The Supreme Court on Tuesday has held that the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act has no overriding effect over the right of residence of a woman in a shared household within the meaning of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act.
This decision follows a judgment pronounced by the top court two months ago where the Court noted that even if the shared household is a joint family property where the husband has no legal right or share, the same shall still be treated as a shared household for the wife to continue staying put. (Read full order at the end of this article).
The suit against the petitioner was instituted by her mother-in-law under the Senior Citizens Act in 2015. Prior to this, in December 2013, a trial court decreed divorce and in March 2014, the petitioner sought maintenance and even appealed before the High Court against the divorce decree which is still pending.
This application of eviction was allowed by the Assistant Commissioner. Later, the said order was upheld by Deputy Commissioner in appeal.
The Karnataka High Court had on September 17, 2019, upheld the order of eviction against the daughter-in-law who approached the Supreme Court in appeal.
The present appeal in Supreme Court witnessed a clash between two special laws:
- Protection of Women from Domestic Violence (PWDV) Act, 2005, which seeks to protect wives facing domestic violence
- Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act 2007, created to protect senior citizens by providing a speedy and inexpensive remedy to secure their interests at an advanced stage of life
The bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, Indu Malhotra and Indira Banerjee analysed both laws and found that Section 3 of the 2007 Act had an overriding effect over any other law. It was this argument that the aged parents of the husband used to obtain an eviction order against their daughter-in-law from their Bengaluru home.
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Now, in their latest order, Supreme Court has come to the rescue of the daughter-in-law and remarked,
Section 3 of the Senior Citizens Act, 2007 cannot be deployed to over-ride and nullify other protections in law particularly that of a woman’s right to a shared household under Section 17 of the PWDV Act 2005.
The bench observed that both pieces of legislation are intended to deal with salutary aspects of public welfare and interest. However, the definition of ‘shared household’ was exhaustive, the bench observed, quoting the October 2020 judgment passed by the top court while dealing with similar facts where the wife was sought to be evicted through a trial court decree by the aged in-laws who owned the house in question.
Justice Chandrachud, writing the judgment for the bench, said,
The law protecting the interest of senior citizens is intended to ensure that they are not left destitute, or at the mercy of their children or relatives. Equally, the purpose of the PWDV Act 2005 cannot be ignored by a sleight of statutory interpretation. Both sets of legislations have to be harmoniously construed.
Preference To Wife Over Aged In-Laws
The bench protected the petitioner wife and ordered that neither the husband nor her in-laws would forcefully try to evict her from her shared household for one year till she avails her remedies under the PWDV Act.
The Court said that in similar situations where a wife obtains relief from a tribunal under the Senior Citizens Act, she shall be duty-bound to inform the Magistrate hearing her case under the PWDV Act.
The bench noted the Legislative scheme of both the legislations. Referring to the provisions of the Senior Citizens Act, the bench said:
The Tribunal under the Senior Citizens Act 2007 may have the authority to order an eviction, if it is necessary and expedient to ensure the maintenance and protection of the senior citizen or parent. Eviction, in other words would be an incident of the enforcement of the right to maintenance and protection.
However, this remedy can be granted only after adverting to the competing claims in the dispute. It is necessary to recapitulate that the situation in the present case is that the eviction was sought of the daughter-in-law, i.e. the appellant.
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Adding further the top court said,
Allowing the Senior Citizens Act 2007 to have an overriding force and effect in all situations, irrespective of competing entitlements of a woman to a right in a shared household within the meaning of the PWDV Act 2005, would defeat the object and purpose which the Parliament sought to achieve in enacting the latter legislation. The law protecting the interest of senior citizens is intended to ensure that they are not left destitute, or at the mercy of their children or relatives. Equally, the purpose of the PWDV Act 2005 cannot be ignored by a sleight of statutory interpretation.
Both sets of legislations have to be harmoniously construed. Hence the right of a woman to secure a residence order in respect of a shared household cannot be defeated by the simple expedient of securing an order of eviction by adopting the summary procedure under the Senior Citizens Act 2007.
Main Divorce Petition Between Couple
In the present case, as the appeal in divorce proceedings between the husband and wife is pending, the Court directed the restoration of electricity connection for non-payment of dues and asked the husband to continue paying the electricity charges. The residential house of the petitioner is situated at Hobli in Bengaluru North.
The order is expected to create further turmoil in a matrimonial home, where top court has enforced warring parties to co-habit under the same roof. When the couple has already been granted a divorce decree by a trial court in 2013, allowing the woman to re-enter into the matrimonial home could have serious dire consequences, if she chooses to misuse several other women centric laws to her advantage.
A woman who is embroiled in a divorce battle with her husband would still have a roof back at her own parents’ home, however, the aged in-laws have virtually no where to go. In most cases, senior citizens suffer in silence – the sufferings are not just mental, but also physical. There are several cases reported where daughters-in-law have aggressively abused the husband’s parents, yet the right of the former to that shared household supersedes as per the latest Supreme Court judgement.
In an objective to appease women and grabbing national/international headlines, every single institution in India has been completely overlooking the ground realities in a matrimonial home today.