Published on: 11 February 2023 at 22:01 IST
In a very pertinent, progressive, pragmatic and path breaking judgment titled Smt Pratibha Singh Vs Mr Vineet Kumar in Writ Petition No. 21852 of 2022 that was pronounced as recently as on February 8, 2023, the Karnataka High Court has notably issued several landmark directions to the Trial Courts to follow a timeline in deciding applications filed by estranged women seeking maintenance from their respective husbands under Section 24 of the Hindu Marriage Act.
It must be mentioned here that a Single Judge Bench of Hon’ble Mr Justice M Nagaprasanna was of the firm opinion that the requirement to issue the directions noting that the proviso to Section 24 directs that an application filed under Section 24 seeking maintenance should be disposed of as far as possible within 60 days.
It was also clarified that the term “as far as possible” is being interpreted that the Court can pass orders even after six months in some cases, two years, three years or even four years after filing the application.
At the very outset, this learned, laudable, landmark and latest judgment authored by the Single Judge Bench of Hon’ble Mr Justice M Nagaprasanna sets the ball in motion by first and foremost putting forth in para 1 that, “The petitioner is before this Court seeking modification of order dated 26-08-2022 passed by the I Additional Principal Judge, Family Court at Bangalore in M.C. No. 3726 of 2019 granting interim maintenance to the petitioner/wife at Rs 15,000/- and litigation expenses at Rs 50,000/- for enhancement of the same to Rs 1,50,000/- per month as interim maintenance and Rs 2,00,000/- as one time litigation expenses.”
To put things in perspective, the Bench then while dwelling briefly on facts of case envisages in para 2 that, “Brief facts that leads the petitioner to this Court in the subject petition, as borne out from the pleadings, are as follows:-
The petitioner is the wife and the respondent, her husband. The two get married on 22-04-2016. On several allegations, it appears that after about six months of marriage the wife leaves the matrimonial house and begins to reside in her parental house.
Long after the alleged separation, the respondent/husband registers a petition seeking annulment of marriage in M.C.No.3726 of 2019 under Section 13(1)(ia) & (ib) of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 (‘the Act’ for short). The petitioner, upto the month of May 2020 claims that she was working and earning a salary of Rs 35,000/- and due to onset of Covid-19 she was laid off and had no avocation to maintain herself.
“Therefore, she files an application before the concerned Court invoking Section 24 of the Act seeking interim maintenance at Rs 1,50,000/- per month and one time litigation expenses at Rs 2,00,000/-. The concerned Court by its order dated 26-08-2022 passes an order directing payment of interim maintenance at Rs 15,0000/- and one time litigation expenses at Rs 50,000/-. It is this order that drives the wife to this Court seeking enhancement of maintenance on the ground that it is too meager to maintain herself.”
Do note, the Bench notes in para 11 that, “It may not be inapt to notice that this Court is flooded with cases where maintenance is ordered, not ordered; maintenance is ordered which according to the wife is inadequate and seeks enhancement of maintenance; petitions are filed by the husband contending that maintenance directed to be paid from the date of the application which suddenly amounts to a large extent of money and would seek reduction or deferring of payment of money to the wife and so on,”.
“All these are putforth both by the husband and the wife for the reason that the concerned Courts have been liberal in granting time either to file objections; affidavits of assets and liabilities or adjournments whenever sought. The case at hand is not the only case of the kind, it is an illustration of the kind of pleas that is putforth before this Court in plethora of cases day in and day out.”
Briefly stated, the essence of para 12 is that, “Proviso to Section 24 directs that an application filed under Section 24 seeking maintenance should be disposed as far as possible within 60 days. The term “as far as possible” is being interpreted that the Court can pass orders even after six months in some cases, two years, three years or even four years after filing the application. This delay in considering those applications for maintenance would defeat the very soul of the provision which is to give succor to the wife who leaves or made to leave the matrimonial house on myriad circumstances. Merely, because the provision directs disposal of the application, as far as possible within 60 days, it cannot be stretched to an extent by the Courts to an extent that the wife would not see the amount of maintenance for ages.”
Quite significantly, the Bench observes in para 13 stating that, “It, therefore, becomes necessary for the concerned Court to adhere to a timeline for disposal of the applications seeking maintenance at the hands of the husband when sought by the wife, so that the right to claim maintenance is not rendered illusory. In the case at hand also, the husband institutes proceedings under Section 13 of the Act seeking divorce. The wife files an application on 06-02-2020 under Section 24 of the Act. The husband files his objections along with the assets and liabilities statement more than 19 months after the application is filed i.e., on 28.11.2021. The Court decides the application on 26-08-2022 and directs payment to be made from the date of the application. Therefore, the Court has decided the issue in the case at hand after 30 months of filing of the application.”
Most significantly, the Bench then minces just no words to unequivocally hold in para 14 directing that, “It thus becomes imperative for this Court to issue directions to the concerned courts to adhere to a timeline, in all cases, where applications are filed for maintenance under section 24 of the Act. The concerned Courts shall adhere to the following timeline:
a. Notice on the application be issued immediately. Service through E-mail / What’s App, shall also be valid service in the eye of law.
b. The concerned Court shall grant two months to the husband to file his objections to the application filed by the wife seeking interim maintenance under section 24 of the Act.
c. The wife also should be given the same two months to file statement of assets and liabilities.
d. On the assets and liabilities so filed by the wife, the concerned Court shall consider the contentions of the parties, hear them and pass appropriate orders, within four months thereafter, if not earlier.
e. Therefore, the outer limit to decide any application seeking interim maintenance is six months from the date of its filing.
f. To achieve this timeline, the concerned Court should refrain itself from granting unnecessary adjournments to both the husband and the wife.
g. If the husband or the wife would not co-operate with the closure of the proceedings qua the application for interim maintenance the Court would be free to pass appropriate orders in accordance with law.
h. Any delay beyond six months should be only on reasons recorded in writing in the order that would be passed.
It is made clear that the concerned Courts shall adhere to the aforesaid timeline, as the wife should not be made to wait for years together, to get certain amount of maintenance from the hands of the husband.
In many a case, the wife would be driven to penury, the moment she walks out of the matrimonial house on manifold reasons. To avoid the wife being driven to such impecuniosities, the aforesaid timeline should be strictly followed.”
Finally, the Bench then concludes by holding in para 15 that, “For aforesaid reasons, I pass the following:
O R D E R
(i) The Writ Petition is allowed in part.
(ii) A maintenance granted to the petitioner/wife is enhanced from Rs 15,000/- to Rs 50,000/- and litigation expenses from Rs 50,000/- to Rs 1,00,000/-.
(iii) The concerned Court shall endeavour to conclude the proceedings in M.C.No.3726 of 2019 within nine months from the date of receipt of a copy of this order, if not, earlier. It is needless to observe that the parties to the lis shall cooperate for conclusion of the proceedings as directed.
(iv) The Registry is directed to circulate this order to all the judicial officers deciding applications of any kind qua maintenance for its strict compliance.”
In essence, the cornerstone of this notable judgment are the extremely commendable directions that have been issued by the Karnataka High Court as vividly elaborated upon in para 14 as discussed hereinabove! It would certainly not tantamount to an exaggeration if one says that these extremely commendable directions must be implemented not just in the courts in Karnataka alone but in each and every Court in India so that a woman does not have to suffer endlessly running from pillar to post due to her not getting maintenance in time. There can of course be no gainsaying that this will also ensure rightly that a woman’s claim to maintenance will not be rendered just illusory! No denying it!
Sanjeev Sirohi, Advocate