Court ruling on issue of legal heir certificates

Tahsildars cannot refuse to issue legal heir certificates to siblings of those who die as bachelors or spinsters by citing difficulties involved in ascertaining the genuineness of their relationship, the Madras High Court Bench here has held.

Justice K.K. Sasidharan passed the ruling while allowing a writ petition filed jointly by two brothers and their sister. They had challenged an order passed by Madurai South Tahsildar on September 17 rejecting their plea to be declared as legal heirs of their elder brother who died intestate on August 8.

In the order under challenge, the Tahsildar had claimed that he had no power to issue legal heir certificates to fathers, brothers and sisters categorised as Class II heirs under the Hindu Succession Act 1956. The Act classified sons, daughters, widows and mothers of the deceased as Class I heirs.

Wanting to find out the veracity of the Tahsildar’s claim, the judge asked a Special Government Pleader to find out if there were any government orders with regard to issuance of legal heirs. But after verification, he was informed that the government had not issued any comprehensive instruction on the issue.

Hence, the judge proceeded to decide the case on the basis of the provisions of the 1956 Act. During the course of arguments, the Tahsildar pleaded that it would be difficult for officers like him to ascertain the genuineness of claims made by those falling under Class II heirs.

Disagreeing with the pleading, Mr. Justice Sasidharan said that the revenue department armed with a wide network of Revenue Inspectors and Village Administrative Officers could not be heard to say that it would be difficult for it to ascertain genuineness of legal heir claims. “The problem of issuing legal heir certificate could be resolved if a workable method is adopted by the revenue authorities… The VAOs must keep a close watch on the village and update the information available with them,” the judge said.

In so far as the present case was concerned, the judge ordered the Tahsildar to take a decision on the petitioners’ claim by ordering an enquiry by the Revenue Inspector and VAO concerned and after verifying the birth certificates of the claimants apart from insisting them to file sworn affidavits.

He also observed that the Tahsildar could cancel the legal heir certificate and lodge a police complaint against the applicants if their claim was found to be false at a later point of time.

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