Puttarangamma & Ors Vs. M. S.
Ranganna & 3 Ors  INSC 36 (8 February 1968)
08/02/1968 RAMASWAMI, V.
CITATION: 1968 AIR 1018 1968 SCR (3) 119
RF 1979 SC1880 (29) R 1983 SC 114 (31)
Hindu Law--Joint family--Unilateral declaration
to separateCommunicated to other members of family--Declaration
The karta of a joint Hindu family fell ill.
He had no male issue arid in order to safeguard the interests of the appellant
and fourth respondent, who were his daughters, he issued registered notices to
the other members of the joint family declaring his unequivocal intention to
separate from them. Later, he decided to withdraw the notices and instructed
the postal authorities not to forward them, but, the unequivocal declaration of
his intention to separate was conveyed to the other members, of the joint
family and they had full knowledge of such intention. A few days thereafter he
instituted a suit for partition and possession of his share of the Property.
The plaint was prepared by a responsible advocate, who explained the contents
to the plaintiff (the karta), who was conscious and in full possession of his
mental faculties, had his thumb impression affixed on the plaint and Vakalatnama,
signed them both and had them filed in court. After the suit was filed on the
same day, the plaintiff died.
The trial court decreed (the suit, but the
High Court, in appeal, reversed the decree.
In appeal to this Court,
HELD: The mere withdrawal of the Plaintiffs
unilateral declaration of intention to separate, which already had resulted in
his division in status because of the communication of the intention to the
other members, did not nullify its effect so as to restore the family to its
original joint status, or amount to an agreement to reunite;
and (the appellant and the fourth respondent,
as the legal representatives of the plaintiff, were entitled to the decree.
[126 G-H; 127 A-B; 129 D] Radhakrishna v. Satyanarayana, (1948) 2 M.L.J. 331, approved.
CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION: Civil Appeal
No. 322 of 1965.
Appeal from the judgment and decree dated
December 5, 1960 of the Mysore High Court in Regular Appeal No. 81 of 1956.
A. K. Sen and R. Gopalakrishnan, for the
H. R. Gokhale, K. R. Chaudhuri and K.
Rajendra Chaudhri for respondent No. 1.
The Judgment of the Court was delivered by
Ramaswami, J. This, appeal is brought by certificate from the judgment of the
Mysore High Court dated December 5, 1960 in R. A. No. 81 of 1956.
120 The appellants and respondent No. 4 are
the daughters and legal representatives of Savoy Ranganna who was the plaintiff
in O.S. 34 of 1950-51 instituted in the court of the District Judge, Mysore.
The suit was filed by the deceased plaintiff for partition of his share in the
properties mentioned in the schedule to the plaint and for granting him
separate possession of the same. Respondent No., 1 is the brother's son of the
Plaintiff. The relationship of the parties would appear from the following
Savoy Ranganna (Sr)
--------------------------------------------------Rangamma Savoy Ranganna
Chikka Ranganna (Died 45 Alamma (plaintiff) (Died in 1947 years ago (Deft. 2)
Dodda Rangamma M. S. R. Ranganna, 3 (Deft. 2 (a) (Deft. 1) Lakkamma Kenchanna
(suppl, (D. W. 10) Def).
Chikka Rangamma PuttaRangamma Rangathayamma
Chinnathayyamma (Deft. 3) (1st L. R. of (2nd L. R. of (3rd IR. Of plaintiff)
plaintiff) plaintiff) The case of the plaintiff was that he and the defendants
lived together as members of a Joint Hindu family till January 7, 1951,
Plaintiff being the karta. The plaintiff had no male issue but had only four
daughters, Chikka Rangamma, Putta Rangamma, Rangathayamma and Chinnathayamma.
The first 2 daughters were widows. The fourth
daughter Chinnathayamma was living with her husband. Except Chinnathayamma, the
other daughters with their families had been living with the joint family. The
plaintiff became ill and entered 'Sharda Nursing Home for treatment as an inpatient
on January 4, 1951. In order to safeguard the interests of his daughters the
plaintiff, Savoy Ranganna issued a notice on January 8, 1951 to the defendants
declaring his unequivocal intention to separate from them.
After the notices were registered at the post
office certain well-wishers of the family intervened and wanted to bring about
a settlement. On their advice and request the plaintiff notified to the post
office that he intended to withdraw the registered notices. But as no agreement
could be subsequently reached between 'the parties the plaintiff.instituted the
present suit on January 13 The 951'for partition 'of his share of the joint
family properties. The suit was contested mainly by 121 respondent no. 1 who
alleged that there was. no separation of status either because of the notice of
January 8, 1951 or because of the institution of the, suit on January 13, 1951.
The case (if respondent no. 1 was that Savoy
Ranganna was 85 years of age and in a weak state of health and was not in a
position to understand the contents of the plaint or to affix-his signature or
thumb impression thereon as well as on the Vakalatnama. As regards the notice
of January 8,1951, respondent no. 1 asserted that there was no communication of
any such notice to him and, in any case, the notices were withdrawn by Savoy
Ranganna unconditionally from the post office. It was therefore contended that
there was no disruption of the joint family at the time of the death of Savoy
Ranganna and the appellants were not entitled to a decree for partition as
legal representatives of Savoy Ranganna. Upon the examination of the evidence
adduced in the case the trial court held that Savoy Ranganna had properly
affixed his thumb impression on the plaint and the Vakalatnama and the
presentation of the plaint was valid.
The trial court found that Savoy Ranganna was
not dead by the time the plaint was presented. On the question whether Savoy
Ranganna was separate in status the trial court held that the notices dated
January 8, 1951 were a clear and unequivocal declaration of the intention of
Savoy Ranganna to become divided in status and there was sufficient
communication of that intention to respondent no. 1 and other members of the
family. The trial court was also of the opinion that at the time of the issue of
the notices dated January 8, 1951 and at the time of execution of the plaint
and the Vakalatnama dated January 13, 1951 Savoy Ranganna was in a sound state
of mind and conscious of the consequences of the action he 'Was taking. The
trial court accordingly granted a decree in favour of the appellants.
Respondent no took the matter in appeal to
the Mysore High Court which by its judgment dated December 5, 1960 reversed the
decree of the trial court and allowed the appeal.
Hegde, J. one of the members of the Bench
held that the suit could not be said to have been instituted by Savoy Ranganna
as it was not proved that Savoy Ranganna executed the plaint. As regards the
validity of the notice Ex.A, and as to whether it caused any disruption in the,
joint family status, Hegde, J. did not think it necessary to express any
opinion. The other member of the Bench, Mir. lqbal Husain, J., held that the
joint family of which the deceased Savoy Ranganna was a member had not been
disrupted by the issue of the notice dated January 8, 1951. The view taken by
Mir lqbal Husain,-J. was that there was no proof that the notice was
communicated either to respondent no. 1 or other members of the family and, in
any event, the notice had been withdrawn by Savoy Ranganna and so there was no
severance of joint status from the date of the notice.
L4Sup.C.1/68-9 122 The first question to be
considered in this appeal is whether Savoy Ranganna died as a divided member of
the joint family as alleged in the plaint. It is admitted that Savoy Ranganna
was very old, about 85 years of age and was ailing of chronic diarrhoea. He was
living in the family house till January 4, 1951 when he was removed to the
Sharda Nursing Home where he died on January 13, 1951 at 3 p.m According to the
case of respondent no. 1 Savoy Ranganna had a paralytic stroke in 1950 and was
completely bed-ridden thereafter and his eyesight was bad for 5 to 6 years
prior to his death. It was alleged in the written statement that Savoy Ranganna
was unconscious for some days prior to his death. The case of respondent no. 1
on this point is disproved by the evidence of D.W. 6, Dr. Venkata Rao who was
in charge of the Sharda Nursing Home on the material dates.
This witness admitted that the complaint of
Savoy Ranganna was that he was suffering from chronic diarrhoea for over five
months. He was anaemic but he was not suffering from any attack of paralysis.
As regards the condition of Savoy Ranganna on January 8, 1951, the evidence of
P.W. 1, Dr.
Subbaramiah is important. This witness is the
owner of the Sharda Nursing Home and he has testified that the notice Ex.
A was read over to Savoy Ranganna and after
getting it read the latter affixed his thumb mark thereon. The witness asked
Savoy Ranganna whether he was able to understand the contents of the notice and
the latter replied in the affirmative. The witness has certified on the notice,
A-1 that Savoy Ranganna was conscious when he
affixed his left thumb mark, to the notice in his presence. No reason was
suggested on behalf of the respondents why the evidence of this witness should
be disbelieved. The trial court was highly impressed by the evidence of this
witness and we see no reason for taking a different view. The case of the
appellants is that respondent no. 1 had knowledge of the notice, Ex. A because
he was present in the Nursing Home on January 8, 1951 and he tried to snatch
away the notice from the hands of P.W. 1 but he was prevented from. so doing.
P.W. 5, Chinnanna stated in the course of the
evidence that after P.W. 1 had signed the certificate in all the three copies,
respondent no. 1 and one Halappa came to the ward and tried to snatch away the
notices. The first respondent tried to snatch away the copy Ex. A-1 that was in
the hands of Dr. Subbaramiah and attempted to tear it. Dr.
Subbaramiah somehow prevented respondent no.
1 from taking away Ex. A and handed it over to P.W. 5. The evidence of P.W. 5
with regard to the "snatching incident" is corroborated by Dr.
Subbaramiah who stated that after Savoy Ranganna had executed the notices and
he had signed the certificates, one or two persons came and tried to snatch the
document. P.W. 1 is unable to identify the first respondent as one of the
persons who had taken part in the "snatching incident". The circumstance
that P.W. 1 was unable to identify respondent no. 1 123 is not very material,
because the incident took place about three years before he gave evidence in
the court, but his evidence with regard to the "snatching incident'
strongly corroborates the allegation of P.W. 5 that it was respondent no. 1 who
bad come into the Nursing Home and attempted to snatch the notice. There is
also another circumstance which supports the case of the appellants that
respondent no. 1 had knowledge of the contents of Ex. A and of the unequivocal
intention of Savoy Ranganna to become divided in status from the joint family.
According to P.W. 5 respondent no. 1 and his wife and mother visited Savoy
Ranganna in the Nursing Home later on and pressed him to withdraw the notices
promising that the matter will be amicably settled. Sowcar T. Thammanna also
intervened on their behalf. Thereafter the deceased plaintiff instructed his
grandson P.W. 5 to withdraw the notice. Accordingly P.W. 5 prepared two
applications for the withdrawal and presented them to the postal authorities.
The notice, Ex. A meant for the first respondent and Ex. E meant for the
original second defendant were withheld by the postal authorities. These
notices were produced in court by the postal authorities during the hearing of
the case. In our opinion, the evidence of P.W. 5 must be accepted as true,
because it is corroborated by the circumstance that the two notices, Exs. A and
E were intercepted in the post office and did not reach their destination. This
circumstance also indicates that though there was no formal. communication of
the notice, Ex. A to the first respondent, he had sufficient knowledge of the
contents of that notice and was fully aware of the clear and unequivocal
intention of Savoy Ranganna to become separate from other members of the joint
It is now a settled doctrine of Hindu Law
that a member of a joint Hindu family can being about his separation in status
by a definite, unequivocal and unilateral declaration of his intention to separate
himself from the family and enjoy his share in severalty. It is not necessary
that there should be an agreement between all the coparceners for the
disruption of the joint status. It is immaterial in such a case whether the
other coparceners give their assent to the separation or not. The jural basis
of this doctrine has been expounded by the early writers of Hindu Law. The
relevant portion of the commentary of Vijnaneswara states as follows [And thus
though the mother is having her menstrual courses (has not lost the capacity to
bear children) and the father has attachment and does not desire a partition,
yet by the will (or desire) of the son a partition of the grandfather's wealth
does take place]" 124 Saraswathi Vilasa, placitum 28 states [From this it
is known that without any speech (or explanation) even by means of a
determination (or resolution) only, partition is effected, just an appointed
daughter is constituted by mere intention without speech.]" Viramitrodaya
of Mitra Misra (Ch. 11. pl. 23) is to the following effect:
[Here too there is no distinction between a
partition during the lifetime of the father or after his death and partition at
the desire of the sons may take place or even by the desire (or at the will) of
a single (coparcener)]." Vyavahara Mayukha of Nilakantabhatta also states
[Even in the absence of any common (joint family) property, severance does
indeed result by the mere declaration 'I am separate from the' because
severance is a. particular state (or condition) of the mind and the declaration
is merely a manifestation of this mental state (or condition).]" (Ch. IV,
Emphasis is laid on the "budhi
visesha" (particular state or condition of the mind) as the decisive
factor in producing a severance in status and the declaration is stated to be
merely "abhivyanjika" or manifestation which might vary according to
circumstances. In Suraj Narain v.
Iqbal Narain(1) the Judicial Committee made
the following categorical statement of the legal position :
"A definite and unambiguous indication
by one member of intention to separate himself and to enjoy his share in
severalty may amount to separation. But to have that effect the intention must
be unequivocal and clearly expressed.......... Suraj Narain alleged that he
separated a few months later; there is, however, no (1) I.L.R. 35 All. 80.
(P.C.) 125 .lm15 writing in support of his allegation, nothing to show that at
that time he gave expression to an unambiguous intention on his part to cut
himself off from the joint undivided family." In a later case--Girja Bai
v. Sadashiv Dhundiraj(1) the Judicial Committee examined the relevant texts of
Hindu Law and referred to the well-marked distinction that exists in Hindu law
between a severance in status so far as the separating member is concerned and
a de facto division into specific shares of the property held until then
jointly, and laid down the law as follows :
"One is a matter of individual decision,
the desire on the part of any one member to sever himself from the joint family
and to enjoy his hitherto undefined or unspecified share separately from the
others without being subject to the obligations which arise from the joint
status; whilst the other is the natural resultant from his decision, the
division. and separation of his share which may be arrived at either by private
agreement among the parties, or on failure of that, by the intervention of the
Court. Once the decision has been unequivocally expressed and clearly intimated
to his co-sharers, his right to his right to have his share allocated
separately from has a title is unimpeachable;
neither the co-sharers can question it nor
can the Court examine his conscience to find out whether his reasons for
separation were well founded or sufficient; the Court has s imply to give
effect to his right to have his share allocated separately from the others.
In Syed Kasam v. Jorawar Singh (2), Viscount
Cave, in delivering the judgment of the Judicial Committee, observed "It
is settled law that in the case of a joint Hindu family subject to the law of
the Mitakshara, a severance of estate is effected by an unequivocal declaration
on the part of one of the joint holders of his intention to hold his share
separately, even though no actual division takes place : and the commencement
of a suit for partition has been held to be sufficient.to _effect a severance
in interest even before decree." These authorities were quoted with
approval by this Court in Addagada Raghavamma v. Addagada Chenchamma(3), and it
was held that a member of a joint Hindu family seeking to separate himself from
others will have to make known his intention to other members of his family
from whom he seeks to separate. The (1) I.L.R. 43 Cal. 1031. (P.C.) (2) I.L.R.
50 Cal. 84. (P.C).
(3)  2 S.C.R. 933.
126 correct legal position therefore is that
in a case of a joint Hindu family subject to Mitakshara law, severance of
status is effected by an unequivocal declaration on the part of one of the
joint holders of his intention to hold the share separately. It is, however,
necessary that the member of the joint Hindu family seeking to separate himself
must make known his intention to other member of the family from whom he seeks
to separate. The process of communication may, however, vary in the
circumstances of each particular case. It is not necessary that there' should
be a formal despatch to or receipt. by other members Of the family of the
communication announcing the intention to divide on the part of one member of
the joint family.
The proof of such a despatch or receipt of
the communication is not essential, nor its absence fatal to the severance of
the status. It is, of course, necessary that the declaration to be effective
should reach the person or persons affected by some process appropriate to the given
situation and circumstances of the particular case.
Applying this principle to the facts found in
the present case, we are of opinion that there was a definite and unequivocal
declaration of his intention to separate on the part of Savoy Ranganna and that
intention was conveyed to respondent no. 1 and other members of the joint
family and respondent no. 1 had full knowledge of the intention of Savoy
Ranganna. It follows therefore that there was a division of status of Savoy
Ranganna from the joint Hindu family with effect from January 8, 1951 which was
the date of the notice.
It was, however, maintained on behalf of the
respondents that on January 10, 1951 Savoy Ranganna had decided to withdraw the
two notices, Exs. A & E and he instructed the postal authorities not to
forward the notices to respondent no. 1 and other members of the joint family.
It was contended that there could be no severance of the joint family after
Savoy Ranganna had decided to withdraw the notices. In our opinion, there is no
warrant for this argument. As we have already stated, there was a unilateral
declaration of an intention by Savoy Ranganna to divide from the joint family
and there was sufficient communication of this intention to the other
coparceners and therefore in law there was in consequence a disruption or
division of the status of the joint family with effect from January 8, 1951.
When once a communication of the intention is
made which has resulted in the severance of the joint family status it was not
thereafter open to Savoy Ranganna to nullify its effect so as to restore the
family to its original joint status.
If the intention of Savoy Ranganna had stood
alone without giving rise to any legal effect, it could, of course, be
withdrawn by Savoy Ranganna, but having communicated the intention, the divided
status of the Hindu joint family had already come into existence and the legal
consequences had taken effect. It was not, therefore, possible for Savoy
Ranganna to get back 127 to the old position by mere revocation of the
intention. It is, of course, possible for the members of the family by a
subsequent agreement to reunite, but the mere withdrawal of the unilateral
declaration of the intention to separate which already had resulted in the
division in status cannot amount to an agreement to reunite. It should also be
stated that the question whether there was a subsequent agreement between the
members to reunite is a question of fact to be proved as such. In the present
case, there is no allegation in the written statement nor is there any evidence
on the part of the respondents that there was any such agreement to reunite
after January.8, 1951. The view that we have expressed is borne out by the
decision of the Madras High Court in Kurapati Radhakrishna v. Kurapati
Satyanarayana(1) in which there was a suit for declaration that the sales in
respect of certain family properties did not bind the plaintiff and for
partition of his share and possession thereof and the plaint referred to an
earlier suit. for partition instituted by the 2nd defendant in the later suit.
It was alleged in that suit that 'the
plaintiff being unwilling to remain with the defendants has decided to become
divided and he has filed this suit for separation of his one-fifth share in the
assets remaining after discharging the family debts separated and for recovery
of possession of the same'. All the defendants in that suit were served with
the summons and on the death of the 1st defendant therein after the settlement
of issues, the plaintiff in that action made the following endorsement on the
plaint : "As the 1st defendant has died and as the plaintiff had to manage
the family, the plaintiff hereby revokes the intention to divide expressed in
the plaint and agreeing to remain as a joint family member, he withdraws the
suit.' It was held by the Madras-High Court that a division in status had
already been brought about by the plaint in the suit and it was not open to the
plaintiff to revoke or withdraw the unambiguous intention to separate contained
in the plaint so as to restore the joint status and as such the members should
be treated as divided members for the purpose of working Out their respective
We proceed, to consider the next question
arising in this appeal whether the plaint filed on January 13, 1951 was validly
executed by Savoy Ranganna and whether he had affixed his thumb impression
thereon after understanding its contents. The case of the appellants is that
Sri M. S. Ranganathan prepared the plaint and had gone to the Sharda Nursing
Home at about 9-30 or 10 a.m. on January 13, 1951.
Sri Ranganathan wrote out the plaint which
was in English and translated it to Savoy Ranganna who approved the same.
P.W. 2, the clerk of Sri Ranganathan has
deposed to this effect. He took the ink-pad and affixed the left thumb
impression of Savoy Ranganna on the plaint and also on the Vakalatnama. There
is the attestation of Sri M. S.
Ranganathan on the (1) (1948)2M.L.J.331.
128 plaint and on the Vakalatnama. The papers
were handed over to P.W. 2 who after purchasing the necessary court-fee stamps
filed the plaint and the Vakalatnama in the court at about 11.30, a.m. or 12
noon on the same day. The evidence of P.W. 2 is corroborated by P.W. 5
Chinnanna. Counsel on behalf of the respondents., however, criticised the
evidence of P.W. 2 on the ground that the doctor, D.W. 6 had said that the
mental condition of the patient was bad and he was not able to understand
things when he examined him on the morning of January 13, 1951. D.W. 6 deposed
that he examined Savoy Ranganna during his usual rounds on January 13, 1951
between 8 and 9 a.m. and found "his pulse imperceptible and the sounds of
the heart feeble". On the question as to whether Savoy Ranganna was
sufficiently conscious to execute the plaint and the Vakalatnama, the trial
court has accepted the evidence of P.W. 2, Keshavaiah in preference to that of
D.W. 6. We see no reason for differing from the estimate of the trial court
with regard to the evidence of P.W. 2. The trial court has pointed out that it
is difficult to accept the evidence of D.W 6 that Savoy Ranganna was not
conscious on the morning of January 13, 1951. In cross-examination D.W. 6
admitted that on the night of January 12, 1951 Savoy Ranganna was conscious. He
further admitted that on January 13, 1951 he prescribed the same medicines to
Savoy Ranganna as he had prescribed on January 12, 1951. There is no note of
the necessary data in the case sheet, Ex. I to suggest that Savoy Ranganna was
not conscious an January 13, 1951. It is therefore not unreasonable assume that
the condition of Savoy Ranganna was the same on January 13', 1951 as on January
12, 1951 and there was no perceptible change noticeable in his condition
between the two dates. In these circumstances it is not possible to accept the
evidence of D.W. 6 that Savoy Ranganna was unconscious on the morning of
January 13, 1951.
It was pointed out on behalf of the
respondents that D.W. 7, Miss Arnold has also given evidence that the condition
of Savoy Ranganna became worse day by day and on the last day his condition was
very bad and he could not understand much, nor could he respond to her calls.
The trial court was not.
impressed with the evidence of this witness.
In our opinion, her evidence suffers from the same infirmity as of D.W. 6,
because the case sheet, Ex. I does not corroborate her evidence. It is also
difficult to believe that D.W. 7 could remember the details of Savoy
Ranganna's. case after a lapse of three years without the help of any written
case sheet There is also an important discrepancy in the evidence of D.W. 7.
She said that on January 13, 1951 she called D.W.
6 at 12 noon since the condition of the
patient was very bad, but D.W. 6 has said that he did not visit Savoy Ranganna
after 8 or 9 a.m. on that date. Comment was made by Counsel on behalf of the
respondents that Sri Ranganathan was not examined as a witness to prove that he
had prepared 129 the plaint and Savoy Ranganna had affixed his thumb impression
in his presence. In our opinion, the omission of Sri Ranganathan to give
evidence in this case is unfortunate. It would have been proper conduct on his.
part if he had returned the brief of the appellants and given evidence in the
case as to the execution of the plaint and the Vakalatnama. But in spite of
this circumstance we consider that the, evidence of the appellants or, this
aspect of the case must be accepted as true. It is necessary to notice that the
plaint and the Vakalatnama are both counter-signed by Sri Ranganathan--a
responsible Advocate-and it is not likely that he would subscribe his
signatures to these documents if they had been executed by a person who was
unable to understand the contents thereof.
As we have already said, it is unfortunate
that the Advocate Sri Ranganathan has not been examined as a witness, but in
spite of this omission we are satisfied that the evidenceadduced in the case
has established that Savoy Ranganna validly executed the plaint and the
Vakalatnama and that he was conscious and was in full possession of his mental
faculties at the time of the execution of these two documents. It follows
therefore that the, appellants and respondent no. 4 who are the daughters and
legal representatives of Savoy Ranganna are entitled to a decree in the terms
granted by the District Judge of Mysore.
For the reasons expressed, we hold that this
appeal should be allowed, the judgment of the Mysore High Court dated
December5, 1960 in R.A. no. 81 of 1956 should be set aside and that of' the
District Judge, Mysore dated October 31, 1955 in O.S. no. 34 of 1950-51 should
be restored. The appeal is accordingly allowed with costs.
V.P.S. Appeal allowed.