|Justice Altamas Kabir|
Supreme Court of India
The Supreme Court in Shehammal Vs. Hasan Khani Rawther has examined the applicability of the concept of 'Spes Successionis', as contained in Section 6 of the Transfer of Property Act, to persons governed by Muslim law. The relevant extracts of this judgment are reproduced hereinbelow;
16. From the submissions made on behalf of the respective parties and the facts of the case, three questions of importance emerge for decision, namely:-
(i) Whether in view of the doctrine of spes successionis, as embodied in Section 6 of the Transfer of Property Act, 1882, and in paragraph 54 of Mulla's "Principles of Mahomedan Law", a Deed of Relinquishment executed by an expectant heir could operate as estoppel to a claim that may be set up by the Executor of such Deed after inheritance opens on the death of the owner of the property?
(ii) Whether on execution of a Deed of Relinquishment after having received remuneration for such future share, the expectant heir could be estopped from claiming a share in the inheritance?
(iii) Can a Mohammedan by means of a Family Settlement relinquish his right of spes successionis when he had still not acquired a right in the property?
17. Chapter VI of Mulla's "Principles of Mahomedan Law" deals with the general rules of inheritance under Mohammedan law. Paragraph 54 which falls within the said Chapter relates to the concept of transfer of spes successionis which has also been termed as "renunciation of a chance of succession". The said paragraph provides that the chance of a Mohammedan heir- apparent succeeding to an estate cannot be said to be the subject of a valid transfer or release. The same is included in Section 6 of the Transfer of Property Act and the relevant portion thereof, namely, clause (a) is extracted below :-
"6. What may be transferred.- Property of any kind may be transferred, except as otherwise provided by this Act or by any other law for the time being in force. (a) The chance of an heir-apparent succeeding to an estate, the chance of a relation obtaining a legacy on the death of a kinsman, or any other mere possibility of a like nature, cannot be transferred."
The provisions of Section 6(a) have to be read along with Section 2 of the Act, which provides for repeal of Acts and saving of certain enactments, incidents, rights, liabilities etc. It specifically provides that nothing in Chapter II, in which Section 6 finds place, shall be deemed to affect any rule of Mohammedan Law.
18. Inspite of the aforesaid provisions, both of the general law and the personal law, the Courts have held that the fetters imposed under the aforesaid provisions are capable of being removed in certain situations. Two examples in this regard are -
(i) When an expectant heir willfully does something which has the effect of attracting the provisions of Section 115 of the Evidence Act, is he estopped from claiming the benefit of the doctrine of spes successionis, as provided for under Section 6(a) of the Transfer of Property Act, 1882, and also under the Mohammedan Law as embodied in paragraph 54 of Mulla's "Principles of Mahomedan Law"?
(ii) When a Mohammedan becomes a party to a family arrangement, does it also entail that he gives up his right of spes successionis.
The answer to the said two propositions is also the answer to the questions formulated hereinbefore in paragraph 16.
19. The Mohammedan Law enjoins in clear and unequivocal terms that a chance of a Mohammedan heir-apparent succeeding to an estate cannot be the subject of a valid transfer or release. Section 6(a) of the Transfer of Property Act was enacted in deference to the customary law and law of inheritance prevailing among Mohammedans.
20. As opposed to the above, are the general principles of estoppel as contained in Section 115 of the Evidence Act and the doctrine of relinquishment in respect of a future share in property. Both the said principles contemplated a situation where an expectant heir conducts himself and/or performs certain acts which makes the two aforesaid principles applicable inspite of the clear concept of relinquishment as far as Mohammedan Law is concerned, as incorporated in Section 54 of Mulla's "Principles of Mahomedan Law". Great reliance has been placed by both the parties on the decision in Gulam Abbas's case (supra).
While dealing with a similar situation, this Court watered down the concept that the chance of a Mohammedan heir apparent succeeding to an estate cannot be the subject of a valid transfer on lease and held that renunciation of an expectancy in respect of a future share in a property in a case where the concerned party himself chose to depart from the earlier views, was not only possible, but legally valid. Referring to various authorities, including Ameer Ali's "Mohammedan Law", this Court observed that "renunciation implies the yielding up of a right already vested". It was observed in the facts of that case that during the lifetime of the mother, the daughters had no right of inheritance. Citing the decision in the case of Mt. Khannum Jan vs. Mt. Jan Bibi [(1827) 4 SDA 210] it was held that renunciation implies the yielding up of a right already vested. Accordingly, renunciation during the mother's lifetime of the daughters' shares would be null and void on the ground that an inchoate right is not capable of being transferred as such right was yet to crystallise. This Court also held that "under the Muslim Law an expectant heir may, nevertheless, be part of a course of conduct which may create an estoppel against claiming the right at a time when the right of inheritance has accrued". It was observed by the learned Judges that the Contract Act and the Evidence Act would not strictly apply since they did not involve questions arising out of Mohammedan Law. This Court accordingly held that the renunciation of a supposed right, based upon an expectancy, could not, by any test be considered "prohibited".
21. This Court ultimately held that the binding force of the renunciation of a supposed right, would depend upon the attendant circumstances and the whole course of conduct of which it formed a part. In other words, the principle of an equitable estoppel far from being opposed to any principle of Mohammedan Law, is really in complete harmony with it.
22. On the question of family arrangement, this Court observed that though arrangements arrived at in order to avoid future disputes in the family may not technically be a settlement, a broad concept of a family settlement could not be the answer to the doctrine of spes successionis.
23. There is little doubt that ordinarily there cannot be a transfer of spes successionis, but in the exceptions pointed out by this Court in Gulam Abbas's case (supra), the same can be avoided either by the execution of a family settlement or by accepting consideration for a future share. It could then operate as estoppel against the expectant heir to claim any share in the estate of the deceased on account of the doctrine of spes successionis. While dealing with the various decisions on the subject, which all seem to support the view taken by the learned Judges, reference was made to the decision of Chief Justice Suleman of the Allahabad High Court in the case of Latafat Hussain Vs. Hidayat Hussain [AIR 1936 All 573], where the question of arrangement between the husband and wife in the nature of a family settlement, which was binding on the parties, was held to be correct in view of the fact that a presumption would have to be drawn that if such family arrangement had not been made, the husband could not have executed a deed of Wakf if the wife had not relinquished her claim to inheritance. It is true that in the case of Mt. Khannum Jan (supra), it had been held by this Court that renunciation implied the yielding up of a right already vested or desisting from prosecuting a claim maintainable against another, and such renunciation during the lifetime of the mother of the shares of the daughters was null and void since it entailed the giving up of something which had not yet come into existence.
24. The High Court after considering the aforesaid views of the different jurists and the decision in connection with the doctrine of relinquishment came to a finding that even if the provisions of the doctrine of spes succession is were to apply, by their very conduct the Petitioners were estopped from claiming the benefit of the said doctrine. In this context, we may refer to yet another principle of Mohammedan Law which is contained in the concept of Wills under the Mohammedan Law. Paragraph 118 of Mulla's "Principles of Mahomedan Law" embodies the concept of the limit of testamentary power by a Mohammedan. It records that a Mohammedan cannot by Will dispose of more than a third of the surplus of his estate after payment of funeral expenses and debts. Bequests in excess of one-third cannot take effect unless the heirs consent thereto after the death of the testator. The said principle of testamentary disposition of property has been the subject matter of various decisions rendered by this Court from time to time and it has been consistently stated and reaffirmed that a testamentary disposition by a Mohammedan is binding upon the heirs if the heirs consent to the disposition of the entire property and such consent could either be express or implied. Thus, a Mohammedan may also make a disposition of his entire property if all the heirs signified their consent to the same. In other words, the general principle that a Mohammedan cannot by Will dispose of more than a third of his estate after payment of funeral expenses and debts is capable of being avoided by the consent of all the heirs. In effect, the same also amounts to a right of relinquishment of future inheritance which is on the one hand forbidden and on the other accepted in the case of testamentary disposition. Having accepted the consideration for having relinquished a future claim or share in the estate of the deceased, it would be against public policy if such a claimant be allowed the benefit of the doctrine of spes successionis. In such cases, we have no doubt in our mind that the principle of estoppel would be attracted.
25. We are, however, not inclined to accept that the methodology resorted to by Meeralava Rawther can strictly be said to be a family arrangement. A family arrangement would necessarily mean a decision arrived at jointly by the members of a family and not between two individuals belonging to the family. The five deeds of relinquishment executed by the five sons and daughters of Meeralava Rawther constitute individual agreements entered into between Meeralava Rawther and the expectant heirs. However, notwithstanding the above, as we have held hereinbefore, the doctrine of estoppel is attracted so as to prevent a person from receiving an advantage for giving up of his/her rights and yet claiming the same right subsequently. In our view, being opposed to public policy, the heir expectant would be estopped under the general law from claiming a share in the property of the deceased, as was held in Gulam Abbas's case (supra).