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A Hindu joint family consists of the common ancestor and all his lineal male descendants upto any generation together with the wife/ wives (or widows) and unmarried daughters of the common ancestor and of the lineal male descendants. Whatever the skeptic may say about the future of the Hindu joint family, it has been and is still the fundamental aspect of the life of Hindus.
A co-parcenery is a narrow body of persons within a joint family. It exclusively consists of male members. A Hindu coparcenery is a corporate entity, though not incorporated. A coparcenery consists of four successive generations including the last male holder of the property. The last male holder of the property is the senior most member of the family.
In the entire Hindu joint family, the karta or manager (the English word manager is wholly inadequate in understanding his unique position) occupies a very important position. Karta is the eldest male member of the family. He is the Hindu patriarch. Only a coparcener can become Karta. Such unique is his position that there is no office or any institution or any other system of the world, which can be compared with it. His position is sui generis i.e. of his own kind or peculiar to himself. Peculiarity lies in the fact that in terms of his share/interest, the Karta is not superior and has no superior interests in the coparcenery. If partition takes place he is entitled to take his share. He is a person with limited powers, but, within the ambit of his sphere, he possesses such vast powers as are possessed by none else. His position is recognized /conferred by law. No stranger can ever be qualified to be a karta, but an adopted son who is the eldest in the family can be qualified.
Article 236 of the Mulla Hindu Law defines "Karta" as follows:Manager - Property belonging to a joint family is ordinarily managed by the father or other senior member for the time being of the family: The Manager of a joint family is called Karta.
In a HUF, the responsibility of Karta is to manage the HUF property. He is the custodian of the income and assets of the HUF. He is liable to make good to other family members with their shares of all sums which he has misappropriated or which he spent for purposes other than those in which the joint family was interested. His role is crucial. He is entrusted not only with the management of land/assets of the family but also is entrusted to do the general welfare of the family.
His position is different from the manager of a company or a partnership. The reason behind it is that though the coparcenery deals with lands, assets/property but in an entirely different fashion. When a Karta is bestowed with such a position it is something, which takes place under the operation of law.
Who Can Be A Karta?# Senior Most Male Member: - It is a presumption of Hindu law, that ordinarily the senior most male member is the Karta of the joint family.
Jandhayala Sreeamma v. Krishnavenamma AIR 1957 A.P.434
In the case of Hindu Joint Family a suit to set aside on alienation filed by the younger of the two brothers within three years of his attaining majority would be barred by limitation if the elder brother, who was the manager and an adult has failed to sue within three years of his attaining majority.
The senior most male member is Karta by virtue of the fact that he is senior most male member. He does not owe his position to agreement or consent of other coparceners. So long as he is alive, may be aged, infirm, or ailing, he will continue to be Karta. Even a leper may continue to be the Karta1. However, in cases of insanity or any other disqualifications, the next senior male member generally takes over the Kartaship. Once this is done the former will cease to be a karta.
So long as the father is alive, he is the karta. After his death it passes to the senior most male member, who may be the uncle, if coparcenery consists of uncles and nephews, or who may be the eldest brother, if coparcenery consists of brothers.
# Junior Male MemberIn the presence of a senior male member, a junior male member cannot be the Karta. But if all the coparceners agree, a junior male member can be a Karta. Coparceners may withdraw their consent at any time.
"So long as the members of a family remain undivided the senior member is entitled to manage the family properties including even charitable property and is presumed to be the manager until the contrary is shown. But the senior most member may give up his right of management and a junior member may be appointed as manager."
Narendrakumar J Modi v. CIT 1976 S.C. 1953
Facts: - Baplal Purushottamdas Modi was the head of the HUF. Joint family possesses many immovable properties and carried business of various types such as money lending, etc. He executed a general power of attorney in favor of his 3rd son, Gulabchand on Oct 5, 1948. On Oct 22, 1954 Baplal relinquished his share. On Oct 24, 1954 the existing members of the family executed a memo of partition. However, the order accepting partition was not passed, the contention of the appellant was that Gulabchand couldn’t be a karta because he is a junior member and other members of the family did not accept him as a karta.
Judgment: - It was held that Gulabchand was given the power to manage by Baplal because Gulabchand’s elder brother was an aged man of 70 years. And also the father of appellant died in 1957. So, under such circumstances, Gulabchand appears to have acted as the Karta with the consent of all the other members and hence the appeal was dismissed.
# Female Members As KartaThe concept of a “manager” of a Joint Hindu Family has been in existence for more than two thousand years or more. Courts in India have given diverse views: -
C.P. Berai v. Laxmi Narayan AIR 1949 Nag 128
It was held that a widow could be a karta in the absence of adult male members in the family. It was said that the true test is not who transferred/incurred the liability, but whether the transaction was justified by necessity.
Sushila Devi Rampura v. Income tax Officer AIR 1959 Cal
It was held that where the male members are minors, their natural guardian is their mother. The mother can represent the HUF for the purpose of assessment and recovery of income tax.
Radha Ammal v. Commissioner of Income Tax AIR 1950 Mad 588
It was held that since a widow is not admittedly a coparcener, she has no legal qualification to become a manger of a JHF.
Commissioner of Income Tax v. Seth Govind Ram AIR 1966 S.C. 2
After reviving the authorities it was held that the mother or any other female could not be the Karta of the Joint Family. According to the Hindu sages, only a coparcener can be a karta and since females cannot be coparceners, they cannot be the Karta of a Joint Hindu Family.
The above views seem to be rigid. Rigidity in law is a fatal flaw. Since it is depended upon an ill directed question whether the transferor was a coparcener.
Dharmashastra is one and only sure guide. According to Dharmashastras, in absence of male members female members can act as karta, or in case where male members if present are minors, she can act as karta. Debts incurred even by female members under such circumstances will be binding upon the family and must be paid out of the joint family funds whether at the time of partition or earlier. Often the question is raised as to whether her acts are for the benefit of the family. Dharmashastra answers it by saying that she might act as manager by doing acts of positive benefit and not merely conservative/negative acts.
"The position according to the Mitakshara theory as developed by Vijnaneshwara seems to be this, that a wife gets rights of ownership of her husband's separate and joint family property from the moment of her marriage and a daughter from the moment of her birth. But Vijnaneshwara does make a distinction between males and females and says that females are asvatantra or unfree. If we are to translate his notion into the language of the coparcenary, I think we can state that women are coparceners but 'unfree' coparceners."
Prior to 1956, Hindus were governed by property laws, which had no coherence and varied from region to region and in some cases within the same region, from caste to caste.
The Mitakshara School of succession, which was prevalent in most of North India, believed in the exclusive domain of male heirs. Mitakshara is one of the two schools of Hindu Law but it prevails in a large part of the country. Under this, a son, son’s son, great grandson and great grandson have a right by birth to ancestral property or properties in the hands of the father and their interest is equal to that of the father. The group having this right is termed a coparcenary. The coparcenary is at present confined to male members of the joint family.
In contrast, the Dayabhaga system did not recognize inheritance rights by birth and both sons and daughters did not have rights to the property during their father’s lifetime. At the other extreme was the Marumakkattayam law, prevalent in Kerala, which traced the lineage of succession through the female line.
According to Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, 1956 woman can take only a conservative action. It is certain that guardian acting under the act cannot undertake every class of proceeding that would be open to a manager. Act does not purport to confer upon the guardian the power of manager.
Former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru championed the cause of women’s right to inherit property and the Hindu Succession Act was enacted and came into force on June 17, 1956.
Many changes were brought about that gave women greater rights but they were still denied the important coparcenary rights. Subsequently, a few States enacted their own laws for division of ancestral property.
In what is known as the Kerala model, the concept of coparcenary was abolished and according to the Kerala Joint Family System (Abolition) Act, 1975, the heirs (male and female) do not acquire property by birth but only hold it as tenants as if a partition has taken place. Andhra Pradesh (1986), Tamil Nadu (1989), Karnataka (1994) and Maharashtra (1994) also enacted laws, where daughters were granted ‘coparcener’ rights or a claim on ancestral property by birth as the sons.
In 2000, the 174th report of the 15th Law Commission suggested amendments to correct the discrimination against women, and this report forms the basis of the present Act. Discrimination against women was the key issue before the Law Commission.
The amendment made in 2005 gives women equal rights in the inheritance of ancestral wealth, something reserved only for male heirs earlier. It indeed, is a significant step in bringing the Hindu Law of inheritance in accord with the constitutional principle of equality. Now, as per the amendment, Section 6 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 gives equal rights to daughters in the Hindu Mitakshara coparcenary property as the sons have. The amendment was made because there was an urgent need for certainty in law.
Though the 2005 amendment gives equal rights to daughters in the coparcenery. An important question is still unanswered whether women or daughters can be allowed to become managers or karta of the joint family. The objection to this issue of managing a joint family as visualized is that daughters may live away from the joint family after their marriage but it is well appreciated that women are fully capable of managing a business, taking up public life as well as manage large families as mothers. Another doubt being considered is that as managers of their fathers' joint family they could be susceptible to the influence of their husbands or husbands' families.
Position of KartaThe position of karta is sui generis. The relationship between him and other members are not that of principal/agent/partners. He is not like a manger of a commercial firm. Needless to say he is the head of the family and acts on behalf of other members, but he is not like a partner, as his powers are almost unlimited. Undoubtedly, he is the master of the grand show of the joint family and manages all its affairs and its business. His power of management is so wide and almost sovereign that any manager of business firm pales into insignificance. The karta stands in a fiduciary relationship with the other members but he is not a trustee.
# Ordinarily a Karta is accountable to none. Unless charges of fraud, misrepresentation or conversion are leveled against him. He is the master and none can question as to what he received and what he spent. He is not bound for positive failures such as failure to invest, to prepare accounts, to save money.
# Karta may discriminate i.e. he is not bound to treat all members impartially. He is not bound to pay income in a fixed proportion to other members. Even if he enters such an agreement /arrangement, he can repudiate the same with impunity.
However large powers a karta might have, he cannot be a despot. He has blood ties with other members of the family. After all he is a person of limited powers. He has liabilities towards members. Any coparcener can at any time ask for partition. He obtains no reward for his services and he discharges many onerous responsibilities towards the family and its members. His true legal position can be understood only when we know the ambit of his powers and liabilities.
Karta’s liabilities are numerous and multifarious.
# MaintenanceIn a joint Hindu family, the right of maintenance of all the coparceners out of the joint family funds is an inherent right and an essential quality of the coparcenery. As Mayne puts it: Those who would be entitled to share the bulk of property are entitled to have all their necessary expenses paid out of its income. Every coparcener, from the head of the family to the junior most members, is entitled to maintenance. A Karta is responsible to maintain all members of the family, coparceners and others. If he improperly excludes any member from maintenance or does not properly maintain them, he can be sued for maintenance as well as for arrears of maintenance.
# MarriageHe is also responsible for the marriage of all unmarried members. This responsibility is particularly emphasized in respect of daughters. Marriage of a daughter is considered as a sacrosanct duty under Hindu law. Marriage expenses are defrayed out of joint family funds.
Chandra Kishore v. Nanak Chand AIR 1975 Del 175
In this case it was held that Karta is responsible for managing the expenses of the marriage of the daughter from the joint family estate. And in case marriage expenses are met from outside they are to be reimbursed from the joint family funds.
# Accounts at the time of PartitionPartition means bringing the joint status to an end. On partition, the family ceases to be a joint family. Under the Mitakshara law, partition means two things: -
(a) Severance of status /interest, and
(b) Actual division of property in accordance with the shares so specified, known as partition by metes and bounds.
The former is a matter of individual decision, the desire to sever himself and enjoy the unspecified and undefined share separately from others while the latter is a resultant consequent of his declaration of intention to sever but which is essentially a bilateral action.
Taking of accounts means an enquiry into the joint family assets. It means preparing an inventory of all the items of the joint family property.
The Mitakshara Karta is not liable to accounts and no coparcener can even at the time of partition, call upon the karta to account his past dealings with the joint family property unless charges of fraud, misappropriation/conversion are made against him.
Ghuia Devi v. Shyamlal Mandal AIR 1974 Pat 68
Facts: - Gokul Mandal was the common ancestor of the family, he had 2 sons: - Gobardhan and Ghoghan. After Gokul’s death Gobardhan was the karta of the family. Shyamlal and Kisan are the sons of Gobardhan. Shyamlal, defendant no.1 is the husband of the plaintiff. In 1951, partition took place between two branches: Shyamlal and Ghoghan. After partition, Shyamlal began to act as karta of the family consisting of the members of Gobardhan’s branch. Appellant is a pardanashin lady. Shyamlal took advantage of her position and misappropriation of property and its income and as a result of it a suit was filed. Plea of appellant was that their client was entitled to a decree for accounts. Their plea was rejected because they could adduce no evidence.
Judgment: - In the suits for partition of a Joint Hindu Family property the manager/karta can only be made liable for revaluation of account if there is a proof of misappropriation /fraud and improper conversion of joint family assets and property. It was said that in the absence of such a proof a coparcener seeking partition is not entitled to require the manager to account for his past dealings with the joint family property.
However, when a coparcener suing for partition is entirely excluded from the enjoyment of property he can ask for accounts.
After the severance of status has taken place, the karta is bound to render accounts of all expenditure and income in the same manner as a trustee or agent is bound to render accounts. This means that from the date of severance of status, the karta is bound to account for all mesne profits.
# Representation: - The karta represents the family. He is its sole representative vis-a vis the government and all outsiders and in that capacity he has to discharge many responsibilities and liabilities on behalf of the family. He has to pay taxes and other dues on behalf of the family and he can be sued for all his dealings on behalf of the family with the outsiders.
Powers of KartaWhen we enumerate the powers of karta, the real importance of his legal position comes into clear relief. His powers are vast and limitations are few. The ambit of his powers can be considered under two heads: - (a) power of alienation of joint family property, (b) other powers. In the former case, his powers are limited since a karta can alienate in exceptional cases. In the latter case his powers are large, almost absolute.
First we will discuss the other powers.
# Powers of managementAs the head of the family, karta’s powers of management are almost absolute. He may mange the property of the family, the family affairs, the business the way he likes, he may mismanage also, nobody can question his mismanagement. He is not liable for positive failures. He may discriminate between the members of the family. But he cannot deny maintenance /use/occupation of property to any coparcener. The ever-hanging sword of partition is a great check on his absolute powers. Probably, the more effective check is the affection and the natural concern that he has for the members of the family and the complete faith and confidence that members repose in him.
# Right to incomeIt is the natural consequence of the joint family system that the whole of the income of the joint family property, whosoever may collect them, a coparcener, agent or a servant, must be handled over to the karta .It is for the karta to allot funds to the members and look after their needs and requirements.
The income given to the karta is an expenditure incurred in the interest of the family.
Jugal Kishore Baldeo Sahai v. CIT (1967) 63 ITR 238
In the present case, both the members of the Hindu undivided family, who were the only persons competent to enter into an agreement on its behalf, considered it appropriate that the karta should be paid salary at the rate of Rs. 500/- per month for looking after its interest in the partnership in which it had a substantial interest because its karta was a partner therein as its representative, and entered into an agreement to pay salary to him for the services rendered to the family. The ratio of the above decision is, therefore, applicable to the present case. Accordingly, the salary paid to him has to be held to be an expenditure incurred in the interest of the family .The expenditure having been incurred under a valid agreement, bonafide, and in the interest of and wholly and exclusively for the purpose of the business of the Hindu undivided family, is allowable as a deductible expenditure under section 37(1) of the Indian Income Tax Act, 1922 in computing the income of the Hindu undivided family.
# Right to representationThe karta of a joint family represents the family in all matters-
legal, social, religious. He acts on behalf of the family and such acts
are binding on the family. The joint family has no corporate existence; it
acts in all matters through its karta. The karta can enter into any
transaction on behalf of the family and that would be binding on the joint
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