This article has been written by Oishika Banerji of Amity Law School, Kolkata. This article provides a case analysis of Padmja Sharma v. Ratan Lal Sharma (2000).
This article has been published by Sneha Mahawar.
A bench of Justices D.P. Wadhwa and M.B. Shah of the Supreme Court of India while hearing the case of Padmja Sharma v. Ratan Lal Sharma (2000) re-established the meaning of the term ‘maintenance’ provided in Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956, while applying the same with respect to the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955. The Court also observed that the maintenance of a minor child is the obligation of both the parents, specifically if the mother is also well-off financially. The present article is a case analysis of the aforementioned case.
Facts of the case
Both the parties in the present case claimed to be Hindus. On May 2, 1983, their marriage was solemnized according to Hindu customs. The first child, a son, was born on January 27, 1984, and the second, also a son, was born on June 28, 1985. On May 21, 1990, the wife filed a petition for divorce. She also asked for the restoration of her ‘streedhan,‘ as well as the custody and guardianship of the children, as well as their maintenance. She also filed an application under Section 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 at the same time.
On August 2, 1991, the wife filed a petition in the Family Court under Section 26 of the HMA, seeking the support of Rs. 2575 a month for both children. However, in the affidavit supporting the plea, maintenance for both children was claimed at Rs. 2,500 per month. It was mentioned that the husband’s monthly salary was Rs. 6233.40. The wife also claimed Rs. 1,585 in school entrance fees for her children, as well as Rs. 5,000 in legal fees. In a ruling dated April 7, 1992, the Family Court ordered maintenance for each child under Section 125 of the Code at Rs. 250 per month. On April 30, 1992, the Family Court granted each child an additional sum of Rs. 250 per month as interim maintenance under Section 26 of the Act. The Family Court also addressed matters such as minor children’s custody, guardianship, and maintenance, as well as ‘streedhan.‘
The wife further submitted a new application under Section 26 of the Act on October 27, 1995, in which she drew the court’s attention to her former application from August 2, 1991. She was then claiming Rs. 2500 per month for each of her children. She said that her husband’s salary had been increased to Rs. 12,225 in August 1995. Wife filed yet another application under the aforementioned Section of the Act on August 26, 1997.
Now she demanded Rs. 3,500 per month in maintenance for the older child and Rs. 3,000 per month for the younger child. It was pointed out that the husband’s salary was Rs. 13,683 per month and was increased to Rs. 14,550 per month in August 1997. By ruling dated September 13, 1997, the Family Court merged two actions, one for dissolution of marriage under Section 13 of the HMA and the other for annulment of marriage under Section 26 of the Act. The wife received a divorce decision from the Family Court on October 4, 1997, dissolving her marriage with the respondent. In response to a claim of Rs. 1,80,000 for ‘streedhan,’ the Family Court awarded a decree of Rs. 1,00,000 as cost of the goods, with an alternative plea allowed if the respondent did not return the articles named by the wife in her petition. It was further directed that both children remain in the care of the mother, the appellant until they reach the age of majority and that maintenance for each child be paid at the rate of Rs. 500 per month beginning October 4, 1997. The wife was given a payment of Rs. 1,000 as part of the legal costs.
The wife brought the case to the High Court, asking for an increased amount of child support and a decree for the whole amount of Rs. 1,80,000. By its impugned judgment, the High Court increased the children’s monthly support from Rs. 500 to Rs. 1,000, effective from the date of the Family Court’s decree dated October 4, 1997, and granted Rs. 500 per month for each child from the date of the application. Along with this, the High Court made the following observations:
- The prayer of the wife for enhancement of any amount from Rs. 1,00,000 was rejected by the High Court on considerable grounds that both the appellate and the respondent are well-off in their professional lives. While the husband was employed as a clerk in the Reserve Bank of India, the appellant-wife was a lecturer in a Government college in Rajasthan, and therefore both were financially stable.
- The High Court further made certain directions for the husband to meet the children thereby disposing of the wife’s appeal without any order as to costs.
The wife felt wronged and petitioned the Supreme Court of India for leave to appeal under Article 136 of the Indian Constitution.
- Whether the Supreme Court of India is an appropriate court to file a petition for the enhancement of maintenance under Section 26 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 or not?
- Whether the father is the only parent responsible for the maintenance of his child?
Submissions by the appellant
Along with her claims before the High Court and the Apex Court, the appellate wife in the present case had argued that she had been subjected to harassment persistently by the husband(respondent) in delaying the trial before the Family Court.
While hearing the case, the Apex Court noted that the husband had a grievance that he was unable to obtain legal representation in the Family Court, despite the fact that the wife was represented by her father, who is also a lawyer, and that while her father argued in the court, she remained silent.
Despite being served with a notice, the respondent had not appeared before the Apex Court. As a result, the bench heard the wife’s arguments ex parte.
A judgment of a case is made up of the ratio decidendi and obiter dicta. The judgment in the present case has both of these ingredients with an interesting note. The same has been discussed below.
If the circumstances have changed for the enhancement of maintenance, the appellant may re-approach to the Family Court for an increase in support, as an order under Section 26 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, is never definitive and the decree issued under it is always susceptible to the amendment.
Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, 1956, Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956, and Hindu Succession Act, 1956 constitute a law in a coded form for the Hindus. Unless there is something objectionable in the context, a definition of a term might be taken from any of the four Acts that make up the legislation in order to interpret a specific provision. All of these Acts must be read in tandem and understood in accordance with one another.
Observations of the court
The observations made by the Supreme Court of India with respect to the present case of Padmja Sharma v. Ratan Lal Sharma (2000) have been provided hereunder:
- The appeal was partly allowed by the Apex Court. From the date of the first application, August 2, 1991, the respondent must pay Rs. 500 per month for each of his children, followed by Rs. 1,000 per month from the date of the second application, October 27, 1995, and Rs. 1,500 per month from the date of the third application, August 26, 1997. These sums are in addition to Rs. 250 per month that the respondent has been giving to the children under Section 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. The respondent was entitled to make adjustments of the amounts which he had already paid under orders of the Family Court, High Court, or the interim order of the Supreme Court.
- A person’s responsibility to support his or her elderly or infirm parents or an unmarried daughter extends to the extent that the parent or unmarried daughter, as the case may be, is unable to support himself or herself out of his or her own earnings or other property. In light of the entire picture, in this case, the Apex Court took into account that “parent” includes a mother living with her children, and therefore determined that a monthly payment of Rs. 3,000 for each child would be sufficient to sustain them, which would be shared equally by both parents in a 2:1 ratio.
The first issue before the Supreme Court of India in the present case was whether the Apex Court is an appropriate Court to file a petition for the enhancement of maintenance under Section 26 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 or not. While answering this question, the Court interpreted Section 26 of the Act of 1955 with respect to the facts of the case. The Court noted that the wife had stated in her first application filed under Section 26 of the Act that she received a monthly income of Rs. 3,100 and her husband received a monthly salary of Rs. 5,850. Further, with the passage of time, both parents’ salaries have increased reasonably. As a result, she was also obligated to pay for the children’s maintenance. The Court reasoned that if the husband’s pay was roughly double then that of the wife’s, they are obligated to contribute in that proportion to the upkeep of their children.
While considering the term ‘maintenance’ which is not defined under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, the Court referred to the definition provided by the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956. A Hindu wife is entitled to be maintained by her husband for the rest of her life under Section 18 of the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956. Section 20 of the Act also covers the maintenance of children and elderly parents. A Hindu is obligated to support his or her offspring during his or her lifetime under this provision. A minor child can claim maintenance from his or her father or mother as long as he or she is a minor. As a result, Section 20 should be contrasted with Section 18. The father, as well as the mother, has a duty to support a minor child under the former Section.
The present judgment is a reflection of equal rights and duties vested on both the parents of a minor child. Although Section 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 provides several grounds on providing maintenance to those who are in need of it, the Apex Court clarified that when both parents earn a decent living, the father cannot be vested with the complete burden of looking after the maintenance of his children, the mother needs to contribute proportionately as well.
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