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Anuradha @ Chanchal Kumari Vs. Santosh Nath Khanna - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectFamily
CourtDelhi High Court
Decided On
Case NumberFirst Appeal Nos. 226 of 1974 and 17 of 1975
Judge
Reported inAIR1976Delhi246; 12(1976)DLT26
ActsHindu Marriage Act, 1955 - Sections 24
AppellantAnuradha @ Chanchal Kumari
RespondentSantosh Nath Khanna
Advocates: V.S. Sawhney,; R.C. Chopra and; Shyam Kishore, Advs
Cases ReferredKhem Chand v. Union of India and
Excerpt:
.....to live on nothing except air and water. the object and intention of the order was to prompt the wife to lead her evidence expeditiously and for that purpose a penalty had been imposed, which consisted of deferring of punctual payment of the monthly allowance of maintenance, which itself entails severe hardship. it was not intended to deprive her of the same for all times to come.; (iii) hindu marriage act (1955) - section 24--maintenance pendant life--whether the non-payment of the maintenance would lead to the striking off the defense of the defaulting party.; that it is open to the court to enforce obedience of its order or to prevent abuse of its process by staying the proceedings or striking off the defense of by temporarily suspending its operation without prejudice to any other..........order on 8th january, 1970 under section 24 of the act directing the husband respondent to pay the wife maintenance pendente lite at the rate of rs. 125.00 per month with effect from the date of the application, besides another sum of rs. 250.00 on account of litigation expenses. this amount had been fixed with the consent of both the parties and the litigation expenses have been paid and the maintenance was also paid for two months.(2) it appears that the court below felt that the appellant was delaying the production of her evidence in support of the petition and so on 25th march, 1970 mr. sidhu passed an order directing that the order of maintenance pendente lite would remain in abeyance during the period the wife continued her default in producing the evidence. this order has been.....
Judgment:

B.C .Misra, J.

(1) This order will dispose of two appeals, (FAO 226/74 and Fao 17/75) both of which have been filed by the wife against two orders of Mr. Jagdish Chandra, Additional District Judge, Delhi, who was trying the petition of the appellant for dissolution of marriage or judicial separation on the ground of alleged impotency and/or cruelty mentioned in sections 12 and 10 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 25 of 1955, (hereinafter referred to as 'the Act'). 1. The material facts of the case arc that during the pendency of the petition of the wife, Mr. K. S. Sidhu. then presiding officer of the court below passed an order on 8th January, 1970 under section 24 of the Act directing the husband respondent to pay the wife maintenance pendente lite at the rate of Rs. 125.00 per month with effect from the date of the application, besides another sum of Rs. 250.00 on account of litigation expenses. This amount had been fixed with the consent of both the parties and the litigation expenses have been paid and the maintenance was also paid for two months.

(2) It appears that the court below felt that the appellant was delaying the production of her evidence in support of the petition and so on 25th March, 1970 Mr. Sidhu passed an order directing that the order of maintenance pendente lite would remain in abeyance during the period the wife continued her default in producing the evidence. This order has been reproduced in the impugned order and will be referred to in detail hereinafter. Construction and legal effect of this order of Mr. Sidhu is the main subject of controversy before me.

(3) From 25th March, 1970 up to 12th September, 1973 the wife, appellant before me, failed to produce her evidence, although her counsel has submitted that the fault did not lie entirely with the wife. However, the evidence commenced on 13th September, 1973 and the same has now been concluded.

(4) On 2nd November, 1973, the wife moved an application before the court below submitting that she had already examined five witnesses and had to examine other witnesses and that she be paid the arrears of maintenance for the period from 23rd February, 1970 to 31st October, 1973. This application was opposed on behalf of the husband on the ground that by the previous order of Mr. Sidhu, the payment of maintenance was suspended and so she was not entitled to recover the amount. The court below considered the matter and construed the order of Mr. Sidhu and came to the conclusion that the effect of the order was that the wife was to be wholly deprived of the amount of maintenance during the period she was in default in producing her witnesses and that she was entitled to recover it only with effect from 13th September, 1973. The court passed an order that the wife was not entitled to maintenance for the period from 25th March, 1970 to 12th September, 1973 and, thereforee dismissed the application. This order, which was passed on 17th October, 1974 by Mr. Jagdish Chandra, has given rise to the first mentioned appeal in this court (FAO 226/74). In this appeal, the husband has filed cross-objections to the effect that in the circumstances of the case on a true construction of the order of Mr. Sidhu, the wife was entitled to maintenance only with effect from 18th September, 1974 when she had concluded her evidence and not from an earlier date when she had commenced producing evidence.

(5) During the pendency of the proceedings, the wife moved another application dated 18th November, 1974 by which she prayed that in view of the previous order of the court she was entiled to payment of arrears of maintenance at least from 13th September. 1973 and that the husband be directed to pay the same and in default, his defense be struck off. This application was refused by the Judge below on the ground that since an appeal against the previous order was pending in the High Court, he could not strike off the defense and that it was open to the wife to recover the amount of arrears of maintenance by taking out execution. Mr. Jagdish Chandra, Additional District Judge, has dismissed this application by order dated 24th January, 1975, which has given rise to the second mentioned appeal, (FAO 17/75).

(6) Mr. R. C. Chopra, Advocate, has appeared and argued the first mentioned appeal, while Mr. V. S. Sawhney, Advocate, has argued the second appeal for the wife. Mr. Shyam Kishore, Advocate, has appeared for the husband in both the appeals.

(7) The order that had been passed by Mr. K. S. Sidhu, on 25th March, 1970, reads as follows:

'COUNSELfor the petitioner has prayed for adjournment. am granting the adjournment, but in the interest of justice it is essential that during the period the petitioner hereinafter takes in producing her evidence the order of maintenance pendente lite should remain in abeyance, it appears that the petitioner has deliberately withheld producing her evidence today. If the order of maintenance pendente lite is not held in abeyance during the period her default continues, it would be nothing short of permitting her to abuse the process of the court.'

A This order purports to have been passed under section 24 of the Act. Section 24 reads as follows:

'24.Maintenance pendente lite and expenses of proceedings. Where in any proceedings under this Act it appears to the court that either the wife or the husband, as the case may be, has no independent income suffieient for her or his support and the necessary expenses of the proceeding, it may, on the application of the wife or the husband, order the respondent to pay to the petitioner the expenses of the proceeding, and monthly during the proceeding such sum as, having regard to the petitioner's own income and the income of the respondent it may seem to the court to be reasonable.'

The counsel for the appellant submit that there was no statutory provision for variation or discharge of the order or for its suspension. By way of contradistinetion they have invited my attention to section 25 of the Act, which provides that an order under section 25 may be passed either at the time of or subsequent to the passing of the decree and if the court is satisfied that there is a change in the circumstances of either party at any time after it has made an order under sub-section (1), it may, at the instance of either party, vary.' modify or rescind any such order in such manner as the court may deem just.

(8) There is no doubt that section 25 of the Act contains a statutory provision for variation or rescission of an order. This statutory provision was absolutely essential to be enacted. The reason is that once a court has passed a decree in the matrimonial case, it would normally cease to have any further jurisdiction in the matter and it would be beyond the scope of its powers to modify its final orders. The statute has, thereforee, expressly provided that an alimony may be granted by the court not only at the time of the passing of the decree, but also subsequently, which would not be possible to do without any statutory provision in its support. Since the order for maintenance is passed for the life of the spouse (so long as the applicant remains unmarried) and the change of circumstances after the passing of the decree can reasonably not be foreseen, the legislature considered it wise to confer an express power to subsequently vary, modify or rescind the order as the circumstances of the case may warrant. The said considerations, however, do not apply to an order passed under section 24 of the Act. The order under section 24 is passed during the pendency of the proceedings and comes to an end on their termination. The circumstances which may necessitate a variation of the order would be available to the court before it finally disposes of the matrimonial cause.

(9)

'THEobject behind the passing of the order under section 24 is to provide financial assistance to the indigent spouse to maintain herself (or himself, as the case may be) during the pendency of the proceedings and also to have sufficient funds to defend or carry on the litigation, so that the spouse does not unduly suffer in the conduct of the case for want of funds. Such an order is essentially in the nature of an interim order. Interim orders, in my opinion, are by their very nature such, that in their respect the court must always retain inherent jurisdiction and power to vary, modify or rescind, as the circumstances may justify'

Section 151 of the Code of Civil Procedure, in terms prescribes that nothing in the Code shall be deemed to limit or otherwise affect the inherent power of the court to make such an order, as may be necessary for the ends of justice or to prevent abuse of the process of the court. The inherent jurisdiction includes a power to review an interlocutory order, to recall and cancel previous orders or orders which cause injustice. It also possesses a power to stay the proceedings or strike off the defense of the defendant, in order to compel obedience to its order or prevent abuse of the process of the court (see Manohar Lal Chopra v. Rai Bahadur Rao Raja Seth Hiralal, : AIR1962SC527 , (Dasari) Venkatacharyulu v. Manchala Yesobu and another, Air 1932 Mad 263, and Sita Ram Sahu v. Kedar Nath Sahu, : AIR1957All825 .

(10) So far as the exercise of powers in case under the Hindu Marriage Act are concerned, reference may be made to Smt. Malkan Rani v. Krishan Kumar, , where a Division Bench of the High Court, of which I.D. Dua J. (as he then was), was a party, observed that section 24 empowered the matrimonial court, to make an order for maintenance pendente lite and for exit penses of proceedings to a needy and indigent spouse. The Bench observed, 'the object and purpose of this provision is to enable the court to see that the indigent spouse is put in a financial condition in which the party concerned may produce proper material and evidence in the case and that a party is not handicapped in or prevented from bringing all the relevant facts before the court for decision of the case because of his or her poverty'. The court further observed that section 28 of the Act laid down the procedure for recovery of the amount due under the order made under section 24 of the Act. But the same did not affect the court's power to exercise jurisdiction equitably and in such a way as to prevent abuse of its process. The court cited with approval the Chancery Division decisions, Kemp Welch v. Kemp Welch and Crymes, 1910 Pro. 233(5), Clarke v. Clarke, 1891 Pro. 278(6), and Lethem v. Lathem, (1861) 164 E.R. 1011(7), and it observed that these courts took adequate steps including an order staying further proceedings in the case to compel the defaulter to comply with such an order and there was no reason why this power could not be exercised in such a circumstances in this country as well.

(11) The High Court of Rajasthan in Smt. Devki v. Purshotam Kewalia, , observed as follows:

'SECTION 24 of the 'Act vests a wide discretion in a court in the matter of fixation of pendent life maintenance and cost of the proceedings. The discretion, however, has to be exercised judicially. If there is no enabling provision in the Act for changing such an order by the 'Court, there is at the same time no disabling provision either and, thereforee, the court can in an appropriate case exercise its inherent powers to vary an order of maintenance provided there is a change in circumstances justifying variation of the order. If that were not so, it may lead to manifest injustice in some cases, for example, at the time of granting of maintenance the other spouse may be having a substantial income and after sometime if that income were to be lost by change of fortune or on account of some accidental causes then the continuance of the same maintenance may result in hardship to the other spouse who is to pay the maintenance. thereforee, I should think that in an appropriate case the court should be able to exercise its inherent powers under section 151, Civil Procedure Code.'

(12) In Halsbury's laws of England, Third Edition, Volume 12, paragraph 999, page 444(9), it has been laid down that where the court has made an order for alimony pending suit or maintenance or secured provision in the case of divorce or nullity...... the court has power to discharge or vary any such order or suspend any provision thereof temporarily, and to revive the operation of any provisions so suspended.

(13) As a result of the aforesaid discussion, my conclusion is that

'Acourt exercising powers under section 24 of the Hindu Marriage Act possesses inherent jurisdiction and power to vary, modify, rescind or temporarily suspend its previous order.'

But, in this matter, the court must act and exercise its discretion according to well established principles of law. I also hold that 'it is open to the court to enforce obedience of its order or to prevent abuse of its process by staying the proceedings or striking off the defense or by temporarily suspending its operation without prejudice to any other action that may be taken according to law.' In this view of the matter, the order of Mr. K. S. Sidhu that had been passed on 25th March, 1970 cannot be said to be without Jurisdiction of void. The order was legal, valid and amply justified in the circumstances of the case and since it had never been appealed against, it has become final and cannot now be allowed to be assailed collaterally. The order is, thereforee, binding on the parties. This leads me to the consideration of the next question as to what is the true construction and legal effect of the said order.

(14) It is obvious that Mr. Sidhu, learned Additional District Judge, was not feeling happy with the delay that the wife had been causing in the production of her evidence and he found that her continuing to get the maintenance while prolonging the proceedings and not producing the evidence amounted to abuse of the process of the court. He, thereforee, directed that the order for maintenance would remain in abeyance. The question for determination is whether this order amounts to rescission of the maintenance order and total deprivation of the amount of maintenance to the wife for the said period, or it amounts to temporary suspension and mere postponement of the payment. The learned Judge has used the word 'abeyance'. This word, according to Webster's Third New International Dictionary means 'temporary inactivity or suppression; cessation or suspension'. The expression 'abeyance' is equivalent to Suspension' which means, 'temporary withholding', temporary forced withdrawal. In my opinion the learned Judge has used the expression 'abeyance' in the same sense as has been used in Halsbury's Laws of England by expression 'Suspension temporarily'. the word 'suspend' or 'suspension temporarily' imply that the suspension is for a temporary period and on the cessation of the suspension order or fulfillment of the necessary conditions, the original order revives without any further directions.' There are numerous instances to illustrate the effect of suspension. We are familiar with the instances in Law, where workman is suspended or in government service an employee is suspended. In those cases, unless the suspension culminates in removal or dismissal, the original contract of service or the status of the government servant revives on the cessation of suspension. We may peruse with advantage the observations of the Supreme Court in Khem Chand v. Union of India and others, : (1963)ILLJ665SC , where the court observed that an order of suspension of a Government servant did not put an end to his service under the Government and he continued to be a member of the service in spite of the order of B suspension- The real effect of the order of suspension was that though he continued to be a member of the Government service he was not permitted to work.... ....... There was no basis for thinking that because of the order of suspension he ceased to be a member of the service. Further when the order of dismissal was set aside the service revives. We are also familiar with the orders of the court suspending the injunctions, execution of decrees and other orders all of which revive on the cessation of suspension. The result is that the suspension or abeyance of the order does not amount to complete disbarment, but the operation of the order is only suspended or put inactivity and on the cessation of suspension the order revives with its full vigour without any further orders. It is, thereforee, clear that the learned Additional District Judge did not intend to absolutely rescind the order so as to completely deprive the wife of the amount of maintenance. There are two reasons for this view. One is that he has limited the period of suspension to the time which the wife takes in beginning to produce her evidence, and secondly the wife has not been shown to have acquired any property or means of subsistence so as not to need the amount of maintenance any longer. There was, thereforee, no material before the Judge to hold that the wife had ceased to be indigent and the order for maintenance, must be recalled. Had the learned Judge chosen to pass an order wholly rescinding his previous order for grant of maintenance, he would have given sufficient reasons and would have more clearly and categorically expressed himself in the order. It seems that his intention was to really prompt the wife to conclude her evidence expeditiously under threat of penal consequences. For this purpose, he ordered that the payment of Rs. 125 per month which was payable to the wife for her maintenance would not be paid monthly till she had produced her evidence. It is reasonable to assume that postponement of the punctual payment is ordinarily a sufficient deterrent to the party who has to live and make her both ends meet on the said amount of maintenance. If this monthly payment is deferred, then sufficient penalty has been imposed upon her to prompt her to conclude her evidence quickly. She could not conclude the evidence in this case for various reasons, one of them being that on 26th August, 1970 the petition was dismissed for non-prosecution and then it could be restored only on 16th August, 1972 and so during this period no evidence on merits could be produced. Neither the intention nor the meaning of the order was that the wife was to be completely deprived of her amount of maintenance for a substantial part of the pendency of the petition.

(15) Mr. Jagdish Chandra, learned Additional District Judge in B the order dated 17th October, 1974 under appeal has taken a contrary view and he has construed the aforesaid order of Mr. Sidhu as amounting to total deprivation of the amount of maintenance to the wife for the said period. The reason he has advanced is that any other construction would enable the wife to accumulate the amount due to her and she cannot get the accumulated arrears even after producing evidence on account of her own default and, thereforee, her default should entail total deprivation of the amount of maintenance during the period of her default in producing the evidence.

(16) Lam unable to appreciate or agree with the aforesaid reasoning. This situation always comes into being where monthly payments like rents, interest, Installments and maintenance are not regularly paid and the parties are forced to take steps for the recovery, then they do get the amount in lump-sum. This, in my opinion, is not a material consideration in construing the meaning and effect of the order of Mr. Sidhu. The amount of maintenance had been granted to the wife in view of her indigent circumstances in order to keep her body and soul together and prosecute the petition. She had not acquired any other means of maintenance. The delay in producing the evidence cannot be a sufficient cause for starving the wife to death, if necessary. Had it been intended by Mr. Sidhu or by his learned successor to totally deprive the wife of the amount of maintenance, then they would have passed a clearer order totally recinding the previous order. In that event, the wife could not get any maintenance unless another order was passed for grant of maintenance upon the change of circumstances after conclusion of the evidence. It is obvious that the passing of a fresh order for grant of maintenance was in the circumstances of the case neither contemplated nor has been made. Only the operation of the previous order for maintenance had been suspended temporarily.

'IT is difficult to construe the said order as total deprivation, since an indigent wife could not be expected to live on nothing except air and water. As discussed above, the object and intention of the order was to prompt the wife to lead her evidence expeditiously and for that purpose a penalty had been imposed, which consisted of deferring of punctual payment of the monthly allowance of maintenance, which itself entails severe hardship. It was not intended to deprive her of the same all times to come'

(17) As a result, I hold that the appellant wife was, in the circumstances of the case, entitled to the payment of the entire arrears of maintenance allowance at the aforesaid rate upon her commencing of production of evidence, even for the period during which she had failed to produce her evidence. Consequently, the appeal is allowed, the order of the learned Additional District Judge dated 17th October, 1974 is set aside and it is ordered that the appellant wife is entitled to maintenance at the rate of Rs. 125 per month since 8th January, 1970 being the date of the order, for the entire period during which the petition had been pending. In view of this finding, the cross objections have no merit and are dismissed.

(18) So far as the second appeal, Fao 17/75, is concerned,

'THEmatter of enforcement of the order for payment of maintenance rested in the discretion of the court below and if the learned Judge has exercised the discretion in refusing to strike off the defense, no interference inference with the same is called for.'

The counsel for the respondent husband submits that up till now huge arrears of maintenance have accumulated and the respondent will find it impossible to pay the same in lump-sum immediately. The court below has left the right of the appellant wife to recover the arrears of maintenance by taking out execution unaffected. The court, however, in the circumstances of the case was justified in proceeding with the trial of the petition and refusing to either stay the trial or strike off the defense of the respondent. I am informed that since then evidence of the parties has been completed and the case is now fixed for 10th April, 1975 for final orders. I believe that the court below will proceed the case expeditiously and will not stay the proceedings. This appeal is, thereforee, dismissed.

(19) In the circumstances of the case, both the parties are left to bear their respective costs.


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