Let's assume a company without a director or a team without a manager. The
functioning of the company and the team won't stop without them, but will
definitely be hampered. They are the position holders who manage the major
affairs of the company and the team, and also governs their proper functioning.
This is how the position of Karta in the Joint Hindu Family is. For the Joint
family, he is the manager and the person who governs the proper and smooth
functioning of the family. That's a very unique and powerful position in the
family. But with powers and position, comes a pool full of responsibilities
which are to be fulfilled, keeping in mind the interests of the family members. Karta is the senior-most male member of the family. The word senior-most
appropriate in order to represent the family but why is the senior-most 'male'
member has to be a Karta?
Why is it only the senior-most 'male' member and not the female?
Well, the answer lies in the patriarchal roots of our Indian society. No doubt
that we have evolved and believes that the generation has changed, patriarchy
has become an older concept, but that has been a system engraved in the roots of
our culture and as a result, the Karta is the 'senior-most male' member of the
family. The term “Karta” is well defined in an 18th century case of Suraj Bunsi
Koer v. Sheo Persad
Every member of the Joint family has its own rights and
interests in the property, which are represented and managed by the Karta.
Though there are separate powers, but the joint family stands united where the
matters of the family are taken and dealt together, in such situations, the
cohesive structure comes in the front. He neither shares a principal agent
relationship with the family members, not a relationship of a trustee and its
beneficiaries instead he shares a fiduciary relationship with them.
This research paper shall discuss questions such as, who can be a Karta, what
powers and duties does he have and what are the new amendments that have taken
place in respect of these questions.
Chapter One- Who Can Be A Karta?
It is the presumption of the Joint Hindu family system that the senior-most male
member of the family becomes the Karta of the family. This position is merely a
result of the prevalent patriarchal system of the society and not a result of
any prior agreement or any consent of the other coparceners. He is the Karta by
virtue of the fact that he is the senior-most male member of the family and as
long as he is alive and is in a position to manage the family affairs, he will
continue to be the Karta.
In a case where he is going through a permanent
disease, insanity, or any other disqualifications, his rights will be defeated
and the next 'senior-most male' member will take his place. However, there might
be situations where the Karta is of unsound mind, and in such cases, he cannot
continue his position and his position has to be taken up by the senior-most
The priority is given to the father and as long as he is alive, he
is the Karta of the joint family, but after his death, the position and the
power transfers to the other senior-most male member of the family, who can be
an uncle (if the coparcenary consists of uncles and the nephews), and can also
be the eldest brother (if the coparcenary consists of brothers in the family).
The Karta has the option of expressly relinquishing his powers if he does not
wish to continue on his powers and position.
To understand the next concept, let's assume a situation that the Karta is
expressly ready to relinquish his position because of certain reasons, and the
next senior-most member cannot take up the position because he is suffering from
a permanent disease, and none of the other coparceners are ready to manage the
affairs of the joint family, then how will such a situation be dealt?
In circumstances like this, a junior member can also be appointed as Karta but
with due consent of all the other coparceners. Unlike Karta, the appointment of
the junior member is based on the consent or agreement of the coparceners.
Since, the appointment is based on the consent, this consent can be withdrawn at
any time. In a case decided by the Supreme Court, certain circumstances were
laid down where the junior member of the family can become the Karta namely:
- In case when the senior-most member is unable to take care of the
affairs of the joint family,
- In situations where the Karta relinquishes his powers and position,
expressly or by necessary implications.
- In certain extraordinary circumstances, when Karta is not available to
discharge his duties, and
- In absence of the father whose whereabouts are not known or he is not in
the remote place because of some extraordinary circumstances and his return
is not anticipated or is unlikely for a reasonable time.
However, just because a Karta is the junior member in this case, it does not
mean that his locus standi or capacity can be challenged. For example- The
junior member, appointed as Karta, filed a suit for eviction against a tenant.
In such a case, the tenant cannot challenge his capacity or locus standi to file
the suit just because he is not the senior-most member of the family.
With this, the question arises whether this junior member can be a minor, and if
yes, can minors be a Karta?
Certainly, yes. These junior members may or may not be the minor. In case, he is
the minor, and the only person who can take up the responsibilities, then in
such a situation, a minor has to act as the Karta through his guardian, till he
attains the majority. Though before the 2005 amendment, the women did not get
any right over the joint Hindu family property, but it was held in the case of
Shreya Vidyarthi v. Ashok Vidyarthi
, that the mother of the minor can act
as the Karta, in capacity of his legal guardian and can perform the duties
With this arises a question as to, can females be a Karta?
Looking at the scenario before Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005, the
females were not granted the status of coparcener in the Joint Hindu Family
system. However, after the amended Act, the females were granted similar
coparcenary rights like that of a male. Hence, it will be wrong to completely
say 'no' in order to answer the question, whether females can be a Karta or not.
The females can be Karta of the Joint family in case she does not have a brother
and her father has also passed away. In such a situation she will have same
rights and powers as that of a male Karta. Hence, it can be said that,
generally, a female cannot be a Karta but in certain circumstances, they can be
granted the status of the Karta of the Joint Hindu Family property.
Chapter Two- Powers Of The Karta
Karta of the Joint Hindu Family has several powers; however, it is to be made
sure that he is acting in the best interest of the family members and can't
misuse them for his personal reasons:
- Power to manage the affairs of the Hindu joint family is an absolute
power granted to the Karta, where the Karta has the right to appear
in all family matters and also in all the properties associated and belonging to
the joint family. However, power comes with a great responsibility and here, if
there is any mismanagement on the part of Karta, then he cannot be questioned.
Which also gives him a safeguard route from positive failures. He is not
obligated to save or invest funds and property, instead, he has the discretion
to decide questions related to such economies.
Karta can discriminate between the members of the joint family, but maintenance
or use and occupation of property to any coparcener cannot be denied. Therefore,
it can be said that this power is almost absolute.
- A joint family business is a very significant part of a Hindu joint
family and Karta, being the head, has the power to manage this
business. He runs this business and takes necessary measures in order to
promote, run and manage the business.
- In all the matters, whether legal or social or religious, Karta has the power to represent the joint family. In lieu of this
representation, if an act is done by the Karta, then such an act is binding on
all the members of the family. The Karta can represent and enter into the
transactions on behalf of the members of the family and such a transaction will
have a binding effect.
If the Karta represented the joint Hindu family in any legal proceedings, then
the decree passed by the court will apply on all the members of the family.
- Karta has power over the incomes and the expenditures of the
joint Hindu family, as all the income earned out of the joint family property
and business, is handed over to the Karta and he has the power to allot the
incomes to the members of the family and take reasonable care of their
requirements. Under the Mitakshara law, the members of the joint Hindu family,
do not have any definite share in the income gained from the joint family
property and business.
- One of the major powers granted to the Karta is with respect
to the alienation of the Joint Hindu Family property. This power can be
exercised, only in certain exceptional cases and hence, is restricted to a large
extent. There are three exceptional situations when the Karta can exercise his
power of alienation, namely, in case of a legal necessity, for the benefit of
the estate, and for the acts of indispensable duty.
If the alienation is
required to be done without the existence of these exceptional cases, then the
consent of the coparceners is required and will be voidable at the option of the
coparcenersand then, the decision of alienation will be binding.
Legal necessity is a situation such as, repayment of loan, decree passed by the
court, litigation expenses to protect the estate, etc. In the case of DevKishan
v. Ram Kishan, it was said that an alienation for the purpose of arranging
marriage expenses for the marriage of a minor, will not come under the purview
of lawful alienation.
Benefit of the estate is a situation where the alienation is done for a positive
benefit of the Joint Hindu family property, such as, to protect the property
from any deterioration, etc. in case of Palaniappa v. Devsikmony, the Privy
Council laid down the elaborated illustrations with regards to the incidents of
the benefit of estate.
Considering the alienation in case of indispensable duties, it includes
situations where the property needs to be alienated to fulfil certain religious,
pious or any charitable acts, such as, alienation to receive money for last
rites of a family member, as this comes under the purview of pious obligation,
- As we saw till now that Karta is the representative of the
Joint Hindu family and also deems to act in the most prudent way and for the
best interests of the family. This gives him a wide power to not be bound to
keep the accounts with respect to the expenditure from the family funds.
However, even in cases where he was asked to do so, he has to render the
accounts existing on the date of such demand and not the past accounts. An
exception lies in the case of charges against him for fraud, misappropriation,
etc., where he can be forced to render the past accounts as well.
- It becomes the responsibility of the Karta to acknowledge and
pay off the debts along with the interest, due on the family. It does not mean
that the debt has to be contracted by the entire family, even if it is
contracted by the Karta, alone, it has to be paid off by binding the share of
all the coparceners, and even after partition, the liability continues. Karta
has the power to contract debts by taking loan in case he has to use it for
family business or for any other legally acceptable purpose. However, the estate
of the minor cannot be given for raising the loan amount.
- Karta has to power to act on behalf of the family in case of
any disputes and initiate compromise, if needed. However, this compromise must
be for the welfare of the family and not for his personal interest. If this
principle is followed, and the Karta entered in the compromise for the best
interest of the family, then all members, including minors, are bound by this.
Chapter Three- Duties Of The Karta
- As we discussed in the powers of the Karta, that he is not bound to keep
the records of the transactions/funds used, etc. But, as held in the case of
Girijanandini Devi v. Brijendra Narain, the court said that
though Karta is not bound to keep accounts, but in cases where a coparcener is
seeking partition, he can require the accounts from the Karta. In such a
situation, it is the duty of the Karta to render the accounts, if the coparcener
demands it at the time of partition. Also, the Karta can be held liable for any
misappropriation, or fraud.
- It is evident from the previous read topics that the Karta
acts on behalf of the Joint family and that he has the power to contract debts,
but along with that, it is the duty of the Karta to realise the debt due to the
family. He has the power to make reasonable reductions and settle accounts with
the debtors, but he cannot give up on the entire debt.
- Since the Karta has the power to spend the family money, it
does not mean that it can be done unreasonably. It is the duty of the Karta to
spend reasonably and only for the purpose of the family benefit. The Karta is
responsible to act in the best interest of the family and hence, it is his duty
to adhere to the same.
- A joint Hindu family business is managed by the Karta, but
what if the Karta has to start a new business? He can do that, but in order to
do it, he has to seek consent from all the other coparceners. Business has a
characteristic of uncertainty, which means that the share of the other members
of the family can also be imposed to risks. Hence, this is the duty of the Karta
to not start a new business without the consent of other coparceners in the
Joint Hindu family.
- We read that the Karta has the power to alienate the Joint
Hindu property, but that can only be done in certain circumstances, which are,
legal necessity, indispensable duties and benefit of estate. Hence, it is the
duty of the Karta to not alienate the coparcenary property except for the
situations prescribed. If he alienates the property in the exceptional three
circumstances, then he need not take any consent, as it is justifiable.
Chapter Four- Amendments In The Law
There was a series of amendments that were bought in the Hindu Succession
(Amendment) Act, 2005. The 174th report of the 15th Law Commission in 2000,
recommended various changes in the succession laws of the country and the main
idea was to abolish the discrimination against the women by not granting them
equal status in the succession laws. This was the key issue and hence, laid to
the foundation of the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005.
One of the major amendments that we need to look into for the purpose of this
paper is, whether women were granted the right to become the Karta of the Joint
Hindu Family, or not?
The amendment gave the right to the females to attain the position of the
coparcener in the family system, irrespective of their marital status. They were
granted equal rights like that of the son and were also given the succession
rights form birth, like the sons. They are equally liable and have equal powers
which a male coparcener had.
The answer to the question whether the female can be granted the status of Karta
or not, was answered in the case of Mrs. Sujata Sharma v. Shri Manu Gupta
In this case, it was decided that since the amendment has given same rights and
powers to the females like the son, in the coparcenary system, they also have
the right to manage the same system and therefore can be the Karta of the Joint
Hindu family.The court acknowledged that no restrictions regarding female being
the Karta, can be found in Section 6 of the HSA.
Hence, to put it up in a concluded way, it can be stated that after the death of
the father, if the next eldest member is the female, then she will be granted
the status of the Karta of the family. The amendment removed the prevalent
discrimination based on their marital status, which was primarily done by
certain state legislations. The judgement helped in taking one more appropriate
step to bring in the equality of women in the succession laws of the country.
Another question that came up in the case of Vaishali Satish Gonarkar v. Satish
 that, whether this amendment will apply prospectively or
retrospectively. It was upheld in this case that the Hindu Succession
(Amendment) Act, 2005, will have a prospective effect. The daughters born before
9th September '2005, will be disentitled to claim equal interest in the Joint
Therefore, the Act will be prevalent for future uses. But this was challenged in
the case of Badrinarayan Shankar Bhandari v. Omprakash Shankar
, where the court was of the opinion that the amended Act shall
apply to all the daughter born before 17th June '1956.
However, the question was again challenged in the case of Prakash v. Phulavati
where the court said that the amended Act will be applicable to all the
daughters alive on the date when the amended Act came into force, i.e.,
9th September '2005, whether she was born prior to it or not.
Well, after discussing the paper, it may be an inference that Karta is a
powerful position in the Joint Hindu family system. It is true, but is cannot be
denied that it serves a very important and certain specific purposes. One of the
purposes could be to avoid multiple claims within the same family, as Karta
represents the family, resulting in centralization.
The Karta cannot just
exercise his powers freely in all cases and certain checks have been imposed on
him, in order to make sure that he does not misuse the power given to him, in
any case. However, if he does so, there are several remedies that have been
provided to the Joint family members, so that their interests can be protected.
Legal framework acts as a shield for the members, in case of despotic behaviour
shown by the Karta.
There might be an interpretation that the relationship
between the Karta and the members of the HUF looks like a principal-agent
relationship, but that is not true. Can it be compared with a relationship of
Trustee and its beneficiary? Partially yes, but can also be denied as, the Karta
does not have the same obligations like that of a trustee, like, he does not
have to economize or account for any past relationships, etc.
position of the Karta is unique, with several powers, but many controls on that
too. After the amended Act that was passed on 9th September '2005, the law
granted same rights to the females like that of the males of the family and it
was a big step towards equality in succession laws. This not only made women
economically independent, but also made them socially secure.
- 1880 ILR 5 Cal 148
- Tribhovan Das Haribhai Tamboli v Gujarat Revenue Tribunal  3 SCC
- Nopany Investments (Pvt.) Ltd. v. Santokh Singh, 2007 (13) JT 448
- (2015) 16 SCC 46.
- Bhaskaran v. Bhaskaran
- CIT v. Gangadhar Sikaria family trust (1983) 142 ITR 677
- AIR 2002 Raj 370
- 1917 P.C. 68.
- AIR 1967 SC 1124
- CS (OS) No. 2011/2006
- 2012 (5) Bom CR 210
-  SCC OnLine Bom 908
- (2016) 1 SCC (Civ) 549
Award Winning Article Is Written By: Ms.Somya Goel
Authentication No: DE3636405350667-29-1220