“Section 15—(1) The property of a female Hindu dying intestate shall devolve according to the rules set out in Section 16— (a) Firstly, upon the sons and daughters (including the children of any predeceased son or daughter) and the husband; (b) Secondly, upon the heirs of the husband; (c) Thirdly, upon the mother and father; (d) Fourthly, upon the heirs of the father; (e) Lastly upon the heirs of the mother. (2) Notwithstanding anything contained in sub-section (1)— (a) Any property by a female Hindu from her father or mother shall devolve, in the absence of any son or daughter of the deceased (including the children of any predeceased son or daughter) not upon the other heirs referred to in sub-section (1) in the order specified therein, but upon the heirs of the father; and (b) Any property inherited by a female Hindu from her husband or from her father-in-law shall devolve, in the absence of any son or daughter of the deceased (including the children of any predeceased son or daughter) not upon the other heirs referred to in sub-section (1) In the order specified therein, but upon the heirs of the husband.” Section 15 does not apply in respect of property held by a female Hindu within the meaning of Sub-section (2) of Section 14 as it is her restricted estate, which does not involve a fresh stock of descent. The section applies to her absolute property where she has become a fresh stock of descent. In Mt.
Mokundero v. Kartar Singh, the apex Court held that where any property is held by a female Hindu as a limited owner and becomes its absolute owner after the commencement of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, Sections 15 and 16 would apply with respect to devolution of such property. In case she dies intestate leaving behind her the daughter of the predeceased son and the husband’s sister, then under the scheme of Sections 15 and 16, her son’s daughter will be the only heir entitled to inherit her property not the sister of the husband, because the former comes within the category of heirs specified in Section 15(l)(a) and will exclude all other heirs specified in subsequent categories. The words “son” and “daughter” of the deceased used in sub-section (1) of Section 15 of the Act mean a son or daughter of the female, dying intestate, born to her of any husband, former or later. The definition includes even illegitimate children. But it does not include the step-children.
According to the Supreme Court the section determines the list of heirs on the basis of proximity and therefore only the children begotten by her would be her heirs not the children born of some other woman by her husband. It is worthwhile to note that the court overruled the view of Allahabad High Court and approved the view of Bombay and Punjab High Courts. It is clear from the language of sub-sections (1) and (2) of Section 15 that the intention of the legislature was to allow the succession of the property of the Hindu female to her sons and daughters. Only in the absence of such heirs the property would go to husband’s heirs. Consequently the female’s property would devolve on her sons and daughters even where such sons and daughters are born of the first husband and the property left by the female was inherited by her from the second husband. The word ‘son’ includes natural and adopted children of a woman, those born to her after her remarriage and even her illegitimate children. Whereas succession to the property of a female Hindu generally is given under Section 15(1), an exception has been engrafted under sub-section (2) recognising a different mode of devolution in respect of property which the woman acquired by inheritance, in a way to a very limited extent recognising the old Hindu law’ in the matter, which restricted a woman’s estate in inherited property and provided for its devolution as from the last full owner. Prima facie the exception engrafted seeks to retain in her father’s family property inherited by the deceased lady from her parents and similarly seeks to retain in the husband’s family property inherited from her husband or father-in-law.
In Anansd Rao v. Govinda Rao Ghingraji, the property of a deceased person devolved upon his two sons and widow. Out of two sons of the deceased one was born from his previous wife and another was from the widow, who was his present wife at the time of his death. Thus the son from his previous wife was the step-son of the widow. On the death of the widow, her property would be inherited by her own son but not by the step-son. In Roshan Lal v. Dalip, the widow inherited certain land from her second husband after his death.
She had a son from her first husband. After the death of the widow, that son was held to be entitled to inherit her property, although he was her first husband’s son. The court held that the son of the widow would inherit the property of his mother under Section 15(l)(a) irrespective of the fact that the property was inherited by her from her second husband. In such cases it does not make a difference as to whether the son was born to her from the first husband or second husband.
In Shahji Kisan Asme v. Sitaram Kondi Asine, the court observed that if the grandsons and daughter are illegitimate they cannot inherit the property of ground parents; they would be entitled to inherit property of their parents only. Because as per provisions of Section 15(1) a of Hindu Succession Act, illegitimate children’ can succeed— inherit property of their mother. The Court also held that, in such cases it does not make a difference as to whether the son was born to her from the first husband or second husband. In Seethalakshmi Ammal v.
Muthniuvenkatarama, Seethalakshmi Ammal is the daughter-in-law of the deceased, Venkatarama, the husband of the Seethalakshmi was the only son of Gomathi Ammal. He died prior to the death of Gomathi Ammal. Venkatarama and the appellant have no children. The husband of Gomathi Ammal also died long prior to her death.
Seethalakshmi filed a suit for declaration of ownership and possession of the properties left by mother-in-law (Gomathi Ammal) who died intestate. In this case the Supreme Court held that the heirs have to be ascertained not at the time of the husband’s death but at the time of the wife’s death because the succession opens only at the time of her death, her heirs under Section 15(l) (b) will have to be ascertained as if the succession to her husband had opened at the time of her death. Thus, if at the time of Gomathi Animal’s death there is any heir of her husband who fits the description in the Schedule of being the widow of his pre-deceased son. So, she will be one of the heirs entitled to get ownership and possession of the properties. In O.M. Chettiar v. Kamappa Chettair, the Madras High Court held that where a female Hindu, after obtaining money decree in respect of the amount which was gifted to her by the father at the time of her marriage and therefore represented her Stridhan property, dies intestate leaving behind her husband and brothers, the property represented by the decree would devolve not upon her brother according to rule of succession laid down in section 15(2) but upon her husband according to the rule contained in Section 15(1).
In Raghubir v. Janki Prasad, the court held that the husband will not inherit in the property left behind his wife, where she acquired that property in inheritance from her parents. Such property reverts back to parents only or in their absence to the heirs of the parent. In this case the wife brought a suit for claiming the property which she was entitled to get by way of inheritance from her father. During the pendency of the suit she died and her husband applied for the substitution of his name. The application by the husband was rejected on the ground that he had no right to get the property in inheritance from his deceased wife as the property in the absence of her children would revert back to the parents or in their absence to the heirs of the parent. In Bhagat Ram v.
Teja Singh, the court held that under Section 15(l) (b) of the Act, if female Hindu dying intestate and issueless, the devolution of property was on the basis of the source from which property was inherited by female. If property held by a female was inherited from her father or mother, in the absence of any son or daughter of the deceased including the children of any pre-deceased son or daughter, it would only devolve upon the heirs of the father and in this case her sister, who was the only legal heir of the father of deceased female Hindu, admittedly inherited the property because the intent of the legislature is clear that the property, if originally belonged to the parents of the deceased female should go to the legal heirs of the father. In this connection the case of Smt.
Amar Kaur v. Smt. Raman Kumari is important.
Here a female Hindu gifted away her entire property to her two daughters namely ‘B’ and ‘C’ before the commencement of the Act. In 1972 ‘C’ died. Her husband was not alive at the time of her death nor was there any heir to her as specified in the section.
She had only a step-son namely ‘D’ living at the time of her death, who also died subsequent to her (C’s) death. The step son namely ‘D’ left behind his widow and sons and they claimed the property left by Ñ in succession. Their claim was that Ñ got the property from her mother in gift and therefore with respect to this property Section 15(1) will apply and not the provisions of Section 15(2). But this argument was contended on the ground that D inherited the gifted property from Ñ and therefore in absence of any heir to Ñ the property shall revert back to her parents or to their heirs under Section 15(2). The contention was rejected by the court and held that Ñ got the property in gift, not in succession, and therefore after the death of C, the property left by her would, in absence of the heirs of Section 15(l) (a), devolve upon the heirs of her husband. In such case section 15(2) would not be attracted.