Krishna Biharilal Vs. Gulabchand Am
Ors  INSC 78 (16 March 1971)
REDDY, P. JAGANMOHAN
CITATION: 1971 AIR 1041 1971 SCR 27 1971 SCC
RF 1972 SC2069 (21,26) F 1976 SC 794 (16) R
1976 SC 807 (17,41) RF 1984 SC 664 (5)
Hindu Law--Widow entitled to life
estate-Entering into compromise with reversioners giving up rights over portion
of property in return for recognition of her absolute ownership of part of
property--Reversioners are estopped from challenging alienations by widow of
properties recognised as absolutely hers in compromise--'Malik Mustakal' means
absolute estate--Document must be read to give effect to plain and natural
meaning to words employed--Plea of estoppel when may be considered though not
specifically raised in pleadings.
B filed a suit for the possession of
ancestral property against the descendants of his father's brother and sister.
During the pendency of the suit B died and
his widow P was impleaded as his legal representative. Some of the defendants
also died; those who left legal representatives were substituted by them. On
June 7.1941 the parties to the suit compromised their disputes. Before
compromising the suit the parties had obtained the leave of the court as the
minor defendants had joined the compromise. Under the compromise a portion of
the suit properties was given to P and the remaining portion to the defendants
in that suit. P alienated the properties given to her under three different
sale deeds. The appellant was the alienee under all these sale deeds. The
alienations were challenged by the defendants in the earlier suit and their
descendants in three suits wherein declarations were sought that the aforesaid
alienations by P were not valid and binding on the plaintiffs who were the
presumptive reversioners to the estate of B. During the pendency of the suits P
died and thereafter the suits were contested only by the appellant as the
alienee. The trial. court dismissed two of the suits holding that in view of
the compromise in the earlier suit the parties were estopped from challenging
the validity of the sale deeds as under that compromise the estate given to P
was an absolute one. After various stages of litigation the Division Bench of
the High Court held that the compromise of 1941 was illegal and as such could
not be used to non-suit the plaintiffs. It also, held that the compromise did
not amount to a family arrangement.
HELD:(i) The ordinary rule of construction of
a document is to give effect to the normal and natural meaning of. the words
employed in the document. The compromise deed specifically said that the
properties given to P were to be enjoyed by her as 'Malik Mustakal'. These
words have been interpreted to mean an absolute estate. The circumstances in
which the compromise was entered into as well as the language used in the deed
did not in any manner go to indicate that the estate given to P was anything
other than an absolute estate. [31E-F] Dhyan Singh and Anr. v. Jugal Kishore
& Anr.,  S.C.R.
478 and Bishunath Prasad Singh v. Chandika
Prasad Kumar, 60 I.A. 56, relied on.
(ii)In holding that the compromise in
question was illegal the Division Bench overlooked the fact that this was not a
compromise entered into with third parties. It was a compromise entered into
with presumptive reversioners.
Further, since at no stage had the plaintiffs
pleaded that the compromise was illegal, the High Court was not justified in
going into the validity of the compromise. [31H-32B] 28 (iii) Even if the compromise
was illegal the parties to the compromise were estopped from challenging the
It is well settled that a Hindu widow cannot
enlarge her estate by entering into a compromise with third parties to the
prejudice of the ultimate reversioners. But the same will not be true if the
compromise is entered into with persons who ultimately become the reversioners.
P was entitled to enjoy the entire properties included in the earlier suit
during her life time; but under the compromise a fraction of those properties
was given to her absolutely.
She gave up her rights in a substantial
portion of the properties on the representation of the, defendants that she
could take a portion of the suit properties absolutely.
This was a representation of fact and not
law. [32B-33A] T.V.R. Subbu Chetty's Family Charities v. M. Raghava Mudilyarand
ors.,  3 S.C.R. 624, relied on.
When the nearest presumptive reversioners who
were parties to the compromise were estopped from challenging it, they could
not advance their case by impleading their sons who could only claim through
them, as co-plaintiffs. [33E-F] The issue whether the plaintiffs 1 & 2 were
bound by the terms of the compromise was broad enough to cover the defendant's
plea of estoppel even though it was not specifically raised in the pleadings
but considered by all the courts. [34A] (iv)The nearest reversioners who were
parties to the compromise were the grand-children of B's aunt. The parties to,
the earlier suit were near relations. The dispute, was in respect of property
originally owned by their common ancestor. To consider a settlement as a family
arrangement it is not necessary that the parties to the compromise should all
belong to one family. The courts lean strongly in favour of family arrangements
to bring about harmony in a family and do justice to its various members and
avoid in anticipation future disputes which might ruin them all.
[34B-E] Ram Charan Das v. Girjanandini Devi
and Ors.,  3 S.C.R. 841 and Sahu Madho Das and Ors. v. Pandit Mukand Ram
and Anr., relied on.
[The suits being held to be not maintainable
the Court did not consider the question whether the impugned alienations were
effected for valid necessity.]
CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION: Civil Appeals
Nos. 74 and 75 of 1967.
Appeals by special leave from the judgment
and decree dated May 3, 1966 of the Madhya Pradesh High Court in L.P.A. Nos.3
and 4 of 1964.
S.V. Gupte, Rameshwar Nath, Rajendar Nath and
Manik Chand Jain, for the appellants (in both the appeals).
S.T Desai, Motilal Gupta, B. M. Agarwal, P.
N. Tiwari, J. B. Dadachanji, O. C. Mathur and Ravinder Narain, for the
respondents (in both the appeals).
29 The Judgment of the Court was delivered by
Hegde J.-In these appeals by special leave identical questions of fact and law
arise for decision. It would be convenient to set out the material facts before
formulating the questions arising for decision. In the State of Gwalior there
was a firm known as Chhedilal Chaturbhuj. Chhedilal, the owner of the firm had
two sons and one daughter. The genealogy of the family of Chhedilal is as
|--------------------|-------------| | | | Baldy Prasad Chhaturbhuj Parvati | |
Bulak chand I Imarried to Jwalaprasad Suta Rajabett Manorthilal Mst. Pattobai
(daughter) (widow) I in 1953. Kanialal Karnimal Hiralal@ Raggamal Pannalal
alias Kannimal Harijit II Ganeshilal Lakshmichand Sarswatibai (widow) Balktshan
Krishanlal Phoolchand Poonamchand (minor) (Res. 7) (Res. 9) (Res. 8) Gulabland
Jagdish Chandra Ma Ka' a @Rambabu (Res. 2) (minor) (daughter) (Res . 1) (Res.
3)Minor, Res. 4 After the death of Chhedilal, it appears the firm in question
came into the possession of some of the children of Parvati. In 1926,
Bulakichand, grandson of Chhedilal filed a suit against Jwalaprasad (his first
cousin), Karnimal, Raggamal and Pannalal; seeking possession of the firm.
Therein he appears to have alleged that
Jwalaprasad who had a half share in the suit properties had been colluding with
the other defendants. Bulakichand died during the pendency of the suit.
Thereafter his widow Pattobai was impleaded as his legal representative. During
the pendency of the suit Jwalaprasad, Karnimal, Raggamal and Pannalal also
Neither Jwalaprasad nor Karnimal left any
Raggamal was succeeded by his son Ganeshilal
and Pannalal by his son Lakshmichand. They were duly impleaded in the suit.
On June 7, 1941, the parties to the suit
compromised their disputes. It may be noted that to that compromise the minor
sons of Lakshmichand as well as of Ganeshilal were also parties.
30 Before compromising the suit the parties
had obtained the leave of the court as the minor defendants had joined the
compromise. Under the compromise, a portion of the suit properties was given to
Pattobai and the remaining portion to the defendants in that suit. Pattobai
alienated the properties given to her under, three different sale deeds i.e.
one on July 15, 1941 and the other two on July 24, 1941. The first sale deed
was for a sum of Rs. 1,000/and the other two for Rs. 9,000/and Rs. 20,500/respectively.
The appellant is the alienee under all these
sale deeds. In 1953, Lakshmichand and his sons and Ganeshilal and his sons
instituted three suits seeking declarations that the alienations referred to
above are not valid and binding against them, the presumptive reversioners to
the estate of Bulakichand. One of those suits is still pending trial.
These appeals arise from the other two suits.
During the pendency of those suits Pattobai died. Thereafter the suits were
contested only by the appellant, the alienee (he will be hereinafter referred
to as the defendant). The trial court dismissed the two suits holding that in
view. of the compromise in the earlier suit, the parties are estopped from
challenging the validity of the sale deeds as under that compromise the estate
given to Pattobai is an absolute one. In appeal the first appellate court
confirmed the Judgment of the trial court on the ground that as the plaintiffs
had not amended the plaint seeking possession of the suit properties after the
death of Pattobai, the suits were not maintainable. On further appeals being
taken by the plaintiffs, the High Court set aside the first appellate court's
judgment. 'It came to the conclusion that the first appellate court should have
taken into consideration the change in the circumstances that had taken place
pending the trial of the suits and molded the relief according-to law.
It, accordingly remanded the cases to the
first appellate court for disposal of the same on merits. After remand the
first appellate court again affirmed the decision of the trial court on two
grounds viz. (1) that the plaintiffs were estopped from claiming any right in
the suit properties as an absolute estate had been given to Pattobai in respect
of those properties and (2) that under any circumstance the compromise in
question should be considered as a family arrangement and as such is not liable
to be reopened. This decision was affirmed by a single judgeof the High Court
in second appeal. Thereafter the plaintiffs took up the matter in appeal to the
Letters Patent Bench. The Letters Patent Bench reversed the judgment of the
courts below. It held that the compromise entered into in 1941 was an illegal
compromise and as such the same cannot be used to non-suit the plaintiffs. It
also disagreed with the conclusion of the learned single judge that the
compromise recorded amounted to a family settlement. These appeals are directed
against that judgment.
31 The first question that falls for
consideration is whether on a true construction of the compromise decree it can
be held that Pattobai had been given an absolute estate ? According to the
plaintiffs Pattobai having been impleaded to the suit as a legal representative
of her husband, in law she could not take an absolute estate; she could only
have a widow's estate and therefore in construing the compromise decree, we
must bear in mind the principles of Hindu Law and if we do so, the only
possible conclusion is that the intention of the parties was only to give her a
On the other hand it is contended on behalf
of the defendant that under law Pattobai was entitled to enjoy all the
properties included in the plaint in the earlier suit during her life time but
she agreed to give up her right in bulk of the properties in consideration of
her getting an absolute estate in a small portion of the properties involved in
that suit. It was further urged on his behalf that the compromise deed
specifically says that the properties given to Pattobai are to be enjoyed by
her as "Malik Mustikal" which means absolutely and hence there is no
basis for the contention that she took a Widow's estate.
The ordinary rule of construction of a
document is to give effect to the normal and natural meaning of the words
employed in the document. The compromise deed specifically says that the
properties given to Pattobai were to be enjoyed by her as "Malik
Mustakil". The meaning of the expression "Malik Mustakil" an
urdu word, has come up for consideration before this Court in some cases. In
Dhyan Singh and anr. v. Jugal Kishore & anr(1) this Court ruled that the,
words "Malik Mustakil" were strong, clear and unambiguous and if
those words are not qualified by other words and circumstances appearing in the
same document, the courts must hold that the estate given is an absolute one.
A similar view was taken by the Judicial
Committee in Bishunath Prasad Singh v. Chandika Prasad Kumar (2). The
circumstances under which the compromise was entered into as well as the
language used in the deed do not in any manner go to indicate that the estate
given to Pattobai was anything other than an absolute estate.
The Letters Patent Bench of the High Court
held that the compromise entered into was illegal compromise. It came to that
conclusion on the basis that a Hindu widow cannot enlarge her own rights by
entering into a compromise in a suit. But the High Court overlooked the fact
that this was not a compromise entered into with third parties. It was a
compromise entered into with the (1)  S. C. R. 478.
(2) 60 I. A. 56.
32` presumptive reversioners. Further at no
stage the plaintiffs had pleaded that the compromise entered into in 1941 was
an illegal compromise. The plaintiffs took no such plea in the plaint. There
was no issue relating to the validity 'of the compromise. Hence, the High Court
was not justified in going into the validity of the compromise.
Further even if the compromise was an invalid
one, the parties to the compromise are estopped from challenging the impugned
alienations-see Dhyan Singh's case(1).
This takes us to the question of estoppel. As
seen earlier, the trial court, the first appellate court as well as the learned
single judge of the High Court have concurrently come to the conclusion that
the plaintiffs are estopped from challenging the impugned alienations. But the
Letters Patent Bench took a different view. Its conclusion, as mentioned
earlier, proceeded on the basis that a Hindu widow cannot enlarge her own
estate by entering into a compromise with, others. It is well settled that a
Hindu widow cannot enlarge her estate by entering into a compromise with third
parties to 'the prejudice to the ultimate reversioners. But the same will not
be true if the compromise is entered into with persons who ultimately become
the reversioners. It was urged on behalf of the respondents that Pattobai was
impleaded in the earlier suit only as a legal representative of her deceased
husband, therefore she could only represent his estate and not carve out an
estate for herself. But this argument overlooks the fact that according to
Pattobai she was entitled to enjoy the entire properties included in the
earlier suit during her life time; but under the compromise a fraction of those
properties were given to her absolutely; that being so the plaintiffs are
estopped from backing out of that compromise. It was urged on behalf of the
plaintiffs that the representation made by the defendants in the earlier suit
is at best a representation as regards the true legal position and such a
representation cannot estop them; before there can be an estoppel, the
representation must be about some fact, the opposite side must rely on that
representation and must suffer some detriment by acting on the basis of that
representation. It was urged on their behalf that in this case the only
representation that the plaintiffs are said to have made in that Pattobai had
an absolute estate in a portion of the suit properties,, this cannot be said to
be a representation of a fact and therefore the same cannot form any basis for
invoking the rule of estoppel. We are unable to accept this contention. From
the facts set out earlier, it is clear that Bulakichand claimed the entire
estate for himself after the death of Jwalapmsad. If the contention of Bulakichand
is correct, as we must assume for the purpose of this case, then Pattobai would
have been entitled to enjoy the entire properties during her life time. But
she' gave up her right in a substantial portion of those properties on the
representation by (1)  S. C. R. 478.
33 the defendants that she can take a portion
of the suit properties absolutely. This is a representation of a fact and not
of law. The representation is that the defendants were willing to confer on
Pattobai an absolute right in a portion of the suit properties if she gave up
her right in the remaining properties. Pattobai relied on that representation
and gave up her claim in respect of a substantial portion of the properties
included in the earlier suit. Hence the plaintiffs particularly Lakshmichand
and Ganeshilal who alone were the reversioners to the estate of Bulakichand on
the date of the death of Pattobai, are estopped from contending that they are
entitled to succeed to the properties given to Pattobai.
The other plaintiffs have no independent
right of their own in the properties with which we are concerned. In Dhyan
Singh's case(1) this Court ruled that even if an award made is 'invalid, the
persons who were parties to that award are estopped from challenging the
validity of the award or from going behind the award in a subsequent
litigation. In T. V.
R. Subbu Chetty's Family Charities v. M.
Raghava Mudaliar and ors.,(2) this Court ruled that if a person having full
knowledge of his rights as a possible reversioner enters into a transaction
which settles his claim as well as the claim of the opponent at the relevant
time, he cannot be permitted to go back on that arrangement when reversion
actually opens. At the time of the compromise Lakshmichand and Ganeshilal were
the nearest presumptive reversioners.
They must be deemed to have known their
rights under law.
Under the compromise they purported to give a
portion of the suit properties absolutely to Pattobai, evidently in
consideration of her giving up, her claim in respect of the other properties.
They cannot be now permitted to resile from the compromise and claim a right
inconsistent With the one embodied in the compromise. They cannot advance their
case by impleading their sons as co-plaintiffs. Their sons can only claim through
For the first time in this Court it was urged
that the plea of estoppel was not available to the defendant as no such plea
had been taken in the pleadings. It is true that no specific plea of estoppel
had been taken in the written statement filed by the defendant. But be had
definitely stated in paragraph 14 of his written statement that the plaintiffs
are bound by the compromise and have no right to deny the right of Pattobai
over the whole of the properties sold to him. One of the issue raised in the
suit (Issue No.
4) is the plaintiffs Nos. 1 and 2 bound by
the terms of compromise filed in Civil Original Suit No. 3 of S. Y. 1991 of the
High Court? If so, what is its effect?" (1)  S. C. R. 478.
(2)  3 S. C. R. 624.
34 This issue is broad enough to cover the
plea of estoppel.
The plea of estoppel had been urged and
considered by all the courts without any objection from the plaintiffs. They
cannot be now permitted to contend that the defendant had not taken any
specific plea of estoppel.
The next question that we have to consider is
whether the compromise in question can be considered as a settlement of family
disputes. It may be noted that Lakshmichand and Ganeshilal who alongwith
Pattobai were the principal parties to the compromise were the grand-children
of Parvati who was the aunt of Bulakichand. The parties to the earlier suit
were near relations. The dispute between the parties was in respect of a
certain property which was originally owned by their common ancestor namely
Chhedilal. To consider a settlement as a family arrangement, it is not
necessary that the parties to the compromise should all belong to one family.
As observed by this Court in Ram Charan Das v.Girjanandini Devi and ors.(1) the
word "family" in the context of a family arrangement is not to be
understood in a narrow sense of being a group of persons who are recognised in
law as having a right of succession or having a claim to a share in the
property in dispute. If the dispute which is settled is one between near relations
then the settlement of such a dispute can be considered as a family
arrangement-see Ramcharan Das's case(1) The courts lean strongly in favour of
the family arrangements to bring about harmony in a family and do justice to
its various members and avoid in anticipation future disputes which might ruin
them all-see Sahu Madho Das and ors. v. Pandit Mukanel Ram and anr.(2) For the
reasons mentioned above we are of the opinion that in view of the compromise
entered into between the parties in 1941, the suits from which these appeals
arise are not maintainable. In that view, it is not necessary to go into the
question whether the alienations were effected for valid necessity, a question
that has not been gone into finally.
In the result these appeals are allowed and
the suits from which these appeals arise dismissed with costs throughout.
G.C. Appeals allowed.
(1)  3 S. C. R. 841 at P. 850 &