Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Saviour

Keshava could not sleep that night. He was feeling miserable. He had never thought that he would be landing in this position one day. As his elder brother was quite well-off in the city, he never thought that his family would seek the family partition. He was aware that his parents had spent considerable amount for the education of his elder brother; whereas he himself had devoted all his time and energy for the family agricultural land. In fact he had to toil hard to maintain his family all the time. In spite of that sacrifice the family income was just sufficient for its maintenance. The partition of property would call for splitting the land which was just an unviable proposition. Keshava was also not in a position to pay the cash compensation in-lieu of the property as he had no savings on account of the continuously falling arecanut prices.
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Nittur was a small village on the banks of the river Netravathi in the erstwhile South Kanara district of Karnataka. Mukund Rao was a hard working small farmer. He had a small landholding of four acres. He had arecanut plantation in two acres and the other two acres of paddy growing land had been given on tenancy.  He had two children, both boys. The first son Vamana was very good in his studies. Keshava, the second son, was an average student but was very much interested in agriculture. He joined his father in his agriculture activities after completing his SSLC examination. Even though his father wanted him to at least complete his graduation, he had no such inclination. Ultimately Mukund Rao had to give up and allow him to join him.

Vamana continued his studies in the city. As he was a brilliant student, he had no difficulty in successfully completing his education. After his graduation he completed his Chartered Accountancy. Within a short time he established a very good practice. His parents were very happy for him. In spite of his successful career both in education and profession, Vamana was quite unassuming in his nature. He had been brought up in a very good family atmosphere and it reflected in all his dealings.

His parents were in search of a good girl for their beloved son. In the meanwhile Vamana was approached by one of his clients with a proposal of their daughter. In the course of their professional dealings, the client was very much impressed with the personality and caliber of Vamana. Vamana had also become very close to the family. He had, on several occasions, seen their only daughter Smitha at their home. Smitha was a beautiful girl with lovable features. She had completed her graduation just then.

Vamana asked his client to approach his parents. They were pleased to take it as his indirect consent. Mukund Rao couple had basically no objection, even though heart of heart, they would have preferred a girl from the village background. They had some reservations for a city- bred girl. But finding the willingness of their beloved son, they gave their consent for the proposal. The marriage was held in the city and the couple was quite pleased by the way Smitha’s parents conducted it. Soon after the marriage Vamana set up his family in the city.

Vamana was very particular to have his own house in the city early. He was on the lookout for a suitable site. He was allotted a site by the City Development authority. He had to pay an amount of rupees twenty thousand to get it registered in his name. As he had spent all his savings for his marriage expenses, he had no means to pay it. He told his father about it. He came to his rescue. He had saved some money from out of his limited agricultural income. He was pleased to help his son to secure a site in the city. Keshava also had no objections for his father helping his elder brother. The entire cost of the site, rupees twenty thousand, was paid by Mukund Rao. Vamana got a bank loan sanctioned and constructed a big building to serve as both his office and residence. Even though Vamana‘s earnings shot up in due course, he never paid back his father; Neither his father asked him to pay. Keshava never interfered in his father’s financial affairs. He restricted himself to looking after the agricultural lands.

Keshava’s marriage was held with a girl from a nearby village after some years. The marriage expenses were met by his father only. Even though Vamana could have contributed, he never showed any inclination. However he used to attend all family functions and festivals at home with his wife and children. The family members maintained cordial relations all the time.

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Much water has flown down the River Netravathi since then. More than twenty five years have passed. The Mukund Rao couple had passed away in a span of one year on account of old age. The family had lost the two acres of paddy-growing land to the tenants under the tenancy act.  Keshava’ only son had also joined him in his agricultural profession. The family income was just sufficient to meet their daily needs. The fall in arecanut prices had resulted in reduced incomes for the cultivators. After the death of parents Vamana had stopped visiting his parental home. Keshava was aware that his brother had become a big shot in the city. He had a highly successful business practice. He never bothered to enquire the financial state of his brother. The two families slowly lost touch completely.

One morning Keshava received a telephone call from Bangalore. He was informed that Vamana had died suddenly of heart attack. Keshava was shocked to hear it. He left for Bangalore immediately and reached Bangalore in the night. He could not see the face of his brother as the family had already conducted the last rites. He met his sister-in-law and expressed his condolences. However he found her aloof and even her son and daughter were indifferent to him. He left Bangalore with great unhappiness. It appeared to him that the two families had moved completely apart.

There was no communication between the families for nearly a year. But Keshava was shocked to receive a court summons one fine morning. It had come from the Civil Magistrate Court of Mangalore. Keshava and his son, with their limited knowledge of English, made out that Smitha, his sister-in-law, had filed a suit in the court against him seeking family partition. It was stated in the summons that Vamana’s family was entitled to fifty percent share of the property under the Hindu Law. Keshava had been asked to appear before the court.
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As he got up in the morning Keshava remembered his close friend and classmate Sudhir. He was not in touch with him for quite some time. He had heard that Sudhir was practicing as an advocate in the Mangalore Court. He had also heard that Sudhir was not money-minded and was very sympathetic to his clients in his approach. He decided to go and meet him straight-away.

Sudhir was very happy to meet his old friend after a very long time. Both of them recollected their good old student days, when they had no earthly responsibilities to carry. The position was quite different now. Getting back to the official matter, Keshava told Sudhir all about his case involving his sister-in-law. He explained to Sudhir how he was not in a position to part with half of his lands as demanded by his sister-in-law. Sudhir heard him in detail patiently and also went through the court summons. He told Keshava that on the face of it, he had no way to avoid the partition, as his sister-in-law had a rightful share as the legal heir of her husband as per the Hindu Law. He also told Keshava, the fact that she was well off, had nothing to do with the matter as her husband’s assets were swayarjitha (self-earned). He asked Keshava to call on him again with all the property documents in his possession and took his signature on the Vakalath form to enable him to represent him in the court. He also advised him not to worry too much on the matter and he would help him in the best way possible.

That night Keshava could not sleep well. He went on thinking as to what would happen if ultimately he was made to part with half of his land or pay equivalent cash compensation. He was particularly worried about his son who had to survive on the income of half the land or alternatively carry a loan on his head.

In the morning he searched for land records at home. He could find out an old trunk where his father had kept all the records. Among the records he could also find a bank passbook in his father’s name. He had so far never bothered to find out whether his father had kept some money in the bank. He kept all the documents including the pass book in a folder and carried the same to his friend’s office on the next day.

Sudhir went through all the records leisurely. When he opened the bank passbook a small voucher slipped out from the book. He scrutinized it carefully. It was the counterfoil of a bank draft challan issued by the bank. He could find out that the same was nearly thirty years old. The draft had been purchased on Bangalore in favour of Bangalore Development Authority. Sudhir’s eyes lit up on seeing the same. He immediately went through the entries in the pass book; he could find a withdrawal of rupees twenty thousand (draft amount) on the same day.

He asked Keshava whether he knew anything about this draft. Keshava clearly remembered that it was sent to Vamana by his father for registering the site in his name. He also told Sudhir that the site was situated in a prominent commercial locality and his brother had constructed his office and residence on it. Sudhir also got it clarified from him that the full cost of the site at that time was rupees twenty thousand only. He told Keshava not to worry any more and to come back on the day of court hearing.
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Ten days later, on the day of hearing at the Civil Judge Court, Mangalore:

The Scene

(The Judge arrives and the court comes to the order. The clerk calls the case - Smt.Smitha & family against Sri Keshava & family. Smitha is present with her lawyer, Mr. Bhat. Keshava has already been briefed by Sudhir. The judge asks Mr. Bhat to proceed with the case. He calls Smitha to the witness box. The proceedings start :)

Bhat: please take the oath. You have filed this case against Keshava for family partition. Have you gone through the plaint in full? Do you say that whatever stated therein is true to the best of your knowledge?

Smitha: Yes. I have gone through the plaint and the contents are true to the best of my knowledge.

Bhat: The plaintiff has asked for the family partition. The details of the family property are furnished in the plaint. As per the Hindu law she is entitled for half of the share in the family property. The court may please order accordingly. That is all my Lord.

Judge: Sudhir, you may call the defendant.

Sudhir: Yes my Lord. (Calls Keshava to the witness box)

Sudhir: Keshava, have you gone through the plaint? Do you have anything to say in the matter?

Keshava: Yes. I have gone through the plaint and agree with what is stated therein. I have only one thing to say.

Sudhir: What is it?

Keshava: The family property is not fully covered in the schedule. I request that the entire property of the family may be added to ensure that the partition is just and complete.

Sudhir (looking at the Judge and Mr. Bhat): I think the defendant is justified in seeking for the full property to be partitioned. Does the plaintiff have any objection in the matter?

Judge (laughs): Keshava appears to be a thorough gentleman. He is offering more than what is prayed for in the plaint! Mr. Bhat, any objections?

(Bhat Smilingly consults Smitha, who is also amused and conveys her consent to him):

Bhat: My client has absolutely no objections, my Lord!

Sudhir: This point may be noted my Lord. Can you tell me Keshava, in brief, what are those properties which have been left out and which you want to be included now?

Keshava: I am talking about only one property, presently in the possession of the plaintiff and which belongs to the family!

 (The amusement goes away from the face of Smitha and Bhat! They look at each other with concern. The Judge is amused now!)

Sudhir: Can you tell me what is that property and how does it belong to the family?

Keshava: I am referring to the building in Bangalore which houses my brother’s family and the office where he was practicing.

Bhat (intervening): Objection, my Lord! The defendant is unnecessarily claiming the property which is owned by his brother and built out of his own earnings.

Judge: Objection sustained. Sudhir, you may proceed.

Sudhir: Keshava, How do you claim that the property belongs to the joint family?

Keshava: The site on which the building was constructed was purchased out of joint family income.

Sudhir: Do you have any proof for your claim?

Keshava: Yes. Here it is.
(Hands over a voucher and a pass book. Sudhir goes through them and presents the same to the Judge)

Sudhir: Ok Keshava, You can go now. (Looking at the judge) May I proceed now?

Judge: please proceed.

Sudhir: Sir, the site in Bangalore was purchased out of the money sent by the Head of the family from out of the family income. The voucher and the bank pass book entry clearly prove this fact. It represents the entire cost of the site and even the draft particulars are furnished in the sale deed executed by the Authority in plaintiff’s husband’s favour. I understand that the present market value of the 50’x60’ site is around rupees two crores.  The honourable court is aware that any property purchased out of the joint family income also belongs to the family (HUF) only, as per Hindu Law. Under the circumstances the defendant is in order in claiming it as family property and seeking for its inclusion in the assets to be partitioned. The honourable court may kindly give its order accordingly. That is all I want to say, Sir.

Judge: Mr. Bhat, what do you want to say in the matter?

Bhat (still trying to recover from the shock): I seek some time for my client to look into the matter.

Judge: The case stands adjourned.

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It is nearly a month since the court hearing. Sudhir got a communication from Bhat stating that his client wants to withdraw her plaint and close the issue. He told Keshava to discuss with his wife and son whether they are agreeable to forego their rightful claim on the Bangalore property. Keshava found that both of them were happy to just have the agriculture land and were least interested in any other property. Sudhir informed Bhat accordingly with the condition that Smitha should confirm on behalf of her family that she does not have anymore claim on the family assets. A compromise petition was filed in the court and the case was dismissed.

 A V Krishnamurthy
13th September 2008


Plaintiff: Person, who has filed the case

Defendant: Person against whom the case has been filed

Plaint:  A written statement of the case filed

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