This article talks about the powers, responsibilities, and liabilities of the Karta and how with changing times, female Kartas need to be recognized in the Hindu Joint Family.
“A Leader is the one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way”
– John C. Maxwell
A Hindu co-coparcenary is an association of persons within a joint family which is dominated by the male members of the family. This particular body of persons comprises four successive generations, inclusive of the last male holder of the property. This last male holder of the property is also the senior-most male member of the family. The Hindu Joint family is a patriarchal body where the male makes all the important decisions for the family. The senior-most male member of the family is called the Karta, who serves as a representative for the family and performs all duties on account of the family. It is an established fact that only a coparcener is entitled to become a Karta.
The relationship between the Karta and the other family members is built on trust wherein the head of the family is obligated to look after the joint family and the welfare of the members of the family. The Karta is involved in all the important decision-making related to family disputes, property, partition, reunion, etc., and the resolution drawn by the Karta is to be followed mandatorily. Hence, there is no comparison between the Karta and the other members of the family as the Karta always remains at a higher position amongst the family. There exists a guardian relationship between the members of the family and the Karta, who is to provide support, assistance, and care for his family.
The Karta has extensive but limited powers with respect to the administration of the family and to ensure that unity exists amongst the members of the Hindu Joint Family. If partition takes place within the Joint Hindu Family, then the Karta inherits only his specific share in the property and nothing more, thus the powers administered to a Karta may look compact but they are vast in their own peculiar way.
Who qualifies to be a Karta?
The senior-most male member of the family
The senior-most male member of the family qualifies to become a Karta. A Karta is always appointed from within the family and thus no outside person is entitled to become a Karta. In case of the death of the senior-most person in the family, the second most senior person in the family takes his place and continues to discharge his duties as the Karta. A Karta is appointed by agreement amongst all the coparceners. In the case of Harihar Sethi And Anr. v. Ladukishore Sethi And Ors, the Orissa High court held that “lesser coparcener can be the Karta when the senior-most coparcener defers his privilege of Karta then a junior member can become Karta.”
Junior Male member
By agreement between the coparceners of the family, a junior male member can be appointed as the Karta of the joint family. In the case of Nopany Investments v. Santokh Singh, it was stated that “A junior member may act as a Karta if the senior member has waived his or her right expressly or impliedly or in the absence of the manager in exceptional circumstances.” In another case, Narendra Kumar J. Modi v. Comm de IT, it was observed that the senior-most male member may give up his duty as the Karta and entitle a junior male member with the same.
In cases where the senior-most male member is absent or the male members of the family are minor, then the senior-most female member of the family can act as a Karta and perform her duties. In the case of Pandurang Dahake v. Pandurang Gorle, the Nagpur High court held that “the mother can become Karta if there is no other grown-up coparcener is accessible.” In the landmark case of Mrs. Sujata Sharma v. Shri Manu Gupta and Ors, it was held that the oldest female member of the Hindu Joint family can become the Karta of the family. This decision is significant as it takes the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005 which revised Section 6 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 (HSA) to its obvious end result.
In the case of C.P. Berai v. Laxmi Narayan, it was held that “A widow could be a Karta in the absence of adult male members in the family. The true test is not who transferred/incurred the liability, but whether the transaction was justified by necessity.”
Characteristics of a Karta
- A Karta’s position is sui generis i.e. peculiar and unique. The powers a Karta possesses are independent in nature and no other member of the family can be compared to him/her.
- His powers are unlimited and he cannot be treated as an agent or partner even if he functions on behalf of the other members.
- The Karta is not liable to anyone and no one can take responsibility for his actions. Although in cases of fraud, misappropriation, or conversion, he can be held accountable for his actions.
- Karta is not answerable for any issue related to the finances of the family and he can use his resources as he deems fit unless he is charged with fraud, conversion, etc.
- There is no hard and fast rule for Karta to divide the income from the joint property equally among his family members. He can make partial decisions with respect to the family member. However, he needs to take care of basic necessities like food, clothing, shelter, education, etc of every member of the family.
Powers of a Karta
- Management Powers: The management of the Karta is unquestionable and no one can object to the duties of the Karta. It is up to him to manage or mismanage the business, family property of the family the way he intends to perform. The Karta cannot refuse property maintenance to any member. Thus, he is also not liable for any failures that may occur.
- Income and Expenditure powers: The Karta is responsible for the entire income of the Hindu Joint family and he manages the allotment of the funds to the family members for all their necessities. Hence, he supervises and controls the expenditure of funds for the family.
- Joint Family representation powers: The Karta purports to be the head in all legal, religious, and social events. The decision taken by the Karta is final and binding. He has the privilege to make any negotiation on behalf of the family.
- Right to compromise: Karta can make a concession with respect to the family property and management. He is allowed to compromise pending suits, family debts, and other transactions. The undermining power of the Karta can be challenged in court by the coparceners.
- Arbitration Powers: In cases of dispute, associated with property or management of the family, the Karta can advert such a matter to arbitration. A valid award passed by arbitration tribunal is imperative on the members of the joint family.
- Debt powers: The Karta practices an implicit authority to contract debts and pledge the credits and property of the family. The decision taken by the Karta in such matters is final and binding on the members of the family. In cases where the Karta purchases a loan on behalf of the family for the family business, the joint family members are liable to pay the loan.
- Contract powers: The Karta can enter into any contract and levy such contracts as enforceable on the family.
- Alienation powers: No coparcener in a joint Hindu family can alienate the property except the Karta under the following three circumstances:
- Legal necessity: If Karta is under the impression that such legal action is necessary for the family, then he can alienate the property. In the case of Dev Kishan v. Ram Kishan, the petitioner filed a suit against the defendant, who are both members of the Joint Hindu family. Defendant 2, the Karta under the influence of Defendant 1 sold and mortgaged the property for the illegal purpose of two minor daughters of their family. The Respondent argued that he had taken a loan out of 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.”
- The benefit of an estate: This means that any action that is taken is for the benefit of the family property. It’s the duty of the Karta to take any action which is in the interest and welfare of the family.
- Indispensable duties: Acts that are religious, charitable, or spiritual in nature are called indispensable duties. These include marriage, Pooja, etc. Thus, for charitable purposes, a Karta has the right to alienate a part of the family property. The Karta is eligible to alienate only a small portion of immovable or movable property.
In CIT v Gangadhar Sikaria Family Trust (1983), the Guwahati High Court was to decide whether the Income-tax Officer can challenge the validity of alienation by the Karta of a Hindu undivided family. The High Court held that “under the Hindu Law, the Karta of a Hindu undivided family has an unfettered right to alienate the joint family property for legal necessity and for the benefit of the estate or the family. It was further held that even if a transfer by the Karta was not for legal necessity or for the benefit of the estate, but if it is done with the consent of the coparceners, it would be only voidable and not void ab-initio. It is clear that alienation by the Karta or manager of a joint family is avoidable, but not void. Hence, a third party cannot repudiate it, except in cases where there is a suggestion that it was in fraud on creditors.”
Liabilities of Karta
- To Maintain: Karta is responsible to maintain all the members of the Joint Family and if he fails to do so, he can be sued for it and can be urged for compensation.
- To Render accounts: The Karta is responsible to account for family property in cases of partition. If any of the coparceners is dissatisfied with the accounting of the Karta, then he can initiate a suit against him and discover any misappropriation that could’ve been done by him.
- To recover debts due to the Family: The Karta is answerable for all the debts that are due to the Hindu Joint family.
- To spend reasonably: The Karta is permitted to use the family funds for family purposes only and not for any other personal use with a different motive or intention.
- To prevent from eliminating coparcenary property: The onus of not alienating the family property, without any legal necessity, lies on the Karta. He is held accountable for maintaining the family property.
- To restrain from starting a new business: The Karta is responsible for the family property and therefore, he cannot begin a new business without the approval of the other coparceners.
Responsibilities of a Karta
The Karta is obligated to sustain the members of the family with clothing, food, shelter, and all necessary things for a living. These responsibilities include:
- Maintenance: Every member of the family is entitled to maintenance and it is the responsibility of the Karta to look after their maintenance. In situations where Karta fails to do so, he can be sued and asked for compensation.
- Marriage: Every person of the family has a right to be married and it is the duty of the Karta to make all the unmarried members of the family marry, with special attention to the daughters. The expenses of any marriage of the members must be withdrawn from the family property. In the case of Chandra Kishore v. Nanak Chand, it was held that “Karta is responsible for managing the expenses of the marriage of the daughter from the joint family estate. And in case of marriage expenses are met from outside they are to be reimbursed from the joint family funds.”
- Accounts at Partition: Partition means bringing the joint status of the family to an end. Under Mitakshara Law, a partition can imply two things:
- Severance of status and interest: wherein the coparcenary decides to sever himself from the family and enjoy the undivided and unspecified share of the property separately.
- The actual division of property: When the intention of the coparcener results in severance of his status but which is a mere bilateral action. When accounts are opened, an inquiry into the inventory of all the matters/items of the joint family property is looked into. The Karta can disclose the accounts only on charges of fraud, misappropriation, or conversion of the asset/property of the joint family against him. Without any proof of fraud or misappropriation, the members cannot demand disclosure of the past. 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.
In the case of Ghuia Devi v. Shyamlal Mandal, it was held that “partition of a Joint Hindu Family property the manager/Karta can only be made liable for revaluation of account if there is a proof of misappropriation /fraud and improper conversion of joint family assets and property. In the absence of such a proof, a coparcener seeking partition is not entitled to require the manager to account for his past dealings with the joint family property.”
Critical Analysis and Conclusion
Under Hindu law, the Karta holds a vital place in a Hindu Joint Family. The concept of a leader/ manager of the family dates centuries back and is being exercised by every Hindu joint family for years. It is an agreed fact that every Joint family should have a head who can effectually manage the affairs of the family and also play an important role in keeping the family united.
The Karta has tremendous powers as compared to the liabilities he possesses. However, the matriarchal aspect of designating the senior-most “male” member of the family is primeval and bygone. In today’s time, women are treated with the same respect as men and are provided equal opportunities. The courts had earlier reasoned out that a woman cannot be a Karta because she is not a coparcener to the property. However, with the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005, daughters were given unbiased rights to be a part of the Joint Family property. But, the question still remains as to why is a woman not given the priority? The Hindu Succession Act, 1956 yet does not accept a woman as a Karta except under two conditions: (a) in the absence of a male member (b) and when the male members are minors.
The legislation needs to take steps to raise the status of women in personal laws and regard them on the same level as men. Many women are unaware of their personal rights in such matters due to which no action is being taken by them to raise a voice for themselves and speak against such discrimination. Equality between both genders is not just for the empowerment of women, but it also drives us towards a modern and practical society. The Hindu law needs to bring light to the fact that women can manage a family and business-related with the same efficiency as any man would and thus appreciate their capability to be competent enough.
To what extent is the right by the senior-most male member of the family holding the position of a Karta eligible?
The senior-most male member of the family is given the entitlement of a Karta with keeping in view the fact that he has watched the family grow and has over time, learned how it functions, and therefore, he has more knowledge than any other younger member of the family would have.
Under The Hindu Succession Act, 1956, how equitable is it to give the male member the rights of the Karta and exclude the eldest female member?
In the landmark case of Mrs. Sujata Sharma v. Shri Manu Gupta and Ors., it was held that the oldest female member of the Hindu Joint family can become the Karta of the family. However, the biased preference for a male is a matter of debate to date and seems unjust for not giving equal rights to a female. But, the judiciary is changing its view on such cases and has been insightful while passing judgments in favor of women.
Despite his/her rights as a Karta, to what degree is the Karta liable for wrongful actions?
The Karta can be sued for misappropriation and use of wrongful means when it comes to the property of the members of the Joint Hindu Family. Thus, the Karta needs to be distinct and rational while making decisions for the members of the family and the joint property.
Is a minor liable to be the Karta of a Hindu Undivided Family?
In case the senior-most male member is not in existence or gives up his right as a Karta, a minor can take the position of a Karta and discharges his duties accordingly. However, the consent of all the members of the family is required.
How relevant is the concept of Karta in today’s time?
The main motive behind the appointment of a Karta is the effectual functioning of the family and the family property. With the exclusion of such leadership, there is a possibility of the family falling and causing a dispute with regard to the division of property. Hence, with the administration of one person, any legal or personal inconveniences rising out of the family, can be taken care of.
 AIR 2002 Ori 110
 AIR 2008 SC 673
 AIR 1976 SC 1953
  AIR Nag 178
 CS (OS) 2011/2006
 AIR 1949 Nag 128
 AIR 2002 Raj 370
 142 ITR 677
 AIR 1975 Del 175
 AIR 1974 Pat 68