Case BriefsSupreme Court

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.

Background

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.”

Conclusion

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

Case BriefsSupreme Court

“The domestic violence in this country is rampant and several women encounter violence in some form or the other or almost every day, however, it is the least reported form of cruel behavior. A woman resigns her fate to the never-ending cycle of enduring violence and discrimination as a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother, a partner or a single woman in her lifetime.”

Supreme Court: Answering important question pertaining to the interpretation and working of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 (DV Act) in relation to right of residence in the shared household, the 3-judge bench of Ashok Bhushan, R. Subhash Reddy and MR Shah, JJ has held that

“The living of woman in a household has to refer to a living which has some permanency. Mere fleeting or casual living at different places shall not make a shared household.”

In the judgment running into over 150 pages, the Court elaborately discussed and interpreted the provisions and scheme of DV Act. Overruling the law laid down in SR Batra v. Taruna Batra, (2007) 3 SCC 169, the Court held that respondent in a proceeding under Domestic Violence Act can be any relative of the husband and in event, the shared household belongs to any relative of the husband with whom in a domestic relationship the woman has lived, the conditions mentioned in Section 2(s) are satisfied and the said house will become a shared household.

In SR Batra v. Taruna Batra, (2007) 3 SCC 169, a two judge-bench had held that where it was held that the wife is entitled only to claim a right under Section 17(1) to residence in a shared household and a shared household would only mean the house belonging to or taken on rent by the husband, or the house which belongs to the joint family of which the husband is a member.


KEY TAKEAWAYS FROM THE JUDGMENT


WHAT IS A SHARED HOUSEHOLD?

“Means and includes”

The definition of shared household in Section 2(s) of the DV Act is an exhaustive definition. The first part of definition begins with expression “means” which is undoubtedly an exhaustive definition and second part of definition, which begins with word “includes” is explanatory of what was meant by the definition.

The use of both the expressions “means and includes” in Section 2(s) of Act, 2005, thus, clearly indicate the legislative intent that the definition is exhaustive and shall cover only those which fall within the purview of definition and no other.

Conditions to be fulfilled for a shared household

(i) person aggrieved lives or at any stage has lived in a domestic relationship.

(ii) (a) includes such a household whether owned or tenanted either jointly by the aggrieved person and the respondent and owned or tenanted by either of them in respect of which either the aggrieved person or the respondent or both jointly or singly have any right, title, interest or equity and

(b)includes such a household which may belong to the joint family of which the respondent is a member, irrespective of whether the respondent or the aggrieved person has any right, title or interest in the shared household.

“At any stage has lived”

The use of the expression “at any stage has lived” immediately after words “person aggrieved lives” has been used to protect the women from denying the benefit of right to live in a shared household on the ground that on the date when application is filed, she was excluded from possession of the house or temporarily absent.

The shared household is contemplated to be the household, which is a dwelling place of aggrieved person in present time.

“… shared household referred to in Section 2(s) is the shared household of aggrieved person where she was living at the time when application was filed or in the recent past had been excluded from the use or she is temporarily absent. .”

Further, Section 2(s) read with Sections 17 and 19 of Act, 2005 grants an entitlement in favour of the woman of the right of residence under the shared household irrespective of her having any legal interest in the same or not.

Hence, the words “lives or at any stage has lived in a domestic relationship” have to be given its normal and purposeful meaning. The living of woman in a household has to refer to a living which has some permanency. Mere fleeting or casual living at different places shall not make a shared household. The intention of the parties and the nature of living including the nature of household have to be looked into to find out as to whether the parties intended to treat the premises as shared household or not.

IS RIGHT TO RESIDENCE UNDER SECTION 19 AN INDEFEASIBLE RIGHT?

The right to residence under Section 19 is not an indefeasible right of residence in shared household especially when the daughter-in-law is pitted against aged father-in-law and mother-in-law. The senior citizens in the evening of their life are also entitled to live peacefully not haunted by marital discord between their son and daughter-in-law.

“While granting relief both in application under Section 12 of Act, 2005 or in any civil proceedings, the Court has to balance the rights of both the parties.”

WHO CAN BE A RESPONDENT?

There are two conditions for a person to be treated to be respondent within the meaning of Section 2(q), i.e.,

  • in a domestic relationship with the aggrieved person, and
  • against whom the aggrieved person has sought any relief under Act, 2005.

For the purposes of determination of right of defendant under Sections 17 and 19 read with Section 26 in the suit in question the plaintiff can be treated as “respondent”, but for the grant of any relief to the defendant or for successful resisting the suit of the plaintiff necessary conditions for grant of relief as prescribed under the Act, 2005 has to be pleaded and proved by the defendant, only then the relief can be granted by the Civil Court to the defendant. Hence,

“To treat a person as the “respondent” for purposes of Section 2(q) it has to be proved that person arrayed as respondent has committed an act of domestic violence on the aggrieved person.”

NOTE: The Court in Hiral P. Harsora v. Kusum Narottamdas Harsora, (2016) 10 SCC 165, where the Court has struck down the expression “adult male” from the expression “any adult male person” and held that restricting the meaning of respondent in Section 2(q) to only “adult male person” is not based on any intelligible differentia having rational nexus with object sought to be achieved. Hence, it is now permissible under definition of Section 2(q) to include females also. [Read the full report on the 2016 verdict here]

IS THERE ANY EXCEPTION TO THE RIGHT TO RESIDE IN SHARED HOUSEHOLD?

The expression “save in accordance with the procedure established by law”, in Section 17(2) of the Act, 2005 contemplates the proceedings in court of competent jurisdiction. Thus, the provision itself contemplates adopting of any procedure established by law by the respondent for eviction or exclusion of the aggrieved person from the shared household.

“In appropriate case, the competent court can decide the claim in a properly instituted suit by the owner as to whether the women need to be excluded or evicted from the shared household.”

For example, when the aggrieved person is provided same level of alternate accommodation or payment of rent as contemplated by Section 19 sub-section (f) itself.

Further, the embargo under Section 17(2) of Act, 2005 of not to be evicted or excluded save in accordance with the procedure established by law operates only against the “respondent”, i.e., one who is respondent within the meaning of Section 2(q) of Act, 2005.

CAN AN ORDER UNDER SECTION 19(1)(b) BE PASSED AGAINST A WOMAN?

Section 19 (1)(b) of DV Act provides that while disposing of an application under sub‑section (1) of section 12, the Magistrate may, on being satisfied that domestic violence has taken place, pass a residence order directing the respondent to remove himself from the shared household.

The Court held that while passing the order of residence under Section 19, more particularly under sub-section 19(1)(b) as per the proviso to Section 19(1), no order under clause(b) shall be passed against any person who is a woman.

ARE PROCEEDINGS UNDER THE DV ACT AND PROCEEDINGS BEFORE A CIVIL COURT, FAMILY COURT OR A CRIMINAL COURT, AS MENTIONED IN SECTION 26 OF THE DV ACT INDEPENDENT PROCEEDINGS?

The proceedings under the D.V. Act and proceedings before a civil court, family court or a criminal court, as mentioned in Section 26 of the D.V. Act are independent proceedings, like the proceedings under Section 125 of the Cr. P.C. for maintenance before the Magistrate and/or family court and the proceedings for maintenance before a civil court/family court for the reliefs under the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act. However, the findings/orders passed by the one forum has to be considered by another forum.

CONCLUSION

  • The pendency of proceedings under Act, 2005 or any order interim or final passed under D.V. Act under Section 19 regarding right of residence is not an embargo for initiating or continuing any civil proceedings, which relate to the subject matter of order interim or final passed in proceedings under D.V. Act, 2005.
  • The judgment or order of criminal court granting an interim or final relief under Section 19 of D.V. Act, 2005 are relevant within the meaning of Section 43 of the Evidence Act and can be referred to and looked into by the civil court.
  • A civil court is to determine the issues in civil proceedings on the basis of evidence, which has been led by the parties before the civil court.

[Satish Chander Ahuja v. Sneha Ahuja, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 841, decided on 15.10.2020]