As the word ‘Karta’ suggests, it means the manager of the family. He has overwhelming powers and responsibilities. He can be considered as the roots of the family tree which holds them together. He possesses a pivotal position in the family compared to none. The position of karta is sui generis. He is the head of the family, and acts on behalf of other members, but he is not like a partner, as his powers are almost unlimited. Undoubtedly he is the master of the grand show of the joint family and manages all its affairs and its business. His powers of management are so wide and almost sovereign.
WHO CAN BE KARTA?
It is a presumption of Hindu law that ordinarily the senior most male member is the karta of the joint family. He does not owe his position to agreement or consent of other coparceners. He is entitled to be the karta because he is the seniormost. As long as the father is alive, he is the karta. After his death it passes to the senior most male member, who may be the uncle, if the coparcenary consists of uncles and nephews, or who may be the eldest brother, if the coparcenary consists of brothers. In the presence of a senior male member, a junior member cannot be the karta. But if all the coparceners agree, a junior male member can be a karta. [Mudit v. Ranglal. (1902)]. The junior member owes his appointment to the agreement or consent of the coparceners. In M/s. Nopany Investments (P) Ltd v. Santokh Singh, 2007 it was held that in exceptional circumstances a junior member can act as the Karta of the family. If the Karta of the HUF was away in a remote place, and his return within a reasonable time was unlikely, a junior member could act as the Karta of the family. No protest from the senior most members impliedly shows that he gives the consent to the junior member to act as the karta.
According to Hindu sages, only a coparcener can be a karta; since females cannot be coparceners, they cannot be the karta of the joint family. The Supreme Court in Commr. of Income-tax v. Seth Govind Ram, took the view that the mother or any other female could not be the karta of the joint family and therefore cannot alienate joint family property. The Nagpur High Court held the view that mother, though not a coparcener, can be, in the absence of adult male members, karta of the joint family, and her acts will be binding on others as that of a karta. There are still contradicting views pertaintaining whether a woman can be a karta or not but after coming into force of Amendment Act of 2005, a woman since is now a coparcener, the bar of her becoming a karta should also be no longer there. The same ratio was given by the Supreme court in Mrs. Sujata Sharma v. Shri Manu Gupta, 2016.
POWERS OF KARTA
As the head of the family, karta's powers of management are almost absolute. He may manage the family affairs and family property and business the way he likes. For instance, he may not lease out family property or he may lease it out at a nominal rent. The whole of the income of joint family property, must be handed over to the karta unless he has specifically allotted income of a particular property to a member. It is a rule of the Mitakshara joint family that no member of the joint family is entitled to any definite share of the income of the joint family property or business. It is for the karta to allot funds to the members and to look after their needs and requirements.
The karta of the joint family represents the family in all matters, legal, social and religious. He acts on behalf of the family and his acts are binding on the entire joint family. In Radhakrishna Das v. Kuluram, 1967 it was held thatthe karta can enter into any transaction on behalf of the family, and it will be ordinarily binding on the joint family. He also represents the family in suits and other legal proceedings.
The joint family will be bound by a decree or order passed in legal proceedings. Even when the karta has lost a case on account of his gross negligence, it is not open to other members to have the decree set aside on that ground alone. The karta has power to compromise all disputes relating to family property or their management. He can also compromise a suit pending in a court and it will be binding on all the members. The karta has power to refer any dispute to arbitration and the award of the arbitrators will be binding on the joint family if valid in other respects. Karta has the power of making a small portion of movable joint family property as a gift of love and affection. A gift of love and affection is made to a person with whom the father stands in the relationship of love and affection, such as a wife, son, daughter, daughter-in-law. In every case, a gift has to be a small portion of the joint family movable property. In 1964 the Supreme Court in Guramma v. Mallappa said that the father can make a gift of love and affection to a daughter of a small portion of immovable property, either at the time of marriage or subsequently. But this ratio has been confined to daughters only.
Although no individual coparcener, including the karta, has any power to dispose of the joint family property without the consent of all others, it is recognized by the Dharmashastra that in certain exceptional circumstances, karta of the family has power to alienate the joint family property. Three purpose for which it can be alienated are :-
(i) Legal necessity:
It will include all those things which are deemed necessary for the members of the family. Joint family property can be alienated only in times of distress, such as famine, epidemic, earthquake, floods and the like. An alienation, in such circumstances will be undoubtedly valid. Some illustrative cases of legal necessity : (a) food, shelter and clothing for the members of the family (b) marriage of the members of the family including daughters, towards whom there is a special duty (c) medical care of the members of the family (d) defence of a member involved in a serious criminal charge, but not for the prosecution of a person accused of murdering a member of the family (e) for the payment of debts binding on the family [Dharam Singh v. Sadhu Singh. 1997]
(ii) Benefit of estate:
It means anything that is done which will benefit the joint family property. There are some divergent views that exist about what would constitute the benefit. One hand there is the view that it is only of defensive character i.e., which is done to avert an imminent danger to the property would be considered. The second view is that anything done which is of positive benefit to the estate would amount to benefit of the estate as held in Jagatnarain v. Mathuradas. Now the court is accepting more liberal interpretation as in Desad v. Desari, where Mudholkar, J. observed : “For a transaction to be regarded as a benefit to the family, it need not be of defensive character so as to be binding on the family.”
(iii) Indispensable duties:
The term "indispensable duties" implies performance of those acts which are religious, pious or charitable. Gifts within a reasonable limit can be made for pious purposes : a small portion of property can be alienated for a family idol or to an idol in a public temple [Audyappa v. Mutbulokhmi, 1925]. ,gb,hyrymfnwj
Concept of Karta is nowhere mentioned in Hindu Succession Act and thus we have to rely on ancient Hindu text to grasp it. Powers of Karta, though limited,but are very wide. He works on the theory of centralisation of power and can make decisions affecting all the members of the joint without consulting them. Accountability is highly improbable, as being the head he manages and controls all the affairs. Through liberal interpretation after the 2005 Amendment, women are also given the status of karta as they are also coparceners (which is the only condition required in Mitakshara for being karta), but the view is not widely accepted making the concept patriarchal. The question which arises is do we still need the authority of karta who will ultimately decide the fate of the family? Though coparceners have the right to challenge him but these remedies come into play when the deed is done. The need is to firstly, make the concept egalitarian i.e. women should be allowed to hold the position without any hiccups secondly, the decision making should be atleast after discussion and deliberation and in case of emergency only, karta should be allowed to function suo moto.
This article is written by Vanshika Gupta of Campus Law Centre, University of Delhi.