Let us amend the law, it is only fair to women

THE HINDU / JUSTICE DR  A R LAKSHMANAN

This refers to the article “A law that thwarts justice” ( The Hindu , June 27, 2011) by Ms. Prabha Sridevan, former Judge of the Madras High Court. I have analysed it and am in agreement with the views expressed by the author for my own reasons.

As Chairman of the Law Commission of India, I took up for consideration the necessity of amending Section 15 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 which deals with the general rules of Succession in the case of female Hindus dying intestate — not having made a will before one dies — in view of the vast societal changes that have taken place.

The Hindu Succession Act, 1956 is part of the Hindu Code which includes the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956 and the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, 1956.

The Hindu Succession Act made a revolutionary change in the law for female Hindus. For the first time, a Hindu female could become an absolute owner of property. She could inherit equally with a male counterpart and a widow was also given importance regarding the succession of her husband’s property as also to her father’s property. The Act was amended in 2005 to provide that the daughter of a co-parcener in a joint Hindu family governed by the Mitakshara Law shall, by birth, become a co-parcener in her own right in the same manner as the son, having the same rights and liabilities in respect of the said property as that of a son.

Scheme of succession

Section 15 of the Hindu Succession Act propounds a definite and uniform scheme of succession to the property of a female Hindu who dies intestate. There are also rules set out in Section 16 of the Act which provides for the order of succession and the manner of distribution among heirs of a female Hindu.

Source of acquisition

The group of heirs of the female Hindu dying intestate is described in 5 categories as ‘a’ to ‘e’ of Section 15 (1) which is illustrated as under:

In a case where she dies intestate leaving property, her property will firstly devolve upon her sons and daughters so also the husband. The children of any pre-deceased son or daughter are also included in the first category of heirs of a female Hindu;

In case she does not have any heir as referred to above, i.e., sons, daughters and husband including children of any pre-deceased sons or daughters (as per clause ‘a’) living at the time of her death, then the next heirs will be the heirs of the husband ;

Thirdly, if there are no heirs of the husband, the property would devolve upon the mother and father ;

Fourthly, if the mother and father are not alive, then the property would devolve upon the heirs of the father which means brother, sister, etc ;

The last and the fifth category is the heirs of the mother upon whom the property of the female Hindu will devolve if in the absence of any heirs falling in the four preceding categories.

This is the general rule of succession, but the Section also provides for two exceptions which are stated in Sub-Section (2). Accordingly, if a female dies without leaving any issue, then the property inherited by her from her father or mother will not devolve according to the rules laid down in the five entries as stated earlier, but upon the heirs of father. And secondly, in respect of the property inherited by her from her husband or father-in-law, the same will devolve not according to the general rule, but upon the heirs of the husband.

The Hindu Succession Bill, 1954, as originally introduced in the Rajya Sabha, did not contain any clause corresponding to Sub-Section (2) of Section 15. It came to be incorporated on the recommendations of the Joint Committee of the two Houses of Parliament. The intent of the legislature is clear that the property, if it originally belonged to the parents of the deceased female, should go to the legal heirs of the father.

So also under Clause (b) of Sub Section (2) of Section 15, the property inherited by a female Hindu from her husband or her father-in-law shall also under similar circumstances, devolve upon the heirs of the husband. It is the source from which the property was inherited by the female, which is more important for the purpose of devolution of her property. The fact that a female Hindu originally had a limited right and after acquiring the full right, would not, in any way, alter the rules of succession given in Sub Section (2) of Section 15.

The 174 {+t} {+h} Report of the Law Commission also examined the subject of “Property Rights of Women; Proposed Reforms under the Hindu Law” and had noted that the rules of devolution of the property of a female who dies intestate reflects patriarchal assumptions.

The basis of inheritance of a female Hindu’s property who dies intestate would thus be the SOURCE from which such female Hindu came into the possession of the property and the manner of inheritance which would decide the manner of devolution.

The term ‘property’ though not specified in this Section means property of the deceased heritable under the Act. It includes both movable and immovable property owned and acquired by her by inheritance or by devise or at a partition or by gift or by her skill or exertion or by purchase or prescription. This Section does not differentiate between the property inherited and self-acquired property of a Hindu female; it only prescribes that if a property is inherited from husband or father-in-law, it would go to her husband’s heirs and if the property is inherited from her father or mother, in that case, the property would not go to her husband’s, but to the heirs of the father and mother.

This is very aptly illustrated by the following illustration:- A married Hindu female dies intestate leaving the property which is her self-acquired property. She has no issue and was a widow at the time of her death. As per the present position of law, her property would devolve in the second category, i.e., to her husband’s heirs. Thus, in a case where the mother of her husband is alive, her whole property would devolve on her mother-in-law. If the mother-in-law is also not alive, it would devolve as per the rules laid down in case of a male Hindu dying intestate, i.e., if the father of her deceased husband is alive, the next to inherit will be her father-in-law and if in the third category, the father-in-law is also not alive, then her property would devolve on the brother and sister of the deceased husband.

Thus, in the case of the self-acquired property of a Hindu married female dying intestate, her property devolves on her husband’s heirs. Her paternal and material heirs do not inherit, but the distant relations of her husband would inherit as per the husband’s heirs.

The case for change

The Hindu Succession Act, 1956 was enacted when, in the structure of the Hindu society, women hardly went out to work. There has been a vast change in the social scene in the past few years and women have made progress in all spheres. The consequence is that women are owning property earned by their own skill. These situations were not foreseen by the legislators.

If that is so, what is the impact of these socio-economic changes? Do they warrant any change in the law of succession in relation to the property of a female Hindu dying intestate? What is the fallout of a gradual disintegration of the joint Hindu family and the emergence of nuclear families as a unit of society over the years in the context of law of succession governing the issue at hand?

A fundamental tenet of the law of succession has been the proximity of relation in which a Successor stands to the person who originally held the property that may be the subject matter of inheritance in a given case. The fact that women have been given the right to inherit from her parental side also assumes relevance in the present context. These developments and changes lead to competing arguments and approaches that may be taken in re-defining the law of succession in case of a female Hindu dying intestate. Thus, three alternative options emerge for consideration, namely:

1. Self-acquired property of a female Hindu dying intestate should devolve first upon her heirs from the natal family.

2. Self-acquired property of a female Hindu dying intestate should devolve equally upon the heirs of her husband and the heirs from her natal family.

3. Self-acquired property of a female Hindu dying intestate should devolve first upon the heirs of her husband.

The third option may be taken first as this can be disposed of summarily. The option essentially means continuation of the status quo. We have seen earlier that socio-economic changes warrant corresponding changes in the law as well.

We may now take up the first option. The protagonists of this approach contend that the general order of succession reflects a gender bias. It will be relevant to refer to a passage in Pradhan Saxena – Succession Laws and Gender Justice in Re-defining Family Law in India by Archana Parasar, Amit Dhanda, New Delhi.

The supporters of the said approach contend that the joint family system has slowly eroded and that an increasing number of nuclear and semi-nuclear families have replaced the traditional Mitakshara Hindu joint family system. Women are also becoming more economically independent. With the growth of the nuclear family, a married woman’s dependency on her natal family and continued closeness to it is much greater today even if it was not so earlier. Most married women would prefer that their parents should be the more preferred heirs to inherit her property if her children and husband are not alive. She would also prefer that her sister and brother have a better right to inherit her property than her brother-in-law and sister-in-law.

Accordingly, it is urged that Section 15(1) should be modified to ensure that the general order of succession does not place a woman’s husband’s heirs above those who belong to her natal family like her father and mother and thereafter, her brother and sister. It is contended that when a man dies intestate, his wife’s relatives do not even figure in the order of succession despite the manner in which he may have acquired the property. In view of this, parity is sought in the case of a female by applying the same rules as applicable to male’s property.

Accordingly, it is suggested that it would be better to amend Section 15(1) to specify the general rules of devolution, which will apply not only to self-acquired property by a woman, but also to other property acquired through her family, gifts, etc. The only proviso which would then be needed would be the property that a woman acquires from her husband’s family.

The second option in this regard is that the property of a female Hindu dying intestate devolves upon the heirs depending upon the source from which, the said property was acquired by her, the self-acquired property of such female be simultaneously inherited by her heirs both from the husband family as well as the natal family in equal share. The fact remains that in spite of her closeness to and dependence on her natal family, her relations with her husband’s family are not separated and uprooted in entirety. She continues to be a member of her husband’s family, getting support from it in all walks of life. One cannot afford to ignore the ground realities in this regard. The social ethos and the mores of our patriarchal system demand that the existing system should not be totally reversed as claimed by the protagonists of the first option. Lest, there may be social and family tensions which may not be in the overall interest of the family as a whole and as such, ought to be avoided. In any case, it is open to the female Hindu to bequeath her property the way she likes by executing a Will.

Conclusions

In the present scenario, when amendments are made to the effect that women have been entitled to inherit property from her parental side as well as from husband’s side, it will be quite justified if equal right is given to her parental heirs along with her husband’s heirs to inherit her property.

It is, therefore, proposed that in order to bring about a balance, Section 15 should be amended, so that in case a female Hindu dies intestate leaving her self-acquired property with no heirs, as mentioned in Clause ‘a’ of Section 15, the property should devolve on her husband’s heirs and also on the heirs of her paternal side.

If this amendment is brought about, the effect will be as under:

A married Hindu female dies intestate leaving self-acquired property at the time of her death, the only surviving relatives being her mother-in-law (L) and her mother (M).

Pre-Amendment

As per the present law, her property would devolve entirely on ‘L’ and ‘M’ will not get anything from her property.

Post Amendment

By the proposed amendment, her mother-in-law and mother should equally inherit her self-acquired property.

A married Hindu female dies intestate leaving self-acquired property and she has no heirs as per Clause ‘a’ of the Schedule, the only surviving relatives are her husband’s brother and sister (BL & SL) and her own brother and sister (B&S).

Pre-Amendment

As per the present law, her property would normally devolve upon ‘BL’ and ‘SL’. ‘B’ and ‘S’ do not inherit anything from her in this property.

Post Amendment

By the proposed amendment, her own brother and sister should equally inherit along with her brother-in-law and sister-in-law.

The above amendment, suggested by me as Chairman of 18 {+t} {+h} Law Commission as early as in June 2008 in the public interest, is still pending with the Union Law Ministry.

(The writer is a former Judge of the Supreme Court of India and former Chairman, Law Commission of India. His email id is jusarlakshmanan@ gmail.com)

Section 15 should be amended, so that in case a female Hindu dies intestate leaving her self-acquired property with no heirs, as mentioned in Clause ‘a’ of Section 15, the property should devolve on her husband’s heirs and also on the heirs of her paternal side.

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A law that thwarts justice

Prabha Sridevan in THE HINDU

Section 15 of the Hindu Succession Act that determines the order of succession in the case of a Hindu woman who dies intestate should be amended for, it reflects an entrenched system of subjugation of women.

The family that had sent a young woman back to her parents after her husband’s death, surfaced when she died. There was a contest between her mother and the husband’s sister’s sons for her property. The mother lost all the way up to the Supreme Court, which noted that it was a “hard case.”

“What women can expect from Courts… is a qualified degree of equal treatment,” wrote Professor Wendy Williams in “ The Equality Crisis: Some Reflections on Culture, Courts, and Feminism,” published in 7 Women‘s Rts. L. Rep. 175 (1982), adding that “women’s equality as delivered by Courts can only be an integration into a pre-existing, predominantly male world.”

This is so because, though the courts may be well meaning and earnestly intend to uphold equal rights for women, they can only reflect the shared life experience of individuals. This takes a largely male hue, not only because the judgment-deliverers are predominantly male, but also because society systemically supports male supremacy. And this systemic slant shades the thought processes that lie behind laws too, and the courts apply the laws in their judgments.

The skewed reality in which gender is positioned in the social, political, economic and cultural transactions shows up the fact that law is not gender-based — sometimes it is not even gender-neutral. Gender-neutrality will not be enough if it merely maintains the status quo — which is nothing but the perpetuation of gender discrimination. Women need, and must have, affirmation of their equality.

If enactment of laws was sufficient to protect women, then women in India are on velvet. But reality bites. The law is observed in the breach, or the law is not effectively enforced by the law-enforcement agencies, or judicial redress lies beyond the woman’s horizon, or yet, the evil is seen as an accepted practice. Or women get beaten by “hard cases.”

Look at this particular “hard case,” which is reported in (2009)15 SCC Page 66 Omprakash and Others Vs. Radhacharan and Others. In 1955, Narayani Devi married Deendayal Sharma, who died within three months. Soon she was driven out of her matrimonial home. She lived with her parents, earned a living and died on July 11, 1966. She left behind a substantial estate, but wrote no will. Both her mother and her husband’s family claimed a succession certificate. The Supreme Court considered the scope of Section 15 of the Hindu Succession Act and held against the mother.

Section 15(1) says that if a Hindu woman dies without leaving a will, her property will devolve in the following order. The first in the order are her children, children of a predeceased child and her husband. If none of these persons is available, then it will go to the next in line: the heirs of the husband. Standing behind them will be the heirs of the father and the mother. Section 15(2) says that notwithstanding these provisions, if the woman is not survived by a child or the children of a predeceased child, then any property she inherited from her father or mother will go to the father’s heirs, and any property she inherited from her husband or father-in-law will go to the husband’s heirs.

The Supreme Court held that Section 15(1) lays down the ordinary rule of succession; Section 15(2)(a) only carves out an exception to Section 15(1). It observed that the law is silent on a Hindu woman’s self-acquired property, and such property cannot be considered as property inherited from her parents. The court said: “This is a hard case… But then only because a case appears to be hard would not lead us to invoke different interpretation of a statutory provision, which is otherwise impermissible. It is now a well settled principle in law that sentiment or sympathy alone would not be a guiding factor in determining the rights of the parties which are otherwise clear and unambiguous.”

In Narayani Devi’s case, the mother’s claim was not based on sympathy or sentiment, but logic and principles of fairness, equity and justice. The Supreme Court, however, found that the law was a hurdle to her claim.

Justice A.M. Bhattacharjee wrote thus in Modern Hindu Law Under Constitution: “Under the provision of Section 15(1) read with sub-section (2) in the absence of children, the order of succession in the case of a female Hindu would vary according to the source of acquisition of property.” He asked why the source of acquisition should be a determinant in the case of a Hindu woman when it is not so in the case of a Hindu man. “Unless we still want to perpetuate in a somewhat different form the old outmoded view that ownership of property cannot be full but must be somewhat limited.”

A mother shares equally with the children and the widow when a son predeceases her. But when a married daughter dies, the mother ranks after the husband’s heirs. This is the law as enacted in 1955-1956. Hindu law as it existed before the Constitution has been the subject of criticism for the glaring inequalities that it perpetuated. But we find lurking inequalities even in subsequent enactments.

Ironically, some of the ancient texts have a more pragmatic and equal approach in such cases. Stridhana, according to some texts, is categorised as technical and non-technical. Non-technical stridhana is that property which is acquired by a woman through her skill and mechanical arts ( Vasishta). In the case of a woman who has no issues, the heirs to stridhana are her husband, mother, brother or father ( Devala). Aprajaayaa haredbhartaa mata bhrata pitaapi va, says Devalasmrti (A.D. 600-900).

In the 21st edition of Principles of Hindu Law (Mulla), it is observed that Section 15(2) “seem to have been made on the ground that they prevent such property passing into the hands of persons to whom justice would require it should not pass and on the ground that the exceptions are in the interest of the intestate herself.” If the intention of this provision is to prevent property from devolving on persons to whom justice “would require it should not pass,” then the family that had refused to take care of Narayani should not have got anything.

In India those who own property do not always write a will. Narayani did not. She did not know the law of succession. She certainly would not have wanted her husband’s sister’s children to grab her earnings. If her spirit is floating around, it must be a very unhappy one. In India if a woman loses her husband because of death, desertion or divorce, there is a high probability that she will come to be with her parents. In the present day, many women have self-acquired property that they have earned because of their parents’ support. These are the ground realities.

Section 15 should be amended. The order of succession should be altered. In addition to “inheritance,” other modes of acquisition from parents or because of parents could be added.

Justice Bhattacharjee’s criticism of Section 15 has been referred to above. Decades after his book was written, the injustice continues. Neither biological nor social differences shall corrupt the ideal of equality or the reality of equality. In this case the law views the man’s estate and the woman’s estate through different spectacles: her autonomy over her property is less complete than his. How else can one explain the injustice? There are many more such cases. The law should not stand in the way of justice.

Whether the Supreme Court could or should have addressed the gender discrimination, and seen that the apparent “hardness” of the case was only the outer layer of an entrenched system of subjugation of women, and unpeeled the layers, are questions that need not be argued now.

Professor Williams’ article says: “But to the extent the law of the public world must be reconstructed to reflect the needs and values of both sexes change must be sought from legislatures rather than courts. And women whose separate experience has not been adequately registered… are the ones who must seek the change.” It is time that this law is made gender-balanced.

(Prabha Sridevan, a former Judge of the Madras High Court, is Chairperson, Intellectual Property Appellate Board.)

http://www.hindu.com/2011/06/27/stories/2011062751711000.htm

DIVORCE BY MUTUAL CONSENT

VIRENDRA KUMAR IN THE TRIBUNE

Divorce

Divorce

The sanctity of marriage cannot be allowed to be undermined by the whims of one of the annoying spouses. The law allows divorce by mutual consent, but its intent is not to facilitate the dissolution of marriage. To save marriage and  not to hasten its dissolution should be the core concern of courts

Marriages are made in heaven, or so it is said. But we are more often than not made to wonder what happens to them by the time they descend to earth. Though there is legal machinery in place to deal with such cases, these are perhaps the toughest for the courts to deal with. Such is the case presently before with us.” (emphasis added) This is how a Bench of the Supreme Court consisting of D.K. Jain and H.L. Dattu, JJ., prefaced its judgment in the case of Hitesh Bhatnagar v. Deepa Bhatnagar delivered on April 18, 2011.

Hitesh and Deepa got married in 1994. The following year they were blessed with a daughter. Sometime in 2000 due to “differences in their temperaments”, they began to live separately from each other and have been living thus ever since. In 2001 they filed a petition under section 13-B of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, seeking divorce by mutual consent. Subsequently, before the court could consider their case for a divorce decree, the wife withdrew her consent. This resulted in the dismissal of the petition by the district court.

The High Court through its “well considered order” dismissed the appeal of the husband against the decision of the trial court. On further appeal, the husband again failed to get the desired divorce decree from the Supreme Court.

Why it is tough

One reason that applies to the resolution of matrimonial disputes generally is of course the inherent complexity of human nature and behaviour defying the application of set standard formulas. The other reason is the persistent misconceptions or misgivings about the very nature, scope and ambit of the remedy of divorce by mutual consent itself.

The apex court in the Hitesh Bhatnagar case has not just decided the dispute but undertaken fairly an extensive survey of the law developed through judicial decision-making. A juridical analysis of this decision would, therefore, be instructive in unfolding the various nuances. The following misgivings often come into vogue.

A close reading of section 13-B of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, shows that a divorce decree by mutual consent is not really a divorce decree by mere consent of parties. In effect, it is with the consent of the court. It becomes operational “with effect from the date of the decree” granted by the court and not from the date of filing of the petition “by both the parties to a marriage together.” To this extent, the expression “divorce by mutual consent” seems to be a misnomer. Literally speaking, it seems to imply that as there is “marriage by mutual consent” by taking seven steps around the sacred fire, say, in clockwise direction, so is “divorce by mutual consent” as if taking seven steps in anti-clockwise direction!

Compared to the grant of divorce on grounds like adultery, cruelty, desertion, etc. under section 13 of the Act, the conditions for the grant of decree under section 13B are rather more stringent. Under the mutual consent provision, the parties intending to dissolve marriage are required to wait, not only for at least one year from the date of marriage, termed as the “trial period” under section 14 of the Act, but also obligated to show further that they have been living separately for a period of one year or more before the presentation of the petition, and during this period of separation “they have not been able to live together” as husband and wife. Besides, after filing the joint petition they must wait further for at least another six months, usually termed as the “cooling off period”. In short, mere filing the joint petition does not by itself snap the marital ties.

After the lapse of six months, if the said petition is not withdrawn in the meanwhile either singly or jointly, both the parties may move the court by way of joint motion within the stipulated period of 18 months from the initial date of filing of the joint petition. The interregnum is obviously intended to give more time and opportunity to the parties “to reflect on their move”, give a second thought or otherwise seek advice and counsel from relations and/or friends for maintaining their marriage.

 Withdrawal of consent

For pursuing divorce by mutual consent, it is imperative that mutual consent should continue till the decree is granted by the court. In case, even if one of the parties to marriage withdraws his or her consent initially given, the court instantly loses the jurisdiction to proceed further and grant relief under section 13-B of the Act. In this respect, the Supreme Court in the Hitesh Bhatnagar case reaffirmed its earlier decision in Sureshta Devi v. Om Prakash (1991), which overruled the view of the High Courts of Bombay and Delhi that proceeded on the premise that the crucial time for giving mutual consent for divorce is the time of filing petition and not the time when they subsequently move for a divorce decree.

The statutory expression “they have not been able to live together” under section 13-B(1) of the Act, is to be construed not just as a trite statement of pure volition. It bears a deeper connotation. It indicates, as the apex court has expounded, “the concept of broken down marriage”’ implying thereby that reconciliation between them is not possible. In this respect, the court is duty bound to satisfy itself “after hearing the parties and after making such inquiry as it thinks fit” about the bona fides and the consent of the parties, and then and then alone the court shall consider the grant of divorce decree.

The purpose of the period of 18 months from the date of presentation of the joint petition under Section 13-B (2) of the Act is for re-think and reconciliation. If the consent is withdrawn by either party to marriage, the petition becomes instantly ineffective and is liable to be dismissed at the threshold on this very count.

In view of the long separation of more than a decade from his wife, the husband, as a last resort, urged the apex court to dissolve his marriage by exercising its special jurisdiction under Article 142 of the Constitution. To buttress his claim he specifically cited a proximate decision of the Supreme Court itself – Anil Kumar Jain v. Maya Jain (2009) – wherein though the consent was withdrawn by the wife, yet the court found the marriage to have irretrievably broken down and granted a decree of divorce by exercising its special constitutional power.

Special power

However, in the instant case the apex court refused to invoke its special power in favour of the husband mainly for two reasons. One, the special power is to be used very sparingly in cases which cannot be effectively and appropriately tackled by the existing provisions of law or when the existing provisions cannot bring about complete justice between the parties.

Generally such a power is exercised neither in contravention of statutory provisions nor merely on grounds of sympathy. Two, the sanctity of the institution of marriage cannot allowed to be undermined merely at the whims of one of the annoying spouses, more specially in the situation and circumstances, as in the present case, wherein the wife has stated that she wants this marriage to continue “to secure the future of their minor daughter”.

Invariably it is found that a petition for divorce on fault grounds under section 13 is replaced by the remedy of dissolution of marriage by mutual consent under section 13-B of the Act. This is advisedly done as if the purpose of the latter provision is to facilitate divorce by effecting compromise between the parties in respect of ancillary matters. This in our view is perhaps the most erroneous construction of the provisions of section 13-B of the Act. The purpose of the remedy of mutual consent, we repeat, is not to facilitate the dissolution of marriage, inasmuch as even the provisions of section 13-B are subject to the other provisions of the Act.

Thus, to save marriage and not to hasten its dissolution should be the core concern of the court. Spouses may think of dissolving their marriage if they so fancy provided the court is satisfied that any of the grounds for granting relief exists, and that in court’s view it is not possible to make them reconciled!

Divorce with Mutual Consent- What it is all about

 Section 13-B of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, deals with divorce by mutual consent

Compared to the grant of divorce on grounds like adultery, cruelty, desertion, etc. under section 13 of the Act, the conditions for the grant of decree under section 13-B are rather more stringent

A divorce decree by mutual consent is not really a divorce decree by mere consent of the parties. In effect, it is with the consent of the court

The parties intending to dissolve marriage are required to wait for at least one year from the date of marriage

They have to show that they have been living separately for a period of one year or more before the presentation of the petition for divorce and that during this period of separation they have not been able to live together as husband and wife

After filing the joint petition they must wait further for at least six months

It is imperative that mutual consent should continue till the decree of divorce is granted by the court

If the consent is withdrawn by either party to marriage, the petition becomes instantly ineffective and is liable to be dismissed on this very count. 

The writer is the Director (Academics), Chandigarh Judicial Academy. 

http://www.tribuneindia.com/2011/20110625/edit.htm#6 

Hindu marriages: HC ruling upsets settled law

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ANIL MALHOTRA IN THE TRIBUNE

THE recent judgement of the Bombay High Court setting aside the parallel proceedings for divorce of the Family Court, Pune, and upholding a divorce decree passed by the Court of Oakland, State of Michigan, USA, dissolving a Hindu marriage on the principle of breakdown, has evoked a new stream of thought with which this writer differs. The verdict, Kashmira Kale vs. Kishore Kumar Mohan Kale, 2011 (1) Hindu Law Reporter (HLR), 333, lending sanctity to a US Divorce decree in preference to proceedings under the Hindu Marriage Act between the same parties upsets the settled law.

The parties married in Mumbai in 2005 according to Hindu rites lived in the US and intermittently visited Mumbai and Pune. In September 2008, the wife filed divorce proceedings in the US whose jurisdiction was challenged by the husband in the US. Simultaneously, in October 2008, the husband filed a divorce petition in the Pune Family Court, claiming it to be the competent forum for adjudication of their dispute. The husband did not pursue the wife’s divorce petition in the US any further and in January 2009, the US court dissolved the marriage and divided the assets of the parties.

However, the Pune Family Court in September 2009 held that it still had the jurisdiction to try the husband’s petition for divorce in India. In appeal, the Bombay High Court set aside the Family Court order and upheld the US divorce decree dissolving the Hindu marriage.

The conclusions drawn by the Bombay High Court that the parties were domiciled in the US and hence the Hindu Marriage Act (HMA) cannot apply to them is per se erroneous. The HMA’s non-application to Hindus was misconstrued and the application of the breakdown principle without considering the written statement of the husband challenging the US court’s jurisdiction were factors which did not lend a imprimatur to the foreign decree which did not take into consideration the HMA’s provisions under which the parties were married.

Noticing that Section 1 (2) of the HMA applies only to Hindus in the territories to which it applies but not considering that it also “applies to Hindus domiciled in the territories to which this Act extends who are outside the said territories” left the contention only half noticed. In addition, Section 2 of the HMA prescribing application of the Act to Hindus, irrespective of domicile, nationality or citizenship, renders the judgement fallacious. Earlier precedents on the point enunciated by different High Courts stipulate that the HMA applies to all Hindus irrespective of domicile or residence if they have married in India according to Hindu rites. Thus, it has been held that the HMA has extra-territorial application as a Hindu carries with him his personal law of marriage and courts in India have jurisdiction to try their matrimonial disputes regardless of change of nationality or new domicile.

The Bombay High Court in Sondur Rajini Vs. Sondur Gopal, 2006(2) HLR 475, had held that the HMA provisions do not cease to apply on change of domicile which is determined when the parties tie the nuptial knot under the HMA and not on the date when an application is made for matrimonial reliefs. In Naveen Chander Advani Vs. Leena Advani 2005 (2) HLR 582, the Bombay High Court held that the Pune Family Court wrongly declined to entertain a matrimonial petition relating to a marriage where parties who last resided and married in the US according to Hindu rites and ceremonies as the Family Court has jurisdiction to deal with matters under the HMA.

Equally flawed is the Bombay High Court’s view that since the parties last resided together in Michigan, the US court has territorial jurisdiction to decide their divorce dispute. This conclusion falls foul of the settled law laid down by the Supreme Court in Jagir Kaur vs. Jaswant Singh, AIR 1963 SC 1521 that prescribing the limits of jurisdiction, speaking of last residence of a person with his wife, can only mean his last residence in India. It does not imply his residing with her in a foreign country for an Act cannot confer jurisdiction on a foreign court.

The Bombay High Court in Meera vs. Anil Kumar 1992 (2) HLR 284 held that “last resided” in Section 19 of HMA implies last residence in India and the High Court in India within whose jurisdiction the parties last resided together can take cognisance of the matter.

Flowing from the same stream of thought, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has held that any temporary residence would confer jurisdiction to try the matrimonial dispute. This settled view militates against the erred conclusion of the Bombay High Court that temporary stay at Pune or Mumbai could not mean last residence in India as parties last resided together in the US.

Above all, the Bombay High Court’s view disagrees with the Supreme Court’s celebrated view in Y. Narasimha Rao vs. Y. Venkata Lakshmi, 1991 (3) SCC 451 that the jurisdiction assumed by the foreign court as well as the grounds on which the relief is granted must be in accordance with the matrimonial law under which the parties are married.

Three exceptions were culled out to this rule by the Supreme Court. First, permanent foreign residence and invoking of relief on a ground available in matrimonial law under which parties were married. Secondly, voluntary submission to foreign jurisdiction coupled with contest on merits abroad on grounds available under matrimonial law under which parties were married. And thirdly, parties unconditionally consent to grant of relief although the jurisdiction of foreign court is not in accordance with the provisions of matrimonial law of parties.

The Apex Court in Neerja Saraph vs. Jayant Saraph 1994 (6) SCC 641, thereafter had suggested feasibility of a legislation to hold that “no marriage between an NRI and an India woman which has taken place in India may be annulled by a foreign court”. Not noticing the Supreme Court’s above precedent, the recent view of the Bombay High Court per se appears to be disagreeable if not per incuriam.

With due deference, the Bombay High Court order does not agree with the precedent, adapt to Hindu law of marriage of the parties or is it conclusive. Parties may be treated as divorced in the US and still married in India. The line of action adopted in a number of matrimonial disputes in the Punjab and Haryana High Court is most useful to quote. Limping marriages are taken before the Mediation and Conciliation Centre at the High Court premises where the hatchet is peacefully buried and matters are amicably compromised to convert the matrimonial feuds to divorce petitions by mutual consent. Matters thereafter rest without contest on written settlements. Warring claims are put to sleep harmoniously.

This is the better path than allowing foreign courts to decide on Hindu marriage disputes without conflict of laws. Indian courts are better suited to decide them without foreign interference. Domestic law must prevail.

Author of “India, NRIs and the Law”, and co-author of “Acting for Non-resident Indian Clients,” the writer is Supreme Court Advocate and Member, UT NRI Cell, Chandigarh.

Human smuggling : What Punjab must do

Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple) Amritsar, Punj...

Image by voobie via Flickr

Human smuggling, illegal trafficking and unethical immigration businesses are on the rise in India and other countries. The Punjab Prevention of Human Smuggling Act 2010 is a welcome move. Once it gets the President’s assent, the state government should draft comprehensive rules to enforce the legislation in letter and spirit

Ranjit Malhotra IN THE TRIBUNE

THE Punjab Prevention of Human Smuggling Act, 2010, is awaiting the President of India’s assent. It is an important piece of legislation as it seeks to regulate the profession of travel agents to check their illegal and fraudulent activities and malpractices of those involved in the organised human smuggling in Punjab.

It has several noteworthy features. ‘Human smuggling’ and ‘travel agent’ are well defined. Travel agent is defined as a person in a profession that involves arranging, managing or conducting affairs related to sending people abroad. It includes consultancy for permanent emigration, obtaining education, work, travel for tourism, cultural entertainment or musical shows, medical treatment, spreading or preaching religion and so on.

The key focus of the legislation is on human smuggling as opposed to human trafficking. The distinction is crucial. Human smuggling facilitates illegal entry of people from one country to another. It has a cross border element of voluntary cooperation without any coercion or undue influence. In contrast to human trafficking, there are no victims in human smuggling. Human trafficking entails slavery and possibly has no international element.

It provides for a much-needed licensing regime for agents and requires compulsory bank guarantees. Clearly, this will nail down middlemen of all sorts and fly-by-night street operators. The legislation is not without teeth because it gives the power of search, seizure and arrest. Under the existing Central legislation, travel agents can be booked under Section 420 of the Indian Penal Code, in terms of which it is very difficult to prove the offence of cheating as most transactions take place in cash. But the Punjab legislation gives more powers to the police in terms of offences being cognisable and non-bailable.

A separate mechanism has been carved out as the legislation seeks to create specially designated courts for trials under the new Act. It identifies defined variable punishments for offences. There is a provision for filing complaints by aggrieved persons to judicial magistrates for trial before the special courts. The special court is authorised to decide whether any illegally acquired property is liable to be confiscated. Dishonest misrepresentation to have wrongful gain for inducing, deception, cheating or allurement for the activities carried out by the travel agents are punishable. There is also a caveat for legitimate business promotion. If any travel agent wants to advertise or hold seminars, he must notify the competent authority with details of advertisement of such seminars.

As the rules so framed by the Punjab government after the Presidential assent should be comprehensive and free from ambiguity, the authorities concerned would do well to consider the following issues. The locus standi of aggrieved persons should be given a broad sweep without hinging on technicalities. Quite often, the victims of human smuggling are stranded en route in hostile conditions in foreign countries. Their next of kin in such a situation should be empowered to file criminal complaints or claims for compensation against erring parties. Foreign missions in the consular district of New Delhi should also be brought within the ambit of aggrieved persons so that they can lodge criminal complaints against habitual offenders who deal in bulk fraudulent applications.

In a world without borders, the 2010 Act like the provisions of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, should also have extra-territorial application. It is common knowledge that cross border cartels operate from different jurisdictions right from the sending country to the receiving country. No complaint should fail on the ground that monetary consideration was paid outside India and that part of the cause of action took outside the territories of India.

There is need for a strict code for advertising by travel agents and immigration consultancies. There should be an express prohibition on all immigration-related advertisements in the media — print and electronic — for not advertising or canvassing the number of visas allegedly procured by their consultancies. Quite often, such figures of successful applicants are exaggerated and inflated and there is no way by innocent and gullible members of the public to check such projected figures. As for offences, the rules should be applicable to any immigration consultancy, agent, franchisee operating even outside Punjab, if the principal office of the branch of such a concern is situated within Punjab. There should be a clear embargo on canvassing projected time schedules for permanent residency/ settlement in any foreign country.

The provision for a bank guarantee to be furnished by all such licensed immigration operators and travel agencies should be on ad valorem basis and the amount of the bank guarantee should be directly proportional to the number of applications handled by any such consultancy or agency. In terms of compliance requirements, the rules under the said legislation should provide that any licensed immigration consultancy/ travel agency or operator, should file a mandatory quarterly return on the number of applications handled by any such agency or operator with the steering committee constituted under the rules or with the Deputy Commissioner of the respective district, which shall be a pre-condition for the renewal of the annual licence.

To protect students, the rules should prohibit payment of the handsome commission paid to the local agents and franchisees in India by low level foreign universities from the tuition fees paid by the students in India. Over the years, this has promoted a different type of an industry giving fillip to lot of illegal activities on the side to exploit the student avenue. Mass awareness is important. The rules should direct Regional Passport Offices (RPOs) in Punjab to adequately publicise this beneficial piece of legislation, in their respective offices. For the convenience of the public, especially rural youth hailing from the far flung areas of Punjab who are victims of cheating by unscrupulous agents and dubious touts, copies of the legislation translated in Punjabi should be made available at the said RPOs.

One needs to look at the entire gamut of human smuggling. The NRI marriages in Punjab are a very serious problem, especially in terms of abandoned brides. Marriage is also used as a very convenient camouflage for human smuggling. Marriage palace operators provide complete packages to facilitate such commercial marriages. The rules under the legislation in question should bring within its ambit abettors and perpetrators of such sham marriages, or victims of marriages of convenience.

As part of corporate social responsibility obligations, business houses in Punjab should be motivated to take suitable initiatives to publicise the evil effects of human trafficking and the dangers involved in patronising fly-by-night travel agents. The Chief Secretary of Punjab, after constituting a Core Steering and Monitoring Committee, should regularly review the enforcement of the legislation and maintain comprehensive data of complaints and convictions under the said legislation. The Chief Secretary can include in the committee people from different walks of life. This could as well give an opportunity to review the working of the legislation. The core panel could have a dedicated website and email address to create direct access from the public for their viewpoints.

The rules could well stipulate that the Punjab government in close cooperation with the Ministry of External Affairs and Ministry of Overseas Indians Affairs should also interact with all the Embassies and Foreign Missions in the consular district of New Delhi to share their international data of habitual immigration offenders, networks and cartels engaged in the business of human trafficking and human smuggling with the MEA and the MOIA so that they can further share and transmit the available data with the Punjab government. This will prevent illegal migration and ensure greater cross-border cooperation with all member states.

The rules could provide for an Immigration Ombudsman at the regional and district level. This soft option could be organised by complainants who do not have the resources to invoke the due process of law. A savings clause regarding the consumer courts’ jurisdiction for deficiency in service and for refund/ compensation should also be there explicitly in the rules so that the offenders cannot possibly attempt to take refuge of the technicalities of law. We have to wait and see which way the pendulum swings down the road. Hopefully, the letter and spirit of the rules will be at par with the Punjab government’s laudable effort in framing the 2010 legislation.

The writer, a Felix Scholar and associated with Wilton Park, a UK-based think-tank, specialises in areas of immigration and private international law in Chandigarh

Migration :Global perspectives

  1. Over the years, Wilton Park, a leading UK-based think-tank for discussion of key international policy changes, has been debating key issues relating to migration policies, themes, perceptions, perspectives, trends and its future policy options. According to its 2007 report, legal migration is the most sensitive subject for discussion, particularly in terms of the public debate over numbers.
  2. The Interpol estimates that India contributes to the largest illegal population in Europe, and an estimated two million Indians cross international borders illegally every year.
  3. Human trafficking has now become a larger ‘industry’ worldwide than drug trafficking. In India alone, it is a multi-million dollar business.
  4. Globally, remittances are estimated to be equivalent to three times development aid.
  5. Members of the European Union already co-operate on shared mechanisms within borders such as Eurodac, a European Union-wide electronic system for the identification of asylum-seekers and illegal immigrants.
  6. FrontEx is an independent European agency funded by the EU and individual member states. With headquarters in Warsaw, it aims to coordinate the operational co-operation of their external borders.

Patterns of immigration

  1. According to Wilton Park’s 2008 findings, patterns of immigration and emigration are generally shaped by the long-term economic performance of a country.
  2. There is likely to be increased competition amongst the more developed countries for highly skilled migrants. On current demographic projections, China, for example, may change from being a source to a destination country.
  3. Political, religious and ethnic persecution are the key drivers of forced migration, but new displacement scenarios are evolving, including environmental degradation, declining resource, population growth and climate change.
  4. Factors vary regionally. In South Asia, migration is a well-established livelihood option. In the European Union, migration has been facilitated by the right to free movement of labour.
  5. Governments will continue to control illegal migration to facilitate the migration flows which they do want.
  6. Public attitudes to migration are frequently negative.
  7. Policy responses from South Asian countries have been ad hoc; it is one of the few areas where no regional process is in place for strategic management of migration.
  8. There are no real indications of the emergence of a leading international migration agency. The International Organisation for Migration could be a candidate.

Areas of concern & reform

  1. Need to enact a Central legislation to check illegal trafficking, human smuggling and thriving unethical immigration businesses.
  2. Imperative need for a consolidated work permit visa regime in India for inward foreign migration especially for highly skilled foreign workers which could also be a good source of revenue.
  3. Spreading of awareness and education of the pitfalls of illegal immigration.
  4. Need to establish managed migration channels. —Ranjit Malhotra

http://www.tribuneindia.com/2010/20101217/edit.htm#6

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Can a broken marriage be stitched together?

ANIL MALHOTRA IN THE HINDU

On June 10, 2010 the Union Cabinet approved the introduction of a Bill, i.e., The Marriage Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2010, to be tabled in the ongoing monsoon session of Parliament. It seeks to amend the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 (HMA) and the Special Marriage Act, 1954 (SMA) to provide for irretrievable breakdown of marriage as a ground for divorce.

The long-awaited move comes more than a year after the Law Commission of India suo motu took up the study of the subject and in its 217th report in March 2009 strongly made the above recommendation.

The Commission examined the existing legislation as well as a number of judgments of the Supreme Court and the High Courts on the subject and was of the view that “irretrievable breakdown of marriage” should be incorporated as another ground for granting divorce under the provisions of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 and the Special Marriage Act, 1954. The Commission also recommended that before granting a decree for divorce on the ground that the marriage has irretrievably broken down, the court should examine whether adequate financial arrangements had been made for the parties and children.

Although such a ground for divorce is currently not mentioned in HMA, the Supreme Court has, in appropriate cases, granted a decree of divorce on grounds of “irretrievable breakdown of marriage” by virtue of the powers vested in it under Article 142 of the Constitution. However, different Benches of the Supreme Court have taken separate stands over this issue.

In March, 2006, a three-judge Bench of the Supreme Court granted divorce in Naveen Kohli vs. Neelu Kohli (2006) 4 SCC 558. But in February, 2009, a two-judge Bench of the court in Vishnu Dutt Sharma vs. Manju Dutt Sharma (2009) 6 SCC 379, refused to grant divorce on the ground of irretrievable breakdown of marriage. The court observed that it could not add such a ground to Section 13 of HMA as it would amount to amending the Act which is a function of the Legislature.

In the most recent view in May, 2010, in Neeti Malviya vs. Rakesh Malviya (2010) 6 SCC 413, the Supreme Court, while examining the question of waiving the six-month waiting period for divorce by mutual consent by invoking its extraordinary powers under Article 142 of the Constitution, has referred the question for consideration to a Bench of three judges.

Clearly, the underlining note of invoking irretrievable breakdown of marriage as a ground for divorce did not find favour with the Bench. Thus, from the views in the Judgment of the Supreme Court in V. Bhagat vs. D. Bhagat (1994) 1 SCC 337 allowing divorce on the ground of irretrievable breakdown of marriage to the pronouncement of the Supreme Court in Anil Kumar Jain Vs. Maya Jain (2009) 10 SCC 415, not allowing so, there has been a variant view on this controversial subject for 15 years. The Supreme Court, however, has been consistent in its view that neither the High Courts nor the subordinate courts can exercise such power vested only in it.

Realistically speaking, a broken marriage limps to dissolution. Law cannot reunite parties if the matrimonial bond has severed. Consequently, a peaceful parting is necessary if the parties cannot reconcile despite best efforts. Thus, the adding of irretrievable breakdown of marriage as a ground for divorce by Parliament by amending the marriage laws may be the best possible solution for the future of limping marriages.

However, the power of the court to grant divorce on the ground of irretrievable breakdown should be exercised with extreme caution only in circumstances warranting so and when it is in the interest of both the parties. Due regard for maintenance of the dependent spouse, besides welfare of children, must be safeguarded by enabling legislation. Hence, simultaneous amendments to other provisions of marriage laws in this regard must follow forthwith whenever such a law is made.

A balance needs to be maintained wherein the sanctity of the institution of marriage should be protected as well as the individual interests of aggrieved spouses addressed. Moral and cultural values are embedded in Indian ethos and emulation of western principles in matrimonial matters is not appreciable and should not be adopted with ease. Hence, the ground of irretrievable breakdown of marriage should be introduced cautiously and hedged with safeguards so that the provision is not misused.

Nevertheless, there is also an urgent need to set up a family court in every district of the country for adjudicating all kinds of matrimonial disputes. It is really unfortunate that even after more than 25 years of enactment of the Family Courts Act, 1984, only a miniscule number of such courts have been set up only in metropolitan cities.

Also, there must be marriage and divorce laws not just for Hindus but also for Muslims, Christians, Parsis and other religious denominations in line with contemporary practices of young generations who receive higher education and have more cosmopolitan thinking of the brave new world. Times have changed and the people of India must move ahead without living in the past. Harmony at home and peace at work is the most important component and quality of successful Indians in the 21st century. A stable family is an epitome of Indian society.

(Author of “India, NRIs and the Law,” the writer is a Chandigarh-based practising lawyer and can be reached at anilmalhotra1960@gmail.com)

Can Live in partner claim maintenance under Section 125 Cr P C

SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

A Bench of Justice G S Singhvi and Justice Ashok Kumar Ganguly requested  the Hon’ble Chief Justice to refer the following, amongst other, questions to be decided by a larger Bench.

The questions are:

1. Whether the living together of a man and woman as husband and wife for a considerable period of time would raise the presumption of a valid marriage between them and whether such a presumption would entitle the woman to maintenance under Section 125 Cr.P.C?

2. Whether strict proof of marriage is essential for a claim of maintenance under Section 125 Cr.P.C. having regard to the provisions of Domestic Violence Act, 2005?

3. Whether a marriage performed according to customary rites and ceremonies, without strictly fulfilling the requisites of Section 7(1) of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, or any other personal law would entitle the woman to maintenance under Section 125 Cr.P.C.?

The Bench said “We are of the opinion that a broad and expansive interpretation should be given to the term ‘wife’ to include even those cases where a man and woman have been living together as husband and wife for a reasonably long period of time, and strict proof of marriage should not be a pre-condition for maintenance under Section 125 of the Cr.P.C, so as to fulfil the true spirit and essence of the beneficial provision of maintenance under Section 125. We also believe that such an interpretation would be a just application of the principles enshrined in the Preamble to our Constitution, namely, social justice and upholding the dignity of the individual”.