Estranged Wife Cannot Be Evicted by Transferring Home to Husband the PWDV Act, 2005: Supreme Court

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Excerpt

A Full Bench of the Supreme Court headed by Justice D.Y Chandrachud held that a shared household under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 has to be interpreted to include the residence where the Appellant had been jointly residing with her husband. 

Merely because the ownership of the property has been subsequently transferred to her in-laws (Second and Third Respondents) or that her estranged spouse (Fourth respondent), now residing separately, is no ground to deprive the Appellant of the protection that was envisaged under the PWDV Act, 2005

A Full Bench of the Supreme Court headed by Justice D.Y Chandrachud held that a shared household under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 has to be interpreted to include the residence where the Appellant had been jointly residing with her husband. Merely because the ownership of the property has been subsequently transferred to her in-laws (Second and Third Respondents) or that her estranged spouse (Fourth respondent), now residing separately, is no ground to deprive the Appellant of the protection that was envisaged under the PWDV Act, 2005.

Brief facts of the case

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The Appellant and the Fourth Respondent were married on 30 May 2002. Soon after that, a matrimonial dispute arose between the parties. The Appellant alleged that she was harassed for dowry and even compelled to institute a suit for partition against her father in 2003. She later withdrew the partition suit after her spouse deserted her to be in a relationship with another woman. The subject matter of the controversy is a residential house situated in Bengaluru. The Fourth Respondent purchased the land in 2002, a few months before the Appellant married him. The Appellant alleged that her father had financed a portion of this purchase.

In 2006, the fourth Respondent sold the land to his father – the Third Respondent. The transaction of sale between the father and the son was for the same consideration of Rs.1.19 lacs, as was paid by the Fourth Respondent for the original purchase of the property in 2002. By then, the Appellant and the Fourth Respondent had a daughter. In 2009, the Fourth Respondent instituted a petition for divorce under Section 13(1)(ia) and (ib) of the Hindu Marriage Act 1955 before the Senior Civil Judge and Judicial Magistrate, First Class, Nelamangala. 

Following the purchase of the property and after constructing a house, the Third Respondent gifted it to his spouse – the Second Respondent, in 2010. Soon after that, the Second Respondent instituted a suit against the Appellant before the JMFC, Nelamangala seeking a permanent injunction restraining the Appellant from interfering with the possession of the suit property. The suit was pending. In 2013, the trial judge allowed the divorce petition, and the marriage between the Appellant and the Fourth Respondent was dissolved. In 2014, the Appellant instituted a proceeding for maintenance. She also filed an appeal before the High Court of Karnataka against the dissolution of her marriage by the Trial Judge. The proceedings for divorce and maintenance are also pending.

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The present dispute arises from an application filed by the Second and Third Respondents against the Appellant, their daughter-in-law. The Second and Third respondents are the Fourth Respondent’s parents, the estranged spouse of the Appellant. The Second and Third Respondents applied the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act 2007. They sought the Appellant and her daughter’s eviction from a residential house in Bengaluru.

The Assistant Commissioner, and the Deputy Commissioner in appeal, allowed the application under the Senior Citizens Act 2007 and directed the Appellant to vacate the suit premises. Aggrieved by this order, the Appellant unsuccessfully pursued a writ proceeding under Article 226 of the Constitution before a Single Judge and in appeal before a Division Bench of the High Court of Karnataka. The Division Bench, by its judgment dated 17 September 2019, held that the suit premises belonged to the mother-in-law (the Second Respondent) of the Appellant and the remedy of the Appellant for maintenance and shelter lies only against her estranged husband (the Fourth Respondent). The Division Bench upheld the Deputy Commissioner’s Order and directed the Appellant to vacate the suit premises before 31 December 2019. 

The Appellant, aggrieved by the Division Bench of the High Court’s judgment, had filed the present special leave petition. 

Appellant’s Arguments

The Appellant was residing in her matrimonial home as the lawfully wedded spouse of the fourth Respondent. She cannot be evicted from her shared household because of the protection offered by Section 17 of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005(“PWDV Act”).

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The proceeding under Sections 3 and 4 of the Senior Citizens Act 2007 was filed by her mother-in-law and father-in-law to deprive the Appellant of her matrimonial home.

The Division Bench finding on the Appellant’s current residential status was based on a fraudulent setup. The alleged postal cover was dispatched on 21 June 2018, during the pendency of the proceedings before the Single Judge, and merely indicated a postal endorsement (“no such person”) as it arrived when nobody was present at home to receive it.

The decree for the dissolution of marriage passed against the Appellant by the Trial Judge on 5 December 2013 has been set aside by the High Court on 14 January 2016. The proceedings have been remanded back to the jurisdictional Family Court for fresh disposal. Hence, the Appellant continued to be in a lawful relationship of marriage with the fourth Respondent, and she had no other place to live except the suit premises, with her minor daughter.

The provisions of the Senior Citizens Act 2007 have been manipulated to defeat the rights of the Appellant. The manner in which the premises were transferred by the spouse of the Appellant to his father and the gift deed after that to the Appellant’s mother-in-law was indicative of an attempt to misuse the provisions of the Act to defeat the claims of the Appellant.

In conclusion, it was urged that the authorities constituted under the Senior Citizens Act 2007 had no jurisdiction to order the eviction of the Appellant. Moreover, the proceedings have been utilized to secure the Appellant’s eviction to deny her claim of a right to reside in the shared household under the PWDV Act 2005.

Respondent’s Arguments

Both the Second Respondent (72 years old) and the Third Respondent (82 years old) are senior citizens.

The suit premises were constructed by the third Respondent, the father-in-law of the Appellant. This was subsequently gifted to the second Respondent, the mother-in-law of the Appellant.

The Appellant was found to have ousted the Second and Third Respondents from the property belonging to them and illegally entered into possession.

The Second and Third respondents filed an application under the Senior Citizens Act 2007 before the Assistant Commissioner for evicting the Appellant and for the restoration of their possession, which was allowed by the authorities and the High Court.

 The Tribunal constituted under the Senior Citizens Act 2007 has the jurisdiction to pass appropriate orders for protecting parents and senior citizens’ life and property, including orders of eviction.

Parliament has empowered the State governments to authorize local authorities to take remedial measures to protect senior citizens’ life and property. It would be incorrect to limit the relief only to monetary terms. Relegating a senior citizen to a civil court to recover their property would result in defeating the provisions of the Senior Citizens Act, 2007. 

Court’s Observations

The Bench observed that a significant object of the PWDV Act, 2005 is to provide for and recognize women’s rights to secure housing. The legislation also recognizes a woman’s right to reside in a matrimonial home or a shared household, whether or not she has any title or right in the shared household. 

By allowing the Senior Citizens Act, 2007 to have an overriding force and effect in all situations, irrespective of competing entitlements of a woman to the right in a shared household within the meaning of the PWDV Act, 2005 would defeat the object and purpose which the Parliament sought to achieve in enacting the latter legislation. 

The Bench opined that both sets of legislation must be harmoniously construed. The law protecting the interest of senior citizens is intended to ensure that they are not left destitute or at the mercy of their children or relatives. Equally, the purpose of the PWDV Act, 2005 cannot be ignored for statutory interpretation. 

Hence, a woman’s right to secure a residence order in respect of a shared household cannot be defeated by securing an order of eviction by adopting the summary procedure under the Senior Citizens Act 2007.

The Bench held that a shared household would have to be interpreted to include the residence where the Appellant had been jointly residing with her husband. Merely because the ownership of the property was subsequently transferred to her in-laws (Second and Third Respondents) or that her estranged spouse (Fourth respondent), now residing separately, is no ground to deprive the Appellant of the protection that was envisaged under the PWDV Act, 2005

Court’s Decision

The Bench set aside the Division Bench’s judgment and order of the High Court of Karnataka ordering the eviction of the Appellant.

It allowed the second and third Respondents to make an application under Section 10 of the Senior Citizens Act, 2007 for the alteration of the maintenance allowance before the appropriate forum. 

The Appellant is allowed to pursue remedies under the PWDV Act 2005. 

The Court also ordered the fourth Respondent to take all necessary steps to restore the electricity connection to the premises within two weeks from the judgment. Further, the fourth Respondent must continue to pay the electricity dues in the future.

The Bench ordered the Respondents to enable the Appellant to pursue her remedies under the PWDV Act 2005 and restrained the Respondents from forcibly dispossessing the Appellant, disposing of the premises, or from creating any right, title, and interest in favour of any third party for one year.

Click here to read S. Vanitha v. Deputy Commissioner, Bengaluru Urban District.


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