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Case NameUlagalam Perumal Sethurayar v. Rani Subbalakshmi Nachiar
Equivalent Citation168 Ind Cas 753
CourtMadras High Court
PetitionerUlagalam Perumal Sethurayar
RespondentRani Subbalakshmi Nachiar
Date of Judgement19 March 1935
BenchJustice Stone Ramesam
ReferredImpariible Estates Bill, Transfer of Property Act


This appeal is made in opposition to the ruling of the Tinnevelly Subordinate Judge giving the plaintiff ownership of the assets. Kottilinga Sethuraya, a Zamindar, signed a deed of settlement on May 29, 1902, four days before the Impartible Estates Act of 1902 took effect. At the time, he had married his second pregnant wife and had one son from his first deceased wife. In the settlement document, he set aside a share for himself and stipulated terms for the second wife and the unborn child, outlining the requirements for each. He also included maintenance for his relatives in his plans. Later, the woman passed away and the child was born as Meenakshisundara Vinayaga Perumal. The third woman that the zamindar married gave birth to the lawsuit’s first defendant, Ulagalam Perumal, who is also the zamindar’s son. After the Act, he had very little control over the land since, according to the Impartible Estates Act, a zamindar’s role is comparable to that of the head of a Hindu joint family or a Hindu widow. The guardianship of both the males Meenakshisundara and defendant No. 1, as well as the inheritance on behalf of the child were taken over by the Court of Wards on March 4, 1907. When Meenakshisundara reached the majority, the estate was given to him. His widow Rani Subbulakshmi Nachiar, who is the current plaintiff, survived him till his death in July 1929. The Collector advised the plaintiff to file a legitimate lawsuit as soon as he passed away and declared that he would identify defendant No. 1 as the successor. On October 1, 1920, the current lawsuit was brought to regain control over the related properties. Defendant No. 2, Kottilinga’s cousin, was accused because the previous zamindar had named him manager in a trust deed. Tenants under competing leases included defendants nos. 3 through 11.  He argued that the property passed to defendant No. 1 by survivorship rather than to the plaintiff, who would have been the heir solely if the suit property was Meenakshisundara’s distinct property. 


As and once the facts are laid out, certain legal contentions arise:

  1. What complex rules govern property ownership in a Hindu joint family?
  2. What part does alienation among family play in terms of rights and property?
  3. What are the effects of the Mitakshara Rules and the Impartible Estates Act, and what is the extent of each?


The main thrust of the appellant’s argument is that even though a stranger acquires an impartible property free of all jointness, i.e., as his separate property, a family member acquires it as joint family property due to the nature of the property before the alienation. The appellant claims that the settlement only serves to replace K. Kottilinga as Zamindar and install Meenakshisundara in his place. To bolster his claim, the appellant cites examples of where one branch has been replaced by a younger branch. Therefore, in my judgement, the three cases on which the appellant bases his argument are not comparable to the situation at hand. In my opinion in the cases of Stree Rajah Yanumula Venkayamah v. Stree Rajah Yanumula Bojchiah Venkandora, Konammal v. Annadana Jadaya Gounder, and Annadana Jadaya Gounder v. Konammal. It is said that even if S. Kottilinga had planned to leave the property to Meenakshisundara, that wouldn’t change the fact that Meenakshisundara would only claim it for the family, regardless of what the settlor had intended. Mr Venkatarama Sastri refers to Mitakshara, Chap. I, Section 4 for this stance. According to the reasoning, if the alienee were a stranger, he would undoubtedly acquire an absolute estate, but if he were a family member, he would only take it as shared property. Saying that where the alienee is a family member, he must hold it only as a joint family member is restricting the full power of alienation as acknowledged by the decisions of the Judicial Committee above-mentioned. This disables the estate’s holder and prevents him from leaving an absolute estate to a member of the family, which conflicts with the full power of alienation acknowledged by the decisions. If he possesses the complete power of alienation, the alienee will immediately acquire the entire property as a result of the alienation. It is another thing to argue that he afterwards dealt with it as joint family property or put it into the common stock. A separate issue arises from the alienee’s later behaviour. The alienation itself, in my judgement, must pass an absolute estate. We were pressed hard to believe that the third son was not intended to be deprived and that the zamindari’s primary goal was to cut off K. Kottillinga.


Indeed, this kind of chance of succession cannot be adequately stated as a simple succession, as in this case, the chance of succession is the logical outcome of a hypothetical ownership stake in the property. The birthright of the senior member to take by survivorship still exists, even though the other rights that a coparcener obtains by birth in joint family property have vanished. This privilege is also not only a spes succession, such as when a reverter inherits the inheritance of a Hindu widow upon her husband’s passing. It is a privilege that may be given up and relinquished. But if at the moment the succession opens, the impartible asset is not kept as joint property, even in the sense defined above, but is instead held merely as separate property of the propositus, the impartible estate will not pass by survivorship to another male member.  In this case, Meenakshisundara acquired the property through the alienation of Section Kottilinga, making it absolutely his separate property. As a result, his heir is to be sought on the basis that it is his separate property and that he held it in the joint family, even in the narrow sense in which an impartible property held by a single holder can be said to belong to the joint family. Due to this, the property passes by succession to the plaintiff instead of through survivorship to defendant No. 1. Furthermore, it is questionable whether the settlor can make any additional dispositions if the settlor intended to give the vested remainder to Meenakshisundara as a joint property up to a certain point in time, namely, the death of Meenakshisundara during the settlor’s lifetime without leaving a male issue. If Meenakshisundara passes away without leaving a male issue, any remaining male members, such as K. Kottilinga or the current defendant No. 1, will inherit via survivorship. The only way the settlor may add a defeasance provision to overrule the survivorship is by altering the character that Meenakshisundara would have maintained till his passing. The basis for that ruling appears to be that there is no right to partition in an impartible Zameen, meaning that the junior members cannot demand a property divide as they would in the case of a typical Hindu household. Joint family property is inalienable (barring justification), which is based on the junior members’ perpetual ownership of an interest in the property that crystallises into possession upon division, which the junior members can always seek. This justification for inalienability dissolves if there is no authority to compel a partition, hence in the event of an impartible property, the owner of the land may alienate at any moment. Of course, it could have been argued that this restriction on the standard right to partition imposed by the custom in the case of impartible estates resulted from the very nature of the situation, which imposed an equal barrier in the way of the landowner forcing separation by a unilateral act. It is important to note that the property of impartibility is derived, at least in this instance, from family custom to make this argument obvious. The tradition developed in the past for reasons related to military brothers and to preserve family assets. If universal law had been in effect, unhindered by custom, the estate would have been divided throughout time either on succession or by partition. The customs prevented this in the case of succession by choosing just one from the group of individuals who were all equally eligible to succeed under the general law. The result was to give the holder the authority to divide the family property unilaterally, freeing it entirely from the rights that the joint family had previously held (except statutory provisions like Section 39 of the Transfer of Property Act), rather than the family itself, which remained joint. The right to succeed exists yet there is nothing to which to succeed if all the property is given to a stranger. Although there is nothing from which the maintenance may be paid, the entitlement to maintenance remains in effect. The family stays intact and the rights to maintenance and succession are unaffected if the alienation does not include a stranger. The family’s possessions have not been taken away. It belongs to one member, the one to whom the property is passed. The fact that he and he alone possess it does not imply that the family is uninvolved. One individual has the exclusive right to pleasure in the typical situation of an impartible property. By doing this, he does not negate the right. The right endures. It moves the thing to which it is attached. It does so because the right is a succession right and a right to demand that a relative uphold it, or rights based on relationship. Even when a right has no value if the relatives have no property, it is still a right. Against a stranger, it doesn’t and never has existed. The right that was never destroyed and could not have been destroyed by the holder becomes valuable once more if the suitable relation owns the property since there is something to succeed to. The general rule of Mitakshara has been supplanted by custom to this degree (i.e., partition, alienability, maintenance), and the impartible estate, albeit ancestral, is adorned with the traits of self-acquired and independent property. It is an entitlement that may be renounced and given up. Therefore, it is necessary to demonstrate an express or implied intention on the part of the junior members of the family to renounce their right to succeed in the estate to prove that a family governed by the Mitakshara, in which there is an ancestral impartible estate, has ceased to be joint. It should be noted that the family was seen as still possessing an ancestor-transferable estate. That is the entire purpose of this. The family has not split up in that instance. According to me, the holder cannot alienate an impartible estate to cause division. This is an instance of alienation of property. Despite the alienation, the defendant asserts that he is the successor of the alienor rather than the alienee, relying on their relationship as the foundation for his claim. For the defendant to prevail, he must demonstrate a right to succeed to Meenakshisundara, which the court finds he has not done.


In this decision, issues with the harmony of laws, customs, and their effects on inheritance and property are raised. The case discusses further personal information about alienation, the function of familial ties, and its effect on inheritance. This case serves as a good example of how a court must strike a balance between laws and traditions in a culturally diverse setting to render an appropriate decision that is both reasonable and fair.


Ulagalam Perumal Sethurayar… v. Rani Subbalakshmi Nachiar- https://indiankanoon.org/doc/115104/ 

This analysis is written by Kavya Tiwari, interning with Legal Vidhiya


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