01 August 2020

Oral family-settlement and its memorandum does not require registration

Be that as it may, the High Court has clearly misapplied the dictum in the relied upon decisions. The settled legal position is that when by virtue of a family settlement or arrangement, members of a family descending from a common ancestor or a near relation seek to sink their differences and disputes, settle and resolve their conflicting claims or disputed titles once and for all in order to buy peace of mind and bring about complete harmony and goodwill in the family, such arrangement ought to be governed by a special equity peculiar to them and would be enforced if honestly made. The object of such arrangement is to protect the family from long drawn litigation or perpetual strives which mar the unity and solidarity of the family and create hatred and bad blood between the various members of the family, as observed in Kale (supra). In the said reported decision, a three­Judge Bench of this Court had observed thus: ­ “9. ….. A family arrangement by which the property is equitably divided between the various contenders so as to achieve an equal distribution of wealth instead of concentrating the same in the hands of a few is undoubtedly a milestone in the administration of social justice. That is why the term “family” has to be understood in a wider sense so as to include within its fold not only close relations or legal heirs but even those persons who may have some sort of antecedent title, a semblance of a claim or even if they have a spes successionis so that future disputes are sealed for ever and the family instead of fighting claims inter se and wasting time, money and energy on such fruitless or futile litigation is able to devote its attention to more constructive work in the larger interest of the country. The courts have, therefore, leaned in favour of upholding a family arrangement instead of disturbing the same on technical or trivial grounds. Where the courts find that the family arrangement suffers from a legal lacuna or a formal defect the rule of estoppel is pressed into service and is applied to shut out plea of the person who being a party to family arrangement seeks to unsettle a settled dispute and claims to revoke the family arrangement under which he has himself enjoyed some material benefits. …..” (emphasis supplied) In paragraph 10 of the said decision, the Court has delineated the contours of essentials of a family settlement as follows: ­ “10. In other words to put the binding effect and the essentials of a family settlement in a concretised form, the matter may be reduced into the form of the following propositions:

“(1) The family settlement must be a bona fide one so as to resolve family disputes and rival claims by a fair and equitable division or allotment of properties between the various members of the family;
(2) The said settlement must be voluntary and should not be induced by fraud, coercion or undue influence;
(3) The family arrangement may be even oral in which case no registration is necessary;
Oral family-settlement and its memorandum does not require registration
(4) It is well­ settled that registration would be necessary only if the terms of the family arrangement are reduced into writing. Here also, a distinction should be made between a document containing the terms and recitals of a family arrangement made under the document and a mere memorandum prepared after the family arrangement had already been made either for the purpose of the record or for information of the court for making necessary mutation. In such a case the memorandum itself does not create or extinguish any rights in immovable properties and therefore does not fall within the mischief of Section 17(2) of the Registration Act and is, therefore, not compulsorily registrable;
(5) The members who may be parties to the family arrangement must have some antecedent title, claim or interest even a possible claim in the property which is acknowledged by the parties to the settlement. Even if one of the parties to the settlement has no title but under the arrangement the other party relinquishes all its claims or titles in favour of such a person and acknowledges him to be the sole owner, then the antecedent title must be assumed and the family arrangement will be upheld and the courts will find no difficulty in giving assent to the same;
(6) Even if bona fide disputes, present or possible, which may not involve legal claims are settled by a bona fide family arrangement which is fair and equitable the family arrangement is final and binding on the parties to the settlement.” (emphasis supplied) Again, in paragraph 24, this Court restated that a family arrangement being binding on the parties, clearly operates as an estoppel, so as to preclude any of the parties who have taken advantage under the agreement from revoking or challenging the same. In paragraph 35, the Court noted as follows: ­ “35. … We have already pointed out that this Court has widened the concept of an antecedent title by holding that an antecedent title would be assumed in a person who may not have any title but who has been allotted a particular property by other party to the family arrangement by relinquishing his claim in favour of such a donee. In such a case the party in whose favour the relinquishment is made would be assumed to have an antecedent title. …..” And again, in paragraph 36, the Court noted as follows: ­ “36. … Yet having regard to the near relationship which the brother and the son­in­law bore to the widow the Privy Council held that the family settlement by which the properties were divided between these three parties was a valid one. In the instant case also putting the case of Respondents Nos. 4 and 5 at the highest, the position is that Lachman died leaving a grandson and two daughters. Assuming that the grandson had no legal title, so long as the daughters were there, still as the settlement was made to end the disputes and to benefit all the near relations of the family, it would be sustained as a valid and binding family settlement. …” While rejecting the argument regarding inapplicability of principle of estoppel, the Court observed as follows: ­ “38. … Assuming, however, that the said document was compulsorily registrable the courts have generally held that a family arrangement being binding on the parties to it would operate as an estoppel by preventing the parties after having taken advantage under the arrangement to resile from the same or try to revoke it. …..” (emphasis supplied) And in paragraph 42, the Court observed as follows: ­
42. ..… In these circumstances there can be no doubt that even if the family settlement was not registered it would operate as a complete estoppel against Respondents Nos. 4 and 5. Respondent No. 1 as also the High Court, therefore, committed substantial error of law in not giving effect to the doctrine of estoppel as spelt out by this Court in so many cases. …” (emphasis supplied) The view so taken is backed by the consistent exposition in previous decisions referred to and duly analysed in the reported judgment. The question formulated by the High Court, in our opinion, stands answered in favour of the appellants (plaintiff), in Lala Khunni Lal vs. Kunwar Gobind Krishna Narain, ILR 33 All 356 Mt. Hiran Bibi vs. Mst. Sohan Bibi, AIR 1914 PC 44 Sahu Madho Das vs. Pandit Mukand Ram, AIR 1955 SC 481 Ram Charan Das vs. Girjanandini Devi, AIR 1966 SC 323 Tek Bahadur Bhujil vs. Debi Singh Bhujil, AIR 1966 SC 292 Maturi Pullaiah vs. Maturi Narasimham, AIR 1966 SC 1836 Krishna Biharilal vs. Gulabchand, (1971) 1 SCC 837 S. Shanmugam Pillai vs. K. Shanmugam Pillai, (1973) 2 SCC 312 Ramgopal vs. Tulshi Ram, AIR 1928 All 641 Sitala Baksh Singh vs. Jang Bahadur Singh, AIR 1933 Oudh 347 Mst. Kalawati vs. Sri Krishna Prasad, AIR 1944 Oudh 49 Bakhtawar vs. Sunder Lal, AIR 1926 All 173 Awadh Narain Singh vs. Narain Mishra, AIR 1962 Pat 400 Ramgouda Annagouda vs. Bhausaheb, AIR 1927 PC 227 Brahmanath Singh vs. Chandrakali Kuer, AIR 1961 Pat 79 Mst. Bibi Aziman vs. Mst. Saleha, AIR 1963 Pat 62 Kanhai Lal vs. Brij Lal, AIR 1918 PC 70 Dhiyan Singh vs. Jugal Kishore, AIR 1952 SC 145 T.V.R. Subbu Chetty’s Family Charities vs. M. Gaghava Mudaliar, AIR 1961 SC Rachbha vs. Mt. Mendha, AIR 1947 All 177 Chief Controlling Revenue Authority vs. Smt. Satyawati Sood, AIR 1972 Delhi 171 (FB) Shyam Sunder vs. Siya Ram, AIR 1973 All 382 light of exposition of this Court in Kale (supra). A priori, we have no hesitation in affirming the conclusion reached by the first appellate Court that the document Exhibit P­6 was nothing but a memorandum of a family settlement. The established facts and circumstances clearly establish that a family settlement was arrived at in 1970 and also acted upon by the concerned parties. That finding of fact recorded by the first appellate Court being unexceptionable, it must follow that the document Exhibit P­6 was merely a memorandum of a family settlement so arrived at. Resultantly, it was not required to be registered and in any case, keeping in mind the settled legal position, the contesting defendants were estopped from resiling from the stated arrangement in the subject memorandum, which had recorded the settlement terms arrived at in the past and even acted upon relating to all the existing or future disputes qua the subject property amongst the (signatories) family members despite absence of antecedent title to the concerned property.[Para No.16]

Considering the above, we have no hesitation in concluding that the High Court committed manifest error in interfering with and in particular reversing the well ­considered decision of the first appellate Court, which had justly concluded that document dated 10.3.1988 executed between the parties was merely a memorandum of settlement, and it did not require registration. It must follow that the relief claimed by the plaintiff in the suit, as granted by the first appellate Court ought not to have been interfered with by the High Court and more so, in a casual manner, as adverted to earlier.[Para No.19]

Supreme Court of India

Ravinder Kaur Grewal
Manjit Kaur

Decided on 31/07/2020

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