This article is written by Isha Garg. It provides a detailed analysis of the Supreme Court of India’s verdict in the case of Balmukand vs. Kamla Wati and Ors. (1964), including the case facts, issues raised, arguments of the parties and reasoning behind the judgement. It also discusses in brief the concept of Karta under Hindu law and his power of alienation of the joint Hindu family property. It discusses the question of when the Karta of the family can validly sell the joint family property without the consent of other members of the family.


Hindu law, one of the oldest legal systems in the World, is rooted in the religious and philosophical texts of ancient India. Its development dates back to the early Vedic period. However, it was codified and modernised after India gained independence. Hindu law deals with marriage, divorce, adoption, maintenance and property rights among Hindus. The Hindu Code Bills were introduced, leading to the enactment of various legislation, one of which is the Hindu Succession Act of 1956, which deals with the laws of inheritance and succession among Hindus. It lays down rules and procedures for the distribution of property following the death of an individual.

The Hindu Succession Act of 1956 is landmark legislation in India that deals with the inheritance and property rights of all Hindus in India. It aims to provide a legal framework  for the devolution of property among Hindus. It establishes a uniform and equitable system of succession, grants property rights to women, and introduces the concept of intestate succession. The concept of a joint family is largely governed by traditional Hindu law. The Mitakshara joint family is a unique contribution of Hindu jurisprudence that is unbeaten in any ancient as well as contemporary legal system. A Hindu joint family is headed by the chief of the family, who is known as Karta as per customary Hindu law. He undoubtedly manages the Hindu joint family and has extensive authority over the family. His authority includes alienation of the joint family property.  However, his power to alienate joint family property is not absolute but rather limited. Generally, no individual coparcener, including Karta, can allocate the property of the joint family without the assent of all the members of their family. However, in special circumstances, Karta has the authority to dispose of property independently without the consent of other coparceners. 

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But a question may arise if the Karta alienates property without the approval of other coparceners and in the absence of exceptional circumstances, what will be the validity of that alienation?

The Supreme Court of India discussed the above issue  in the case of Balmukand vs. Kamla Wati and ors. (1964). In this case, the Hon’ble’ Apex Court held that a transaction by the Karta of a Hindu joint family in regard to joint family property  that is deemed beneficial for the family does not necessarily have to be defensive in character, rather, what transactions are for the benefit of the family need to be ascertained as per the facts and circumstances of each case.

Details of the case 

Case Name: Balmukand vs. Kamla Wati & Ors.

Case No.: Appeal (civil) No. 7 of 1962.

Case Type: Civil Appeal

Name of the Court: The Supreme Court of India.

Citation: 1964 AIR 1385 and 1964 SCR (6) 321.

Petitioner: Balmukand

Respondent: Kamlawati and ors.

Bench: Hon’ble K. Subba Rao and J.R. Mudholkar JJ.

Date of Judgment: January 27, 1964.

Laws Involved: Hindu law

Facts of the case

The plaintiff (Balmukand) owned 79/120th share in Kasra Nos. 494, 495, 496, 497, 1800/501, and 529, as recorded in the 1943-44 zamabandi, located in Mauza Faizpur of Batala. On October 1, 1943, he bought a 23/120th share of this land from Devisahai at the rate of Rs. 175 per marla. Thus, he became the owner of 17/20th of the land in a village.  The remaining 3/20th share of the land belonged to Pindidas, who was the Karta, that is, the manager of the Hindu joint family and his brothers Haveliram, Khemchand and Satyapal were coparceners of the Hindu joint family. With the intention of consolidating his estate, the plaintiff wanted to acquire the respondents’ share, that is, of Pindidas and his brothers. Therefore,  he went to Pindidas and the latter consented to sell the 3/20th share of the joint family property for the price of Rs. 250 per Marla, which was significantly higher than the previous purchase price. Consequently, on October 1, 1945, a contract was entered into between both parties regarding the said transaction and Pindidas received Rs 100 as earnest money from the plaintiff. The parties went ahead to consummate the transaction through the sale deed. However, the respondent, Pindidas, failed to execute the sale deed in favour of the plaintiff. As Pindidas, Karta of the family, failed to give effect to the sale deed in the favour of Balmukand, the plaintiff, therefore, filed the suit of specific performance against Pindidas and his brothers.

The court of first instance and the High Court of Punjab and Haryana dismissed the plaintiff’s claim of specific performance of the contract. As a result, the plaintiff has filed an appeal with the Hon’ble Apex Court.

Issues raised 

  • Whether the intended sale was advantageous to the Hindu joint family, and can the  Karta of the family alienate property without the approval of other coparceners ?
  • Whether the plaintiff’s claim for specific performance of the sale deed should be allowed in the present appeal?

Arguments of the parties

Arguments of Petitioners 

The plaintiff pleaded that it was undisputed that there was no urgent necessity for selling the joint family property as the respondents were wealthy individuals. Furthermore, the plaintiff argued that the intended sale was for the benefit of the family because the defendants could not practically use their fractional share of the said property under consideration and therefore, by selling that share, the family was positioned to gain. 

He further mentioned that while the said property at the date of  the agreement was worth  Rs 175 per marla only, the plaintiff had agreed to purchase the same property for Rs. 250 per marla. Consequently, the family would benefit from the transaction by making an additional gain.

In addition, it was argued that the Karta of the joint Hindu family can exercise his power of alienation in all cases where every prudent owner of the property would alienate it for consideration if he regards it as sufficient and beneficial. This means his authority to alienate is not merely confined to defensive purposes.

Arguments of respondent  

The suit was contested by all the defendants. The defendant, Pindidas, acknowledged vaguely the existence of a contract of sale for some land. He also admitted that the contract was made on October 1, 1945, and Rs. 100 was paid to him as earnest money. Nonetheless, he claimed that the contract was related to some other piece of land, not to the property disputed, that is, a share of joint Hindu family property.

Defendants 2 to 4 and, in the present case, respondents 13 to 15, denied the fact that the manager of the family agreed to sell the property on behalf of all. They also argued that even if Pindidas had been declared the Karta of the joint Hindu family and had consented to sell the share of the disputed property, the defendants were not bound by the contract of sale. Because the said contract was neither advantageous to the family nor was there any necessity for the sale.

Laws involved in Balmukand vs. Kamla Wati and Ors. (1964)

As per traditional Hindu law, the Hindu joint family is administered  by the chief of the family, that is, Karta. As the head of a family, a Karta wields extensive authority in managing the affairs of the Hindu joint family. The role of Karta includes managing, maintaining and disposing of joint family property, as well as representing coparceners in legal matters.


Unlike the other Coparceners, Karta holds a pivotal position in the Hindu undivided family. His position is sui generis, which means “of its own kind.” The Karta has innumerable powers. However, his powers are not absolute but limited. The domain of his powers may be categorised under two distinct aspects:

  1. the power to alienate the joint family property, limited to cases of necessity and benefit of estate and
  2. other residual powers. 

Under the first aspect, the power of the Karta is limited and qualified, but, within the scope of his sphere, he has vast powers unlike the other members of the family.


Alienation means conveyance of property by way of gifts, sales, and mortgages. Under the Mitakshara school of  Hindu law,  the Karta or any other coparcener individually does not possess absolute authority over the joint family property or over his personal interests in the said property. However, under the Dayabhaga School, a coparcener has the right to alienate joint family property. 

Karta’s power of alienation 

Normally, no individual coparcener, including Karta, has the power to alienate the joint family property without the consent of other coparceners. 

But there are exceptional cases where Karta can exercise his power of alienation without the consent of other coparceners. 

As per Vijaneshwara, a Hindu Jurist and author of the Mitakshara, these are the following exceptional cases in which alienation of joint family property could be made by every member of the family:

  1. Apatkale: in time of distress;
  2. Kutumbarthe: for the sake of family; and
  3. Dharamarthe: for the performance of indispensable duties.

But the formulation of Vijnaneshwaes has undergone modification in two aspects. Firstly, the power can be exercised only by the Karta of the family, not all the members of the family. Secondly, joint family property can be alienated only in the following exceptional cases:

  1. Legal necessity
  2. Benefits of estate
  3. Acts of indispensable duty

Thus, Karta can alienate the joint family property without the consent of other members only in the above circumstances.

Legal necessity

There is no precise definition of the term legal necessity and it is argued that providing a specific definition is not feasible. Broadly, legal necessity will include all those things which are considered necessary and indispensable for all family members. Previously, it was stated that  property belonging to a joint family could only be transferred at times of distress such as famine, epidemic, flood, earthquake, etc. however, it has been recognized under modern Hindu law that necessity is not confined to times of distress.

As in the case of Sri Krishna Das vs. Nathuram (1926), the court observed that if it is revealed that the family sold a property for fulfilling a need for a particular  thing or article, and if the property was sold for fulfilling that need, then it would be regarded as a legal necessity for that purpose.

Benefit of estate

Generally, the benefit of an estate means something that is done for the common interest of all the members of the joint Hindu family. The Privy Council in the case of Palaniappa vs. Devsikmony (1917) has outlined situations like the preservation of the estate from destruction, the protection against litigation impacting it, preserving it from harm or deterioration by inundation, etc. that would fall under the benefit of the estate. In another case, the High Court opined that only that thing will be considered a ‘benefit of the estate’, which is defensive. It means a transaction done to prevent the property from imminent danger. In the case of Jagat Narain vs. Mathuradas (1928) the court laid down the test of the prudent owner. Therefore, it  took the view that whatever a prudent person would do in respect of his own property for the direct benefit of the estate, the Karta can similarly do with respect to the joint family property. In the case of Nirmal vs. Satnam (1960), the Rajasthan High Court held that the Karta cannot liquidate the joint family property  just because it is of no use without replacing it with more profitable property. But if the Karta’s power is limited to purely defensive acts, then there would be no progress and the family would stagnate.

Indispensable duties

It signifies the performance of religious, pious or charitable acts. This expression includes all indispensable duties like conducting the  marriage of members of the joint family, especially daughters, though it is also covered under legal necessity. In Gangi Reddi vs. Tammi Reddi (1927), the Privy Council stated that the Karta can validly dedicate a fraction of the family property for religious and charitable purposes if the property allotted makes a  smaller part of the total property of the family.

Burden of proof

It is well established that the burden of proving whether a transaction entered into by the manager or Karta of the family is within his authority or qualifies under exceptional circumstances such as  legal necessity, the benefit of estate or indispensable duty is on the person who alienates , which means Karta has a burden of proof.

Relevant judgements referred to in the case

In support of his contentions, the plaintiff, Balmukand, relied on various decisions of different High courts.

In Jagat Narain vs. Mathura Das (1928),  the High Court of Punjab and Haryana placed reliance on various decisions, including those in Hanooman Persaud Pandey vs. Babooee Munraj Koonweree (1856), 6 Moo.I.A. 393; Sahu Ram Chandra vs. Bhup Singh (1917) and Palaniappa Chetty vss. Sreemath Daivasikamony Pandra Sannadhi (1917). The court ruled that transactions justified by the rule of benefiting the estate are not confined to those that are defensive in nature.

According to the facts of this case, the managers of the family found it impractical and that retaining property is detrimental to the interests of the family. The management of the said property was not feasible. Therefore, they decided to sell that property and purchase a more easily accessible property elsewhere. It was considered that the transaction was beneficial for the family. 

The next case is Sital Prasad Singh vs. Ajablal Mander (1939) In this case, the same test of prudential person was also applied, that is, whether, under usual circumstances, any judicious person would enter into an agreement to benefit the estate. The Patna High Court also determined that the term ‘benefit of the estate’ has a wider meaning than a mere pressing requirement and is not restricted to transactions of a defensive nature. Further, the court held that the Karta is a  manager and not an absolute owner, and his powers are subject to certain restrictions. However, the Hindu law never meant to limit the authority of Karta, which would essentially preclude him from doing acts that are for the benefit of the family or to enhance the conditions of the family. The sole restriction that can be imposed upon him is that he must act with prudence. The meaning of Karta must be exercised cautiously rather than recklessly and arbitrarily.

In the matter of A.T. Vasudevan & Ors (1948), the court held that the Karta of the family has unqualified authority to alienate the Hindu joint family property if it is shown that it is advantageous for the family despite there being no legal necessity justifying the transaction.

Judgement in Balmukand vs. Kamla Wati and Ors. (1964)

Judgement of the Court of First Instance

The trial court found in favour of the Plaintiff, Balmukand, that Pindidas and the plaintiff had in fact entered into an agreement for the sale of a 3/20th share of the land that was owned by the joint family and also that Rs 100 was paid to the defendant as earnest money. However, the court decided that the family was not bound by the said contract as there was no legal necessity for the sale  and the transaction was not benefiting the joint family. Therefore, the court dismissed the plaintiff’s claim of specific performance of the contract.

Judgement of the Punjab and Haryana High Court

Upon appeal, the High Court of Punjab and Haryana upheld the plaintiff’s claim for specific performance being dismissed and further ordered the defendants to reimburse the plaintiff for earnest money that he had paid at the time an agreement of sale was made between both parties.

Judgement of the Supreme Court of India

Aggrieved by the decisions of both lower Courts, the plaintiff filed a civil appeal before the Apex Court. After perusal of the facts of the case, the court held that:

  1. For the transaction to be considered beneficial for the joint family, it need not compulsorily be of defensive nature. But what transactions would be regarded as beneficial for the family depends on the situation and context of each case. In each case, the court must be convinced, based on the  evidence presented, that the transaction was expected to or did actually benefit the joint family.
  2. Without the unanimous consent of all the family members of the joint Hindu family, the manager of the family is not allowed to part with the joint family property based on purported benefit to the family.
  3. The court further noted  that in this particular case, the appropriate pleas were not raised and sufficient evidence was not produced before the court. Therefore, the lower courts were right  in refusing to order the specific performance in this case. Thereby, the appeal is dismissed.

Rationale behind this judgement

The Apex Court found that there is nothing in the plaint that shows that Pindidas agreed  to sell the joint family property owing to difficulty in managing it or that the family was facing financial losses by continuing to hold the property. Moreover, there was no indication that the intention of the defendants was to invest the proceeds from the sale in a lucrative manner. The court also noted that there were no allegations made by the plaintiff suggesting that the sale was being considered for reasons of prudence, which is a key consideration in allowing the Karta to alienate the joint family property. It merely states that the family’s share is comparatively smaller than the plaintiff’s share in the land. 

There is no indication that the family’s position varied due to the plaintiff owing the remaining 17/20th share of the land at the time of filing the suit. Therefore, even based on the decision taken by the Allahabad High Court in the case of Jagat Narain vs. Mathura Das (1928), the suit cannot be decreed  in favour of the plaintiff.

As in the case of Sita Prasad Singh vs. Ajablal Mander, the court noted that if all the existing members of the joint family are of legal age, then the decision cannot be made by the manager alone; rather, all the members, including the manager, should take the decision.

The Apex Court applied this judgement in the present case and noted that the defendants 2 to 4, who were brothers of Pindidas, were of legal age at the time when the contract was made and there was no indication that all of them had consented to the transaction, were consulted about the same or even had knowledge of the transaction. Moreover, the court noted the fact that the members of the joint family had firmly opposed the claim for specific performance. They would not have opposed it if they were satisfied that the transaction was advantageous to the family. Further, the court said that the defendants were within their rights in resisting the contract entered into by the manager of the family. Therefore, the lower courts are right in dismissing the claim of the  plaintiff for specific performance of the contract.

Analysis of the case 

Balmukand vs. Kamla Wati and Ors. is a 1964 case and is a vital legal precedent that addresses the powers of the Karta within the Hindu joint family. In this case, the plaintiff sought to uphold the contract of sale entered between the parties on October 1, 1925, contending that it was beneficial for the joint Hindu family. The defendants, however, challenged the said contract on the ground of necessity and prudence, raising significant questions about the authority of the Karta and the criteria for justifying the transaction.

The Supreme Court ruled that the Karta’s authority to alienate the property is not only confined to defensive transactions but also for the benefit of the family. What transactions are considered for the benefit of the family must be assessed based on the specific circumstances of each case. The Apex Court acknowledged that a transaction could be regarded as beneficial if it resulted in financial gain or if retaining the property was impractical or disadvantageous to the family. 

The Court broadened the criteria of what constitutes a beneficial transaction and thus bypassed  traditional Hindu law. It allowed for more flexibility in the management of the property. This flexibility is essential in contemporary contexts where rigid traditional views may not align with  the family’s best interests. Thus, this case contributes to the body of law by clarifying that the Karta’s authority to alienate property is not limited to situations of dire necessity. Rather, the transaction should overall benefit the family, which should be the guiding criterion.


This case serves as a landmark decision in the realm of Hindu joint family law with regard to the Karta’ power to alienate joint Hindu family property. The court concluded that the karta’s power is not restricted solely to situations of legal necessity. Rather, transactions that are beneficial for the family, considering the specific facts and circumstances, are also equally valid. This broader interpretation by the court allows for more flexible and practical management of the property, ensuring that decisions made by Karta can adapt to contemporary contexts. The court in this case reaffirmed that Karta can transfer the family’s property only for their benefit and if the members are of legal age, then he cannot alienate without the consent of all the members.  The ruling emphasises the importance of evaluating each case individually and balancing traditional legal principles with contemporary family dynamics.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

For what purpose can Karta alienate joint family property?

As per old  Hindu law, Karta has no absolute authority to alienate the joint family property. He is not allowed to alienate the property without the consent of other members of the joint Hindu family. But in certain cases, Karta is allowed to do so. For example:

  • To meet essential and urgent needs of the family, like paying off family debts, covering marriage expenses, financing education, etc.
  • He can transact for the benefit of the family. For example, generating financial gain, avoiding impracticalities or losses associated with retaining property or investing in more profitable ventures.
  • As a prudent owner, he thinks that alienation is worthy of adequate consideration and reflects good management  practices.

What does ‘legal necessity’ mean in context of this case?

Legal necessity has no precise definition . Generally, it refers to situations where  the head of the family is justified in selling the property belonging to the joint family. There are some instances of legal necessity :

  • Basic necessities like food, housing  and clothing for the members of the joint family.
  • Marriage of all the members of the family, including daughters. However, the second marriage of a member of the family is not a legal necessity. Also, the marriage of a granddaughter, when the daughter is not, is not a legal necessity. 
  • Medical care of the whole family.
  • For payment of rent, etc.

The above enumeration of cases of legal necessity is inclusive.

What criteria did the court use to determine whether the sale was beneficial?

The court laid down the criteria that for the transaction to be beneficial, it must provide financial gain or resolve impracticalities associated with the family’s fractional share in the property. It does not necessarily have a defensive nature, which means preventing the property from being in imminent danger.

What is the basic difference between the terms ‘legal necessity ‘ and ‘benefit of estate’?

Legal necessity refers to the circumstances where Karta must alienate the property of the joint family to fulfil the urgent and essential needs of the family. It is typically a reactive measure undertaken to address immediate needs under compulsion. In the case of Rani and Anr. vs. Santa Bala Debnath and Ors. (1970), the  Supreme Court ruled that legal necessity does not mean actual compulsion but rather the pressure upon the estate, which the law considers sufficient and serious. 

On the contrary,  the benefit of the estate refers to transactions that are undertaken because they are advantageous for the joint family but not immediately necessary, unlike in the case of legal necessity. It is a proactive measure, aimed at enhancing the wealth of the family. 

What are the circumstances that would be covered under the Benefit of the estate?

Following are the instances that could be covered under the expression ‘benefit of estate’. These are only illustrative, not exhaustive.

  • Selling unproductive or loss- making property to invest in more profitable ventures.
  • Consolidating fragmented property holdings for better management.
  • Improving the financial status of the family through profitable sales or investments.
  • Selling property when it is not feasible to manage property because of its geographical location.

Was Pindidas liable for specific performance regarding his interest in the joint family property?

The court found that undoubtedly, as per Section 15 of the Specific Relief Act of 1877 ( corresponding to Section 12 of the Specific Relief Act of 1963), Pindidas was personally liable for the performance of his part of the contract that was made by the parties to the dispute. Therefore, the plaintiff could claim relief for partial performance of the contract. However, the court noted that plaintiff did not assert the fact that he is willing to pay the whole amount of consideration for obtaining a decree of part performance against the interest of Pindidas alone. Therefore, the plaintiff did not get any relief from the court of law.



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