Power and Position
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This article is written by Arijit Mishra, from KIIT School of Law, Odisha. This article talks about the power and position of a Karta under Hindu Law.

Introduction

The Joint Hindu family is a patriarchal body, and the head of the family is called Karta. Karta is the senior most male member of the family who acts as the representative of the family and acts on behalf of the family. There is a fiduciary relationship between the Karta and the other family members because every family needs a head member who can look after the welfare of minor members and females in a Joint Hindu Family. The position of Karta is unique in a joint Hindu family. Karta takes care of the whole family and its property and the decision given by the Karta is bound to be followed by the members of Hindu Joint Family. No one is equal to Karta in a Hindu Joint Family. The powers and position of a Karta are wider than any of the members of the Hindu Joint Family. No one can be compared with Karta among the other members of the joint family.

Who can be a Karta?

Senior most Male Member

The senior most male member is entitled to become a Karta and it is his right. Karta is always from the members of the family; no outsiders or stranger can become a Karta. If the senior most male member of the family is alive then he will continue as Karta, if he dies then the second senior most member of the family will take the charge of Karta. Karta takes his position by consent or agreement of all the coparceners.

Junior Male Member

If the coparceners agree, then a junior can also become a Karta of the family. By making the agreement with the coparceners, a junior male member can be a Karta of the family.

Female Member as Karta

According to Dharmastra, if there is an absence of the male member in a family then in that situation female can act as a Karta. If in case male members are present but they are minors, at that time also, females can act as a Karta.

Characteristics of Karta

The characteristics of a Karta are:

  • Karta’s position is unique (sui generis). His position is independent and no one can be compared with him among the family members.
  • He had unlimited power but even if he acts on behalf of other members, he can’t be treated as a partner or agent.
  • He controls all the affairs of the family and has wide powers.
  • He is responsible to no one. The only exception to this rule is, in case of fraud, misappropriation or conversion, he is held responsible.
  • He is not bound to invest, save or economise. He has the power to use the resources as he likes, unless he is not responsible for the above mentioned charges.
  • He is not bound to divide the income generated from the joint property equally among the family members. He can discriminate one with another and is not bound to be impartial. The only thing is he should pay everyone so that they can avail some basic necessities like food, clothing, education, shelter etc.

Powers of a Karta

The powers of Karta are:

Powers of Management

Karta’s power of management is absolute. No one can question the duties of the Karta like, he can manage or mismanage the property, family, business any way he likes. Karta cannot deny the maintenance and occupation of property to any member. Karta is not liable for the positive failures.

Rights to Income or Remuneration and Expenditure

The income of the Joint Hindu family property in a whole must be given to the Karta. Then it is the responsibility of the Karta to allot the funds to the members for fulfilment of their needs. Karta controls the expenditure of the funds. The scope of his power is only to spend such funds on family purposes like management, maintenance, marriage, education etc.

Rights to Represent Joint Family

The Karta represents the family in legal, religious and social matters. The acts and decisions of the Karta are binding on the members. Karta can enter into any transaction on behalf of the family.

Right to Compromise

Karta has the power to compromise the disputes relating to management or family property. He can compromise family debts, pending suits and other transactions. The compromises made by the Karta, can be challenged in court by heirs only on the ground of malafide.

Power to refer a Dispute to Arbitration

Karta can refer the disputes relating to management, family property to the arbitration. If the award by the arbitration is valid then it will be binding on the members of the joint family.

Power to Contract Debts

The Karta exercises an implied authority to contract debts and pledge the credits and property of the family. Such acts are bound to be followed by the members of the family. Even, Karta when taking a loan for the family purpose or for family businesses then joint family is liable to pay such a loan.

Power to enter into Contracts

The Karta can enter into contracts and where contracts are enforceable against the family. The contracts are binding on the members of the joint family.

Power of Alienation

No one among the family members can alienate joint family property. But Karta has the power to alienate the property under three circumstances.

  1. Legal Necessity
  2. Benefit of estate
  3. Indispensable duties

Legal Necessity

This term has not expressly defined in any judgement or in any law. It includes all the things which are deemed necessary for the members of the family.

Dev Kishan Vs. Ram Kishan AIR 2002

In this case, the plaintiff filed a suit against the defendant. Both plaintiff and defendant are members of the Joint Hindu Family. Defendant 2 is the Karta, who is under the influence of Defendant 1, sold and mortgaged the property for an illegal and immoral purpose which is for the marriage of minor daughters Vimla and Pushpa. The defendant contended that he took the loan for the legal necessity.

The court held that the debt was used for the unlawful purpose. Since it contravened the Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929, therefore, it can be called as lawful alienation.

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Benefit of estate

Benefit of Estate means anything which is done for the benefit of the joint family property. Karta as a manager can do all those things which are helpful for family advancement.

Indispensable Duties

These terms refer to the performance of those acts which are religious, pious or charitable. Examples of indispensable duties are marriage, grihapravesham etc. A Karta can alienate the portion of the property for the charitable purpose. In this case, the power of the Karta is limited i.e he can alienate only a small portion of the family property, whether movable or immovable.

Loan on Promissory Note

When Karta takes any loan for any family purpose or executes a promissory note, then all the members and the members who are not the party to the note will be sued if the loan is not paid. But, Karta is personally liable on the note.

Liabilities of a Karta

  • Liability to maintain- Karta is to maintain all the members of the Joint Family. If he does not maintain any member then he can be sued for maintenance and also can be asked for compensation.
  • Liability of render accounts- As far as the family remains joint, Karta is not supposed to keep accounts of the family, but when partition takes place at that time he will be liable to account for family property. If any of the heir is not satisfied with his accounts, then he can constitute a suit against Karta to bring the truth and to know any misappropriation is done by Karta or not.
  • Liability of recovery debts due to the Family- He has the liability to realize the debts due to the family.
  • Liability to spend reasonably- He has the liability to spend the joint family funds only for the family purposes.
  • Liability not to eliminate coparcenary property- It is the liability of the Karta not to alienate the coparcenary property without any legal necessity or benefit to the state.
  • Liability not to start new Business- It is the liability of the Karta not to start a new business without the consent of other coparceners.

Responsibilities of Karta 

The duty of a Karta is to provide clothing, food, shelter etc, to the members of the joint family. There are several responsibilities of Karta which include:

Maintenance

Every member of the family including Karta has the right to maintenance. The Responsibility of Karta is to maintain all the members of the family. If he does not maintain any member properly, then he can be sued for both maintenance and dues of maintenance. 

Marriage

The Karta is responsible for the unmarried members especially the daughters. The expenses for the marriage will be taken out of the Joint Family property.

Representation

Karta acts as a representative on behalf of the family. This is because he must perform some responsibilities and liabilities on account of the family. He must pay all the dues and the taxes. He can be sued on behalf of the family during any agreement or dealings.

Accounts at the time of Partition

Status of a joint family comes to an end due to the partition. Under Mitakshara Law, it means:

Severance of status and interest

It’s an individual decision, where a member wants to divide himself from the joint family and enjoy undefined and unspecified share separately.

Actual division of Property

It is the consequence of the declaration of the desire to cut off. However, it is a bilateral action.

Opening of assets means the inquiry of the assets of joint family. This includes all the items of family property. Karta under Mitakshara Law is required to disclose the accounts only if there are any charges of fraud, misappropriation or conversion of assets or property of the joint family against him. If there is no proof of misappropriation, fraud or conversion against the Karta, the coparceners who follow the partition process cannot demand the disclosure of the past dealings of Karta with joint family property or assets. After the severance of status, the Karta must give the accounts of the expenditure and income in a manner similar to which a Trustee or agent has to render accounts. This implies that Karta has to report all the profits.

Conclusion

Karta in a Joint Hindu family holds an extraordinary position with reference to its understanding and complexity. The concept of Karta has its origin centuries back and it still works due to some functional elements. Every joint family should have a Karta to boost the cohesive aspect of such a family with reference to its dealings and ventures. Looking at the position of the Karta, it can be said that he has fewer liabilities and more powers. When it comes to determining the position of Karta, he holds a unique position. The decisions or statements given by the Karta are binding on the parties and they are bound to do it. Section 6 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 gives equal rights to the daughters as sons have. Hindu Succession Act, 1956 does not accept woman as a Karta, except two circumstances- if there is an absence of the male member of the family or in case there is a male member in the family but he is a minor. These two circumstances are also mentioned in the Ancient Hindu Law, Dharmasutras. The government should take some steps to raise the position of women in other personal laws.

References

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