13 Dec 2009

Maintenance to Muslim wife: The law revisited

In a recent decision, the Supreme Court has revisited and rejuvenated the law of maintenance relating to divorced Muslim wives. The Supreme Court was considering the propriety of the decision given by the Family Court and confirmed by the High Court where maintenance was allowed to the divorced wife only upto the period of Iddat. The Husband sought to justify the decision of these courts arguing that in terms of the 'Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986', the maintenance was to be restricted till the period of Iddat only. However from the side of the wife it was argued before the Supreme Court that the lower courts failed to take notice of the fact that in terms of Section 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure the divorced wife was entitled to maintenance till the time she remarried and that Section 125 being a specific and beneficial legislation would prevail.

In these circumstances, the Supreme Court called upon itself to decide as under. "The basic and foremost question that arises for consideration is whether a Muslim divorced wife would be entitled to receive the amount of maintenance from her divorced husband under Section 125 of the Cr.P.C. and, if yes, then through which forum." The Court took note of the provisions of the 1986 Act, Code of Criminal Procedure and the Family Courts Act, 1984 to find favour with the arguments raised on behalf of the divorced wife. It observed,
24. In our opinion, the point stands settled by judgment of this Court reported in (2001) 7 SCC 740 titled Danial Latifi & Anr. Vs. Union of India pronounced by a Constitution Bench of this Court. Paras 30, 31 and 32 thereof fully establish the said right of the appellant. The said paragraphs are reproduced hereinunder :
"30. A comparison of these provisions with Section 125 CrPC will make it clear that requirements provided in Section 125 and the purpose, object and scope thereof being to prevent vagrancy by compelling those who can do so to support those who are unable to support themselves and who have a normal and legitimate claim to support are satisfied. If that is so, the argument of the petitioners that a different scheme being provided under the Act which is equally or more beneficial on the interpretation placed by us from the one provided under the Code of Criminal Procedure deprive them of their right, loses its significance. The object and scope of Section 125 CrPC is to prevent vagrancy by compelling those who are under an obligation to support those who are unable to support themselves and that object being fulfilled, we find it difficult to accept the contention urged on behalf of the petitioners.
31. Even under the Act, the parties agreed that the provisions of Section 125 CrPC would still be attracted and even otherwise, the Magistrate has been conferred with the power to make appropriate provision for maintenance and, therefore, what could be earlier granted by a Magistrate under Section 125 CrPC would now be granted under the very Act itself. This being the position, the Act cannot be held to be unconstitutional.
32. As on the date the Act came into force the law applicable to Muslim divorced women is as declared by this Court in Shah Bano's case [(1985) 2 SCC 556 Mohd. Ahmed Khan vs. Shah Bano Begum & Ors.]. In this case to find out the personal law of Muslims with regard to divorced women's rights, the starting point should be Shah Bano's case and not the original texts or any other material - all the more so when varying versions as to the authenticity of the source are shown to exist. Hence, we have refrained from referring to them in detail. That declaration was made after considering the Holy Quran, and other commentaries or other texts. When a Constitution Bench of this Court analysed Suras 241-242 of Chapter II of the Holy Quran and other relevant textual material, we do not think, it is open for us to re-examine that position and delve into a research to reach another conclusion. We respectfully abide by what has been stated therein. All that needs to be considered is whether in the Act specific deviation has been made from the personal laws as declared by this Court in Shah Bano's case without mutilating its underlying ratio. We have carefully analysed the same and come to the conclusion that the Act actually and in reality codifies what was stated in Shah Bano's case. The learned Solicitor General contended that what has been stated in the Objects and Reasons in Bill leading to the Act is a fact and that we should presume to be correct. We have analysed the facts and the law in Shah Bano's case and proceeded to find out the impact of the same on the Act. If the language of the Act is as we have stated, the mere fact that the Legislature took note of certain facts in enacting the law will not be of much materiality."
25. Judgment of this Court reported in (2007) 6 SCC 785 titled Iqbal Bano Vs. State of U.P.& Anr. whereby the provisions contained in Section 125 of the Cr.P.C. have been aptly considered and the relevant portion of the order passed in Iqbal Bano's case reads as under:
"10. Proceedings under Section 125 Cr.P.C. are civil in nature. Even if the Court noticed that there was a divorced woman in the case in question, it was open to it to treat it as a petition under the Act considering the beneficial nature of the legislation. Proceedings under Section 125 Cr.P.C. and claims made under the Act are tried by the same court. In Vijay Kumar Prasad Vs State of Bihar (2004) 5 SCC 196 it was held that proceedings under Section 125 Cr.P.C. are civil in nature. It was noted as follows: (SCC p.200, Para 14). 14. The basic distinction between Section 488 of the old Code and Section 126 of the Code is that Section 126 has essentially enlarged the venue of proceedings for maintenance so as to move the place where the wife may be residing on the date of application. The change was thought necessary because of certain observations by the Law Commission, taking note of the fact that often deserted wives are compelled to live with their relatives far away from the place where the husband and wife last resided together. As noted by this Court in several cases, proceedings under Section 125 of the Code are of civil nature. Unlike clauses (b) and (c) of Section 126 (1) an application by the father or the mother claiming maintenance has to be filed where the person from whom maintenance is claimed lives."
26. In the light of the findings already recorded in earlier paras, it is not necessary for us to go into the merits. The point stands well settled which we would like to reiterate.
27. The appellant's petition under Section 125 of the Cr.P.C. would be maintainable before the Family Court as long as appellant does not remarry. The amount of maintenance to be awarded under Section 125 of the Cr.P.C. cannot be restricted for the iddat period only.
28. Learned Single Judge appeared to be little confused with regard to different provisions of Muslim Act, Family Act and Cr.P.C. and thus was wholly unjustified in rejecting the appellant's Revision. 
29. Cumulative reading of the relevant portions of judgments of this Court in Danial Latifi (supra) and Iqbal Bano (supra) would make it crystal clear that even a divorced Muslim woman would be entitled to claim maintenance from her divorced husband, as long as she does not remarry. This being a beneficial piece of legislation, the benefit thereof must accrue to the divorced Muslim women. 
Being of this view, the Supreme Court declared the law as under;
30. In the light of the aforesaid discussion, the impugned orders are hereby set aside and quashed. It is held that even if a Muslim woman has been divorced, she would be entitled to claim maintenance from her husband under Section 125 of the Cr.P.C. after the expiry of period of iddat also, as long as she does not remarry. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The provisions under The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights upon Divorce), Act No. 125 of 1986 dated 19th May 1986 applies when the divorced women is unable to maintain herself after the period of iddat. I am therefore preplexed by the court decision to ignore this aspect in the judgement. Maintenance for children from the marriage is another matter not the subject under consideration in this judgement.