The Supreme Court held that will cannot be presumed to be valid merely because it is registered.
The bench of Justice Sanjay Kumar has observed that Section 71 of the Evidence Act had a role to play in the matter, as one attesting witness, Chaman Lal, denied the very execution of the document in his presence while the other attesting witness, Lok Nath Attri, did not establish its execution in terms of the legal mandate. It was, therefore, incumbent upon Dhani Ram to lead other evidence to prove the execution of the Will by Leela Devi. However, neither Ghanshyam Dutt Sharma, the document writer who scribed the Will, nor anyone from the Registrar’s Office at Kasauli were examined to prove its execution.
Leela Devi, also referred to as Leela Wati, died on 10.12.1987. Her husband, Sohan Lal, had predeceased her. Dhani Ram, the son of Leela Devi’s brother, claimed that she executed a registered Will bequeathing to him the properties left by late Sohan Lal. Shiv Singh, the son of Sohan Lal’s brother, instituted Civil Suit No. 200/1 of 1990 on the file of the learned Senior Sub Judge, Solan, Himachal Pradesh, challenging the Will executed by Leela Devi, under which Dhani Ram claimed entitlement to the properties that originally belonged to Sohan Lal.
By judgment dated 30.08.1997, the Trial Court decreed the suit, disbelieving the Will put forth by Dhani Ram. In consequence, the mutation effected by the authorities on the strength of the said Will was also set aside. Shiv Singh was held entitled to a decree of possession, as he was the rightful owner of the suit properties, and Dhani Ram was permanently injuncted from causing interference therewith. Aggrieved thereby, Dhani Ram and the other defendants filed Civil Appeal No. 63-S/13 of 1997 before the learned District Judge, Solan, Himachal Pradesh. By judgment dated 12.05.1998, the Appellate Court reversed the judgment and decree of the Trial Court. It held that the Will stood proved and that there were no suspicious circumstances surrounding it. The suit filed by Shiv Singh was accordingly dismissed with costs.
Sohan Lal and his brother, Devi Ram, succeeded to the ancestral properties left by their father, Giridhari Lal. Sohan Lal had no issues, though it is stated that he had two wives, Leela Devi and Draupadi. The existence and status of Draupadi is disputed but it is of no consequence presently. Devi Ram had two sons, Balbir Singh and Shiv Singh, viz., the respondent herein, who had filed the suit. Balbir Singh died on 26.04.1985. Sohan Lal died intestate and before his death, so did Draupadi, supposedly one of his wives. Therefore, Leela Devi alone inherited Sohan Lal’s share in the ancestral properties by intestate succession. In the ordinary course, if Leela Devi had also died intestate, Shiv Singh, being the sole legal heir of her husband, would have succeeded to the properties under Section 15(1)(b) and Section 15(2)(b) of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956.
However, Dhani Ram, the son of Leela Devi’s brother, claimed the said properties under the Will allegedly executed by Leela Devi on 27.10.1987, which was registered thereafter on 03.11.1987. On the strength thereof, Dhani Ram also got his name mutated in the records in relation to these properties. Having come to know of the same, Shiv Singh initiated the subject litigation and ultimately succeeded before the Himachal Pradesh High Court.
The Supreme court held that the Trial Court rightly opined that mere registration of the Will would not be sufficient to prove its validity, as its lawful execution necessarily had to be proved in accordance with Section 68 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, and Section 63 of the Indian Succession Act, 1925 . The Trial Court found that the evidence of the attesting witnesses to the Will was contradictory as they did not speak to the same effect. In these circumstances, the Trial Court held that valid execution of the Will was not proved.