Monday, 2 September 2019

Whether father in law is primarily liable to pay maintenance to widowed daughter in law?

 Arguments of learned Counsel for the Appellant that father of Respondent-wife should be shown not able to support her & burden to prove such inability is/was upon her; is, therefore, misconceived. If said aspect is relevant, the burden squarely lay on the Appellant himself. It may become relevant only if as a matter of fact, she is already receiving any support from her father or then, even from some other source. The fact that her father is well placed and can easily support his widowed daughter, is also not material in these proceedings when such daughter claims maintenance from her father-in-law as a widowed daughter-in-law. As stated above, the respondent was entitled to maintenance from the estate of her husband. The appellant himself being in custody of the estate of Narendra, the question of the respondent seeking maintenance from her father or mother does not arise. If the respondent can be granted maintenance from the estate of her husband, then it is not necessary for her to claim maintenance from her father or mother. In this view of the matter, the order of the learned Judge of the Family Court dated 1-3-2012 rejecting the application below Exh. 46 that was moved by the appellant to examine the father of the respondent cannot be said to be illegal. In the wake of material on record, it would not be legally correct to drive the respondent to claim maintenance from her father or mother especially when her father-in-law was having control over the estate of her deceased husband. 

IN THE HIGH COURT OF BOMBAY (NAGPUR BENCH)

First Appeal No. 734 of 2012

Decided On: 20.07.2013

Madhukar  Vs. Shalu

Hon'ble Judges/Coram:
B.P. Dharmadhikari and A.S. Chandurkar, JJ.

Citation : 2013 (6)MhLj 391




1. Heard Shri Samudra for the appellant and Shri Meghe for the respondent. Admit. Since the notice was issued for final disposal of the appeal, with consent of parties, same is being finally decided.

2. The appellant in the present appeal that has been filed under Section 19 of the Family Courts Act challenges the Judgment dated 11-4-2012, passed by the learned Judge, Family Court No. 2, Nagpur whereby the appellant has been directed to pay a sum of Rs. 5000/- per month to the respondent towards her maintenance.

FACTS

3. The respondent and one Narendra Lokhande were married on 27-5-1996. Out of the said wed lock, a son named Kartik was born. Narendra expired on 7-9-2009. According to the respondent, she was unable to maintain herself and her son after the death of her husband Narendra. The present appellant who is the father-in-law of the respondent did not seek to maintain them. According to the respondent, an agriculture field, in which her deceased husband-Narendra also had a share, was sold by the appellant and his other son for an amount of Rs. 90 lakhs. However, the respondent did not receive any amount therefrom. As the appellant was refusing to maintain the respondent and her minor son, on 17-11-2009, a legal notice was issued to the appellant making a demand for maintenance. There being no response to the same, the respondent filed Petition No. C-26/2010 seeking maintenance under Section 19 of the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956 (herein after referred to as the said Act).

4. The present appellant opposed the claim made by the respondent by filing his written statement vide Exh. 14. While denying the liability to maintain the respondent and her son, it was stated that the respondent was doing Tailoring business and was earning a sum of Rs. 6000/- to 7000/- per month. It was also stated that the respondent's father was having a big house from which rental income was also being earned. The present appellant stated that on account of his advanced age, he was unable to maintain himself.

5. In support of her claim for maintenance, the respondent examined herself below Exh. 17 and one Sanjay Nilawar below Exh. 34 who was serving as the Manager at Allahabad Bank. The appellant was having his saving account in the said Bank. The appellant examined himself below Exh. 41 and one Nagorao Sakhale below Exh. 45. The learned Judge of the Family Court on consideration of the evidence as led, was pleased to hold that the respondent was unable to maintain herself from the estate of her husband, her father and her mother. It was further held that the appellant though having means to maintain the respondent from the co-parcenary property had not given any share to her. On that basis, it was held that the appellant was liable to pay an amount of Rs. 5000/- per month towards the maintenance from the date of filing of the petition i.e. 11-3-2010. It is this Judgment that has been assailed by the appellant in the present appeal.

6. According to Shri Samudra, learned Counsel for the appellant, the obligation of the appellant to maintain his widowed daughter-in-law would arise only when such widowed daughter-in-law was unable to maintain herself from the estate of her deceased husband or by her parents. It was submitted that the obligation of the appellant who was the father-in-law to maintain the respondent was not absolute and it was necessary for the respondent to have first shown that even her parents were unable to maintain her. Relying upon the provisions of Section 19(1) of the said Act, it was submitted that the appellant had moved an application below Exh. 46 seeking permission to examine the father of the respondent, but said application was rejected on 1-3-2010. Hence, according to the learned Counsel the impugned judgment fastening liability of payment of maintenance on the appellant was contrary to the provisions of Section 19(1) of the said Act. The learned Counsel relied upon the Judgment of the Allahabad High Court in the case of Rajkishor Mishra VS. Meena Mishra, MANU/UP/0021/1995 : AIR 1995 All 70 and on the decision of Chhatisgarh High Court in the case of Dayali Sahu VS. Anjubai, MANU/CG/0136/2010 : AIR 2010 CH 80 and hence prayed for setting aside the impugned Judgment.

7. Shri Meghe the learned Counsel for the respondent on the other hand supported the impugned Judgment. According to the learned Counsel, it was submitted that there being nothing on record to show that the appellant had given any amount to his daughter-in-law from the sale of agricultural land at Gumgaon, the respondent was unable to maintain herself. According to him, the respondent husband-Narendra had a share in the agricultural land that was sold, but the appellant had failed to prove that any such amount was given to her after the sale of said land. The learned Counsel for the respondent has relied upon the following judgments:

[1] Jal Kaur V. Sadhu Singh, MANU/PH/0114/1961 : AIR 1961 Pun. 391.

[2] Jit Sing V. Gurmit Kaur, MANU/PH/0320/1998 : II (1999) DMC 671.

[3] S.V. Parthasarthy V.S. Rajeswari & others, MANU/TN/0585/2009 : AIR 2009 Mad 120. and has prayed for dismissal of the appeal.

8. After hearing both sides and after perusing the records of Petition No. C-26/2010, the following points arise for determination.

POINTS:

[1] Whether the respondent proves that she is unable to maintain herself?

[2] Whether the respondent proves that she is entitled to maintenance under Section 19 of the said Act?

[3] What order?

CONSIDERATIONS

9. POINT NO. 1: According to the respondent, until the death of her husband on 7-9-2009, she was residing in the ancestral property owned by the appellant. However, on account of the alleged cruelty, she was forced to leave the matrimonial house. She thereafter was living separately and at the mercy of her parents. The respondent in her deposition has categorically stated that after the death of her husband she had not received any maintenance from the appellant. She has further stated that though the agricultural field bearing Survey No. 4 was sold by the appellant which was an ancestral property for Rs. 90 Lakhs, her husband did not receive any share from the said. She has further stated that she was constrained to issue legal notice at Exh. 24, but no amount of maintenance was paid to her by the appellant. The respondent was cross examined, but she has been consistent in her version that no amount was received out of the said consideration with regard to the agricultural field bearing Survey No. 4. She admitted that she was residing with her parents, but she did not have any share in the parental house.

10. The appellant examined himself below Exh. 41 and stated that the respondent was doing Tailoring business and earning Rs. 6000/- to 7000/- per month. He has further stated that the respondent's father owned a big house from which they were receiving rent. He further stated that his own financial condition was not sound and, therefore, he was not liable to maintain the respondent. In his cross examination, the appellant admitted that he had not filed any document on record to show that his deceased son-Narendra had taken Rs. 30 lakhs from him. He further admitted that after the death of his son, he had not paid a single penny to the respondent. He further admitted that he had purchased about 11 acres of land after the sale of field Survey No. 4 and that he was also having his own house.

11. The Family Court after considering the evidence on record arrived at the finding that the respondent had proved that she was unable to maintain herself. It was further held that though the appellant had received consideration from the sale of agricultural field, no amount was given to the respondent. On that basis, it was held that the respondent had proved that she was unable to maintain herself. The aforesaid finding is based on the material on record and the same cannot be said to be illegal or perverse. In fact, no serious effort was made on behalf of the appellant to challenge the said finding that the respondent was unable to maintain herself. We, therefore, answer point no. 1 in the affirmative and hold that the respondent had proved that she was unable to maintain herself.

12. POINT NO. 2: As the entire effort on the part of the appellant was to demonstrate the non-entitlement of maintenance under Section 19 of the said Act, it would be necessary to consider certain relevant provisions of the said Act. Section 19 of the said Act under which claim for maintenance was made by the respondent being a widowed daughter-in-law reads thus:

19. Maintenance of widowed daughter-in-law.-(1) A Hindu wife, whether married before or after the commencement of this Act, shall be entitled to be maintained after the death of her husband by her father-in-law:

Provided and to the extent that she is unable to maintain herself out of her own earnings or other property or, where she has no property of her own, is unable to obtain maintenance-

(a) from the estate of her husband or her father or mother, or

(b) from her son or daughter, if any, or his or her estate.

(2) Any obligation under sub-section (1) shall not be enforceable if the father-in-law has not the means to do so from any coparcenary property in his possession out of which the daughter-in-law has not obtained any share, and any such obligation shall cease on the remarriage of the daughter-in-law.

Section 21 clause (iii) which relevant reads thus:

21. Dependants defined.--For the purposes of this Chapter "dependants" mean the following relatives of the deceased:-

(iii) his widow, so long as she does not remarry;
Section 22 of the said Act reads thus:

22. Maintenance of dependants.--(1) Subject to the provisions of subsection (2), the heirs of a deceased Hindu are bound to maintain the dependants of the deceased out of the estate inherited by them from the deceased.

(2) Where a dependant has not obtained, by testamentary or intestate succession, any share in the estate of a Hindu dying after the commencement of this Act, the dependant shall be entitled, subject to the provisions of this Act, to maintenance from those who take the estate.

(3) The liability of each of the persons who takes the estate shall be in proportion to the value of the share or part of the estate taken by him or her.

(4) Notwithstanding anything contained in sub-section (2) or subsection (3), no person who is himself or herself a dependant shall be liable to contribute to the maintenance of others, if he or she has obtained a share or part the value of which is, or would, if the liability to contribute were enforced, become less than what would be awarded to him or her by way of maintenance under this Act.

13. Section 19 of the said Act is an enabling provision under which a right of a widowed daughter-in-law to receive maintenance from her father-in-law is recognized. Proviso to sub-section (1) of Section 19 states that to the extent such widowed daughter-in-law is unable to maintain herself out of her own earnings or other property or where she has no other property of her own and is further unable to obtain maintenance from the estate of her husband or her father or mother or her children or their estate, maintenance can be claimed from the father-in-law.

14. Section 21 defines dependants and a widow of the deceased is a dependant so long as she does not remarry. Similarly, Section 21 uses the word "means" and thus the definition is exhaustive. It includes widowed daughter; provided and to the extent that she is unable to obtain maintenance from her father-in-law or his father or the estate of either of them. Conversely, when it speaks of a widowed daughter-in-law or widowed grandson's wife, there is a qualification or rider added which makes it contingent upon her inability to obtain maintenance from her husband's estate, or from her son or daughter, if any, or his or her estate; or in the case of a grandson's widow, also from her father-in-law's estate. This being a specific & express provision, Section 19 is subject to it. Only words "Provided and to the extent that she is unable to maintain herself out of her own earnings or other property or, where she has no property of her own, is unable to obtain maintenance--(a) from the estate of her husband or her father or mother, or" cannot displace the scheme apparent in Section 21. Widowed daughter qualifies as a dependent only when she cannot get any maintenance or due maintenance from her father-in-law or father of deceased father-in-law, as the case may be. When these provisions are construed harmoniously, first obligation to maintain his widowed daughter-in-law is always on father-in-law. It shifts to the father of such widow only in case of inability of father-in-law or to the extent of such inability. The circumstances in which or extent to which father-in-law is obliged to discharge this obligation are the only facets regulated by Section 19.

15. Thereafter, under Section 22 of the said Act, the heirs of a deceased Hindu are bound to maintain dependants of the deceased out of the estate inherited by them from the deceased and where the dependant has not obtained by testamentary or intestate succession, any share in the estate of a Hindu who has died after commencement of the said Act, the dependant will be entitled to maintenance from those who take the estate. The aforesaid provisions clearly recognize the entitlement of a widowed daughter-in-law to the right of maintenance and in certain circumstances to receive such maintenance from her father-in-law. Chapter III of the said Act deals with the subject of maintenance and hence, considering the object and intention of the said Act, the same will have to be interpreted in a manner so as to fulfill the object which is sought to be achieved. The intention of the legislature is clear. It can be seen that wherever the legislature intended to identify the property of the widow herself, it has used the word "own". The words "other property" when viewed in the said context, make it clear that such "other property" is in addition to her own property, and would include the property of her deceased husband. The word "property" thus, will also have to be considered in the context in which it appears. The word "property" would, therefore, include that in which she has a share and that which was owned/received by her deceased husband. The same could either be movable or immovable. In Jilubhai Nanbhai Khachar etc. etc. Vs. State of Gujarat and another, etc. etc., MANU/SC/0033/1995 : AIR 1995 SC 142, the Hon'ble Apex Court while considering the meaning of the expression "property" observed thus in para 42:

42. Property in legal sense means an aggregate of rights which are guaranteed and protected by law. It extends to every species of valuable right and interest, more particularly, ownership and exclusive right to a thing, the right to dispose of the thing in every legal way, to possess it, to use it, and to exclude every one else from interfering with it. The dominion or indefinite right of use or disposition which one may lawfully exercise over particular things or subjects is called property. The exclusive right of possessing, enjoying and disposing of a thing is property in legal parameters. Therefore, the word 'property' connotes everything which is subject to ownership, corporeal or incorporeal, tangible or intangible, visible or invisible, real or personal; everything that has an exchangeable value or which goes to make up wealth or estate or status. Property, therefore, within the constitutional protection, denotes group of rights inhering citizen's relation to physical thing, as right to possess, use and dispose of it in accordance with law. In Ramanatha Aiyar's The Law Lexicon, Reprint Ed. 1987 at p. 1031 it is stated that the property is the most comprehensive of all terms which can be used, inasmuch as it is indicative and descriptive of every possible interest which the party can have.
16. In so far as the expression "estate" is concerned, the same has been used in Section 19(1) and Section 22(2) in relation to a deceased person. In Jal Kaur V. Pala Singh, MANU/PH/0114/1961 : AIR 1961 Pun. 391 while considering the meaning of the expression "estate", it was observed in paras 13 & 16 as under:

The word 'estate' has undoubtedly in law a diversity of meaning and a variety of signification It may mean the property of a living man or that of a deceased person which passes to his administrator. Generally speaking, this word may mean the property of every character but ordinarily it is applied to the property of a deceased person or a ward or a lunatic or a bankrupt etc. according to which meaning it conveys an idea of property which is administered by administrators or executors or in Courts.
It is thus clear that the entire object of Section 19(1) of the said Act is to recognize the right of a widowed daughter-in-law to receive maintenance from either of the sources mentioned therein. She is entitled to maintenance from "other property" or from the estate of her husband. It is only if the same is not possible that the liability of her father or mother to maintain her would arise.

17. Chapter III of the said Act deals with "Maintenance". Section 19 of the said Act recognises the entitlement of a widowed daughter-in-law to be maintained by her father-in-law if she is unable to obtain maintenance from the estate of her husband or her father or mother or from her son or daughter or from his or her estate. Thus, when a widowed daughter-in-law is unable to obtain maintenance from any of the sources as mentioned in clauses (a) and (b) of the proviso to Section 19(1) of the said Act, the entitlement of claiming maintenance from her father-in-law arises. There could also arise a situation that the daughter-in-law is unable to obtain maintenance from her father-in-law. This situation is taken care of by provisions of Section 21(vi)(c) of the said Act which in these circumstances defines her as a "dependant" and the heirs of the deceased are bound to maintain such dependant under Section 22 of the said Act. Similarly, under Section 21(vii) of the said Act, the right of the deceased's sons widow has been recognised so long as she does not remarry and is also unable to obtain maintenance from the sources mentioned therein including the estate of her father-in-law. It is thus clear from the scheme of Chapter III of the said Act that adequate care has been taken by the legislature to not only identify various sources from which maintenance can be obtained but also to ensure that the same is obtained from one or the other source mentioned therein. Thus, even if a widowed daughter-in-law is unable to obtain maintenance under Section 19 of the said Act, the subsequent provisions i.e. Sections 21 & 22 of the said Act take care of such situation. Provisions of Chapter III of said Act dealing with maintenance will therefore, have to be construed harmoniously to give effect to the same with a view to attain the object in the matter of entitlement and grant of maintenance.

18. In Balwant Kaur v. Chanan Singh, MANU/SC/0282/2000 : (2000) 6 SCC 310, before the Hon'ble Apex Court, the appellants were Original Defendant Nos. 1 and 2 in the civil suit filed by Respondent Nos. 1 to 4 who assailed the judgment rendered by learned Single Judge of the High Court decreeing the respondent-plaintiffs' suit. This appeal raised a short question whether Appellant No. 1-Original Defendant No. 1, a widowed destitute daughter of testator Sham Singh, had acquired full ownership of 1/3rd interest in the suit land pursuant to the Will of her father dated 21-8-1959 or whether she had only a life interest therein, which did not mature into full ownership in her favour under Section 14(1) of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956. The Trial Court, in the suit filed by the respondent-plaintiffs, took the view that Appellant No. 1 had only a life interest which she could not bequeath in favour of Defendant No. 2 and, accordingly, granted a declaratory decree in favour of the plaintiffs. The learned District Judge, as a Court of first appeal, took a contrary view and dismissed the suit by holding that Appellant No. 1 had acquired full ownership of the suit property, up to her 1/3rd full interest in the suit land and she did not acquire only life interest therein pursuant to the Will of the deceased Sham Singh. As noted earlier, in the second appeal, the learned Single Judge of the High Court took a contrary view against the appellants and restored the decree of declaration granted by the trial Court. The relevant recitals in the Will have been construed in the background of admitted and well-established facts on record & the settled legal position. Hon'ble Apex Court explains that had the testator created a life interest to the extent of 1/3rd of his property in favour of his maidservant or a female cook who served him during his lifetime, then such female legatees could not have claimed benefit of Section 14(1) and their claim would have been confined only to Section 14(2) as they did/do not have any pre-existing legal right of maintenance or dependency qua the estate of such deceased employer. But Appellant No. 1-Balwant Kaur, as a destitute widowed daughter of the testator was found standing on entirely a different footing. The Will in her favour did not create for the first time any such right as might have been created in favour of a maidservant or a cook. In fact, the Will itself recognised her pre-existing right in express terms and provided that even after testator's death, his other legatee brothers needed to look after the welfare of his widowed daughter. Section 14(1) of Hindu Succession Act, 1955 was therefore, used in favour of appellants on the basis of legal right flowing from the said Act. Thus, the father-in-law was not party to these proceedings before the Hon'ble Apex Court and this judgment does not lay down that unless & until, widowed daughter-in-law shows that she is unable to obtain maintenance from her parents or their estate, she cannot make demand on her father-in-law.

19. The relevant provisions and the judgment of the Hon'ble Apex Court in Balwant Kaur (supra) having been noticed, it would now be necessary to consider the material on record for deciding the entitlement of the respondent to claim maintenance from the appellant. Admittedly, on 23-6-2008, the appellant along with his two sons Narendra, Suresh and daughter Chhaya Mankar had executed sale deed of agricultural field bearing Khasra No. 4. The same is placed on record below Exh. 23. Said sale deed reveals that the land in question was an ancestral land that was received by the appellant through succession. The sale deed also recognizes the legal right of the two sons and daughter of the appellant. In fact, they are co-signatories to the said sale deed. Said agricultural land was sold for a consideration of Rs. 90 lakhs. The appellant in his cross examination admitted that the amount of Rs. 90 lakhs was deposited in his account and that there was no document on record to show that Narendra (deceased) had taken Rs. 30 Lakhs from him. It was further admitted that Narendra was not having any Bank account. The appellant has also categorically admitted that after the death of Narendra he had not paid a single penny to the respondent. It is further clear from the cross examination that after receiving aforesaid sale consideration, the appellant had purchased another land at Borkhedi from said sale consideration. This material on record clearly reveals that agricultural field bearing Khasra No. 4 was an ancestral property, the same was jointly sold by the appellant, his two sons and daughter. The recitals in Exhibit 23 clearly recognized the share of Narendra-deceased husband in said agricultural land. It is further clear that from the sale consideration of Rs. 90 lakhs, the appellant had not paid any amount to deceased Narendra. It is thus clear that the share of Narendra in said agricultural land continues to be in the hands of the appellant. The appellant has, in fact, clearly admitted that he has not paid any amount from aforesaid sale consideration either to Narendra during his life time or to the respondent after she issued legal notice vide Exh. 24 to the appellant demanding maintenance.

20. As stated above, the share of Narendra in the said agricultural land is clearly admitted even by the appellant. It is further clear that the share of deceased Narendra would, therefore, constitute "other property" from which the respondent is entitled to maintain herself. In any event, it would be a part of the "estate of her husband". The appellant being in possession of share of Narendra from sale consideration of said agricultural land, it is clear that it is he who is in possession of her husband's estate and is thus, liable to maintain the respondent. That the respondent is a dependent under Section 21(iii) is not in dispute. Thus, it is clear that the respondent is entitled to maintenance under Section 19 of the said Act. She is entitled to the amount of maintenance from the appellant in view of the fact that it is he who is in possession of the amounts of sale proceeds of the share of Narendra i.e. his estate. The appellant having refused to pay maintenance from said estate of deceased Narendra which is in his custody even after issuance of legal notice dated 17-11-2009 (Exh. 24), the right of the respondent to claim the same from the appellant stands crystallized. We, therefore, answer Point No. 2 in the affirmative and hold that the respondent has proved that she is entitled to maintenance under Section 19 of the said Act.

21. Arguments of learned Counsel for the Appellant that father of Respondent-wife should be shown not able to support her & burden to prove such inability is/was upon her; is, therefore, misconceived. If said aspect is relevant, the burden squarely lay on the Appellant himself. It may become relevant only if as a matter of fact, she is already receiving any support from her father or then, even from some other source. The fact that her father is well placed and can easily support his widowed daughter, is also not material in these proceedings when such daughter claims maintenance from her father-in-law as a widowed daughter-in-law. As stated above, the respondent was entitled to maintenance from the estate of her husband. The appellant himself being in custody of the estate of Narendra, the question of the respondent seeking maintenance from her father or mother does not arise. If the respondent can be granted maintenance from the estate of her husband, then it is not necessary for her to claim maintenance from her father or mother. In this view of the matter, the order of the learned Judge of the Family Court dated 1-3-2012 rejecting the application below Exh. 46 that was moved by the appellant to examine the father of the respondent cannot be said to be illegal. In the wake of material on record, it would not be legally correct to drive the respondent to claim maintenance from her father or mother especially when her father-in-law was having control over the estate of her deceased husband. The aforesaid submission made on behalf of the appellant, therefore, cannot be accepted. The decisions in the case of Raj Kishore Mishra v. Meena Mishra, MANU/UP/0021/1995 : AIR 1995 Alla. 70 and Dayali Sukhlal Sahu v. Smt. Anju Bai Santosh Sahu, MANU/CG/0136/2010 : AIR 2010 Chh. 80, relied upon by the learned Counsel for the appellant in support of the aforesaid contention, therefore, have no application to the facts of the present case. Similarly, the ratio of the judgments in Jit Singh v. Gurmeet Kaur, MANU/PH/0320/1998 : II (1999) DMC 671 and S.V. Parthasarathy Battachariar & Anr. v. S. Rajeswari & Ors, MANU/TN/0585/2009 : AIR 2009 Mad. 120 are not applicable in the facts of the present case.

22. In view of the aforesaid findings, it has to be held that the Family Court committed no illegality in awarding maintenance of an amount of Rs. 3000/- per month to the respondent and Rs. 2000/- per month to her son. The aforesaid findings being based on material on record, there is no reason to interfere with the same. The appeal, therefore, fails and the same is dismissed with no order as to costs.


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