In Hindu joint family, the Karta or manager, occupies pivotal position. So unique is his position that there is no comparable office or institution in any other system of the world. His position is sui generis. Though he is a person with limited powers, yet within the ambit of his sphere, he possesses such vast power as are possessed by none else.
Ordinarily, the senior most male member is the Karta of the joint family. He does not owe his position to the agreement or consent of other coparceners.
POWERS OF KARTA
1) The Karta represents the joint family in all civil and criminal proceedings. He can enter into a compromise on behalf of the joint family only in case of civil suits.
2) It is the duty of the Karta to maintain all the members of the joint family.
3) He has the power to appropriate the income of the joint family and also to dispose it off.
4) He is liable to pay debts of the joint family out of joint family property.
5) The Karta has the power to alienate the joint family property in the following circumstances :-
(a) Legal necessity
(b) Benefit of estate
(c) Consent of all coparceners.
6) He has the power to make gift of some part of movable property out of affection that would be treated as the donee”s separate property.
7) He can take debts for pious purposes.
8) He has the duty to provide for expenses on the marriage of unmarried daughter.
CAN WOMAN BE A KARTA?
Any ambiguous provision in 2005 amendment Act has to be interpreted in the light of the purpose of 2005 amendment Act. Regarding a daughter, section 6(1)(a),(b),(c) clearly declares that she is a coparcener by birth in her own right in the same manner as that of a son and she has the same right as those which a son has a coparcener.
On the face of it, it appears that if a male coparcener can be a Karta then a female coparcener can also be a Karta. However, it has to be interpreted in the light of the purpose of 2005 amendment Act and also the peculiar position of Karta in the joint Hindu family.
Regarding the position of women as to whether she can be a Karta or not, before 2005 I clearly declared amendment in CIT v. Seth Govind Ram, 8 that a women can be a manager of the joint family property but she cannot be a Karta. However, when this case was decided the women were not a coparcener and therefore the right to Kartaship was not sustained. As of now It has made the daughter a coparcener and therefore whether she can be a Karta or not stands on a different footing and therefore it needs to be examined differently.
The main objections regarding the daughter being made a Karta has been that once she is married she will go to another family and her Karta ship will become purposeless. However, this objection cannot be sustained as merely because she goes to another family after marriage her status as a Karta will not get lost and she can perform her duties. It has been clearly held in Pushpalatha N.V. vs Padma and others, that there cannot be a distinction between a son and a daughter on the ground of marital status as it would be contrary to Article 14 of the Constitution.
That the person is the senior most male coparcener in the family and is the last male holder of the family per se makes him the Karta. This relates to the concept of pinddan i.e. offering of prayers to the ancestors the senior most male member of can do which the family i.e. Karta.
The position of Karta is very pivotal and he has a fiduciary capacity with respect to the other members of the family. He has to manage the entire family property and has to take proprietary decisions. He acts like a trustee or an agent but practically he is neither of the two. He is not responsible to account for his past dealings of the joint family property. However, he can be made liable to give the accounts only if fraud has alleged against him and partition is claimed by a coparcener. He also has the power to discriminate between the members of the family in the matters of maintenance and can even make the joint family liable to pay the loan taken by him for some personal or religious purpose. At the same time it has to be seen that the gender equality is to be promoted as that is it can interpret the requirement of the Constitution and no law without keeping the Constitution principles and purposes in consideration. It is a trite law that the managership of the joint family property goes to a person by birth and is regulated by seniority. The Karta or the manager occupies a position superior to that of other members. It has given the daughter an equal status with the son since birth as per section 6(1) (a) and therefore she cannot be denied of any such right which is a natural incident of her being a coparcener. In fact the law commission also in 174 the Law Commission Report has clearly suggested that women are equal and particularly after she has been made a coparcener. It has removed the legal impediment of her becoming a Karta and now she can be a coparcener in her own right.
On the above basis the Delhi High Court in Sujata Sharma vs. Manu Gupta, 2016, held that a daughter can be a Karta if she fulfils the requirement of copartnership and for being a Karta if it does not give her that right then it will be the violation of her right to equality. Section 6 is a socially beneficial legislation which gives equal rights of inheritance to a Hindu male and female. If a male member of a Hindu undivided family by virtue of being firstborn eldest can be a Karta so can be a female member. Therefore, a woman cannot be deprived of the benefit of Section 6.
Furthermore, it can be observed that the court has not got into the peculiar powers of Karta rather the Court has only focussed upon the equality aspect of the gender justice and the fact that It has made her a coparcener by birth. That position of Karta also involves the socio-legal aspect, the Court has not considered religious dimensions. It requires a further deeper analysis even though the judgment given by the Delhi High Court is a welcome and a progressive judgment toward gender equality but the Supreme Court’s view on this decision is still awaited.