Gauhati High Court: Soumitra Saikia, J., observed that
“..a valid decree of divorce by itself is no ground to deny the maintenance to a divorced wife.”
The criminal petition filed under Section 482 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 sought the quashment of the Judgment and Order.
Wife/OP had filed an application under Section 125 CrPC claiming maintenance from the petitioner/husband @ Rs 5000 per month, later the husband filed a petition seeking to reduce the maintenance allowance stating that there was a substantial loss of income and was facing financial hardship.
In the meanwhile, the divorce case was decreed in favour of the husband. By the said judgment, the marriage was dissolved by decree of divorce under Section 13(1)(i–a) and (i)(b) of the Hindu Marriage Act.
Later, the husband’s petition seeking to reduce the maintenance allowance was allowed. The wife again preferred the revision petition stating that she decree of divorce would not automatically disentitle the wife from getting maintenance and the said revision petition was allowed by setting aside by remanding the matter back to the Judicial Magistrate Court.
Being aggrieved with the above, the husband filed the present criminal petition.
Analysis and Decision
On perusal of Section 125 and 127 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973, it revealed that legislature engrafted the said provisions for the benefit of the wife, a child and the parents of any person of any in order prevent them from becoming destitute.
In the instant matter, the concern is with regard to the maintenance in respect of a divorced wife.
“…true purport of the provisions of Section 125 is to ensure that in the event the husband fails to provide for adequate sustenance on an application made before the Magistrate, the sections empower the Magistrate to order the husband to provide for adequate maintenance for the benefit of the wife so as to prevent the wife from being reduced to a destitute or be compelled to live a life of beggary.”
Supreme Court consistently has held that a divorced wife would also be included in the definition of a wife as it defined under Section 125 CrPC.
“…responsibility of the husband towards a wife will not cease merely because a decree of divorce has been passed severing the marriage between the husband the wife.”
Decisions referred by the Court:
Rohtash Singh v. Ramendri, (2000) 3 SCC 180; Manoj Kumar v. Champa Devi,(2018) 12 SCC 748, Swapan Kumar Banerjee v. State of West Bengal, (2019) 4 SCC 146.
Court upon perusal of the Supreme Court decisions stated that it is evident that Section 125 CrPC being beneficial legislation to provide for protection to the wife, a mere divorce between the husband and wife will not preclude the “divorced wife” from claiming and/or availing of the benefits available to a wife under Section 125 CrPC.
The husband cannot absolve his responsibility to maintain and to provide for the adequate maintenance to the wife unless there are evidences to support that the wife is no longer required to be maintained in view of certain changed circumstances.
Bench also added that the claim for maintenance of a divorced wife can only be defeated either on the ground that she has remarried or that she is able to maintain herself.
“…a ‘divorce’ does not change the status of a wife in the context of Section 125 CrPC.”
“…power under Section 127(2) CrPC, can only be invoked by a magistrate for cancellation of maintenance granted earlier only when there are changed circumstances after grant of such maintenance under Section 125.”
In the instant matter, there was no change of circumstances, which required the magistrate to invoke its powers under Section 127(2) for cancellation of the order directing payment of maintenance.
High Court directed the trial court to decide the matter afresh. [Bijoy Seal v. Sefali Seal, 2020 SCC OnLine Gau 4024, decided on 30-09-2020]
Advocates who appeared before the Court:
Advocate for the Petitioner: P J SAIKIA
Advocate for the Respondent: K KALITA