Delhi High Court

Delhi High Court: An appeal was filed under Section 19 of the Family Courts Act, 1984 was filed on behalf of the appellant/husband against the order dated 30-09-2022 vide which the appellant/husband has been directed to be taken into custody for civil imprisonment on account of non-payment of arrears of maintenance awarded under Section 24 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 in the execution petition. A division bench of Suresh Kumar Kait and Neena Bansal Krishna, JJ., sets aside the impugned order of detention of the appellant/husband sentencing him to undergo civil imprisonment for another period of three months in compliance of the maintenance decree for not being justified.

The case in question revolves around a dispute concerning the enforcement of a maintenance decree under Section 24 of the Hindu Marriage Act (HMA). The appellant (husband), was ordered by the Court to provide maintenance to the respondent (wife), called the decree-holder. Despite the Court’s order, the appellant failed to comply with the maintenance decree, leading to legal proceedings initiated by the decree-holder. Following the appellant’s repeated defaults in payment of maintenance, the decree-holder filed multiple execution petitions seeking the enforcement of the maintenance decree. These petitions were filed periodically as the maintenance payments accrued over time. However, despite the decree holder’s efforts to enforce the decree through the legal process, the appellant continued to default on the payments, leading to further legal action.

During the legal proceedings, the appellant raised several arguments challenging the repeated enforcement of the maintenance decree through civil imprisonment. The appellant contended that under Section 58(1) of the Civil Procedure Code (CPC), civil imprisonment could not exceed three months for non-payment of a sum exceeding Rs. 5,000. Additionally, the appellant argued that re-arrest under the same decree was prohibited under Section 58(2) of the CPC. The appellant also disputed the characterization of the maintenance decree as a composite decree, which would allow for repeated arrests and re-commitments.

The Court meticulously examined the provisions of the CPC governing civil imprisonment in execution of decrees, particularly focusing on Section 58. The Court analyzed the language and intent behind these provisions, considering previous case law and legal interpretations. Furthermore, the Court scrutinized the nature of maintenance decrees and their enforcement under the law. Through detailed analysis, the Court aimed to arrive at a reasoned understanding of the legal framework governing civil imprisonment in cases of non-compliance with maintenance decrees. The Court emphasized that re-arrests and re-commitments under the same decree were not permissible under the law. Additionally, the Court clarified the distinction between civil and criminal procedures regarding the enforcement of maintenance decrees.

The Court remarked that “it is the total period in civil prison in execution of the decree in the same suit, cannot exceed three months. Though the decree may be executed in instalments as in the case of maintenance orders, but the decree/order being only one, arrest can be made as prescribed, for a maximum period of three months. Though the execution petition may be filed for realization of the maintenance that may become due sometimes, that would not give a right to seek further imprisonment beyond the maximum period as prescribed by Section 58(2) of the CPC. A person who has already having been sent to civil imprisonment for a period of three months, cannot be sent to civil prison again in execution of the same decree for a second time. Further, merely because the judgement debtor had been detained in civil prison for the full term of three months as provided under Section 58(2) of the CPC, his debt cannot be said to be discharged, which can still be recovered through other means as provided in the section.”

The Court further remarked that “From the bare perusal of Section 125(3) CrPC, it is evident that for default of every month in payment of maintenance, the defaulter can be sent to one month imprisonment. Therefore, for every month, the defaulter is liable to be sent to one month imprisonment. The stark distinction between execution proceedings for an Order under Section 125 CrPC and Section 24 Hindu Marriage Act, is evident from the language used in the relevant sections. The present Order being under Section 24 Hindu Marriage Act, the Execution Petition is governed by the provisions of CPC, 1908 which does not provide for re-arrest once the person has undergone the maximum period of three months of civil imprisonment.”

The Court held that civil imprisonment for non-payment of maintenance under the same decree could not exceed three months in total. Consequently, the Court set aside the impugned order for further civil imprisonment, ruling in favor of the appellant.

[Mohiet Anand v. Parul Anand, 2024 SCC OnLine Del 1968, decided on 01-02-2024]

Advocates who appeared in this case :

Mr. Parnjay Chopra, Advocate for appellant

Mr. Y.K. Singh & Mr. Pranaynath Jha, Advocates with respondent in person

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