IN THE HIGH COURT OF KERALA AT ERNAKULAM
PRESENT: THE HONOURABLE MR.JUSTICE K.M.JOSEPH & THE HONOURABLE MR.JUSTICE A.M.SHAFFIQUE
TUESDAY, THE 7TH DAY OF FEBRUARY 2012/18TH MAGHA 1933
AS.No. 263 of 2001 (E)
OS.366/1997 of II ADDL.DISTRICT COURT,ERNAKULAM
KOCHU THRESIA ALIAS VIMALA, W/O JOSEPH, NADUVATHEZHATHU HOUSE, ELOOR EAST VILLAGE, PARAVOOR TALUK.
BY ADVS.SRI.T.V.ANANTHAN SRI.C.D.JOSE SRI.M.K.ABOOBACKER
1. MR.K.G.JOSEPH, S/O LATE K.A.GEORGE, ERNAKULAM IVORY ART EMPORIUM, BROADWAY, ERNAKULAM, RESIDING AT KATTIPARAMBIL HOUSE, NO.XLII/1492, MARKET ROAD, ERNAKULAM, KANAYANNUR TALUK.
*2. MR.K.G.MANUEL, S/O.LATE K.A.GEORGE, ERNAKULAM IVORY ART EMPORIUM, BROADWAY, ERNAKULAM, RESIDING AT KATTIPARAMBIL HOUSE, NO.XLII/1110, POWER HOUSE ROAD, PANAKKAPPADAM, ERNAKULAM, KANAYANNUR TALUK. *2ND RESPONDENT DIED
3. MR.K.G.ELIAS, S/O LATE K.A.GEORGE, ERNAKULAM IVORY ART EMPORIUM, BROADWAY, ERNAKULAM, RESIDING AT KATTIPARAMBIL HOUSE, NO.XLII/1110, PANAKKAPPADAM, POWER HOUSE ROAD ERNAKULAM, KANAYANNUR TALUK.
ADDL.R4 MRS.MARY @ SHINY MANUEL, AGED ABOUT 40 YEARS, W/O.LATE K.G.MANUEL, RESIDING AT RESIDING AT KATTIPARAMBIL HOUSE, NO.XLII/1115, PANAKKAPPADAM, POWER HOUSE ROAD, ERNAKULAM, KANAYANNUR TALUK.
ADDL.R5 MANUEL GEORGE, AGED ABOUT 16 (MINOR) -- DO -- (REPRESENTED BY MOTHER AND GUARDIAN 4TH RESPONDENTS MRS.MARY @ SHINY MANUEL)
ADDL.R6 MINNU MARIA, AGED ABOUT 11 (MINOR) D/O.LATE K.G.MANUEL, -- DO -- (REPRESENTED BY MOTHER AND GUARDIAN 4TH RESPONDENT MRS.MARY @ SHINY MANUEL)
LEGAL REPRESENTATIVES OF THE DECEASED 2ND RESPONDENT ARE IMPLEADED AS ADDL.RESPONDENTS 4 TO 6 AS PER ORDER DATED 5/8/2008 IN I.A.No.281/2008 AND THE ADDL.4TH RESPONDENT IS APPOINTED AS THE GUARDIAN OF RESPONDENTS 5 AND 6 WHO ARE MINORS AS PER ORDER DATED 5/8/2008 IN I.A.283/08.
R,CAVEATOR BY SRI.N.SUBRAMANIAM R,R4 TO R6 BY SRI.SOORAJ T.ELENJICKAL R,R4 TO R6 BY SRI.M.A.JOSEPH MANAVALAN R, BY SMT.BINDU GEORGE,MEDIATOR R, BY SRI.N.ANIL KUMAR,COMMISSINER R, BY SMT.P.A.SULEKHA R,R1 & R2 BY SRI.SIBY MATHEW R,R1 & R2 BY SRI.A.A.MOHAMMED NAZIR
THIS APPEAL SUITS HAVING BEEN FINALLY HEARD ON 07-02-2012, THE COURT ON THE SAME DAY DELIVERED THE FOLLOWING:
K.M.JOSEPH & A.M.SHAFFIQUE, JJ.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
A.S.No.263 of 2001
Dated this the 7th day of February 2012
Succession Act, 1925 - Section 63 - Evidence Act, 1872 - Sections 67 and 68 - Suit for Partition - will - suspicious circumstance - Explained.
J U D G M E N T
Appellant is the plaintiff in a suit for partition. Suit was dismissed by the trial court on a finding that the plaint schedule properties were not partible, since the properties were bequeathed in the name of defendants by virtue of Exts.B1 and B2 wills executed by the testators. The appellant challenges the judgment on the ground that the suspicious circumstances pointed out by the appellant in execution of the will has not been explained by the defendants and therefore the trial court erred in dismissing the suit.
2. The appellant/plaintiff is the daughter and respondents/defendants are the sons of George and Karmali. George died on 16/08/1996 and Karmali died on 25/09/1996. On their death, plaintiff claimed share in the plaint schedule properties and when the defendants did not accede to the demand, the suit is filed. The defendants inter alia contended that George and Karmali had executed Exts.B1 and B2 wills and therefore the plaintiff is not entitled for partition of the said properties.
3. The plaintiff filed a reply disputing the genuineness of the wills and further alleging that the wills were falsely fabricated documents and that her parents were not mentally and physically capable of executing the wills.
4. The suit was originally decreed and thereafter, by judgment dated 8/2/2000 in A.S.No.431 of 1999 of this court, the matter was remanded and after remand further evidence was taken. The plaintiff relied upon Exts.A1 to A7 and the oral testimony of PW1 and PW2. The defendants relied upon Exts.B1 to B14 and the oral evidence of DW1 to DW4. Ext.X1 was called for and marked as court exhibit. The court below dismissed the suit rejecting the contentions of the plaintiff regarding the suspicious circumstances pointed out and came to a finding that the testators were in a sound disposition of mind at the time of execution of Exts.B1 and B2 wills.
5. The appellant contends that though Exts.B1 and B2 wills were proved in terms of Section 63 of the Succession Act read with Sections 67 and 68 of the Evidence Act, by examining the attesting witnesses the propounder having failed to explain the various suspicious circumstances surrounding the execution of the wills, the suit ought to have been decreed as prayed for.
6. It was argued by the learned counsel for the appellant Sri. C.D.Jose, that George was 78 and Karmali was 65 at the time of execution of alleged wills and they were having old age diseases and Karmali was in fact admitted at Lourdes Hospital, Ernakulam at the time of executing Ext.B2 will. It is also contended that the evidence in the case clearly discloses the following circumstances which would unequivocally indicate that the wills were executed at the instance of the defendants and by coercion and undue influence and it is not executed on the free will of the testators:
i) That when a lawyer's notice was sent by the plaintiff stating that the property requires to be partitioned no reply was sent by the defendants.
ii) That the first defendant was present at the time of execution of Ext.B1 will and the third defendant was present at the time of execution of Ext.B2 will.
iii) That the signatures of the testators in the wills differ from the admitted signatures as is evident from Exts.A6 and A7.
iv) That the attesting witnesses are the relatives of first defendant's wife and the testators have no acquaintance with them.
v) That Karmali was hospitalised and she was not in a state of mind to execute the will especially in the light of the evidence that Ext.X1 read with the oral testimony of Doctor PW1 would show that she was sleepy and drowsy at the relevant time.
vi) That the daughter was completely excluded and no property had been given to her under the wills.
vii) That the will was not read over after the death of the testators.
viii) That the wills are typewritten and contain various blank spaces.
ix) That George was 78 and was not in a sound disposition of mind at the time of execution of B1 will.
7. It was therefore argued by the learned counsel for the appellant that all these circumstances put together will create suspicion regarding the wills and it is for the propounder to adduce necessary evidence to enable the court to explain such suspicious circumstances and since there is failure on the part of the defendants to disprove the suspicious circumstances, the wills cannot be relied upon and should be treated as not genuine and in such circumstances the appellant is entitled for <th right over the plaint schedule property.
8. On the other hand, the learned counsels appearing for the respondents supports the judgment of the trial court and explains the various suspicious circumstances pointed out. According to Sri. M.S.Narayanan, learned counsel appearing for the 3rd respondent, on an over all consideration of the factual circumstances in the case, it could be seen that father and mother wanted to execute separate wills and it seems that an occasion had come when George by himself had invited the attesting witnesses, the document was prepared it was signed by George in the presence of witnesses DW's 1 and 2. Ext.B2 will was taken to the hospital along with the witnesses and Karmali signed the will at the hospital. It is argued that though the attesting witnesses were distantly related to the first defendant's wife, they were independent witnesses who were invited by George himself and one of the witnesses was an Advocate. It is further pointed out that there is no difference in the signatures as the signatures in Exts.A6 and A7 were taken several years back which cannot be compared with the signatures in Exts.B1 and B2. It was further argued that daughter was already given in marriage and certain item of property was already given to her after the marriage by a settlement deed and she purchased some property in her name from the funds given by father. According to the defendants they never interfered with the execution or attestation of the wills and they had not exerted any pressure on the testators for executing the will. According to him both the testators were in a sound state of mind to execute the wills and therefore no suspicious circumstances exists warranting any challenge to the wills.
9. The learned counsel for respondents also placed reliance on the following judgments to substantiate that they have proved the wills in accordance with law and has explained the suspicious circumstances pointed out by the appellant, and there had been no undue influence on the testators. In Naresh Charan Das Gupta v. Paresh Charan Das Gupta, AIR 1955 SC 363 it is held that, "It is elementary law that it is not every influence which is brought to bear on a testator that can be characterised as "undue". It is open to a person to plead his case before the testator and to persuade him to make a disposition in his favour. And if the testator retains his mental capacity, and there is no element of fraud or coercion - it has often been observed that undue influence may in the last analysis be brought under one or the other of these two categories - the will cannot be attacked on the ground of undue influence. The law was thus stated by Lord Penzance in Hall v. Hall:
"But all influences are not unlawful. Persuasion, appeals to the affections or ties of kindred, to a sentiment of gratitude for past services, or pity for future destitution, or the like - these are all legitimate and may be fairly pressed on a testator. On the other hand, pressure of whatever character, whether acting on the fears or the hopes, if so exerted as to overpower the volition without convincing the judgment, is a species of restraint under which no valid will can be made. Importunity or threats, such as the testator has the courage to resist, moral command asserted and yielded to for the sake of peace and quiet, or of escaping from distress of mind or social discomfort, - these, if carried to a degree in which the free play of the testator's judgment, discretion, or wishes is overborne, will constitute undue influence, though no force is either used or threatened. In a word, a testator may be led, but not driven; and his will must be the offspring of his own volition, and not the record of some one else's."
In Vrindavanibai Sambhaji Mane v. Ramchandra Vithal Ganeshkar & Others, (1995) 5 SCC 215 it is held that:
"As far back as in 1894 the Privy Council in the case of Choteynarain Singh v. Mussamat Ratan Koer' observed that in the case of execution of a Will, an improbability must be clear and cogent. It must approach very nearly to, if it does not altogether constitute, an impossibility. This was reiterated by the Calcutta High Court in the case of Kristo Gopal Nath v. Baidya Nath Khan. It said that when a court is dealing with a testamentary case where there is a large and consistent body of testimony evidencing the signing and attestation of the Will, but where it is suggested that there are circumstances which raise a suspicion and make it impossible that the Will could have been executed, the correct line of approach is to see that the improbability in order to prevail against such evidence must be clear and cogent and must approach very nearly to, if it does not altogether constitute, an impossibility."
"There is also a large body of case law about what are suspicious circumstances surrounding the execution of a Will which require the propounder to explain them to the satisfaction of the court before the Will can be accepted as genuine. A Will has to be proved like any other document except for the fact that it has to be proved after the death of the testator. Hence, the person executing the document is not there to give testimony. The propounder, in the absence of any suspicious circumstances surrounding the execution of the Will, is required to prove the testamentary capacity and the signature of the testator. Some of the suspicious circumstances of which the court has taken note are :
(1) The propounder taking a prominent part in the execution of a Will which confers substantial benefits on him;
(2) Shaky signature;
(3) A feeble mind which is likely to be influenced;
(4) Unfair and unjust disposal of property.
(See in this connection : H.Venkatachala Iyengar v. B.N.Thimmajamma, Indu Bala Bose v. Manindra Chandra Bose and Guro v. Atma Singh."
In Sridevi v. Jayaraja Shetty [(2005)2 Supreme Court Cases 784] it is held that:
"It is well settled proposition of law that mode of proving the Will does not differ from that of proving any other document except as to the special requirement of attestation prescribed in the case of a Will by Section 63 of the Indian Succession Act, 1925. The onus to prove the Will is on the propounder and in the absence of suspicious circumstances surrounding the execution of the Will, proof of testamentary capacity and proof of the signature of the testator, as required by law, need be sufficient to discharge the onus. Where there are suspicious circumstances, the onus would again be on the propounder to explain them to the satisfaction of the court before the Will can be accepted as genuine. Proof in either case cannot be mathematically precise and certain and should be one of satisfaction of a prudent mind in such matters. In case the person contesting the Will alleges undue influence, fraud or coercion, the onus will be on him to prove the same. As to what are suspicious circumstances has to be judged in the facts and circumstances of each particular case."
In Elsy v. Raju, 2006 (4) KLT 890 it is held that:
"Merely because the will in question is an unregistered will and that there is an uneven distribution of property under the will, that cannot be treated as a suspicious circumstance. (Vide Sundaresa Pai v. Sumangala T.Pai (2002 (1) KLT 32 (SC). In Ramabai Padmakar Patil v. Rukminibai Vishnu Vekhande & Ors. (AIR 2003 SC 3109) the apex court upheld the will in spite of the fact that the entire property of the testator was given to his widow to the exclusion of all his daughters."
In Velayudhan Nair v. Kalliyanikutty Amma, 2006 (1) KLT 884 it is held that:
"Denial of property to natural heirs or uneven distribution of assets among the heirs under a will etc. do not by themselves constitute suspicious circumstances. The very purpose behind the execution of a will is to disturb the natural order of succession and therefore there cannot be anything unusual about it. (See in this connection Surdaresa Pai & Ors. v. Mrs.Sumangala T.Pai & Anr., 2002 (1) KLT 32 : AIR 2002 SC 317, Madhavi Amma v. Chandrasekharan, 2004 (3) KLT 60, Rabindranath Mukherji v. Panchanan Banerjee, (1995) 4 SCC 459).
In Satyanarayana v. Seetharatnam, 2005 (4) KLT SN 80 it is held that:
"Mere presence of the beneficiary at the time of execution would not prove that the beneficiary had taken prominent part in the execution of the Will. The onus to prove the will is on the propounder and in the absence of suspicious circumstances surrounding the execution of the will proof of testamentary capacity and the proof of signature of the testator as required by law not be sufficient to discharge the onus.
In Pappoo v. Kuruvilla, 1994 (2) KLT 278 it is held that:
"Any and every circumstance cannot be taken as suspicious circumstances. A circumstance would be suspicious only when it is not normal or is not normally expected in a normal situation or is not expected of a normal person (vide Indu Bala v. Manindra Chandra, AIR 1982 SC 133]. The fact that learned counsel representing the defendants termed some circumstances as suspicious, will not by itself make those circumstances suspicious. In a case where the propounder let in evidence to prove the due execution of the Will, the burden shifts on to the defendants to substantiate their case that the execution of the Will is shrouded in suspicious circumstances. When the propounder of the Will has discharged his initial onus, the caveator - the person opposing the issue of the probate, should prove the suspicious circumstances." and that "If the testator indicates what he intends to bequeath and that indication is sufficient to identify the property bequeathed, there cannot be any difficulty because the testator himself has made the selection of the properties. So also if the testator indicates the purposes for which the properties are bequeathed, then that bequest cannot also fail for vagueness."
10. Now keeping in mind the above propositions of law let us consider whether any of the suspicious circumstances pointed out by the counsel for appellant is sufficient to ignore the wills and decree the suit for partition.
i) Receipt of the lawyers notice Ext. A2 is not disputed by the defendants and 3rd defendant when examined as DW3 admits having knowledge about the notice and it is also admitted that they have not sent any reply. It is stated in Ext. A2 that the parents had not executed any will or other document regarding succession of their assets and not sending a reply stating existence of a will indicates that the will was subsequently forged. Whereas it is contended by the defendants that the plaintiff was aware of the will, failing which she would not have stated in paragraph 3 of the plaint that late George was not in a position to understand things properly. According to the counsel for defendants not sending a reply to a lawyers notice cannot be a suspicious circumstances when there is evidence of execution and attestation. Apart from that DW3 has explained in his evidence during cross examination that no reply was sent as the plaintiff's claim was not justified. No doubt sending a reply to a lawyer's notice could have been proper, but such an inaction by itself cannot be taken as a suspicious circumstance and will not preclude the lagatees from defending a claim for partition on the basis of existence of a will.
ii) The presence of first defendant at the time of execution of Ext.B1 will and the presence of third defendant at the time of execution of Ext.B2 will is not in dispute. But there is no evidence to show that they have taken any active or prominent part in the preparation of the will. It is settled law as stated in Sathyanarayana vs Seetharatnam, 2005 (4) KLT SN 80 (SC) that the mere presence of the beneficiary at the time of execution of the will not vitiate the will and therefore applying the said principle of law this circumstance also fails.
iii) The counsel for appellant heavily relied upon the signatures of the testators as seen in the wills along with the admitted signatures as is evident from Exts.A6 and A7. Though the court has ample power to verify the signatures in a disputed document with admitted signatures it is never a safe guide to come to such a conclusion. Apart from that, Ext. B1 and B2 are dated 10/3/1996, whereas Ext. A6 is dated 25/2/1994 and A7 dated 24/11/1986. We cannot make out any marked difference in the signatures except for the fact that in B1 and B2 the signatures are larger in size than the signatures in A6 and A7. Such a circumstance by itself cannot be a reason to find forgery of Wills. Hence we cannot agree with the counsel for appellant on this aspect also.
iv) During evidence an attempt was made to show that the attesting witnesses are the relatives of first defendant and the testators have no acquaintance with them. It has come out in evidence that DW1's wife and first defendant's wife are cousin sisters and DW2 is the cousin of DW1's wife. DW1 says in his evidence that he was acquainted with late George, since 1992 and he has seen George for about ten times. He also deposed that he had a prior discussion with George regarding partition of property with least expense. DW1 is an Advocate and therefore we could not find any impropriety in George getting the assistance of DW1 to attest the Wills. DW2 says he was called by late George, 3 to 4 days prior to execution of the documents for signing a document. There is nothing to discredit the evidence of DW1 and DW2 and in that circumstance we cannot brush aside the evidence of these witnesses merely because of their relationship with first defendant's wife.
v) It is an admitted fact that Karmali executed Ext.B2 will while she was hospitalised. It is argued by the counsel for appellant that she was not in a state of mind to execute the will especially in the light of the evidence. According to him, Ext.X1 case sheet from the hospital read with the oral testimony of the Doctor, PW1 would show that Karmali was sleepy and drowsy at the relevant time. Evidence of PW1 doctor, based on Ext.X1, who attended late Karmily would indicate that she was admitted in the hospital on 7/3/1996 as she had diabetes and kidney failure and that she was discharged on 3/4/1996. According to PW1 she was conscious though sleepy on 10/3/1996. This does not indicate her state of mind. It is also stated in the deposition of DW2 that before signing Karmali read a portion of the will and asked her husband as to whether it was prepared in the manner in which they had discussed. This evidence also indicates that she was in a state of mind to execute the will. Hence we are unable to accept contention of the appellant in this regard.
vi) No property is set apart for the daughter and it is clear from the recitals in the wills itself. However it is an admitted fact that the plaintiff was given in marriage in the year 1974 and her father has given her 6 cents of landed property in the year 1986 by way of a settlement deed. It is also a settled proposition of Law as held in Velayudhan Nair v. Kalliyanikutty Amma, 2006 (1) KLT 884 and Elsy v. Raju, 2006 (4) KLT 890 that denial of property to natural heirs or uneven distribution of assets among heirs by themselves do not constitute suspicious circumstance.
vii) According to the Appellant if the wills were in existence it would have been read over after the death of the testators as per a custom prevailing among the community. No such custom is pleaded or proved and therefore appellant cannot claim it to be suspicious circumstance.
viii) In Ext.B1 will, at page 5 the survey number, sub division number and area in the schedule of property is left blank, at page 6 the tenure and area of property in the schedule is left blank. In Ext. B2 will, at page 3 in the description of property document number is left blank. However it could be seen that the properties scheduled are easily capable of identification. There is no blank space in the recitals. There is no evidence to show as to who prepared the wills. The name of scribe is not seen. DW1 and DW2 states that when they met George he was already in possession of the wills. Since the properties are easily identifiable blank spaces in the schedule will not affect the validity of the will and it cannot be treated as a suspicious circumstance. This apart it is held in Pappoo vs Kuruvilla, 1994 (2) KLT 278 that if the property is capable of identification gaps or spaces in the will cannot be treated as a suspicious circumstance.
ix) Even though George was 78 at the time of executing the will and died after after five months there is nothing to indicate that he was not in a sound disposition of mind at the time of execution of B1 will. The wills Exts.B1 and B2 were executed in the presence of witnesses DW1 and DW2 and they have given evidence regarding the signing and attestation. There is nothing to discredit the evidence of DW1 and DW2. Their evidence is sufficient to indicate that the Wills were signed by the testators and at the relevant time they were in a sound and disposing state of mind, that they understood the nature and effect of the dispositions and put their signature to the document on their own free will. There is no evidence to prove the allegation of coercion or undue influence.
In the above circumstance we do not think that any suspicious circumstance existed in the execution or attestation of the Wills, and therefore the court below was justified in dismissing the suit. The Appeal is therefore dismissed and in the circumstance without any costs.
(K.M.JOSEPH, JUDGE) (A.M.SHAFFIQUE, JUDGE) jsr