Wife Entitled To Claim Right Of Residence Which Belongs To Relatives Of Husband Also: SC While Overruling Its 2006 ‘SR Batra’ Judgment

In a well-written, well-balanced, well-analysed, well-articulated and well-reasoned judgment under the Domestic Violence Act, a three Judge Bench of the Apex Court comprising of Justices Ashok Bhushan, R Subhash Reddy and MR Shah have ruled in no uncertain terms that wife can’t be thrown out of house. In this commendable, courageous and conscious judgment titled Satish Chander Ahuja vs. Sneha Ahuja in Civil Appeal No. 2483 of 2020 (Arising out of SLP (C) No. 1048 of 2020) delivered on October 15, 2020, the Apex Court has clearly, convincingly and commendably ruled that a wife is also entitled to claim a right to residence in a shared household belonging to relatives of the husband. We thus see that the Apex Court in this path breaking, progressive judgment has overruled its 2006 judgment in SR Batra vs Smt Taruna Batra in Appeal (Civil) 5837 of 2006 and has clearly espoused that a wife has right to residence even if house not owned by spouse.

First and foremost, it is clarified in para 2 of this notable judgment authored by Justice Ashok Bhushan for himself, Justice R Subhash Reddy and Justice MR Shah that, “This appeal raises important questions of law pertaining to the interpretation and working of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 (hereinafter referred to as “Act, 2005”).”

While outlining the proceedings of the case, it is then observed in para 3 that, “This appeal has been filed by Satish Chander Ahuja, the plaintiff questioning the judgment of Delhi High Court dated 18.12.2019 in RFA No. 381/2019 by which judgment Delhi High Court has set aside the decree granted in favour of the plaintiff dated 08.04.2019 under Order XII Rule 6 of Civil Procedure Code, decreeing the suit filed by the plaintiff for mandatory and permanent injunction. The High Court after setting aside the decree of the Trial Court has remanded the matter back to the Trial Court for fresh adjudication in accordance with the directions given by the High Court. The plaintiff aggrieved by the judgment of the High Court has come up in this appeal.”

While outlining the brief facts of the case, it is then enjoined upon in para 5 that, “The appellant by deed dated 12.01.1993 purchased property bearing No. D-1077, New Friends Colony, New Delhi. The son of the appellant, Raveen Ahuja was married to the respondent Sneha Ahuja on 04.03.1995. After marriage the respondent started living in the first floor of the house No. D-1077, Friends Colony, New Delhi along with her husband. There being marital discord between Raveen and Sneha, in July, 2014, Raveen moved out of the first floor and started staying in the guest room of the ground floor. In the year 2004 a separate kitchen was started by the respondent in the first floor of the house. Raveen, the husband of the respondent filed a Divorce Petition on 28.11.2014 under Section 13(1)(ia) and (iii) of Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 for decree of divorce on the ground of cruelty against the respondent, Sneha Ahuja which proceeding is said to be still pending. The respondent, Sneha Ahuja, on 20.11.2015, i.e., after filing of the Divorce Petition, filed an application under Section 12 of Act, 2005 impleading Raveen Ahuja as respondent No. 1, Shri Satish Ahuja, respondent No. 2 and Dr. Prem Kanta Ahuja (mother-in-law of the respondent), respondent No. 3. In the complaint it was alleged that Sneha Ahuja has been subjected to severe emotional and mental abuse by the respondents. In the application respondent prayed for several orders under Act, 2005. The learned Chief Metropolitan Magistrate before whom the complaint was filed passed an interim order on 26.11.2016 to the following effect:

“The respondents shall not alienate the alleged shared household nor would they dispossess the complainant or their children from the same without Orders of a Competent Court. These directions shall continue till next date.””

Without mincing any words, the Bench then concedes very rightly in para 29 that, “The progress of any society depends on its ability to protect and promote the rights of its women. Guaranteeing equal rights and privileges to women by the Constitution of India had marked the step towards the transformation of the status of the women in this country.”

In a similar vein, the Bench then while also expressing its serious concern on domestic violence faced by women also concedes in para 30 that, “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. This non-retaliation by women coupled with the absence of laws addressing women’s issues, ignorance of the existing laws enacted for women and societal attitude makes the women vulnerable. The reason why most cases of domestic violence are never reported is due to the social stigma of the society and the attitude of the women themselves, where women are expected to be subservient, not just to their male counterparts but also to the male’s relatives.”

It is worth noting that para 37 very rightly mentions that, “The right of occupation of matrimonial home, which was not so far part of the statutory law in India came to be included in Act, 2005. Need of such legislation as noticed by Justice Sabyasachi Mukharji has been fulfilled by enactment of Act, 2005.”

As a corollary, it is then further very rightly mentioned in para 40 that, “Enactment of Act, 2005 is another step in the same direction. This Court in Manmohan Attavar Vs. Neelam Manmohan Attavar, (2017) 8 SCC 550 noticed that Act, 2005 has been enacted to create an entitlement in favour of the women of the right of residence. In paragraph 15, following was observed:-

“15. A reading of the aforesaid provisions shows that it creates an entitlement in favour of the woman of the right of residence under the “shared household” irrespective of her having any legal interests in the same. The direction, inter alia, can include an order restraining dispossession or a direction to remove himself on being satisfied that domestic violence had taken place.”

More significantly, it is then enunciated in para 82 that, “Now, coming back again to the facts of the present case, there being specific pleading on behalf of the respondent that the house, which is in the name of the appellant is the matrimonial home of the respondent where she was residing in first floor since her marriage. The fact that respondent is residing in first floor of the premises is not matter of dispute. Even if the house is in the name of the appellant and that even if we accept the case of the appellant that appellant’s son Raveen has no share in the house belonging to appellant, with whom the respondent was living in the domestic relationship, whether the respondent is entitled to reside in the premises in question as shared household is the question to be answered. In the impugned judgment, Delhi High Court has refrained from deciding the point as to whether suit property is a shared household on the ground that the application filed under Section 12 of Act, 2005 by the respondent is pending. In the suit filed by the appellant where respondent has pleaded and claimed that it is shared household and she has right to live and it was on that ground she was resisting the suit for mandatory injunction, the question that whether the suit property is a shared household or not becomes relevant and necessary and the said issue cannot be skipped on the ground that application under D.V. Act is pending. In the regular suit, which has been filed by the appellant, the plea of defendant that suit property is her shared household and she has right to residence could have been very well gone into by virtue of Section 26, which we shall further deal a little later.”

Be it noted, the key point that is then envisaged in para 93 that, “As per Section 26, any relief available under Sections 18, 19, 20, 21 and 22 of the Act, 2005 may also be sought in any legal proceeding, before a civil court, family court or a criminal court being the aggrieved person. Thus, the defendant is entitled to claim relief under Section 19 in suit, which has been filed by the plaintiff. Section 26 empowers the aggrieved person to claim above relief in Civil Courts also. In the present suit, it was defence of the defendant that the house being the shared household, she is entitled to reside in the house as per Section 17(1) of Act, 2005.”

It would be very pertinent to mention here that para 134 then aptly states that, “However, at the same time, it is to be observed that in a case any relief available under Sections 18, 19, 20, 21 and 22 is sought by aggrieved person in any legal proceedings before a civil court, family court or a criminal court including the residence order, the aggrieved person has to satisfy by leading evidence that domestic violence has taken place and only on the basis of the evidence led on being satisfied that the domestic violence has taken place, the relief available under Section 19 can be granted as Section 19(1) specifically 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 the residence order.”

No doubt, all the gainful discussion aforesaid make it amply clear that a wife is also entitled to claim a right to residence in a shared household belonging to  either the husband or the relatives of the husband where he stays. This latest, landmark and laudable judgment thus overrules explicitly what the Apex Court ruled in 2006 in case of SR Batra vs Smt Taruna Batra in Appeal (Civil) 5837 of 2006 as has been already mentioned above. There can be no denying or disputing it!

Sanjeev Sirohi

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