In India, there is a concept of Joint Hindu family and their collective properties. There are two kinds of Joint Hindu family those are Mitakshara and Dayabhaga Joint Hindu Family. Generally Mitakshara Joint Hindu family prevails all over India and Dayabhaga Joint Hindu Family prevails only in West Bengal and few North-Eastern states.
In this article, we are basically going to talk about the Mitakshara Joint Hindu Family. A Joint Hindu family consists of male members like father, son, adopted son, grandson and other descendants. It consists of female members such as wife, son’s wife, unmarried daughters, widows, granddaughters and other descendants. The members can be included in the family through marriage if females, birth and adoption. But it does not include illegitimate children. It does not have any fixed member to constitute a Joint Hindu Family.
Every Joint Hindu family has a manager, to manage the activities and provide maintenance for the family and he is called as ‘Karta’. A Joint Hindu Family also includes Coparcenary. A common male ancestor or Karta including his four degrees of descendants are known as coparcenary property. This property is either ancestral property, income generated from the ancestral property, any income from common labour of Joint Hindu family or any self-acquired property thrown into the common Joint Hindu family property. Karta is the manager of all the property and responsible for it.
Who can be a karta?
Generally, the senior-most male member of a family is the Karta. So it can be said that the father is the Karta of the family. But if father dies, after him the senior male member becomes the Karta. If a member wants to relinquish his position, then he can do it out of choice. A minor can also become the Karta of a family but under the guardianship of his guardian.
As per the previous orthodox scenario, a female cannot be the Karta of the Joint Hindu family nor can have a part in the coparcenary property. She can only be the Karta if any male member is absent in the family. But time has changed now, as per the case Mrs Sujata Sharma v. Shri Manu Gupta & Ors [CS (OS) 2011/2006], it has been held in the year 2016 that any eldest women member of the Joint Hindu Family can be the Karta.
In the case Vineeta Sharma v. Rakesh Sharma & Ors [civil appeal no 32601 of 2018] in 2020, it has been held that, daughters have equal rights in the coparcenary property irrespective of whether the father was alive or dead during the amendment of Hindu Succession act in 2005.
Rights of Karta:
Karta not only is burdened with responsibilities but also enjoys some rights:
1. Right to income and expenditure:
Every Karta has the right over the income and expenditure of the Joint Hindu family property. He has the right to spend the property for various family activities such as marriage, Sradha, ceremonial rites, education, and maintenance of members of the family. He can spend the income till he is spending for a valid reason. Whenever the other family members begin thinking that Karta is spending more than required for family maintenance then the only remedy left out for them is partition. The Karta has to make good anything spent uselessly to the other coparceners. But he will be liable only for credit actually spent. He is only the manager of income and expenditure but not the trustee or agent.
2. Right to alienation:
The karta can alienate joint family property in exchange of value. But that value or money gained out of that alienation should be utilized for the benefit or maintenance of the family. Any alienation will also bind the minor of the family. Any property for more profit will be considered legal.
3. Right to start a new business or manage family business:
The Karta has the right to start any new business out of the family property for the benefit of the family. He will also be liable to run and maintain the family business. Though his activities are similar to that of a trustee but he is not considered so.
4. Right to refer a dispute to arbitration:
Whenever any dispute is created between family members or any outsider and family member, the Karta can refer the dispute for arbitration. Any decision given by the arbitrator shall be final. But the reference by the Karta should be made without any fraud or wrong intention.
5. Right to enter into contracts:
The Karta has every right to enter into any contract during the joint family business activities. The contract should be solely for business profits. These contracts shall bind every family member and minors.
6. Right to representation:
The Karta of Joint Hindu family can either sue or be sued during the activities of the family business. Every family member is bound by the decision in any dispute. But during any partition suit, every family member represents themselves.
7. Right to give a valid discharge:
The Karta has the right to give a valid discharge to debt due to the family. He can make a part payment, pay the interest due and acknowledge a debt. But he cannot revive a time barred debt. He can only pay during the period of limitation.
8. Right to contract debts:
Every Karta has the right to contract debts for family business and purposes. He can pledge the family property for family business and other family activities. If a Karta is borrowing money on the promissory note then he shall be liable for it but the other coparceners shall be liable up to their share in the property.
Liabilities of Karta:
Rights always come with some liabilities. Liabilities of a Karta are:
1. Liability to maintain members:
The Karta has every liability to maintain the members of the Joint Hindu family. This includes his wives, descendants, unmarried daughters etc. Maintenance includes food, shelter, clothing, education, marriage of unmarried sisters and daughters, medical expenses, etc.
2. Liability to realise debts due to family:
Every Karta of a Joint Hindu family has the duty to realise debts due to Joint Hindu Family or Joint Hindu family business. He can make every effort to reduce the loan or interest but he cannot give up any debt.
3. Duty to take consent before starting any new Joint Hindu family business:
The Karta needs to take consent from the family members either express or implied before starting a new family business. He cannot impose the strain of a new family business either upon the minor or adult members of the family.
4. Duty to compensate:
When there is a proved fraudulent or misappropriation in the name of Karta regarding Joint Hindu family property, he needs to make good by compensating to other coparceners in relation to their share in the property lost.
5. Duty to render accounts:
Any coparcener at any time can ask the Karta regarding accounts of Joint Hindu family property and profit and he is bound to provide the same. He does not need to give the accounts of past dealings. But if there is any clear case of misappropriation by the Karta then he is needed to give the accounts relating to it. He is needed to give the accounts during partition. If there is any Joint Hindu family business then he is liable to keep accounts for the same.
6. Liability to spend reasonably:
The Karta is liable to spend reasonably only for the benefit or maintenance of the Joint Hindu family. Any of the coparceners are hesitant towards the expenditure of Karta can ask for partition.
7. Duty not to alienate coparcenary property:
Before alienating the coparcenary property, he needs to discuss and obtain consent from other members. No consent is required if the alienation is for legal necessity. The question to be considered before deciding the alienation as necessary is, “whether a natural owner would alienate his property in the above situation.”
The origin of Karta is from time unknown. Indian culture encases in itself the concept of joint family. As in every team, the strongest should be the captain, in a Joint Hindu family also the Karta needs to be the strongest and wisest. He/She is the most essential member. It is the Karta who can both joint and break the family. If the Karta of a family is one who is truly dedicated towards the family then he can run the family smoothly. Modern times have encountered many changes in the Joint Hindu family system. The major change is, women being a Karta.
In the future also there will be many changes but the structure of Joint Hindu family, Karta being the head will remain the same.
Hindu law by Dr. S.R. Myneni
This article has been written by Kusumita Panda, BBA LLB (H) student at SOA University.
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