Wife Disentitled To Receive Pensionary Benefits of Deceased If Marriage Was Void: Telangana High Court

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A. Yashoda, Warangal District, and Another V/S A. Rukmini, Hyderabad

Facts 

A person named A. Ram Das was working in the railway department (hereinafter referred to as the respondent no.1), on the post of a senior technician, Diesel shed, Kazipet, till he expired on 12th October 2006. He left behind the petitioners as his sole legal heirs. The petitioners submitted a letter to the railway department, along with supportive documents and necessary appendages, seeking the release of family pension and settlement of the dues of late A. Ram Das. The petitioners made an averment in their petition that the marriage between her and A. Ram Das took place on the 25th of May 1972, at Yadagirigutta, as per Hindu rituals and traditions. On the other hand, respondent no.2 lodged a claim with the railway department that she was the wife of late A. Ram Das and that respondent no.3 was born out of wedlock. In all, she was trying to subvert the petitioner’s legal capacity to retain the position of wife with the deceased, so that she shall be figured out as the one, entitled to pensionary benefits, and not her.  

The railways’ department conducted an inquiry to ascertain as to who was the legally wedded wife of the deceased so that they can start with their process of disbursement of funds with a sigh of relief that the funds are being disbursed, straight into the lawful hands. After the competition of inquiry, the railways sent out a letter to petitioner no.1 and respondent no.2, declaring petitioner no.1 as his lawful wife. After few days, the railways released a paradoxical statement which said that respondent no.2 was the legally wedded wife of the deceased and not petitioner no.1. The stand undertaken by the railways baffled the petitioner, owing to which, she approached the trial court via original summons issued to the railways. The trial court refused to entertain the matter. Henceforth, the petitioners knocked on the doors of the Family court, Secunderabad. 

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The family court declared petitioner no.2 and 3 as the legal heirs of late A. Ram Das. Taking into consideration the educational records filed by the respondents, respondent no.3 was also declared as the legal heir of the deceased, who saw the light of the day by the wedlock between late A. Ram Das and respondent no.1.Nevertheless, the court did not include respondent no. 2, in the category of “persons entitled to retrial benefits”. Owing to this, the present appeal is brought to light by the respondents.   

Arguments made by the petitioners 

The learned counsel of the petitioners, Mr. Yadaiah, took the court on a roller coaster ride by producing innumerable witnesses supporting his contention. Firstly, he produced Ms. Naga Narsamma, who deposed that she knew petitioner no.1, from her childhood days and had attended her wedding too, with A. Ram Das. The second witness that he produced, completely changed the goalpost of the case and, was thus, the kingpin. The witness; T. Gouri Shanker, who was the fingerprint expert at Fingerprint Bureau, Hyderabad, deposed that the fingerprint in dispute, that has been affixed at page no.98 of the marriage register of the temple is identical to the specimen fingerprint of the petitioner no.1. After her testimony, there was little to be watched for in the case. 

Arguments made by the respondents

Mr. Gouri Sanghi submitted that the learned family court erred in giving precedence to the marriage certificate issued by the Yadagirigutta Temple, over the marriage certificate issued by the Registrar of Marriages, which is a statutory body. He kept on crapping the learned family court for not appreciating the evidence put forth before it, which included primarily the fact that the court did not look into the service records of the deceased, which had, the names of respondent no. 2 and 3 under the column of nominees. Also, the court did not observe the fact that respondents no. 2 and 3, used to reside with A. Ram das, in the railway quarters allotted to him. As he did not have any evidence to substantiate his facts, he kept on using casuistry to convert his surmises into hard facts. 

Court’s Observation 

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The court at the very first instance observed that the respondents undoubtedly failed to rebut the presumption that petitioner no.1 is the lawful wife of late A. Ram Das and petitioners no. 2 and 3 were born from the same wedlock. The court ocularly observed that the respondents did not even produce the concerned officer from the Registrar of Marriages in support of their document i.e. marriage certificate. It further elucidated that even the evidence adduced before the court by the respondents showed that the marriage between the deceased and respondent no.2 took place on 08th of March 1976. Thus, the statement speaks for itself i.e. as the marriage between the petitioner no.1 and the deceased took place on 25th of May, 1972 and, as none of the records show that the parties had in any manner, obtained a divorce, it becomes crystal clear for the laity to understand that the marriage consummated between the respondent no.2 and the deceased was bigamous, and thus, null and void. 

The court put it in simple words, “since the marriage of the respondent no.2 with late A. Ram Das is not a valid marriage, she cannot stake a claim on the pensionary benefits, accrued in favor of late A. Ram Das.” The court declared whilst interpreting SECTION 16 of the Hindu Marriage Act,1955, in a meticulous manner, that the son born out from the wedlock of respondent no.2 and the deceased will be entitled to receive the pensionary benefits, notwithstanding, being born out of a void marriage, as the section itself says that even if the marriage consummated between the husband and wife is void, the child born from an invalid or void marriage, is legitimate and is henceforth, entitled to get a share from the personal estate of his father. The court reminisced itself of the judgment delivered by the Supreme court in Ramashewari Devi v/s State of Bihar, that even if a government servant, without dissolving his first marriage via divorce, marries another woman and produces off-springs from it, the off-springs would still be legitimate, though the marriage would be void. 

Court’s Judgement 

The court directed that the pensionary benefits should be handed over to the petitioners and respondent no.3.

Click here to read the judgement


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