Girls born before 2005 too have equal rights to jointly-owned property, says Bombay high court

MUMBAI: The Bombay high court has clarified that a change in law in 2005 to bring daughters on a par with sons over rights to joint family property can be applied retrospectively.

Daughters born any time earlier than September 9, 2005, are entitled to equal rights for inheritance of jointly-owned family property, the court held on Thursday.

The judgment delivered by a three-judge bench of Chief Justice Mohit Shah, Justice M S Sanklecha and Justice M S Sonak has freed a large number of Hindu women from the son-centric heirship laws that existed till 2005. Now, they will get a share in properties worth crores of rupees in the city.

The judgment said that equality would now apply to even girls born prior to 1956, when the Hindu Succession Act first came into effect, but hadn't given daughters equal rights which sons enjoyed since birth over joint family property. In September 2005, a progressive amendment to the Succession Act conferred equal inheritance rights at birth even to daughters over joint family property. But daughters, the HC clarified are entitled to these equal rights only if they were alive and such property existed as joint family property in September 2005, when the amendment came into force.

The high court said that all daughters born any time earlier but alive as on September 9, 2005, have equal rights as sons, but heirs of daughters who died before that date do not get any benefit under the law.

The question before the bench in a clutch of cases was whether the 2005 law could be retroactive. The issue was referred to the larger bench by a single judge of the high court in June. Justice R G Ketkar had doubted the correctness of a conflicting finding by a two-judge bench earlier in 2012. The division bench had held that the equality to daughters would be available only prospectively to those born after September 2005.

Ram Apte, senior counsel appearing for a woman born prior to 2005 who was fighting with her brothers for partition of a joint property, had argued that the modified law had to be treated as applicable without a cut-off date and that a daughter's rights at birth must be recognized retroactively as if they existed when the succession laws were first legislated in June 1956.

The high court said, "In cases of socio-economic legislations, like the one we are concerned with, we must apply the purposive rule of interpretation to find out the true meaning of the statute."


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