In the Supreme Court of India Civil Appellate Jurisdiction Case No. 1953 AIR 91, 1953 SCR 404 Appellants Ameerunnissa Begum and Ors. Respondent Mahboob Begum and Ors. Decided on 09 December 1952 Bench Chandrasekhara Aiyar; K. Mukherjea; Patanjali Sastri; Vivian Bose; Ghulam Hasan
The case under analysis is one of the unique cases where the succession pertaining to one particular family was enacted as an Act. The Act was questioned on whether it is discriminatory in nature. Moreover, the claims have to be settled by the already established provisions under the Muslim Personal Law but here the Rajpramuk authority was misused by enacting an Act for regulating the succession of one particular family. The case was discussed and the impugned Act was held to be unconstitutional.
Constitution and Statutory Provisions
- 226, 14, 13(2) and 31 of Constitution of India, 1949
- Waliuddowla Succession Act, 1950
The appeal is made before the Apex Court of the Country questioning the constitutional validity of the Waliuddowla Succession Act, 1950 which obtained the assent of H.E.H, the Nizam and Rajpramuk of Hyderabad on April, 24, 1950 to deal with the succession of matrooka or personal estate of Nawab Waliuddowala, a wealthy nobleman and high dignitary of Hyderabad. The act was passed to dismiss the claims of succession that is put forward by two wives of the late Nawab namely Mahboob Begum and Kadrian and their children. It was also accepted that on Ameerunnissa Begum was legally wedded to the late Nawab and moreover, one Fatima Begum was also wedded to him. Fatima Begum left him and also claimed in the property only to the extent of dower paid during the marriage. Paigah Trust Committee was dealing with the management of the property of Nawab. After the death of the Nawab, letters were sent to Ameerunnissa Begum, Fatima Begum and Mahboob Begum (not to Kadrian Begum) where the marriage with the first two was proved without any doubt whereas appropriate reply was not obtained from Mahboob Begum (like evidence of marriage certificate). The trust divided the property into two where 60% was to be given to legal wives and 40% to concubines i.e., the respondents in the present case.
On 8th February, 1938, Mahboob Begum and her children filed suit to declare her as legal wife and also to treat their children as legitimate, in Dar-ul-Qaza, a Court to determine the rights of succession, marriage, divorce etc, of muslims in the Hyderabad State.Before hearing of the case, the case was directed to the special commission.The report was submitted by the special commission that respondents are legally wedded wives and legitimate children of the late Nawab and they are entitled to get shares. But the executive council was of conflict of opinions which necessitated the scrutinization of Advisory committee. The advisory committee varied in the opinion of special commission and held that the respondents are not legally related to the late Nawab. The special commission report was transferred to Chief Justice of Hyderabad High Court for clarification.
On application made to the military governor, the execution proceedings by chief justice was stayed. Later the execution was said to continue in favour of Ameerunnisa which was opposed by respondents again. Then the case was transferred to Legal Advisor of military governor who affirmed that the respondents were not legally wedded to late Nawab. After commencement of Constitution, the impugned Act was formed with the object of giving legislative sanction to the findings made by the legal advisor of military governor. The Act directs the payment of one lakh as her Haq Mahar to Fatima Begum, whereas Mahboob Begum and Kadiran Begum are not legal wives.
The appeal has been filed before this Hon’ble Court through the certificate of appeal that was provided by the Hon’ble High Court of Hyderabad. Initially the case was filed before the Hon’ble High Court of Hyderabad under Article 226 of Constitution of India challenging the validity of the Act on the grounds that it conflicted with the petitioners’ fundamental rights guaranteed under Articles 14, 19(1)(f) and 31(1) of the Constitution of India. It was prayed before the High Court to grant reliefs by way of declaration and writs of Certiorari and prohibition. It was resisted by Ameerunnissa Begum, an admitted wife of late Nawab and her children by contending that they would be primarily benefitted by the provisions of the impugned Act. The Act was declared to be void by the High Court and thus this present appeal lies before the highest forum of Indian Judiciary.
Issues which were in Challenge
Whether the respondents 1 to 5 were the lawfully married wives of the late Nawab or were they merely in his keeping as kavases or permanent concubines?
Contention of the Appellants
The legislation in the present case does not violate the principles of the equality clause and he has attempted to combat with much force the decision of the High Court on this point.
Contention of the Respondent
A legislation on the succession topics must be a general legislation; but it has not been disputed by either side that no valid legislation could be passed under these heads which is discriminatory in its character. An offence against the equal protection clause embodied under Art. 14 of the Constitution.
- The question that has to be considered by the Hon’ble Supreme Court is whether there is any legal wedding between the respondents and the Late Nawab. If there was no marriage then the children of the so-called spouses will also lose the claim.
- The functioning of Nawab is not considered to be unconstitutional and he was given the position of Rajpramuk which makes him subject to Articles 385, 212A of the Constitution of India. As a result of which the Rajpramuk was not only to act in conformity with Article 246 of Constitution of India and keep within the bounds of the legislative sphere laid down with reference to the entries in the different legislative lists, but the legislation must not be in conflict with any of the fundamental rights guaranteed under Part III of the Constitution of India.
- A legislature which has to deal with diverse problems arising out of an infinite variety of human relations must have the power of making special laws to attain particular objects and for that purpose it must have large powers of selection or classification of persons and things upon which those laws have to operate. Mere differentiation or inequality of treatment is not discrimination under Art.14 it is necessary to show that such classification is unreasonable or arbitrary with no rational basis to the object of the act.
- The Acts are always presumed to be Constitutional and it cannot be held unconstitutional even if it relates to a single individual, family or corporation.
- A legislation denies specific individuals the right to enforce their claim in the Court of law and thus they have been discriminated from the rest of the society with respect ot a valuable right secured to all.
- The legislation is not justified as it is not serving a public purpose or advantage to a community so that they can go against the private rights. Here it is an act to deal with private issues. Thus, plainly it is in Constitution inhibition of Art. 14 of Constitution of India.
- The English legislations cannot be relied upon as there is a legislative omnipotence in case of English Parliament and similar situation is inapplicable in India. Similarly, Bijini Act was passed in the state of Assam but when the Governor-General was having the power to enact such laws.
- The claim to the estate of the late Nawab which they wanted to assert under the general law of the land is itself a valuable right, and the deprivation of that right by a piece of discriminatory legislation would be sufficient to bring the case within the purview of Article 14 of Constitution of India.
No dissenting opinion was rendered by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India
The Court is of the opinion that the impugned act does not stand the test of reasonableness and therefore void. The contention that there were acts that were created of similar nature in India was rejected by the Court. The Hon’ble Supreme Court has differentiated between the pre-existing laws and the widened nature of the authority rendered to the legislature but in the present scenario, the Nawab was subject to the Constitution of India and thus Act is subject to provisions of Constitution. The Court held that this legislation results in inhibition of valuable right to appear before the Courts. The appeal was hence dismissed. But it is also pertinent to note that the respondents are not legally recognized as heirs of the late Nawab too.
Edited by Chiranjeeb Prateek Mohanty
Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje
Chiranjit Lal v. the Union of India  SCR 869
Willis on Constitutional Law