The Supreme Court’s landmark judgment favouring the rights of daughters to have a share in a Hindu Undivided Family (HUF) in property is expected to open up a pandora’s box in terms of disputes and litigations in business families, experts said. On Tuesday, the division bench of the Supreme Court, headed by Justice Arun Mishra, while settling the question of law clarified that daughters will have right in the parental property in accordance with the amendment of 2005 in the Hindu Succession Act of 1956. The court has clarified that the amendment, which was brought in 2005 would have a retrospective effect.
The question of law, that came to the Apex Court was, whether the amendment of 2005 to the Act granting equal rights to daughters to inherit ancestral property would have retrospective effect. However, this will have a wider impact on the various family settlements and asset divisions, experts said. “With this verdict, I see a rise in family disputes and conflict in many business families as daughters may demand the right to inheritance. A way to handle such disputes would be to professionalize businesses and separate management from ownership,” said Dr. Mita Dixit, director at Equations Advisors, a family business advisory firm. “Traditionally Indian business families prefer sons as successors and inheritors and daughters are not included in the business as inheritors or successors.”
According to Rajesh Narain Gupta, managing partner of the law firm SNG & Partners, the judgment eliminates all challenges to the equal rights of women as coparcener in HUF assets except where the assets have been divided on or before the cut off date of December, 20, 2004. “Many ancestors who did not believe in this equality and never imagined that law will change to this effect may turn in grave,” said Gupta. “This is a good development for gender equality but will certainly open a pandora box and unimaginable contentious issues, more so as this is now retrospective as well as retroactive.”
The Supreme Court ruling comes at the time when recently, a London court has recognised Vinoo Hinduja, the daughter of Hinduja Group chairman Srichand Parmanand (SP) Hinduja, as his ‘litigation friend to safeguard his interests since he is said to be suffering from a form of dementia. It is believed that SP Hinduja is seeking to repudiate an agreement of 2014 with his three brothers that said the “brothers appoint each other as their executors, and that the assets held in any single brother’s name belong to all four”. SP Hinduja has two daughters Vinoo and Shanu Hinduja.
Similarly, Valli Arunachalam, one of the heirs to over a century old, Murugappa Group, is also negotiating with other family members to succeed her father as a member of the male-only board of the holding company. “Women in the patriarchal system have been fighting an uphill battle for a long time to get equal rights in all spheres-succession, work and social status,” said Valli Arunachalam, daughter of late MV Murugappan, former patriarch of Murugappa Group. “This is a welcome step in the right direction and gives us the much-needed momentum to continue striving for gender equality.”