Supreme Court: In a bid to harmonise the competing reliefs of a daughter-in-law and her in-laws under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005 and the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007, respectively, the 3-judge bench of Dr. DY Chandrachud*, Indu Malhotra and Indira Banerjee, JJ has held that 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, however, the over-riding effect for remedies sought under the Senior Citizens Act 2007, cannot be interpreted to preclude all other competing remedies and protections that are sought to be conferred by the DV Act 2005.
The spouse of the appellant purchased a property in his own name a few months before the marriage but subsequently sold it, after a few years, under a registered sale deed at the same price to his father (the father-in-law of the appellant), who in turn gifted it to his spouse i.e. the mother-in-law of the appellant after divorce proceedings were instituted by the Fourth respondent. Parallel to this, the appellant had instituted proceedings of dowry harassment against her mother-in-law and her estranged spouse; and her spouse had instituted divorce proceedings. The appellant had also filed proceedings for maintenance against the Fourth respondent and the divorce proceedings are pending. It is subsequent to these events, that the parents-in-law instituted an application under the Senior Citizens Act 2007 seeking their daughter-in-laws’s eviction from the residential house.
The appellant had asserted that she had been living in the house, as her matrimonial residence, until the application was filed. According to her, her spouse has deserted her and their minor daughter and left them in the lurch. The electricity to the premises was disconnected for non-payment of dues. She claimed that the proceedings have been utilised to secure the eviction of the appellant so as to deny her claim of a right to reside in the shared household under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005.
Harmonising competing reliefs under the DV Act 2005 and Senior Citizens Act 2007
Section 36 of the DV Act 2005 stipulates that the provisions of the Act shall be in addition to, and not in derogation of, the provisions of any other law for the time being in force. This is intended to ensure that the remedies provided under the enactment are in addition to other remedies and do not displace them. The Senior Citizens Act 2007 is undoubtedly a later Act and Section 3 stipulates that its provisions will have effect, notwithstanding anything inconsistent contained in any other enactment. However, the provisions of Section 3 of the Senior Citizens Act 2007 giving it overriding force and effect, would not by themselves be conclusive of an intent to deprive a woman who claims a right in a shared household, as under the DV Act 2005.
“Principles of statutory interpretation dictate that in the event of two special acts containing non obstante clauses, the later law shall typically prevail.”
The Senior Citizen’s Act 2007 contains a non obstante clause. However, in the event of a conflict between special acts, the dominant purpose of both statutes would have to be analyzed to ascertain which one should prevail over the other. The primary effort of the interpreter must be to harmonize, not excise. Hence, Section 36 of the DV Act 2005, albeit not in the nature of a non obstante clause, has to be construed harmoniously with the non obstante clause in Section 3 of the Senior Citizens Act 2007 that operates in a separate field.
In this case, both pieces of legislation are intended to deal with salutary aspects of public welfare and interest. The DV Act 2005 was intended to deal with the problems of domestic violence which, as the Statements of Objects and Reasons sets out, “is widely prevalent but has remained largely invisible in the public domain”. The Statements of Objects and Reasons indicates that while Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code created a penal offence out of a woman’s subjection to cruelty by her husband or relative, the civil law did not address its phenomenon in its entirety. Hence, consistent with the provisions of Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the Constitution, Parliament enacted a legislation which would “provide for a remedy under the civil law which is intended to protect the woman from being victims of domestic violence and to prevent the occurrence of domestic violence in the society”.
A significant object of the legislation is to provide for and recognize the rights of women to secure housing and to recognize the right of a woman to reside in a matrimonial home or a shared household, whether or not she has any title or right in the shared household.
“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 DV 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 DV 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.”
Role of Tribunals constituted under Senior Citizens Act 2007
Senior Citizens Act 2007 was promulgated with a view to provide a speedy and inexpensive remedy to senior citizens. Accordingly, Tribunals were constituted under Section 7. These Tribunals have the power to conduct summary procedures for inquiry, with all powers of the Civil Courts, under Section 8. The jurisdiction of the Civil Courts has been explicitly barred under Section 27 of the Senior Citizens Act 2007.
“However, the over-riding effect for remedies sought by the applicants under the Senior Citizens Act 2007 under Section 3, cannot be interpreted to preclude all other competing remedies and protections that are sought to be conferred by the DV Act 2005. The DV Act 2005 is also in the nature of a special legislation, that is enacted with the purpose of correcting gender discrimination that pans out in the form of social and economic inequities in a largely patriarchal society. In deference to the dominant purpose of both the legislations, it would be appropriate for a Tribunal under the Senior Citizens Act, 2007 to grant such remedies of maintenance, as envisaged under S.2(b) of the Senior Citizens Act 2007 that do not result in obviating competing remedies under other special statutes, such as the DV Act 2005.”
Section 26 of the DV Act empowers certain reliefs, including relief for a residence order, to be obtained from any civil court in any legal proceedings. Therefore, in the event that a composite dispute is alleged, such as in the present case where the suit premises are a site of contestation between two groups protected by the law, it would be appropriate for the Tribunal constituted under the Senior Citizens Act 2007 to appropriately mould reliefs, after noticing the competing claims of the parties claiming under the DV Act 2005 and Senior Citizens Act 2007.
Duty of “aggrieved woman” under DV Act
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 DV Act 2005. In the event that the “aggrieved woman” obtains a relief from a Tribunal constituted under the Senior Citizens Act 2007, she shall be duty-bound to inform the Magistrate under the DV Act 2005, as per Sub-section (3) of Section 26 of the DV Act 2005. This course of action would ensure that the common intent of the Senior Citizens Act 2007 and the DV Act 2005- of ensuring speedy relief to its protected groups who are both vulnerable members of the society, is effectively realized.
Decision on facts
“A shared household would have to be interpreted to include the residence where the appellant had been jointly residing with her husband. Merely because the ownership of the property has been subsequently transferred to her in-laws or that her estranged spouse is now residing separately, is no ground to deprive the appellant of the protection that was envisaged under the DV Act 2005.”
On construing the provisions of sub-Section (2) of section 23 of the Senior Citizen Act 2007, it is evident that it applies to a situation where a senior citizen has a right to receive maintenance out of an estate and such estate or part thereof is transferred. On the other hand, the appellant’s simple plea is that the suit premises constitute her “shared household‟ within the meaning of Section 2(s) of the DV Act 2005.
Considering the series of transactions which took place in respect of the property, the Court noticed that the fact that specific proceedings under the DV Act 2005 had not been instituted when the application under the Senior Citizens Act, 2007 was filed, should not lead to a situation where the enforcement of an order of eviction deprives her from pursuing her claim of entitlement under the law.
“The inability of a woman to access judicial remedies may, as this case exemplifies, be a consequence of destitution, ignorance or lack of resources. Even otherwise, we are clearly of the view that recourse to the summary procedure contemplated by the Senior Citizen Act 2007 was not available for the purpose of facilitating strategies that are designed to defeat the claim of the appellant in respect of a shared household.”
The Court, hence, concluded that the claim of the appellant that the premises constitute a shared household within the meaning of the DV Act 2005 would have to be determined by the appropriate forum. The in-laws i.e. the Second and Third Respondents will be at liberty to make a subsequent application under Section 10 of the Senior Citizens Act 2007 for alteration of the maintenance allowance, before the appropriate forum.
The Court left it open to the appellant to pursue her remedies under the DV Act 2005. For that purpose, it would be open to the appellant to seek the help of the District Legal Services Authorities and if the appellant does so, all necessary aid and assistance shall be furnished to her in pursuing her legal remedies and rights. Further, in order to enable the appellant to pursue her remedies under the DV Act 2005, there shall be an order and direction restraining the respondents from forcibly dispossessing the appellant, disposing of the premises or from creating any right, title and interest in favor of any third party in any manner whatsoever for a period of one year, to enable the appellant to pursue her remedies in accordance with law. The appellant is at liberty to move the Court to espouse her remedies under the DV Act 2005 for appropriate orders, including interim protections.
[S. Vanitha v. Deputy Commissioner, Bengaluru Urban District, Civil Appeal No. 3822 of 2020, decided on 16.12.2020]
*Justice Dr. DY Chandrachud has penned this judgment. Read more about him here.
For Appellant: Advocate Yatish Mohan
For Respondents: Advocate Rajesh Mahale