2011(4) ALL MR 366
IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUDICATURE AT BOMBAY(NAGPUR BENCH)
S.A. BOBDE AND S.B. DESHMUKH, JJ.
Shiv Kumar Singh Dagdusingh Thakur Vs. Smt. Malti W/O. Shiv Kumar Singh Dagdu Singh Thakur
First Appeal No.1194 of 2009
29th April, 2011
Petitioner Counsel: Mr. D. L. DHARMADHIKARI
Respondent Counsel: Mrs. T. D. KHADE
Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act (1956), S.18 - Desertion and cruelty - No evidence on record within meaning under S.18(2)(b) and 18(2)(a) - Wife living in house of and under protection of husband - Wife has liberty to recover rent from tenant - Husband also ready to pay monthly amount as per agreement between parties - Trial Court did not refer under which clause of S.18 case is pleaded and proved by wife - Judgment of Family Court granting maintenance under S.18 is liable to be set aside. (2006)8 SCC 42 and 1974 Mh.L.J. 924 - Ref. to. (Paras 14 to 18)
(i) The appellant and respondent were married on 19.05.1962 at village Pohali, Taluq Malkapur, District Buldhana as per the Hindu rites and customs. They were blessed with three children, two sons and a daughter. All the children are major and law graduate. One son and one daughter are also married. One of the son is, a practicing lawyer.
(ii) The appellant filed a petition bearing No.651/2001 before the Family Court-2, Nagpur on 29.12.2001 seeking divorce from the respondent on the ground of cruelty.
(iii) The respondent - wife on 14.06.2002 filed an application for grant of maintenance under Section 24 of the Hindu Marriage Act (hereinafter referred to as "Marriage Act" for short).
(iv) In the application for maintenance filed by the respondent - wife before the learned Judge, Family Court, an amount of Rs.5,000/- was awarded towards maintenance and three options were given on 06.06.2003. This application was filed in Divorce Petition No.651/2001. There is no dispute amongst the parties that the three options with maintenance allowance of Rs.5,000/- was the order passed on 06.06.2003. Since there is a consensus amongst the learned Counsel for the parties, we are only noticing the option exercised by the appellant - husband, which was "(iii) to pay Rs.5,000/- per month and in addition to give possession of half of the residential house;" The appellant - husband was to file a Pursis by handing over half of the residential house to the respondent - wife.
(v) The appellant - husband challenged the order passed, granting interim maintenance in H.M.P. No.651/2001 by way of filing Writ Petition No.4297/2003, which came to be filed on 19.12.2003. In this Writ Petition, the couple arrived at an interim agreement. We are reproducing herein below the same :
(1) The petitioner - husband will leave the house by or before 31.03.2004 and no maintenance will be payable to the wife thereafter;
(2) That till 31.03.2004 the husband was to pay to the wife, an interim maintenance @ Rs.2,500/- per month;
(3) This shall be the interim arrangement to last till the disposal of the divorce petition filed by the husband before the Family Court, Nagpur on 17.07.2006.
(vi) The appellant - husband could not get suitable accommodation for shifting from the matrimonial house, however, continued to pay to the wife an amount of Rs.2,500/- per month, even though the appellant husband and the respondent wife were living under the same roof. It is the contention of the appellant/husband that he was fully providing all the needs of the wife, which is disputed by the respondent-wife. At appropriate stage we may consider their submissions. Suffice to notice that the divorce petition no.651/2001 was dismissed on 18.07.2006.
(vii) The appellant - husband filed First Appeal No.419/2006 challenging the dismissal of divorce petition No.651/2001.
(viii) On 22.08.2006 the respondent wife filed petition No.C/99/2006 under Section 18 of the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act (hereinafter referred to as "the Maintenance Act" for short), demanding maintenance on the ground that the husband was neglecting her. In this petition, the appellant/husband filed written statement on 16.01.2007.
(ix) On 01.08.2008 the learned Judge, Family Court granted maintenance @ Rs.10,000/- per month from the date of the order. This order was passed obviously in Petition No. C/99/2006 filed by the respondent Wife under Section 18 of the Maintenance Act. The appellant-husband was also directed to pay Rs.10,000/- to respondent-wife towards litigation expenses. The appellant/husband was further directed to pay for medical expenses [in case of hospitalization] as per bills issued by the hospital authority.
(x) The respondent - wife filed Petition No.B/17/2007 seeking injunction against the sale of the house property by the husband. This was filed in the Court of learned Judge, Family Court at Nagpur. On 01.08.2008 the learned Judge, Family Court allowed both the petitions filed by the respondent wife i.e. Petition No.C-99/2006 (petition for maintenance under Section 18 of the Maintenance Act) and Petition No.B-17/2007 which was filed for injunction, restraining the appellant/husband from disposing of the house property. It was a common judgment.
(xi) On 12.08.2009 First Appeal No.469/2009 along with an application for grant of stay being Civil Application No.(F) 1119/2009 came up for admission and orders before the Division Bench of this Court. The Division Bench of this Court opined that even though two petitions have been disposed of by common judgment, two appeals should have been filed by the appellant/husband and hence the appellant sought permission to withdraw the said appeal with liberty to file two appeals, which was granted by the Division Bench.
(xii) Present is the appeal filed on behalf of the appellant challenging the judgment and decree passed by the learned Judge, Family Court on 01.08.2008 in Petition No.C/99/2006 and Petition No.B/17/2007. This appeal is directed against the judgment and decree passed by the learned Judge, Family Court No.2, Nagpur, i.e., the judgment and decree passed in Petition No.C/99/2006 granting maintenance under Section 18 of the Maintenance Act. This appeal was filed by the appellant/husband on 28.08.2009.
(xiii) Other appeal filed on behalf of the appellant/husband challenging the judgment and decree passed in Petition No.B/17/2007 i.e. injunction restraining the appellant husband from disposing of the house property, is dismissed for want of prosecution.
3. The learned counsel for the appellant took us through various orders passed in various proceedings amongst the parties. Institution of various proceedings, orders passed by the competent Court in those proceedings, is not seriously disputed either by the appellant or by the respondent. All those orders form part of the record. We are having the benefit of the record and proceeding of the trial Court.
4. The learned Counsel appearing for the appellant commented upon the order passed by the trial Court in this appeal. He seeks quashment of the judgment and decree passed by the trial Court awarding maintenance of Rs.10,000/- per month by the appellant/husband.
5. The learned Counsel appearing on behalf of the respondent Mrs. Khade, supported the judgment and order in its entirety. According to the learned counsel appearing on behalf of the respondent - wife, the marriage is not in dispute. According to her, the appellant in the case at hand, is not only a lawyer by profession, but a leading lawyer practicing in Civil Court, Labour/Industrial Court, High Court and Supreme Court of India. The learned Counsel for the respondent would submit that the respondent is Senior Citizen, and in law the respondent - wife is entitled to enjoy and maintain the status to that of the appellant/husband, a leading lawyer. She would submit that the amount of Rs.10,000/- has been justifiably awarded by the learned trial Court, based on evidence and prays for dismissal of the appeal, which according to her is filed only to harass the respondent wife.
7. We have seen the findings recorded by the learned trial Court in relation to grant of maintenance under section 18 of the Maintenance Act in favour of the respondent - wife. We have examined the judgment. The learned Judge of Family Court has framed issues in relation to Petition No.C/99/2006 at Exh.15 as below.
"1. Does the petitioner prove that the respondent is not taking her care and neglecting her ? .. Yes.
2. Whether she is entitled to claim maintenance from him ? If yes at what rate ? .. Rs.10,000/- p.m.
3. What order and decree ? .. As per final order."
(1) Whether respondent - wife is entitled to maintenance from appellant husband ? If yes, what would be the amount of maintenance ?
(2) Is the judgment and decree passed by the learned Judge, Family Court is sustainable ?
9. Before we advert to the submissions of the learned Counsel appearing for the respective parties and make assessment of the evidence on record, we deem it appropriate to consider the provisions of the Maintenance Act.
10. The Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956 is an Act to amend and codify the law relating to adoptions and maintenance among Hindus. This Act has been brought on Statute or made enforceable w.e.f. 21.12.1956. A look to the provisions of the Maintenance Act makes it clear that the MAINTENANCE is governed by Chapter-III of the Maintenance Act. Maintenance of wife is provided under Section 18 of this Act. Maintenance of widowed daughter-in-law is a matter of Section 19 and provisions of maintenance of child and parents reflects from Section 20 of the Maintenance Act. The word "dependents" for the purpose of Chapter-III is defined under Section 21 of the Maintenance Act. Section 22 of the Act provides for maintenance of dependents. Quantum of maintenance to the persons who are entitled under the provisions of the Maintenance Act is provided under Section 23 of the Act. It is a discretion of the Court to exercise having due regard to the considerations set out in sub-section  or sub-section  of Section 23 of the Maintenance Act, as the case may be, as far as they are applicable. Status of a person, claiming of maintenance needs to be Hindu, is a mandate of Section 24 of the Maintenance Act. In other words, a person who is seeking maintenance under Chapter-III of the Maintenance Act necessarily must be belonging to and professing to Hindu Religion. If a person ceases to be Hindu by conversion to another religion, obviously such a person even if complies with other requirements under the provisions of Chapter-III, shall not be entitled to seek and get maintenance. Amount of maintenance whether fixed by a decree of the Court or by an agreement either before or after the commencement of the Act may be altered subsequently, if there is a material change in the circumstances justifying such alteration. This provision is embodied under Section 25 of the Maintenance Act.
11. Under the Hindu Law, the liability to maintain others arise in a two fold manner; [a]from existence of a particular relationship independent of the possession of any property; [b] On possession of property.
In the first category cases falls in respect of liability to maintain a persons' wife, minor sons and unmarried daughters and aged parents. Here the obligation is personal and is brought into existence by the relationship. In the other category, are those where the liability is dependent on a possession of co-parcenery property. In case of first category, the obligation arise, the moment relationship comes into existence. In case of husband and wife, relationship itself is an incident of marriage. This personal obligation lasts during the existence of relationship/marriage amongst the parties. Husband in such case can be relieved from the liability of maintenance by dissolution of marriage, death of wife, in case if wife is unchaste or gets herself converted to other religion.
12. A Hindu wife's first duty to her husband is, to submit herself obediently to his authority and to remain under his roof and protection. Even though it is the first duty of Hindu wife to submit herself obediently to the authority of her husband and remain in his roof and protection, her entitlement to separate residence or maintenance has not been completely ruled out. In other words, in certain circumstances, it is permissible for a Hindu wife to stay separate and claim maintenance from her husband. Such circumstances have been enumerated in sub-section  of Section 18 of the Maintenance Act. If husband is guilty of desertion i.e. is guilty of abandoning his wife without a reasonable cause, and without her consent or against her wish or willfully neglects his wife, the wife is entitled to stay separate and claim maintenance. If husband keeps mistress or concubine in the house, wife would be justified in leaving the shelter of the husband and still would be entitled to separate maintenance from him. Hindu husband, if habitually treated his wife with such cruelty as to endanger her personal safety, in that case wife is entitled to separate residence and maintenance. In such case the wife is not expected to prove repeated violence.
Section 18 of the Maintenance Act lays down that Hindu Wife shall not be entitled to separate maintenance from her husband, if she is unchaste. Section 18[f] lays down that if a Hindu husband ceases to be Hindu on account of conversion to another religion, still a Hindu wife shall be entitled to live separately from her husband without forfeiting her claim to maintenance. This provision is important from the view point of statutory right for maintenance in favour of a Hindu wife, which has been acknowledged and kept intact, even on conversion of a Hindu husband after marriage to another religion. Section 18[g], provides that a Hindu wife shall be entitled to live separately from her husband without forfeiting her claim of maintenance, if there is any other cause justifying living separately.
13. It is not in dispute that the application filed by the respondent - wife in the case on hand is on the ground of cruelty, contemplated under Section 18[b] and Section 18[a] of the Maintenance Act. With the assistance of the learned counsel for the respondent wife, we have considered the statements made in paragraph no.3[D] of the affidavit [document no.8 with the appeal], that the appellant - husband used to beat the applicant at night after returning from his paramour. It is alleged by the respondent wife that she was beaten on 24.01.2007 near ear and eyes at night time, allegedly respondent wife could not rush to doctor or to the police station. On next day according to her, she was being treated by the family doctor, however, issuance of medical certificate was refused. It is alleged that the family Doctor is a friend of the appellant husband. She went to the police station for reporting the physical assault by the appellant husband, however, there she found that the police inspector was also friend of son of the appellant-husband, and therefore, refused to accept and register the complaint of the respondent wife. She therefore, claims that she has no alternative but to report these facts to the Court. This part of the affidavit we have referred to and now we may turn to the cross-examination of the respondent wife.
Paragraph no.6 of the cross-examination is relevant. The respondent wife admits that "it is true that there is fixed deposit amount in my name with State Bank of India, Pratap Nagar, Nagpur. Para marked 'A' in my affidavit at Exh.25 is correct". From the case papers, the portion marked "A" has been seen by us which reads as under - "On 24.01.2007 he had beaten her near ear and eyes which turns to blue-black. Since it was night time, she could not rush to doctor nor to the police station. However, she could apply oil and medicine. On next date when she went to a family doctor for treatment and certificate, he has given the treatment but refused to give certificate as non-applicant was his friend, however, he assured that he will advise non-applicant. The applicant went to police station to report about physical assault by non-applicant. However, police inspector was also friend of son of applicant therefore, he refused to register the complaint."
In this context her further admission is relevant, which reads "It is true that I file this affidavit [Exh.25] some 2 months after the incident dated 13.12.2007". She also admits that "It is true that I had not stated incident dated 13.12.2007 in my affidavit at Exh.25".
It is a case of oath against oath. Her contention regarding these two occurrences/circumstances, totally rests on her own affidavit evidence - Exh.25. The affidavit of respondent wife [Exh.25] needs to be appreciated in view of the cross examination of the respondent wife. In our opinion it cannot be said that on 24.01.2007 she was assaulted near ear and eyes by the appellant husband. Her contention that next day she went to the police station, but her complaint was not accepted or registered because police officer concerned was friend of son of appellant, cannot be accepted for want of corroboration either by oral evidence or by documentary evidence. So is the case of alleged ill-treatment/beating by the appellant husband to her on 13.12.2007. Case of respondent wife regarding incident dated 13.12.2007 is very weak than the allegation of beating on 24.01.2007. The incident dated 13.12.2007 was not even averred in the affidavit Exh.25 filed in the case on 14.02.2008, which was sworn by the respondent wife before the Registrar, Family Court, Nagpur. There is no documentary evidence for these two incidents of beating and ill-treatment dated 24.01.2007 or 13.12.2007.
Apart from the affidavit evidence of respondent wife regarding the alleged incident dated 24.01.2007 and 13.12.2007, we have considered the evidence on affidavit of the appellant husband - Shivkumar [Document no.9 Exh.97]. Obviously in his affidavit the appellant husband has denied the allegation of beating on 24.01.2007 and 13.12.2007. In the evidence of appellant, it has been stated in paragraph no.10 that there was total lack of communication between the parties and he was required to take food outside in the hotel since 10.10.2006 to save himself from the daily bickerings. Cross-examination of the appellant husband, starts from paragraph no.12. It is stated in the said cross-examination that he practiced in High Court, however, for Labour/employees only. We have noticed from the cross-examination that nothing is elicited on behalf of the respondent wife regarding the alleged incident of beating or ill-treatment on 24.01.2007 and on 13.12.2007. Income Tax Returns of the appellant brought on record were marked as 'Articles A to N'. Statement given by the appellant husband to the Income tax authorities is also enclosed, copy of which is Annexures-50 and 51.
14. Ground of cruelty is contemplated under Section 18[b] of the Maintenance Act. The onus of establishing such cruel treatment by the appellant husband is on respondent wife. Cruelty can be of mind or body as well. Question of cruelty in any case is a question of fact and severity or degree of such established cruelty must be capable of creation of reasonable apprehension in the mind of the wife, that it will be harmful or injurious to live with the husband. From this view point, we have considered the evidence of both the parties. In our opinion, there is no evidence brought on record within the meaning under section 18[b] of the Maintenance Act. Clearly no such apprehension also arise in the mind of the wife, since she continued to live with the husband under the same roof.
15. We have also considered the evidence i.e. the evidence on affidavit and cross-examination of the parties in relation to contention raised by respondent wife falling within the meaning of Section 18[a]. The respondent wife has to establish a case of desertion i.e. of abandonment by the appellant husband with reasonable cause with her consent or against her wish or willful neglect, from the evidence on record. We have carefully considered Section 18[a] of the Maintenance Act. The expression "desertion" represents a legal conception and very difficult to define. There are few key words i.e. Desertion, Abandonment and Neglect employed in this provision. These three key words provide ground[s] to Hindu Wife for separate residence and maintenance. The Arbiter has to consider these three words appearing in Section 18[a] with relevant pleadings, evidence and circumstances brought on record, duly established by admissible evidence. Needless to say that the facts are bound to differ from case to case, as human behaviour is unimaginable, unpredictable for manifold reasons and circumstances. In our opinion, in the case on hand, the respondent wife has failed to establish grounds for maintenance under Section 18[a] of the Maintenance Act. The wife cannot be said to have been deserted, abandoned or neglected by the husband. She is undoubtedly living in the same house where her husband, sons and daughter-in-law are living.
16. Amount of maintenance is a matter of judicial discretion of the Court. The expression maintenance ordinarily includes cost of shelter, house, food, clothing, medical attention, etc. In the facts of the present case, it can be said that the respondent wife was in a position to have pleasure trips to Kerala etc.. She admits that she is contributing/participating in Bissi, i.e. a kitty of ladies. However, she has given ceiling of Rs.1,500/-. Respondent wife has clearly admitted, as we have referred, that she does have some fixed deposits with some banks. Details have not been furnished by her. This fact is within her special knowledge. The conclusion can be safely arrived that some amount to the knowledge of the respondent wife is with the Bank in fixed deposits accruing some interest, payable to her.
17. In the case on hand, indisputably the parties have arrived at an agreement filed in Writ Petition No.3297/2003 before the learned Single Judge of this Court. The said agreement is part of the record. In view of this agreement, the entire house property has come in possession of the respondent - wife. Thus the respondent wife stays in the house property owned by the husband, given to her for residence with a liberty to recover rent from the tenant. It is not the case of the respondent wife that after this agreement arrived at amongst the parties in Writ Petition No.4297/2003, she has been driven out of the house by the appellant husband. Thus the residential accommodation without expenses, taxes etc. and with liberty to recover rent, is made available by the appellant husband to the respondent wife.
The learned Trial Court has recorded a finding of neglect and refusal in favour of the respondent wife. This finding we have considered. In paragraph no.32 the learned trial Court has observed that the respondent [husband] failed to prove the allegations made in his divorce petition, which certainly amounts to neglect and refusal on the part of the respondent. Second observation is that the respondent/husband has not examined any of his children before the Court to show the behaviour of their mother[respondent wife], was cruel. Another stray observation in this regard is made by the learned trial Court in paragraph no.32, that petitioner[wife] has also admitted that the respondent was maintaining her properly by providing all household needs. "According to him, if it was so, why she has filed this petition and claimed maintenance. No woman would file such petition unless she was neglected". In view of the said observation in paragraph no.32 the learned Trial Court in opening sentence of paragraph no.33 observed that the petitioner - wife 66 years old has no independent source of income and being legally weeded wife, respondent [husband] is bound to maintain her as per his status.
We are not able to persuade ourselves with such finding, recorded by the trial Court. While considering the case of respondent - wife for maintenance under Section 18 of the Maintenance Act, the learned Trial Court did not refer under which clause of Section 18 the case has been pleaded and proved by the respondent wife. Thus the finding that the respondent wife was neglected and refused, recorded by the trial Court, in our opinion is perverse. It is more so on the background of the observations of the trial Court itself in the opening sentence of paragraph no.32 that "having gone through the cross-examination of both, the petitioner and the respondent, it is seen that till the year 1993 the relation were good and the petitioner [wife] also admitted that the respondent [husband] was maintaining her by providing all the household". In our considered opinion, the respondent [wife] failed to establish a case of desertion, neglect, refusal, abandonment and/or case of cruel treatment to her by the appellant husband within the parameters of Section 18 of the Maintenance Act. The respondent wife also failed to establish presence or existence of mistress/concubine/any other woman in the house or life of the appellant-husband entitling her to claim separate residence without forfeiting her right to maintenance.
18. We are of the view that a claim for maintenance may be made by wife only where there is a refusal on the part of the husband to maintain her and, therefore, she is living separately. No case has been cited before us at bar where a claim for maintenance has been considered to be valid even though wife is staying in the protection of her husband under the same roof.
Having regard to the circumstances of the case, we are of the view that the husband has not refused to maintain the wife who is living with him. Therefore, it is not a fit case for considering grant of maintenance.
19. The learned Counsel appearing for the respondent wife has relied on the judgment reported at (2006)8 SCC 42 (Sanjay Kumar Manjul Vs. Chairman, UPSC and others). We find that the reliance is totally misplaced. The other reliance by the learned Counsel for respondent wife on the judgment reported at 1974 Mh.L.J. 924 (Kesarbai Haribhau Marathe Vs. Haribhau Narayan Aware) which is a judgment of learned Single Judge of this Court, wherein it was a case of the husband keeping concubine in separate house owned by him and regularly visiting her. In that case the learned Single Judge of this Court has held that the wife is entitled to separate maintenance and residence. This judgment in our opinion does not help the present respondent - wife in view of the facts of the present case.
20. We have also considered the alleged illness of the respondent wife. There is absolutely no evidence that respondent wife needs to undergo surgical procedure for any illness. Even it is not on record that she had consulted and advised by the medical practitioner with some prescription for ailment, if any.
21. At this stage, we would like to note that the appellant-husband has made a statement before this Court that he would pay an amount of Rs.2,500/- per month to the respondent - wife in addition to maintaining her as before, so that she may use the money for any purposes, she may wish to. We accept the statement made on behalf of the appellant and direct that the appellant shall do so regularly. Thus we have answered the two issues framed by is, accordingly.
22. In view of the discussion above, we are inclined to allow this appeal by quashing and setting aside the common judgment and order passed by the learned Judge, Family Court, Nagpur on 01.08.2008 in Petition No.C-99/2006 and Petition No.B-17/2007, subject to statement made by the appellant husband which we have accepted. We make it clear that this judgment has to be read only in relation to the judgment and decree passed by the learned Judge, Family Court, Nagpur in Petition No.C/99/2006 (application for maintenance under Section 18 of the Maintenance Act). In other words, our findings in this judgment are not to be considered as findings or order/decree in relation to Petition No.B-17/2007. In the facts and circumstances of the case there shall be no order as to costs.