Madras HC | Can plea of customary divorce be considered as a valid defence while departmental proceeding for bigamy is initiated? HC considers scope of defence under Service Rules

Madras High Court: RMT. Teeka Raman, J., while addressing a petition observed that,

“A plea of customary divorce is a valid defence in departmental proceedings initiated for the misconduct of bigamy under Service Rules/Conduct Rules.”

The instant petition was sought to set aside the punishment order imposed in proceedings under Rule 3(b) Tamil Nadu Police Subordinate Service (Discipline and Appeal) Rules, 1955.

Petitioner, during his service, married a staff nurse and has two children. Later, in 2007, the petitioner during his service married a Woman Sub Inspector of Police and had two children with her as well.

Grave Misconduct

Petitioner’s grave misconduct was having married Woman Sub Inspector of Police while his first wife was living with two children and thereby violating Rule 23(1)(b) of the Tamil Nadu Subordinate Police Officer’s Conduct Rules, 1964.

Charge Memo

In view of the above-stated act, a charge memo was issued under Rule 3(b) of the Tamil Nadu Police Subordinate Service (D&A) Rules, 1955.

The Oral Enquiry Officer held the charge against the petitioner.

Deputy Inspector General of Police also arrived at the conclusion that the petitioner violated Rule 23(1)(b) of the Tamil Nadu Subordinate Police Officers’ Conduct Rules, 1964 and awarded the petitioner a punishment of “Reduction in rank by the stage from the post of Head Constable to Gr.I PC for a period of two years to be spent on duty from the date of receipt of the order”.

Senior Counsel, Veera Kathiravan submitted that there was a customary divorce between the petitioner and his first wife and subsequently the petitioner married the widow Woman Sub-Inspector of Police and hence he did not violate any rules.

Analysis & Decision

Crux of the charge framed against the petitioner was that the delinquent was reprehensible conduct in having married the Woman Sub-Inspector of Police when his first wife was living and thereby violating the Rule 23(1)(b) of the Tamil Nadu Subordinate Police Officers’ Conduct Rules 1964 and tarnished the image of Police Force.

Hindu Marriage Act

Bench stated that after the coming into force of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, an end to marriage can be sought by either obtaining a declaration that the marriage between them was a nullity on the grounds specified in Section II or to dissolve the marriage between them on any of the grounds mentioned in Section 13 of the Act. While, Section 29 of the Act saves the rights recognized by custom or conferred by special enactment to obtain the dissolution of marriage, whether solemnized before or after the commencement of the Act.

Authorities have established that the prevalence of customary divorce in the community to which parties belong, contrary to the general law of divorce must be specifically pleaded and established by the person propounding such custom.

Core question to be decided in the present matter was whether the plea of customary divorce is a valid defence in the departmental proceedings initiated for action of bigamy as defined in Section 3(b) of the Tamil Nadu Police Rules?

Bench noted the statement of the first wife that due to misunderstandings between the couple, as per the custom prevailing in the community, there was a customary divorce.

Customary Divorce

Hence, the plea raised by the delinquent about the prevalence of customary divorce in their community which was pleaded by the petitioner and the same was accepted by none other than the first wife herself only after the dissolution of the first marriage, he contracted the second marriage.

Court concluded its decision as follows:

  • Disciplinary Proceedings can be initiated even if the second marriage is contracted with the knowledge of the first wife so also even if the first wife does not prosecute the husband for the same and hence the complaint given by the third party alleging contract of the second marriage, departmental proceedings can still be maintainable.
  • A plea of customary divorce is a valid defence in departmental proceedings initiated for the misconduct of bigamy under Service Rules/Conduct Rules.
  • To substantiate plea of customary divorce a specific plea has to be raised in the statement of defence by the delinquent officer and has to be proved on up to the decree of the preponderance of probability and execution of the customary divorce as projected by the delinquent.

Hence, in view of the above, the petition was allowed and the punishment was set aside. [Sudalaimai v. Deputy Inspector General of Police, WP (MD) No. 17504 of 2014, decided on 09-09-2020]

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