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This article is written by Rangisetti Naga Sumalika, a student pursuing BA LLB from Symbiosis Law School, Pune.

IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

Appellant: M. VANAJA

Vs

Respondent: M.SARLA DEVI (DEAD)

Date of Judgment: 06.03.2020

Bench: L.NAGESWARA RAO, HEMANT GUPTA

Citation: 2020 5 SCC 307, 2020 0 AIR (SC) 1293

Facts

  1. The appellant has filed for a partition suit for the inheritance of the property of her mother’s sister and husband. 
  2. The appellant has lost her biological parents at a very young age. Since then she was taken after by her aunt -M. Sarla Devi (Dead)-the respondent and her husband- Narasimhulu Naidu. 
  3. Narasimhulu in his service records referred the appellant as his daughter and nominated her for his pension. Moreover, the appellant looked after his side-businesses. 
  4. In year 2003, he died intestate. Therefore, appellant contended that along with respondent, she is entitled to inherit the property equally. However, the respondent alienated and disagreed to share the property with the appellant. 
  5. The appellant had to resort legal help and filed a suit before the trial court. The suit was later dismissed at Trial and High Court. 

Issues

  1. Whether the appellant is the adopted daughter of the respondent and her husband?
  2. Whether she is entitled to the declaration that she is the daughter of the respondent and Narasimhulu?
  3. Whether she is entitled to inherit the property?

Ratio Decidendi  

Section 7– A Hindu male who is willing to adopt must be-

  • of sound mind,
  • attained legal majority age to adopt,
  • obtained consent of the wife, which is a crucial factor.

Section 8– A Hindu female willing to adopt must be-

  • of sound mind,
  • either a widow or divorcee,
  • attained the legal age of majority,
  • unmarried to adopt.

This section also mentions that a woman with a living husband does not have the capacity to adopt.

Section 11– Other conditions to be complied with while adopting-

The person up for adoption shall be adopted with a complete intent and seek transfer of authority from the family of person raised or guardian if person abandoned. 

Obiter Dicta

  1. The original suit filed in the civil court in Hyderabad was favored for respondent. And upon appeal to the High Court, even it supported the judgement of the civil court on the basis that except for the statement of appellant being adopted by the respondent and her husband, there isn’t any substantial evidence other than service, school and college records to prove her adoption in accordance with the 1956 Act. 
  2. The counsel for the appellant has relied on the judgement in the case of L. Debi Prasad (Dead) vs. Smt. Tribeni Devi & Ors. to substantiate that the subsequent events can be taken into consideration for proving adoption. 
  3. Whereas the respondent counsel contested for the need of evidence of adoption ceremony as per 1956 Act and held that any amount of evidence without any actual adoption proofs cannot be relied upon
  4. Subsequently, on appeal to Supreme Court by the appellant, it was adjudged that there was no error in the judgements pronounced by the lower courts. Thus dismissed the appeal. 

Analysis

Adoption is a legal process of raising and parenting someone else’s child as one’s own. The procedure for adoption is governed under the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956. An adoption is considered valid when done in compliance with the act. The adoptive parents need to meet the rules by fulfilling capacity and rights to adopt. As per Section 6, requisites for a valid adoption has been discussed. There shall be no adoption when the person adopting and getting adopted has the capacity to do so. 

The courts while adjudging the case opined that for an adoption to be valid it need to mandatorily comply with the Section 7 and 11 of the HAMA, 1956. A child can be adopted by either a Hindu Male or Female. 

Under Section 7, the consent of the wife is mandatory before a Hindu Male adopts a child. In the present case, the respondent states she never adopted her but merely raised her. Through conclusive evidences she could prove that she neither adopted her nor consented for her adoption. The respondent’s husband, Mr. Narasimhulu along with appellant’s grandmother also deny the allegments of appellant of being adopted by the respondent. As laid in the Section 7, if a male person adopts a child and has a wife who hasn’t renounced world and who isn’t of unsound nature or who has not ceased to be Hindu, the consent of such wife is essential for a valid adoption. For this, the marriage between the husband and wife shall be valid. Here they just intended to raise and look after her well-being and education as she lost her biological parents at a very young age. They stated that by mere mentioning her name in service records, pension scheme etc. couldn’t be considered as being adopted. Therefore, the first element of a successful adoption hasn’t been satisfied.

Further, according to Section 11 (vi), several other essential conditions for adoption has been laid down. Under this, a proof of the ceremony of the adoption needs to be submitted. The appellant herself admitted that she doesn’t have any proof of the ceremony of her adoption. And that the mention of the respondent and her husband in the records is for her well-being and education purpose. She was able to only prove her up-bringing but couldn’t establish her adoption. Henceforth, the appellant has failed to prove of being adopted. She referred to the precedent case-Debi Prasad case, having similar factual situation. In that case, the person was unable to establish actual adoption but could circumstantiate by producing substantial documentary evidence of being child for a considerable long time. But this case takes back to the year 1892 when the HAMA, 1956 wasn’t formulated. 

The mandate of the 1956 Act has put down the two conditions for approval for an adoption, i.e. consent of the wife and evidence substantiating adoption ceremony. However, the consent of the wife is a mandatory gesture for proving adoption.

Due to the non-fulfillment of the essential conditions for a valid adoption, therefore the appeal has been dismissed. 

Suggestions and Conclusion 

The Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956 was passed alluding the legal theories and the philosophical reflections on the idea of law antiquated. This has led to expelling of abstract theories and traditions in ceremonies. A uniform code has been coded to enrich a quality religious practical spirits. 

The HAMA has also included the rights and obligations from natural parents or guardian under it. Under Section 6, 7, 8, 11, it has laid down the procedure for validity of the adoption in a comprehensive manner. Through a valid adoption, one tends to build a legal relationship with the adoptive family. 

In this case, the appellant was never adopted, she presumed herself to be adopted by mistaking it with the good upbringing by the family. Since, she was adopted at a very young age, after attaining legal age, she must have brought up the matter of her adoption and discussed with her family. She must have clarified about the adoption ceremony. Nonetheless, even the respondents must have spoken about her adoption at earlier stage of life. 

As pronounced in Debi Prasad case, evidences of treating her as own shall be considered. It could act as a support for people like appellants who until then were of the belief of being adopted and having rights over the property. The overruling of this decision has caused hardship to the appellant of being duped. 

The Supreme Court until recently hasn’t laid down proper mandatory conditions to be fulfilled for a valid adoption. With its effect retrospectively, it could shatter many people’s lives who were in similar disbeliefs like the appellant. It should note the preconditions while considering the objective of the case. 

Therefore, the Sections 7 and 11 need to be relaxed when the circumstantial evidences are very close to the validity of the adoption to avoid further suits likewise. 


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