The present case which was decided in early September this year, revolved around the mandate of law that necessitated a couple to be physically present before the Registrar to register their marriage, while they being located in the United States, amidst the raging pandemic.
Facts in brief
The marriage between the Petitioner couple was solemnized in Delhi on 6.12.2001. A registration order was issued by the Delhi government in 2014, on a direction issued by the Supreme Court. The order mandated the registration of marriages solemnized in Delhi and required the physical presence of the couple before the Registrar for verification and issuance of a marriage certificate. Clause 9 of the said order also envisaged an online portal for the registration of marriage. The Petitioners had shifted to Singapore before 2014 and therefore did not obtain a marriage certificate. After some time they shifted to the United States of America along with their offspring. For availing of the green card facility in the United States, they required a marriage certificate. The couple planned to travel to India, but due to covid -19 shutdowns could not. Consequently, the Petitioners via their Counsel tried to submit their documents for registration of marriage to the concerned SDM, but it got rejected and it was insisted that the couple be physically present before the SDM. Aggrieved by the said insistence and no response to their requests to accommodate, the Petitioners, approached the High Court via writ jurisdiction under Article 227 of the Indian Constitution.
The contention of the Petitioners
The Petitioners contended that Respondents had misinterpreted Clauses 4(e), and (d) of the registration order by insisting on the physical presence of the parties. They relied on the State of Maharashtra v. Praful B. Desai, which authorized collection of evidence of a witness in a criminal trial via video conferencing to contend that, when a criminal trial could be conducted through video conferencing, then there was no need to mandate the physical presence of Petitioners for registration of marriage. They further relied on Charanjit Kaur govt of NCT, Delhi, and Upasna Bali v State of Jharkhand to contend that applications for registration of marriage ought to be accepted and processed without insisting on the physical presence of the parties.
The contention of the Respondents
The Respondents contended that physical presence was commanded for a variety of reasons such as capturing and uploading live photographs of the parties and their witnesses on the portal, for the marriage certificate to be physically signed by both parties before the Registrar of Marriage, and also the need to assess whether both the bride and groom were of sound mind and were entering into the marriage without any fear.
Reasons for decision
The Court pointed out that in the Charanjit Kaur case in 2007, it was ruled that under the Hindu Marriage Act, the marriage was not solemnized by the Registrar, but only certified to have been solemnized, by the Registrar based on applications received. Under the Hindu Marriage Act, the Registrar merely issued a certificate that according to the information supplied to him the parties were married on a particular date. The Court further observed that it was open to evolving a suitable mechanism with a mix of technology by incorporating video-conferencing, authentication of identities by Embassies, and attestation of signatures similarly to meet the demands of modern society. The Court further pointed that in the Upasna Bali case, the Jharkhand High Court granted permission to similarly placed couple in the U.K to register their marriage via video conferencing and the Court also placed reliance on Ami Ranjan v. the State of Haryana, where Punjab and Haryana High Court held, that application for registration of marriage ought to be accepted and processed without insisting on the physical presence of the parties, which was eventually affirmed by the Supreme Court.
The decision of the Court
The Court allowed the Petitioners to register their marriage via video conferencing and directed the Petitioners to submit their application for registration of marriage, through their Counsel/Power of Attorney Holder in physical form before the SDM Kishan Ganj, Delhi. Further, the Court ruled that the two witnesses, as required under the Registration Order would appear physically before the Registering Authority along with their original ID proof. It then directed the Respondent, thereafter, to expeditiously register the Petitioners’ marriage, and issue the Marriage Registration Certificate within two weeks.
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