JOHN VALLAMATTOM V. UNION OF INDIA

DATE OF JUDGMENT: 21st July, 2003

CITATION: Writ Petition (Civil) 242 of 1997

COURT: Supreme Court

BENCH: Chief Justice of India V.N. Khare

PETITIONER: John Vallamattom and Anr.

RESPONDENT: Union of India

FACTS OF THE CASE:

The petitioner was a Roman Catholic Priest who is also a citizen of India and there was another petitioner who was also a Christian. The petitioners filed this petitioner under the contention that as per the Indian Succession Act of 1925, they have been restricted from passing on proper for religious and charitable basis. The Petitioners in this petition challenged that Section 118 of the Indian Succession Act, 1925 as unconstitutional under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution. The petitioners claimed that Section 118 was imposing autocratic and unjustifiable restriction on them for donating their personal property for certain religious or charitable reasons by their own will as the section has mentioned that any Christian who has a niece or a nephew or any other close relations, they cannot donate and give their personal property for religious or charitable works until a certain structural process is followed.


ISSUES OF THE CASE:

The issue of the case is that whether Section 118 of the Indian Succession Act, 1925 is valid as per the Constitution of India?


ARGUMENTS OF THE CASE:

The learned counsel for the petitioner argued that Section 118 of the Indian Succession Act, 1925 was violating Article 14 and Article 15 of the Indian Constitution as this particular section has discriminatory provisions against Christians, against a Christian person’s testamentary disposition, against using personal property for religious or charitable works, against a

Christian who has a near relative, against a person who is Christian when he dies within 12 months of executing the will that he has no control of. The learned counsel for the petitioner also argued that an Indian citizen should have the freedom and liberty to whom the person chooses as his beneficiaries of his will and the purpose of the passing down the personal property, which is here violated by Section 118 of the Act.

The learned counsel for respondents argued that this Act is implemented earlier than when the Constitution of India and it still continues to be in force. It was also argued that similarly, Indian Parliament was also not bound by legislative replacements and developments made on their behalf by England or any other foreign nation. The learned counsels also contended that Indian Christians form an individual and different section of the society which cannot be kept in the same placing as that of Muslims and Hindus in India for passing down for religious and charitable uses. Finally, the learned counsel contended that marriage and succession is of secular nature which cannot be included within religious guarantees that are provided under the Indian Constitution.


JUDGMENT OF THE CASE:

In this petition filed by the petitioner, the Chief Justice of India while stating the judgment, he inspected the genesis of the Act in question mentioning that it was a legislative development dating to the 18th century made by England that has been repealed long back. He stated that Constitution makes any legislation that pre-dates it specifically void and it’s in conflict with the current provisions of the Indian Constitution but it does not mean that it prevents it applicability unless an amendment is made.

The Judge mentioned about Article 14 of the Indian Constitution which provides equality before law within the territorial ambit of India. The restriction put upon by a statute under law can be held correct nevertheless when the person on whom it applies of a distinct and separate section and such differentiation is justifiable relying upon intelligible differentia with the aim to be fulfilled. The Judge stated that the restricted that Section 118 imposes was to prevent illmannered or ill-thought passing down of personal property under an influence of a religion, such restrictions will cause a great impact on the individual who wants to dispose their personal property in a certain way which will have influence after that person’s death. The idea of ownership of property also involves right to pass down their property by their own will. The Indian Succession Act confers this right to all persons irrespective of their age, religion, caste or creed. The Judge stated by pointing out that Section 118 imposes restrictions on Indian Christians only. The Judge after inspecting Indian and International laws, held that there is no ground to restrict a person from testamentary disposition of personal property for charitable concerns that provide different kinds of relief and provide public utility. Since charity is philanthropic and does not amount to religious influence, the Judge held it makes no sense to restrict passing down the personal property for religious or charitable concerns and such restriction is definitely violative of Article 14 of the Indian Constitution.The Judge further stated that the right given under Article 15 is personal rather than it gets applied to a group and thereby it was not relevant to the current petition. Thereby, the Judge held that as per unanimous decision of the Supreme Court, Section 118 of the Indian Succession Act, 1925 being violative of Article 14 of the Indian Constitution will be striked down as unconstitutional.



This article is written by Jwaalaa Suresh of SVKM's NMIMS School Of Law, Navi Mumbai.

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