In a significant and praiseworthy judgment titled Rajnesh vs Neha in Criminal Appeal No. 730 of 2020 (Arising out of SLP (Crl.) No. 9503 of 2018 delivered as recently as on November 4, 2020, a two Judge Bench of Supreme Court comprising of Justice Indu Malhotra and Justice R Subhash Reddy has issued commendable, cogent and comprehensive guidelines on payment of maintenance in matrimonial matters. The Bench minced no words to hold that maintenance in all cases will be awarded from the date of filing the application for maintenance. There is no reason why these guidelines must not be implemented at the earliest.
To start with, Justice Indu Malhotra who authored this latest, landmark and laudable judgment for herself and Justice R Subhash Reddy first and foremost sets the ball rolling by observing right at the outset that, “The present Criminal Appeal arises out of an application for Interim Maintenance filed in a petition u/S. 125 Cr.P.C. by the Respondent-wife and minor son. The Respondent No.1-wife left the matrimonial home in January 2013, shortly after the birth of the son-Respondent No. 2. On 02.09.2013, the wife filed an application for interim maintenance u/S. 125 Cr.P.C. on behalf of herself and the minor son. The Family Court vide a detailed Order dated 24.08.2015 awarded interim maintenance of Rs. 15,000 per month to the Respondent No.1-wife from 01.09.2013, and Rs. 5,000 per month as interim maintenance for the Respondent No. 2-son from 01.09.2013 to 31.08.2015; and @ Rs. 10,000 per month from 01.09.2015 onwards till further orders were passed in the main petition.”
As it turned out, the Bench then points out that, “The Order of the Family Court vide Criminal Writ Petition No. 875/2015 filed before the Bombay High Court, Nagpur Bench. The High Court dismissed the Writ Petition vide Order dated 14.08.2018 and affirmed the Judgment passed by the Family Court.”
To put things in perspective, the Bench then puts forth that, “The present appeal has been filed to impugn the Order dated 14.08.2018. This Court issued notice to the wife and directed the Appellant-husband to file his Income Tax Returns and Assessment Orders for the period from 2005-2006 till date. He was also directed to place a photocopy of his passport on record. By a further Order dated 11.09.2019, the Appellant-husband was directed to make payment of the arrears of Rs. 2,00,000 towards interim maintenance to the wife; and a further amount of Rs. 3,00,000, which was due and payable to the wife towards arrears of maintenance, as per his own admission. By a subsequent Order dated 14.10.2019, it was recorded that only a part of the arrears had been paid. A final opportunity was granted to the Appellant-husband to make payment of the balance amount by 30.11.2019, failing which, the Court would proceed under the Contempt of Courts Act for willful disobedience with the Orders passed by this Court.”
Quite remarkably, the Bench then after considering everything holds that, “In the facts and circumstances of the case, we order and direct that:
(a) The Judgment and order dated 24.08.2015 passed by the Family Court, Nagpur, affirmed by the Bombay High Court, Nagpur Bench vide Order dated 14.08.2018 for payment of interim maintenance @ Rs. 15,000 p.m. to the Respondent No.1-wife and Rs. 10,000 p.m. to the Respondent No. 2-son, is hereby affirmed by this Court;
(b) The husband is directed to pay the entire arrears of maintenance @ Rs. 15,000 p.m. within a period of 12 weeks from the date of this Judgment, and continue to comply with this Order during the pendency of the proceedings u/S. 125 Cr.P.C. before the Family Court;
(c) If the Appellant-husband fails to comply with the aforesaid directions of this Court, it would be open to the respondents to have the Order enforced u/S. 128 Cr.P.C., and take recourse to all other remedies which are available in accordance with law;
(d) The proceedings for payment of interim maintenance u/S. 125 Cr.P.C. have been pending between the parties for a period of over 7 years now. We deem it appropriate that the Family Court decides the substantive application u/S. 125 Cr.P.C. in Petition No. E-443/2013 finally, in light of the directions/guidelines issued in the present judgment, within a period of 6 months’ from the date of this judgment.
The Registry is directed to forward a complete copy of the pleadings, along with the written submissions filed by the parties, and the record of the proceedings in the present Criminal Appeal, to the Family Court, Nagpur. The present Criminal Appeal is disposed of accordingly.”
While appreciating the difficulties faced by woman in getting maintenance, the Bench then while accepting the framing of guidelines on maintenance then also observes that, “Given the backdrop of the facts of the present case, which reveal that the application for interim maintenance under Section 125 Cr.P.C. has remained pending before the Court for seven years now, and the difficulties encountered in the enforcement of orders passed by the Courts, as the wife was constrained to move successive applications for enforcement from time to time, we deem it appropriate to frame guidelines on the issue of maintenance, which would cover overlapping jurisdiction under different enactments for payment of maintenance, payment of Interim Maintenance, the criteria for determining the quantum of maintenance, the date from which maintenance is to be awarded, and enforcement of orders of maintenance.”
Most remarkably, the Bench while dwelling on the final directions on maintenance to wife holds that, “In view of the foregoing discussion as contained in Part B – I to V of this judgment, we deem it appropriate to pass the following directions in exercise of our powers under Article 142 of the Constitution of India.
(a)Issue of overlapping jurisdiction
To overcome the issue of overlapping jurisdiction, and avoid conflicting orders being passed in different proceedings, it has become necessary to issue directions in this regard, so that there is uniformity in the practice followed by the Family Courts/District Courts/Magistrate Courts throughout the country. We direct that:
(i) where successive claims for maintenance are made by a party under different statutes, the Court would consider an adjustment or set off, of the amount awarded in the previous proceeding/s, while determining whether any further amount is to be awarded in the subsequent proceeding;
(ii) it is made mandatory for the applicant to disclose the previous proceeding and the orders passed therein, in the subsequent proceeding;
(iii) if the order passed in the previous proceeding/s requires any modification or variation, it would be required to be done in the same proceeding.
(b) Payment of Interim Maintenance
The Affidavit of Disclosure of Assets and Liabilities annexed as Enclosures I, II and III of this judgment, as may be applicable, shall be filed by both parties in all maintenance proceedings before the concerned Family Court/District Court/Magistrates Court, as the case may be, throughout the country.
(c) Criteria for determining the quantum of maintenance
For determining the quantum of maintenance payable to an applicant, the Court shall take into account the criteria enumerated in Part B – III of the judgment.
The aforesaid factors are however not exhaustive, and the concerned Court may exercise its discretion to consider any other factor/s which may be necessary or of relevance in the facts and circumstances of a case.
(d) Date from which maintenance is to be awarded
We make it clear that maintenance in all cases will be awarded from the date of filing the application for maintenance, as held in Part B – IV above.
(e)Enforcement/Execution of orders of maintenance
For enforcement/execution of orders of maintenance, it is directed that an order or decree of maintenance may be enforced under Section 28A of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1956; Section 20(6) of the D.V. Act; and Section 128 of the Cr.P.C., as may be applicable. The order of maintenance may be enforced as a money decree of a civil court as per the provisions of the CPC, more particularly Sections 51, 55, 58, 60 r.w. Order XXI.”
Finally, it is then held by the Bench that, “Before we part with this judgment, we note our appreciation of the valuable assistance provided by the Ld. Amici Curiae Ms. Anitha Shenoy and Mr. Gopal Sankaranarayanan, Senior Advocates in this case. A copy of this judgment shall be communicated by the Secretary General of this Court, to the Registrars of all High Courts, who would in turn circulate it to all the District Courts in the States. It shall be displayed on the website of all District Courts/Family Courts/Courts of Judicial Magistrates for awareness and implementation.”
To conclude, the two Judge Bench of the Apex Court comprising of Justice Indu Malhotra and Justice R Subhash Reddy issued detailed and historic guidelines on payment of maintenance in matrimonial matters as stated above. It is rightly acknowledged in this latest, landmark and laudable judgment that, “Maintenance laws have been enacted as a measure of social justice to provide recourse to dependant wives and children for their financial support, so as to prevent them from falling into destitution and vagrancy.” There can be no denying it!