Gauhati High Court: Rumi Kumar Phukan, J. allowed a criminal petition filed against the order of the trial court whereby the petitioner-husband was directed to hand over the custody of the minor daughter to the respondent-wife.
The parties were married to each other and a daughter was born to them — presently around 3 years old. After the birth of the daughter, the respondent developed physical ailments for which she had to undergo treatment at various places. It was an admitted fact that presently the parties were residing separately and the respondent was staying at her paternal home. The daughter resided with the father. In January 2019, the respondent was admitted to a hospital and requested the petitioner to bring the daughter to see her. The petitioner did accordingly. However, on the very next day, the respondent went to the petitioner’s house to bring back the daughter with her. She also filed a petition under Section 97 (search for persons wrongfully confined) CrPC, stating that under Section 6 of the Hindu Minority Act, she was the natural guardian of the child and therefore she should be given her custody. The trial court ordered that the custody of the daughter be handed over to the respondent. The said order was affirmed by the Sessions Judge in revision. Aggrieved thus, the petitioner filed the present petition.
A.M. Bora, Advocate made submissions on behalf of the petitioner. While the respondent was represented by Dr B.U. Ahmed, Advocate.
In hIgh Court’s opinion, for invoking the special provision of Section 97, it was to be seen whether the child had been wrongfully confined by the petitioner. In addition to the above facts, it was noted that the child was wrongfully left by the respondent in the custody of the petitioner because of her ill health since 2017. In such circumstances, it could in no way be stated as confinement. It was observed: “… strangely, the learned court treated the matter as if dealing with the custody of the child and gave the custody of the child to the respondent/wife which is beyond the jurisdiction of Section 97 CrPC. The provision of custody of the child can be decided under Section 25 of the Guardian and Wards Act and the same cannot be adjudicated in the petition under Section 97 of the Code. The only question which is to be decided while passing any such order by a court that there was certain wrongful confinement of a person while initiating the proceeding. As has been discussed above, no matter of wrongful confinement has been made out as against the petitioner, who is the natural guardian/father of the child.”
In such view of the matter, it was held that the impugned orders were passed without jurisdiction and were therefore quashed.[Sanjeev Kumar Singh v. O. Mema Devi, 2019 SCC OnLine Gau 2874, decided on 16-07-2019]