Ajay Kumar vs. Lata and Ors. (AIR 2019 SC 2600)
This case is decided by a division bench consisting of Hon’ble Justice Dr. D.Y. Chandrachud and Hon’ble Justice Hemant Gupta, on 8th April 2019. This is an appeal by appellant to the Supreme Court of India after a judgment of a learned Single Judge of the High Court of Punjab and Haryana dated 10 October 2018. The High Court dismissed a petition against the judgment of the Additional Sessions Judge, Panipat confirming an interim order for the award of maintenance to the first Respondent and her minor child under the provisions of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005. The main context of this case is regarding the maintenance of a widow and children in a shared household must be given by those who are living in the same shared household, which is the marital house of her.
The Respondent No.1, Lata, was married to Vijay Kumar Jindal on 12 December 2009 who is the brother of the Appellant Ajay Kumar. After their marriage Lata lived in her marital home with her husband and family which include the appellant, in the Joint Ancestral Property. The Appellant and the deceased spouse of the first Respondent jointly carried on a business of a kiryana store at Panipat from which, it has been alleged, each had an income of about Rs. 30,000 per month. At the death of Vijay Kumar, the first Respondent was pregnant and she gave birth to a child (Respondent No.2) on 31 January 2013. The travails of the first Respondent are alleged to have commenced after the death of her spouse and she was not permitted to reside in her matrimonial home. She filed a petition under Section 12 of the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, 2005 for the purpose of seeking an award of maintenance.
The learned Trial Judge in an order dated 3 July 2015 granted monthly maintenance in the amount of Rs. 4,000 to the first Respondent and Rs. 2,000 to the second Respondent. The award of maintenance was directed against the Appellant who was carrying on the above business together with the deceased spouse of the first Respondent. This order of the Judicial Magistrate, First Class, Panipat dated 3 July 2015 was confirmed by the Additional Sessions Judge, Panipat on 14 August 2018. The High Court, in a petition filed by the Appellant, affirmed the view. Hence these proceedings came to be instituted Under Article 136 of the Constitution of India.
The main issues that are dealt in this case are:
· Whether the plaintiff is required to pay the maintenance to the respondents under this Act
· Whether impugned directions for payment of maintenance were liable to be set aside
The laws that are dealt in this case are the following:
· Section 2(f) of the Prevention of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005- Domestic Relationship
· Section 2(q) of the Prevention of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005- Respondent
· Section 2(s) of the Prevention of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005- Shared Household
· Section 12 of the Prevention of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005- Application to the Magistrate seeking an award of maintenance
· Section 12(1) of the Prevention of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005- Aggrieved Person present application to the magistrate for relief under this act
· Section 20(1) of the Prevention of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005- Magistrate dealing the application filed according to Section 12(1) of the Act
· Article 136 of the Indian Constitution- Special leave to appeal by the Supreme Court
The appellant argued that there was no liability on the appellant to give maintenance to the respondents under the Prevention of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005. The sole basis on which the liability is fastened on him is that the appellant is the brother of the deceased spouse of the respondent No.1 and father of respondent No.2. Another reason is that both the brothers, i.e. the appellant and the deceased spouse of respondent were carrying out a joint business and they shared the profits arising out of it equally together. These reasons cannot constitute lawful basis to lead him to provide the award of maintenance.
The respondent complained in the lower court that she has been living in the ancestral house of her husband which is a Joint Hindu Family Property, since her marriage and hence she has to get maintenance from the relatives of her spouse residing there. She was pregnant at the time of her husband’s death and since then she was not allowed to reside in the matrimonial house.
The learned trial judge in the Magistrate court ordered a monthly maintenance in the amount of Rs. 4000 and Rs. 2000 to the first and second respondents respectively, and was directed towards the appellant who was carrying out the business along with his brother i.e. the deceased spouse of the first respondent. This decision was affirmed by the Additional Sessions Judge as well as by the High Court in the further appeals.
Under the provisions of Section 20(1) of the of Prevention of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, the Magistrate while dealing with an application Under Sub-section (1) of Section 12 is empowered to direct the Respondents to pay monetary relief to meet the expenses incurred and losses suffered by the aggrieved person and any child of the aggrieved person as a result of domestic violence. This may include, but is not limited to an order for maintenance of the aggrieved person as well as her children, if any, including an order under or in addition to an order for maintenance under Section 125 of CrPC or any other law for the time being in force.
The substantive part of Section 2(q) indicates that the expression “Respondent” means any adult male person who is, or has been, in a domestic relationship with the aggrieved person and against whom relief has been sought. The provision indicates that both, an aggrieved wife or a female, living in a relationship in the nature of marriage may also file a complaint against a relative of the husband or the male partner, as the case may be. Section 2(f) defines the expression ‘domestic relationship’ to mean a relationship where two persons live or have lived together at any point of time in a shared household when they are related by consanguinity, marriage or through a relationship in the nature of marriage, adoption or are members living together as a joint family.
The expression “shared household” is defined in Section 2(s) as a household where the person aggrieved lives or at any stage has lived in a domestic relationship either singly or along with the Respondent and includes such a house hold whether owned or tenanted either jointly by the aggrieved person and the Respondent, or owned or tenanted by either of them in respect of which either the aggrieved person or the Respondent or both jointly or singly have any right, title, interest or equity and includes such a household which may belong to the joint family of which the Respondent is a member, irrespective of whether the Respondent or the aggrieved person has any right, title or interest in the shared household. All these definitions indicate the width and amplitude of the intent of the Parliament in creating both an obligation and a remedy in the terms of the enactment.
There are sufficient grounds in the case to order the appellant to give the award of maintenance to the respondents. It is understood prima facie from the complaint of the respondents that she and the deceased spouse resided in the house belonging to a shared household Joint Family Property. The appellant also resided in the same house itself. So there are enough materials that justify the issuance of the award of maintenance to the respondents from the appellant.
The Ratio Decidendi given by the Hon’ble Supreme Court is that: An aggrieved wife or a female living in a relationship in nature of marriage is entitled to maintenance, against a relative of the husband or the male partner.
A clear perusal of this case will make it clear that this case has discussed a lot of important aspects regarding maintenance and the relief that has to be given to the plaintiff especially the monetary relief. It is understood that there is no sought of physical violence in this case but the form of domestic violence discussed here is that of not providing the maintenance to the respondents of this case. Usually a lot of debate arises when any dispute regarding the terms shared household, respondent, domestic relationship etc. are pointed out. But here the court has taken a right move by analysing the facts and then rightly analysing these terms. The facts of this case are pretty much straight forward and not twisted thereby making the analysis of the court easy. The argument by the appellant that he does not have any duty to pay the maintenance was dealt aptly by stating that as the income of the respondent’s husband was coming through the joint business of them she has a right over the income arising out of it. Usually the brother-in-law need not interfere in the matters related to providing maintenance to sister-in-law but here it is exceptional because of the joint business as well as due to the shared household in which both of them resided. She has lived with her husband post marriage in the marital home which is a shared household and both the appellant and the respondent resided in the same house which was bought by the father of the appellant and the husband of respondent. Thereby the chances of dispute regarding the shared household and the reason why the appellant is liable to pay the maintenance has clearly brought out.
The case also has a slight resemblance with the facts of Neha Chawla vs. Virender Chawla, 2019, but it only extends to the case of shared household, husband is deceased and the domestic violence by the brother-in-laws. In that case the court has dealt differently because she was not residing in the house that she claims to be the shared household. Both she and her husband lived separately in another house and the court said that the house in which she lives will be the marital home whether they live jointly with other family members or not. It is interesting to note that both the present case as well as Neha Chawla case was given final orders in 2019.
To conclude the court has given the judgement by taking into account the true meaning and interpretations of the definitions of Shared Household, Respondent, Domestic Relationship and Maintenance.
Jose K John,
Law Student, 3rd year, B.A. LLB. (Hons.), School of Law, Christ (Deemed to be University), Bengaluru.