, will, instru­ment, decree or order of a civil court or an award.” In Badri v. Kanso, AIR 1970 SC 1963, the Supreme Court also took similar view.

In Bai Vajia v. Thakarbhai, A.I.R. 1979, SC 993, it has been observed that the widow’s right to maintenance though net an indefeasible right to property, is undoubtedly a “pre-existing” right It is true that a widow’s claim for maintenance does not open into a full-fledged right to property, but nevertheless it is undoubtedly a right which in certain cases can amount to a right to property where it is charged.