Supreme Court Lays Foundation for Claim of Maintenance by Unmarried Major Hindu Daughter

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On September 15th, the Supreme Court held that an unmarried and major Hindu daughter can claim maintenance from her father till she is married under Section 20(3) of the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956, provided she proves that she is unable to maintain herself. However, she is not entitled to maintenance from her father in proceedings under 125 Cr.PC unless it can be proven that she is, due to any physical or mental abnormality or injury, unable to maintain herself.

Background

The Appellant’s mother filed for interim maintenance under section 125 Cr.P.C. against her husband. She filed the petition on behalf of her two sons, the Appellant daughter and herself. On 16.02.2011, the Judicial Magistrate dismissed the application for the two sons and the Appellant’s mother. However, the Court granted the Appellant daughter maintenance until she attains majority.

A criminal revision filed by the four parties to the original suit was dismissed by the Additional Sessions Judge on 17.02.2014. The Learned Judge held that, as per the provision of Section 125 Cr.P.C., the children, who had attained majority are entitled to maintenance only if they suffer from any physical or mental abnormality or injury. Since the Appellant did not suffer from the same, she is entitled to maintenance till 26.04.2005 This was the date when she would attain majority.

On 16.08.2018, the High Court of Punjab and Haryana dismissed the application challenging the above orders. Hence, the Appellant daughter filed an appeal in SC challenging the High Court’s order.

Appellant’s Contentions

The Counsel submitted that the Appellant had attained majority on 26.04.2005. However, as she is unmarried, she is entitled to claim maintenance from her father.

The Appellant relied on provisions of Section 20 of the Hindu Adoptions & Maintenance Act, 1956. As per Section 20, the obligation of a person to maintain his unmarried daughter extends until she is married. Since the Appellant is still unemployed, she is entitled to claim maintenance from her father.

Respondent’s Contentions

The Respondent reasoned that as per Section 125 Cr.P.C. entitlement to claim maintenance by a daughter, who has attained majority is confined to a case where the person due to any physical or mental abnormality or injury, she is unable to maintain herself. As the Appellant does not suffer from the same, there is no case for granting maintenance.

Issue

Whether the appellant, who although had attained majority and is still unmarried is entitled to claim maintenance from her father in proceedings under Section 125 Cr.P.C. although she is not suffering from any physical or mental abnormality/injury?

Court’s Observations

A three-judge bench comprising Justices Ashok Bhushan, R. Subhash Reddy and MR Shah heard the matter and made the following observations.

Under Section 125(1)(c) of Cr.P.C, an unmarried daughter even though she has attained majority is entitled to maintenance, where such unmarried daughter is unable to maintain herself due to any physical or mental abnormality or injury.

Section 20(3) of the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956 now makes it a statutory obligation of a Hindu to maintain his or her daughter, who is unmarried and is unable to maintain herself out of her earnings or other property.

The Bench held that Family Courts shall have the jurisdiction only concerning cities or towns whose population exceeds one million. In an area where the Family Court is not established, a suit or proceedings for maintenance including the proceedings under Section 20 of the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956 shall only be before the District Court or any Subordinate Civil Court.

There may be a case where the Family Court has jurisdiction to decide a case under Section 125 Cr.P.C. as well as the suit under Section 20 of Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956. In such a case, Family Court can exercise jurisdiction under both the Acts. In an appropriate case, it can grant maintenance to an unmarried daughter even though she has become major enforcing her right under Section 20 of Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956 to avoid multiplicity of proceedings. However, the Magistrate in the exercise of powers under Section 125 Cr.P.C. cannot pass such order.

The right under Section 20 read with Section 3(b) of the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956 contains a larger right and is absolute, which needs determination by a Civil Court, hence for the larger claims as enshrined under Section 20, the proceedings need to be initiated under Section 20 of the Act. The Legislature never contemplated burdening the Magistrate while exercising jurisdiction under Section 125 Cr.P.C. to determine the claims contemplated by the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956.

Court’s Decision

The Bench dismissed the appeal. The Appellant was given liberty to take recourse to Section 20(3) of the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956 for claiming any maintenance against her father.


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