Judicial Dictionary

Shebait- Legal status

The exact legal position of a shebait may not be capable of precise definition but its implications are fairly well established. It is settled by the pronouncement of the Judicial Committee in Vidya Varuti v. Balusami, 48 I. A. 302 that the relation of a Shebait in regard lo debutter property is not that of a trustee to trust property under the English law.

In English law the legal estate in the trust properly vests in the trustee who holds it for the benefit of cestui que trust. In a Hindu religions endowment on the other hand the entire ownership; of the dedicated property is transferred to the deity or the institution itself as a juristic person and the Shebait or Mahant is a mere manager. But though a Shebait is a manager and not a trustee in the technical sense, it would not be correct to describe the shebaitship as mere office. The Shebait has not only duties to discharge in connection with the endowment, but he has a beneficial interest in the debutter property. As the Judicial Committee observed in the above case, in almost all such endowments the Shebait has a share in the usufruct of the debutter property which depends upon the terms of the grant or upon custom or usage. Even where no emoluments are attached to the office of the Shebait, he enjoys some sort of right or interest in the endowed property which partially at least has the character of a proprietary right.

Thus, in the conception of Shebaiti both the elements of office and property, of duties and personal interest, are mixed up and blended together; and one of the elements cannot be detached from the other. It is the presence of this personal or beneficial interest in the endowed property which invests shebaitship with the character of proprietary rights and attaches to it the legal incidents of property.

This was elaborately discussed by a  F. B. of the Calcutta H. C. in Manohar Mukherji v. Bhupendra Nath, 60 Cal. 452 and this decision of the F. B. was approved of by the Judicial Committee in Ganesh Chunder Dhur v. Lal Behary, 63 I. A. 448 and again in Bhabatarini v. Ashalata, 70 I. A. 57. The effect of the first two decisions, as the P. C. pointed out in the last case, was to emphasize the proprietary element in the shebaiti right, and to show that though in some respects anomalous, it was an anomaly to be accepted as having been admitted into Hindu law from an early date. “According to Hindu law”, observed Lord Hobhouse in Gossamee Sree Greedharreejee v.Rumanlolljee Gossamee 161. A, 137:

“When the worship of a Thakoor has been founded, the shebaitship is held to be vested in the heirs of the founder, in default of evidence that be has disposed of it otherwise, or there has been some usage, course of dealing, or some circumstances to show a different mode of devolution.”

Unless, therefore, the founder has disposed of the shebaitship in any particular manner-and this right of disposition is inherent in the founder-or except when wage or custom of a different nature is proved to exist, shebaitship like any other species of heritable property follows the line of inheritance from the founder.

Ref: Sm. Angurbala Mullick Vs Debabrata Mullick- AIR 1951 SC 293 : (1951) SCR 1125