The settled legal position is that when by virtue of a family settlement or arrangement, members of a family descending from a common ancestor or a near relation seek to sink their differences and disputes, settle and resolve their conflicting claims or disputed titles once and for all in order to buy peace of mind and bring about complete harmony and goodwill in the family, such arrangement ought to be governed by a special equity peculiar to them and would be enforced if honestly made. The object of such arrangement is to protect the family from long drawn litigation or perpetual strives which mar the unity and solidarity of the family and create hatred and bad blood between the various members of the family, as observed in. In Kale & Ors. v. Deputy Director of Consolidation & Ors. [1976 (3) SCC 119] (Para 7), a three Judge Bench of Supreme Court had observed thus:
“9.….. A family arrangement by which the property is equitably divided between the various contenders so as to achieve an equal distribution of wealth instead of concentrating the same in the hands of a few is undoubtedly a milestone in the administration of social justice. That is why the term “family” has to be understood in a wider sense so as to include within its fold not only close relations or legal heirs but even those persons who may have some sort of antecedent title, a semblance of a claim or even if they have a spes successionis so that future disputes are sealed for ever and the family instead of fighting claims inter se and wasting time, money and energy on such fruitless or futile litigation is able to devote its attention to more constructive work in the larger interest of the country. The courts have, therefore, leaned in favour of upholding a family arrangement instead of disturbing the same on technical or trivial grounds. Where the courts find that the family arrangement suffers from a legal lacuna or a formal defect the rule of estoppel is pressed into service and is applied to shut out plea of the person who being a party to family arrangement seeks to unsettle a settled dispute and claims to revoke the family arrangement under which he has himself enjoyed some material benefits. …..”
In paragraph 10 of the said decision, the Court has delineated the contours of essentials of a family settlement as follows:
“10. In other words to put the binding effect and the essentials of a family settlement in a concretised form, the matter may be reduced into the form of the following propositions:
“(1) The family settlement must be a bona fide one so as to resolve family disputes and rival claims by a fair and equitable division or allotment of properties between the various members of the family;
(2) The said settlement must be voluntary and should not be induced by fraud, coercion or undue influence;
(3) The family arrangement may be even oral in which case no registration is necessary;
(4) It is wellsettled that registration would be necessary only if the terms of the family arrangement are reduced into writing. Here also, a distinction should be made between a document containing the terms and recitals of a family arrangement made under the document and a mere memorandum prepared after the family arrangement had already been made either for the purpose of the record or for information of the court for making necessary mutation. In such a case the memorandum itself does not create or extinguish any rights in immovable properties and therefore does not fall within the mischief of Section 17(2) of the Registration Act and is, therefore, not compulsorily registrable;
(5) The members who may be parties to the family arrangement must have some antecedent title, claim or interest even a possible claim in the property which is acknowledged by the parties to the settlement. Even if one of the parties to the settlement has no title but under the arrangement the other party relinquishes all its claims or titles in favour of such a person and acknowledges him to be the sole owner, then the antecedent title must be assumed and the family arrangement will be upheld and the courts will find no difficulty in giving assent to the same;
(6) Even if bona fide disputes, present or possible, which may not involve legal claims are settled by a bona fide family arrangement which is fair and equitable the family arrangement is final and binding on the parties to the settlement.”
Again, in paragraph 24, this Court restated that a family arrangement being binding on the parties, clearly operates as an estoppel, so as to preclude any of the parties who have taken advantage under the agreement from revoking or challenging the same. In paragraph 35, the Court noted as follows:
“35. … We have already pointed out that this Court has widened the concept of an antecedent title by holding that an antecedent title would be assumed in a person who may not have any title but who has been allotted a particular property by other party to the family arrangement by relinquishing his claim in favour of such a donee. In such a case the party in whose favour the relinquishment is made would be assumed to have an antecedent title. …..”
And again, in paragraph 36, the Court noted as follows:
“36. … Yet having regard to the near relationship which the brother and the soninlaw bore to the widow the Privy Council held that the family settlement by which the properties were divided between these three parties was a valid one. In the instant case also putting the case of Respondents Nos. 4 and 5 at the highest, the position is that Lachman died leaving a grandson and two daughters. Assuming that the grandson had no legal title, so long as the daughters were there, still as the settlement was made to end the disputes and to benefit all the near relations of the family, it would be sustained as a valid and binding family settlement. …”
While rejecting the argument regarding inapplicability of principle of estoppel, the Court observed as follows:
“38. … Assuming, however, that the said document was compulsorily registrable the courts have generally held that a family arrangement being binding on the parties to it would operate as an estoppel by preventing the parties after having taken advantage under the arrangement to resile from the same or try to revoke it. …..”
And in paragraph 42, the Court observed as follows:
42. ..… In these circumstances there can be no doubt that even if the family settlement was not registered it would operate as a complete estoppel against Respondents Nos. 4 and 5. Respondent No. 1 as also the High Court, therefore, committed substantial error of law in not giving effect to the doctrine of estoppel as spelt out by this Court in so many cases. …”
As regards the decision in Bhoop Singh and Som Dev & Ors. v. Rati Ram & Anr. [2006 (10) SCC 788], the same dealt with the question of necessity to register any decree or order of a Court governed by clause (vi) of Section 17(2) of the Registration Act, 1908. In the present case, however, clause (v) of subSection 2 of Section 17 of the 1908 Act is attracted. Section 17 as applicable when the cause of action arose (prior to amendment of 2001) reads thus:
OF REGISTRABLE DOCUMENTS
17- Documents of which registration is compulsory.
(1) xxx xxx xxx
(2) Nothing in clauses (b) and (c) of subsection (1) applies to –
(i) xxx xxx xxx
(ii) xxx xxx xxx
(iii) xxx xxx xxx
(iv) xxx xxx xxx
(v) any document not itself creating, declaring, assigning, limiting or extinguishing any right, title or interest of the value of one hundred rupees and upwards to or in immovable property, but merely creating a right to obtain another document which will, when executed, create, declare, assign, limit or extinguish any such right, title or interest; or …..”
In Bhup Singh , the Court was dealing with the issue of compulsory registration of a decree or order of Court. In the context of the applicable clause (vi) in subSection (2) of Section 17, the Court in Bhoop Singh went on to hold as follows:
“18. The legal position qua clause (vi) can, on the basis of the aforesaid discussion, be summarised as below:
(1) Compromise decree if bona fide, in the sense that the compromise is not a device to obviate payment of stamp duty and frustrate the law relating to registration, would not require registration. In a converse situation, it would require registration.
(2) If the compromise decree were to create for the first time right, title or interest in immovable property of the value of Rs.100 or upwards in favour of any party to the suit the decree or order would require registration.
(3) If the decree were not to attract any of the clauses of subsection (1) of Section 17, as was the position in the aforesaid Privy Council and this Court’s cases, it is apparent that the decree would not require registration.
(4) If the decree were not to embody the terms of compromise, as was the position in Lahore case, benefit from the terms of compromise cannot be derived, even if a suit were to be disposed of because of the compromise in question.
(5) If the property dealt with by the decree be not the “subjectmatter of the suit or proceeding”, clause (vi) of subsection (2) would not operate, because of the amendment of this clause by Act 21 of 1929, which has its origin in the aforesaid decision of the Privy Council, according to which the original clause would have been attracted, even if it were to encompass property not litigated.”
- Som Dev & Ors. v. Rati Ram & Anr. [JT 2006 (10) SCC 469] (Para 17)
- Bhoop Singh v. Ram Singh Major & Ors. [JT 1995 (6) SC 534] (Para 12)
- Kale & Ors. v. Deputy Director of Consolidation & Ors. [1976 (3) SCC 119] (Para 7)