Karta: Position, Duties and Powers:- Our Legal World
The concept of Karta is a continuous ancient concept. It has been from generation to generation since the origin of Hindu Law. The most senior male in the Hindi Joint Family holds the position of ‘Karta’. However, it is important to understand that Karta also acts as a manager of a joint family and its properties. He enjoys a wide power including to be the representative of the family, welfare for the minors and females in the family, working as a manager, administrator, and other important affairs and liabilities of the family. Therefore, it can be seen that Karta enjoys a unique position. The term “Karta” was defined in the case Suraj Bunsi Koer v. Sheo Prasad.
Karta in Hindu Undivided Family
Who is a Karta
The male head of the family is considered to be ‘Karta’ or ‘Manager’. Provided he must not be suffering from any mental or physical deficiency. Mere health issues such as old age, handicapped, weakness or illness of a person cannot remove him from the position and continue as long as he lives unless he resigns with his own consent. He looks after the family and the property as a guardian/manager (not as an agent or trustee). He does all the activities in favour of the family and its interest.
If Karta, wishes to resign from the position then he can freely leave it. After the consent of the family, it is not necessary that the oldest person from the succeeding generation shall hold the particular position.
Who can be Karta
It is assumed that the most senior person of the family is recognized as the ‘Karta’ of the family. Any person from the succeeding generation cannot be karta of the family till the most senior male of the family is alive. However, this is possible if the previous karta leaves his right due to health issues or any such reason.
Junior member as Karta
In one of the landmark cases , the Karta was staying in U.K and was unable to manage the family and property. Therefore, with the consent of all other members of the family, the younger brother was made to be karta. It was held valid by the court. Also, if the Karta dies then the position will automatically pass to the next senior male member. This goes wrong if the family agrees a junior male member to acquire such a position.
Therefore, it can be concluded that Karta achieves his position only after the consent and agreement of all coparceners.
Female as Karta
The answer to whether a female can a karta or not is still doubtful. The judgments had been found to be contradictory with changes in the facts and circumstances of the case. In most of the cases, it is found that a female cannot be the karta while there are a few exceptional cases still seen through different judgments.
In C.P. Berai v. Laxmi Narayan, it was held that a widow can become the karta of the family in absence of adult male members in the family.
In Radha Ammal v. Commissioner of Income Tax, it was held that a widow cannot become the karta since she does not hold the qualification required, as is not a coparcener.
Mother as Karta
It can be seen that a mother can act as karta, only in cases the succeeding karta is minor and the natural guardian of the child is mother. In general sense, it is seen that a mother or any other female cannot become the karta of Hindu Undivided Family.
In Sushila Devi Rampura v. Income tax Officer, it was held that in case the next karta is minor and their natural guardian is mother, then in such a case a female can represent as a Karta of Hindu Undivided Family.
Therefore, it can be seen that the law framed is quite rigid in nature. Though a female cannot be given the position of karta but the other laws related to coparcenary in order to inherit the property are way lot different as have changed with the changing time.
Minor as Karta
In the above discussion, we can see that a junior coparcenary can be the karta of the family. Whereas in case of minor, it is important to ascertain that such minor is represented by a guardian. This power of minor can also be seen under Section 21 of Guardians and Wards Act, 1890 which states that a minor can act as a manager in Hindu Undivided Family.
Father as Karta
The father, being the karta of the family can bind the interest of his minor sons through the additional powers conferred as per Hindu law. Although it is possible that the debts due to which the property is alienated might not be for the benefit of the family provided they are the debts not obtained by illegal or immoral acts.
When there is more than a Karta
In general sense it is to be noted that there cannot be more than one Karta in a family, as it is considered prima facie while if a person wants then there may be people for management. This means that for the interest and benefit of the family there may be two people looking after the affairs of the family but in any case, there cannot be more than one Karta.
However, in Mudrit v. Ranglal, it has been held that though there cannot be more than one karta in a family, but with the consent of other coparceners such a condition is possible.
Legal Position of Karta
The karta basically represents or acts as guardian and more of it as a manager to the members of the joint family. He can create a partnership with the other family members where he invests his capital and others invest their labour and skill but he does not create a principal-agent relationship with the family members which states that his position is ‘sui generis’.
The karta though has a wide management power but this sovereignty and fiduciary relationship does not create him to be trustee. This means that no person can ask him about what he spent unless there occur the charges of misappropriation.
If any person lies on the charges of misappropriation on karta then, the burden of proof lies on that person. He has to then prove that the act of karta was malafide in nature.
The karta can also file the law suits in order to safeguard the interest of family members. Besides this, he can also represent the family in any legal proceeding even if he is not named. He can even make a compromise provided to be in good faith for the benefit of the family, including minors. Thus, it can be seen that the powers and position of the karta is vast and more than just a manager.
Powers of Karta
The power of Karta is vast as it can be seen through the previous descriptions as well. Thereby, here we will discuss the powers of karta in brief along with some case laws-
1. Power of Management
The karta, being the head of the family has power to manage and run the Hindu Undivided Family. In Bhaskaran v. Bhaskaran, it was held that the power of karta with respect to management is absolute. The powers of karta are inherent and so no interference can be done even if he shows biasness or favouritism towards a family member. The acts done by him cannot be questioned until and unless found to be illegal or immoral. The most important of all is to gain the faith and confidence of the family members in order to maintain all the acts properly.
2. Power over Income or Revenue and Expenditure Authority
Since, the members live as a part of joint family and it is the responsibility of karta to manage everything thus, any member who earns from outside the family business is liable to pay his income to the karta. Till the time, family lives together as a joint family, no person can individually ask for his share in the income. Therefore, due to this power of karta he is liable to all the funds, revenues and expenditures of the members. This automatically grants him the power to manage accounts and have a control over them.
3. Power of representation
The karta has right to represent in all legal, religious or social matters in the family. In general, all the acts of the family are represented by the karta be, it for the contracts, business purposes or any other purpose and does not has a corporate existence. Even if a case is filed against the whole family or business suit, then the karta can represent himself instead of other members. The act of karta is bound among all the members of the family, including the minors.
4. Power to enter into Compromise
Karta can enter into any compromise for the issues related to the joint family. The compromise made may be in regard to family debts and other related transactions. Such compromise must not be malafide else can be challenged during partition. A karta can even compromise a suit pending in court for which the members of the family shall be bound. However, a minor in such a case can take the advantage to file a suit in the court, under Order 32, Rule 7 of Civil Procedure Code.
5. Power to enter into Contract
The karta explicitly has power to enter into the contract on behalf of the family members for which all of them shall be equally bound. However, if the karta enters into a family contract then it is specifically enforceable against the other members as well.
6. Power to enter into Contract-debts
Since all the actions are binding over other family members, similarly any debt taken by karta is binding upon all the members of the family. They cannot escape the liability to pay off the debt even by the act of partition. It is to be noted that karta cannot treat the estate of minor as a security for some loan, not even to start a business of ancestral nature. The debts are binding on the family only if following conditions are fulfilled-
– Debt is incurred for some business purpose
– Debt is taken for some family purpose such as legal necessity, benefit of estate and other purposes
7. Power to refer arbitration
The karta has right to refer to arbitration for the interest of the family, including minors who are bound by the award provided over it.
8. Power of alienation
The karta has power to alienate the property provide it must be done by-
- Consent of all co-parceners
- For legal reason
- For benefit of reasons
If the property is alienated for the benefit of estate then the consent of other coparceners is not necessary. The karta can even mortgage the property for the benefit of the members. Provided that such as act must be done as a prudent owner. This sale of mortgage can even be used to pay debts that were taken for the personal gains. During such sale, no third party has right to restrain the karta by injunction The karta is liable to show that no malafide or immoral behaviour has been shown by him. However, a karta cannot be prevented to alienate the common property.
Responsibility of Karta
Having the wide powers and liabilities it is the responsibility of karta to maintain the family members. If the karta does not takes care of the family then he can be even sued in the court for maintenance.
For the unmarried members of the family, the karta is liable for their marriage especially the daughters. The funds required for the marriage are taken from the joint family ownership and these expenses can be incurred by joint family funds.
- Accounts at time of Partition
It is stated in the statutes that once; a partition is done it is difficult to unite them. However, if the partition occurs in a family then it is considered that the joint family status comes to an end. Under Mitakshara Law it means severance of interest and status which means that if members wish to separate from joint family then he has such right. After the severance, the karta will render the accounts in a manner as that of trustee or agent.
The power of karta to be representation of the family is discussed above. Apart from having power of such representation, it is also his responsibility to represent the family in the government activities or in front of other outsiders. He is liable to pay all the taxes and can even sue or be sued on behalf of other family members.
It is so concluded that the karta holds the position of the manager or guardian in the Hindu Undivided Family. He does not acts as a trustee or agent. He not only holds the power of management but also to manage accounts, provide maintenance, enter into contracts, take loans or pay debts for which he has a wider power. However, the power vested in karta must not be used in a malafide intention. Since all the coparceners vest their trust in him.
If the karta performs any such activity that is against the interest of family members then for such a case the law has provided them several remedies. The remedies are to prevent themselves from such illicit and immoral behaviour of the Karta.
 Ram v. Khera
 (1980) 6 I.A. 88
 Mann v. Jayani
 Jandhayalamsreemma v. Krishnavenamma AIR 1957 A.P. 434
 A. Kunjipokkarukutty v. A. Ravunni
 Nopany Investments (Pvt.) Ltd. v. Santokh Singh
 AIR 1949 Nag 128
 AIR 1950 Mad 588
 Income Tax v. seth Govind Ram AIR 1966 SC 2
 AIR 1959 Cal
 Union of India v. Sree Ram AIR 1965 SC 1531
 Nemi Chand v. Hira Chand, 2000 (1) HLR 250 (Raj.)
 Shankar v. Shankar
 Chandrakant v. C.T.R AIR 1992 SC 66
 Sheoshankar v. Jaddokunwar AIR 1914 (41) IA 216
 Amrit Sagar v. Sudesh Behai Lal AIR 1970 SC 5
 Pitam Singh v. Ujgar Singh (1878) 1 AII 651
 G. Shiva Kumari v. Indian Overseas Bank
 Sunil Kumar v. Ram Prasad
 Sundar Das et al. Gajananrao and others
 Naresh and Babulal and ohers