John Vallamatton v. Union of India

CourtSupreme Court
BenchA.R Lakshmanan
PetitionerJohn Vallamatton & Anr.
RespondentUnion of India
Date21st July 2003
CitationW. P. (Civil) of 242


The case deals with the challenges of Constitutional validity of the personal law under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution. It also challenges the Section 118 of Indian Succession Act, 1925. Section 118 of Indian Succession Act, 1925 violates part III of the Indian Constitution. The full bench of the Supreme Court declared that Section 118 of Indian Succession Act, 1925 is unconstitutional and it also violates Article 13, 14 & 15.


The petitioners are Indian Citizen. The first petitioner was a Christian Priest and belong to denomination of Roman Catholic. The Second Petitioner was also a member of Christian community. The petitioner claims that under Indian Succession Act 1925 they are being prevented from bequeathing property for charitable and religious purposes which has led them to file this writ petition.


Article 14 of Constitution of India (equality before law)

Article 15 of constitution of India (prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth)

Article 32 of Constitution of India (remedies for the enforcement of the rights conferred)

Section 118 of Indian Succession Act, 1925

Legal Arguments:

The Petitioner argued that Section 118 of Indian Succession Act, 1925 violates Article 14 and 15 of the Indian Constitution as it discriminates against Christians, testamentary disposition by Christian, religious and charitable use of property, Christian who has a near relative and Christian who dies within twelve months of executing his will of which he has no control. They also argued that a citizen of India has the right to freedom of choosing their beneficiaries under their will as well as purpose of bequest.

The respondent argued that the Act pre-dates constitution and continues to be in force. They also argued that Indian Christians form a separate class and cannot be treated on equal footing to Muslims or Hindus. Finally, they submitted that marriage and succession were of secular characters and it cannot be included in religious guarantees within constitution.

Issues Raised:

  1. Whether Section 118 of Indian Succession Act, 1925 discriminatory.
  2. Whether it can be challenged that it violates Part III of Indian Constitution.
  3. Whether it violates Article 13, 14 and 15 of Indian Constitution.
  4. Whether the petition can be decided based on merit.
  5. Whether Section 118 of Indian Succession Act, 1925 unconstitutional.


The court considered the legal history of statute. The history of Section 118 of Indian Succession Act is traced to an ancient British statute 1735 which is also known as Charitable Uses Act 1735. It provided individuals gift by will of land for charitable purposes which is considered void as general rule after 24th June 1736. Mortmain and Charitable Act 1888 repealed 1735 Act. Part I of Mortmain and charitable Uses Act, 1888 prohibits assurance of land to charitable cooperation by providing that land shall not be on behalf of any corporation in Mortmain otherwise under statutory authority was provided for and if so assured shall be forfeited to queen.

The statute of Mortmain created restrictions on assurance of land for charitable purposes. The same restrictions are contained in Section 118 of Indian Succession Act. Later, same was repealed by British parliament by an Act known as Charitable Act 1960 on account of harshness and unreasonable of Mortmain Statute. The provision of repeal is provided hereunder:

“No right or title to any property shall be defeated or impugned and no assurance or disposition of property shall be treated as void or voidable, by virtue of any of enactment relating to Mortmain on 29th July, 1960 the possession was in accordance with that right or title or with assurance of disposition and no step has been taken to assert a claim by virtue of any enactment”.

Indian Succession Act, 1925 was enacted in year 1925, by reason whereof, Indian Succession Act 1865 was repealed. Section 59 of this act provides that every person of sound mind not being a minor may dispose of his property by will. Chapter VII of act deals with void bequests. Section 118 is contained in this chapter. Section 118 is read as follows:

“Bequest to religious or charitable uses: – No man having a nephew or niece or any nearer relative shall have power to bequeath any property to religious or charitable uses. Except by a will executed not less than twelve months before its death and deposited within six months from its execution in some place provided by law for safe custody of will of living persons.

During the time of judgment, the Chief Justice of India V.N. Khare examined the history of act stating that it is related back to English legislation of eighteenth century that had been already repealed. He said that Constitution specifically declares void any legislation that pre-dates it and is inconsistent with its provision. The question which raised here was whether the act is inconsistent with constitution but that does not prevent the continuity of application until amendment.

He stated that:

“Article 14 of the Constitution … guarantees equality before the law or equal protection of laws within the territory of India. The restriction imposed by reason of a statute, however, can be upheld in the event held that the person to whom the same applies, forms a separate and distinct class this classification is a reasonable one based on intelligible differentia having nexus with object sought to be achieved.  The underlying principle contained in Section 118 of Act indisputably was to prevent persons from making ill-considered death-bed bequest under religious influence. Therefore, Restrictions imposed have great impact on a person who desires to dispose of his property in manner which would take effect upon or after his death. Although the concept of ownership of person over a property or a right is varying. One includes right to dispose of his property by Will.  The Indian Succession Act confers such a right upon all persons irrespective of caste, creed or religion he belongs to.”

 He pointed out that Section 118 of Act imposes a restriction only on Indian Christians, also:

 “It is difficult to appreciate as to why a testator would be entitled to bequeath his property by way of charitable and religious disposition if he has a wife but he would be precluded from doing so in the event that he has a nephew or a niece.”

 Following an examination of Indian and international law, Chief Justice Khare said:

 “…There is no justification in restricting testamentary disposition of property for charitable purpose. Charitable purpose includes relief to poor, education, medical relief, etc. As the aforesaid charitable purposes are philanthropic and since a person’s freedom to dispose of property for such purposes has nothing to do with religious influence, the impugned provision treating bequests for both religious and charitable purposes is discriminatory and it violates Article 14 of the Constitution.”

He felt that the right conferred by Article 15 was personal rather than applicable to a group and therefore it was irrelevant to case. Finally, the judge allowed the petition by unanimous decision of the Court and declared Section 118 of Indian Succession Act unconstitutional as violating of Article 14 of the Constitution.

Court referred to following cases:

• Keshav Madhava Menon v. State of Bombay. 1951 SCR228

• Charitable Trust v. State of Haryana and others. 2003(4) Scale 712

• Kapila Hingorani v. State of Bihar, 2003 (4) Scale 712

• Smt. Sarla Mudgal, President, Kalyani, and others v. Union of India (1995(3) SCC 635)


The Supreme Court applied Article 13 (1) to Personal Law. It has considered that Individual Fundamental Rights are more important than unjust community rights. Against Community Right, the fundamental rights of the citizens should be protected in same way as they protect the citizen rights.


It can be concluded that the court has rightly decided this case. It has applied Article 13 of Indian Constitution to declared void law. The impugned provision of the act seems to violate Article 14 of constitution. It has also been declared that it violates right to religion. Finally, the case was decided according to the basic principle of Justice.


  6. Indian Succession Act,1925

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