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Case Comment: S.R. Batra v. Taruna Batra

By : RIMALI BATRA on 10 June 2009 Report Abuse Print Print this
 



 

IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
 
 
 
S.R.BATRA and ANOTHER versus TARUNA BATRA (Smt.)
(2007) 3 SCC 169
 
 
Civil Appeal No. 5827 of 2006 with Contempt Petition (C) No. 38 of 2006
Decided on: December 15, 2006
(Before S.B.Sinha and Markandey Katju, JJ.)
 
 
TABLE OF CONTENTS
 
 
 
 
CASE COMMENT
 
BY: RIMALI BATRA
IVth BSL LLB.
Roll No. 1321 (A)
Ph: +91- 9373679388
 
 
 


INTRODUCTION
 
The legislature did an applaudable job of enforcing the ‘Protection of women Domestic violence Act, 2005’, but did judiciary do justice to this social piece of legislation? In the very first case under this act, our judiciary unlimited went on its way to interpret this progressive piece of legislation in a fashion not intended by the legislature? Presenting in words of thought the case of S.R. Batra v. Taruna Batra, decided in 2006 but reported in 2007.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Introduction
The present case is an appeal that has been filed against the judgment of the Delhi High Court, which very categorically held that the second floor of the property in question was the matrimonial home of the daughter-in-law and their son and that mere change of residence, by the husband would not change the matrimonial home of the wife. Whereas, the Apex Court reversed the judgment and declared that only the house owned by the husband, or the house taken on rent by the husband or the house of joint-family in which even husband has a share can only be declared a matrimonial home of the wife.
Facts of the Case:
Smt. Taruna Batra got married to Shri Amit Batra on 14th April 2000 and they had a male child born to them in the 27th November 2001. As per the prevailing practice, after their marriage, Smt. Taruna Batra shifted into the home of Shri Amit Batra along with her in-laws Shri S.R. Batra and Smt. Dhanwanti Batra. The House is though a two floor building registered in the name of Smt. Dhanwanti Batra, but they all resided on the ground floor of property situated at No. B-135 of Ashok Vihar in Phase I at Delhi-110052.
In early 2002, few months after their son was born, relations between the Smt. Taruna and Shri Amit Batra started deteriorating. According to Smt. Taruna, Shri Amit Batra treated her cruelly. This made them shift to the second floor of the said property, which became Smt. Taruna’s matrimonial home. However, their shifting to the second floor did not improve their relations, rather on the contrary, their relations deteriorated to such an extent that Shri Amit Batra filed a divorce petition. To this Smt. Taruna registered an FIR against Shri Amit Batra and other family members under the provisions of Sections 406/498A/506 and 34 of the Indian Penal Code (alleged to be counterblast to the Divorce petition). On the basis of this complaint Shri Amit Batra and his parents were arrested in January 2003. The happening of these events made it difficult for Smt. Taruna to stay at her matrimonial home and therefore she shifted to her parents' residence.
Later, when she tried to enter the matrimonial home, she was unable to as she found that the main entrance was locked. This instigated the first court case by Smt. Taruna Batra (Petitioner) seeking mandatory injunction to open the main entrance to enable her to reside in the matrimonial home, that is, the second floor of said property. To which the Respondents (Shri Amit Batra and his Parents) contented that Shri Amit Batra had purchased some property in Ghaziabad and had shifted there which was the matrimonial home of the Petitioner.
Procedural background
This landmark judgment of the Supreme Court has traveled its way up in the judiciary by the decisions of both the lower courts favoring Ms. Taruna Batra. It was the apex court’s decisions that send ripples in the established law by reversing the decision of both the lower court.
DEFINING ISSUES
 
A bird’s eye view would reveal that the there is only one issue involved, being the ‘Definition of a Matrimonial home or in other words the concept of Shared household laid down by the legislature in the Protection of Women in Domestic Violence Act, 2005 and the right of the wife to seek an injunction against her dispossession from her matrimonial of U.K. All that the court had at its disposal was a very recent legislation and a 1987 judgment of the apex court. This was a challenge thrown to the court to define the matrimonial home without the aid of the Matrimonial Homes Act, 1967 that, but this is not all, there are two other questions that were raised in the court and after this judgment which can neither be ignored nor overlooked. Emphasis should be laid on the issue concerning Article 50 of the Constitution, which does not empower the court to a make law. The court should also be very careful in the interpretation of a statute. An absurd interpretation should be ignored. These might be the peripheral questions but their implementation on the long run cannot be ignored.
ARGUMENTS ADVANCED
Shri Amit Batra with his parents contented before the trial judge and the High Court Judge that from sometime in September, 2002 the Petitioner was not residing in the second floor property. On the contrary, during the pendency of the injunction petition, the Petitioner trespassed upon the property and on an inspection of the second floor, only one blanket belonging to the Petitioner was found. It was further contended by the Respondents that their son Shri Amit Batra had purchased some property in Ghaziabad and had shifted there. Therefore, consequently the second floor was not the matrimonial home of the Petitioner. It was submitted that, in law, the occupation of the second floor of the property by the Petitioner was merely permissive as the entire property was owned by the Respondents.
SUMMARY OF COURT’S DECISIONS
Decision of the Lower Court[1]:
On these broad facts, the learned Trial Judge decided on 4th March, 2003 both the applications for ad interim injunction filed by the parties. He held that the Petitioner was 'admittedly' in possession of the second floor of the said property and that it would be in the fitness of things if both the parties did not interfere in each others possession and each others right to have access to the common passage.
Feeling aggrieved by the decision of the learned Trial Judge, the Respondents appealed to the Senior Civil Judge who, by his order dated 17th September, 2004 held that the Petitioner was not residing in the second floor premises since her goods (other than one blanket) were not there and the premises had no electricity and water. Furthermore, it was held that since the Petitioner's husband was not living in the property, but elsewhere, the matrimonial home could not be where only the wife (Petitioner) was residing. It was also held that the Petitioner had no right over property belonging to persons other than her husband and, therefore, the application for an ad interim injunction filed by the Petitioner deserved dismissal. It was, however, directed that the Petitioner may visit the property "once or twice in a month along with local Police to see that the locks in the suit premises are intact or not." The parties were also directed to maintain status quo.
Both the parties are aggrieved by the order of the learned Senior Civil Judge and have, therefore, filed respective petitions under Article 227 of the Constitution. The issues in the petitions being the same, they were heard together on 25th November, 2004 and are being disposed of by a common decision. Both learned counsels reiterated their submissions made before the learned Trial Judge and the learned Senior Civil Judge.
Decision of the High Court:[2]
The High court proceed on the basis that the Petitioner is presently not residing in the second floor of property bearing and whether she is presently residing there or not is inconsequential for deciding if her matrimonial home is on the second floor of that property. Moreover, her actual possession or at least her constructive possession of the second floor of the property is not seriously doubted. They also considered that the Petitioner's husband is now residing at a place other than the second floor property. The question still remains whether, notwithstanding these assumptions, the second floor of the property is the Petitioner's matrimonial home or not. If the answer is in the affirmative, then she has a right to reside there (subject to the objections of the Respondents) otherwise not. The High Court, was of the view that in the context of Indian society, a pragmatic view has to be taken while attempting to understand what is meant by the matrimonial home of a married couple, because there is no statute in this respect unlike in England where the Matrimonial Homes Act, 1983 would govern the situation. A spouse who has no proprietary interest in the matrimonial home but is in occupation thereof has a right to remain in occupation of the matrimonial home as against the spouse who has left that matrimonial home under that act.[3] The Supreme Court made a reference to the Matrimonial Homes Act, 1967 in England and the rights of occupation of a spouse and observed:
"But such rights are not granted in India though it may be that with change of situation and complex problems arising it is high time to give the wife or the spouse a right of occupation in a truly matrimonial home, in case of marriage breaking up or in case of strained relationship between the husband and the wife."
The Supreme Courts Decision
Disagreeing with the view of the High Court the apex court observed that unlike in England where the rights of spouses to the matrimonial home was governed by the Matrimonial Homes Act, 1967, no such right exists in India. The Court held that the house belonged to the mother–in-law of the respondent and hence the respondent cannot claim right to live in the said house. The court also held that the house could not be said to be a 'shared household' within the meaning of Section 2(s) of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 as it neither belonged to the husband nor was it joint family property. Accordingly, the appeal was allowed.It laid down, that only in three instance can the wife claim the husband’s house as the matrimonial home, they being; if the property was in the name of the husband; or if the husband was paying rent of the property; or if the husband was a member of a joint family and the property being undivided.
The court also went on to discuss the legal obligation of the husband to provide residence to the wife.[4] The fact that Amit Batra applied for a divorce from the Petitioner (although the divorce petition is now said to have been dismissed in default) does not take away his obligation.
Consequently, Amit Batra shifting from the second floor of the said property to Ghaziabad would not ipso facto shift the Petitioner's matrimonial home to Ghaziabad. Hence according to the Supreme Court in the present case there was no obligation of the respondent to let the petitioner reside in the house that does not belong to their son.
APPRAISAL AND CRITISISM OF THE JUDGMENT
 
The Trail of Errors and our Judiciary Unlimited went on to use the tool of interpretation on many other cases to follow. This first Supreme Court judgment on provisions of the Domestic Violence Act, enacted in 2005, is a striking illustration of the gradual undermining of the law because social attitudes are at variance with the content of the legislation.
 
Appraisal in words and Criticism of words would be fatal, one needs to analyze the sting in the tail of this judgment. Here is an extract fro various judgments that followed after 2006, to further the fact that a bad judgment can have repercussions on good law. Before I go on to illustrate the remarkable work of our judiciary, I would like to reiterate what has been held in the Case (Supra), that is:
 
The Supreme Court in has held that 'shared household' means only the house belonging to or taken on rent by the husband or house which belongs to the joint family in which the husband is one of the members. It has also been observed therein that the property exclusively owned by the mother of the husband cannot be called 'shared household', as per the definition found in Section 2(s) of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005.”
That any interpretation which leads to absurdity and chaos ought not to be adopted and aslo that the court has no power to male law”
 
And now the trail of the cases that followed;
 
Property Matters:  
  • Shammi Nagpal Vs. Sudhir Nagpal, Director of Hotel Taj-President, Indian Hotels Company Ltd. and Commissioner of Police[5]
Family members cannot claim exclusive possession or right in the residential premises allotted by the company as a condition of service by entering into the service occupancy agreement. Wife entitled to claim right to residence in a shared house under Domestic Violence Act, 2005 and a shared household would only mean the house belonging to or taken on rent by the husband or the house which belongs to the joint family of which the husband is a member and does not apply to a property belonging to a third party” And with this judgment there was another addition to the definition of the Shared household.
 
·        Vimalben Ajitbhai Patel Vs.Vatslabeen Ashokbhai Patel and Ors.[6] and
·        Ajitbhai Revandas Patel and Anr. Vs. State of Gujarat and Anr.[7]
The ratio of these cases was that property in the name of the mother-in-law can neither be a subject matter of attachment nor during the life time of the husband, and this was in furtherance to the provisions of the Domestic Violence Act.  
·        Smt. Shumita Didi Sandhu Vs. Mr. Sanjay Singh Sandhu and Ors.
In this case it was held that where daughter-in-law was allowed to stay in the house belonging to parents-in-law, such permissive user would not make it a case of lawful and subtle possession and the daughter-in-law could not claim her right to stay in the house belonging to the parents-in-law.
The Court also gave additional grounds holding that the house in question cannot be said to be 'shared household' within the meaning of Section 2(s) of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 and submitted the following definition of a Shared household, that being;
A shared household includes a household where the person aggrieved lives or at any stage had lived in a domestic relationship. He contended that since admittedly the respondent had lived in the property in question in the past, hence the said property is her shared household
The court did not agree with this submission, which was indeed apt because if the interpretation canvassed by the learned respondent is accepted, all these houses of the husband's relatives will be shared households and the wife can well insist in living in the all these houses of her husband's relatives merely because she had stayed with her husband for some time in those houses in the past. Such a view would lead to chaos and would be absurd. t is well settled that any interpretation which leads to absurdity should not be accepted.
Family Courts Act, 1984:
  • Rakhi W/o Santhosh Deorankar Vs. Jayendra S/o Sadashiorao Deorankar[8]
For an injunction under the Civil Procedure Code that refers to the one that arises out of "circumstances arising out of a matrimonial relationship". The term matrimonial relationship can be construed by applying narrower as well broader construction. Where a broader Construction would mean that; marriage is not just a contract. It is a social tie arrived at according to religious faith and religious traditions, custom and social sanction existing between social of parties to marriage. It is a socio religious institution and all family members are involved in it. Any relationship encompassing all them will fall within purview of term matrimonial relationship. Where as a narrower Construction would emphasis on the fact that;
Though marriage is a socio religious institution and tie between nearest kins of those related by blood to the spouses, yet the matrimonial 'relationship' would be limited to those ingredients of matrimony.
But then in light of the Taruna Batra judgment, the court held that; “the construction of restrictive nature seems to be imperative in view of spectrum of interpretation as laid down in case (supra) in which case Hon'ble Supreme Court has devised a "scope" of construction for all Courts in India” . The Family Courts Act which is a special legislation and creates a forum and mechanism for beneficial and effective enforcement of existing rights. This statute cannot be construed to enlarge the scope of statute so as in such a manner that it shall enlarge the scope and jurisdiction of forum constituted under it to bring within its jurisdiction what was not intended and expressed so.
Tenancy Matters and Domestic Violence Act:
·        Smt. Mira Das Vs. Ms. Dipali Dey (Baxi)[9]
The learned Counsel referred to the case (Supra) and drew the attention of this Court to submit that the opposite party is not entitled to take shelter under the provisions of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005. But the court lay down that in any event, the facts of the case (supra) were quite different from the facts of the instant case. In the instant case the opposite party is a divorcee. In view of the fact that the opposite party has already obtained a decree of divorce against the petitioner and the matrimonial relationship has come to an end way back in 1993, the opposite party is not entitled to claim any right of residence in respect of the suit property. The said reported case (Supra) did not deal with the case of a divorcee-wife.
Criminal Matters:
·        P. Babu Venkatesh, Kandayammal and Padmavathi Vs. Rani[10]
It is found that wife had chosen to file a Suit seeking bare injunction restraining her husband and his mother from dispossessing the wife from the property in question. On facts, it is observed that the husband of the respondent therein had already shifted his residence to a flat in Ghaziabad before ever the litigation between the parties started. In such circumstances, the Supreme Court has held that the place where the wife alone was residing cannot be termed as a matrimonial home.
Service Matters
·        R.K. Talukdar (IC-35161F Lt. Co.) Vs. Union of India (UOI) and Ors.
The ration of this case, based on the decision of the Supreme Court was that the Plaintiff has unqualified right to withdraw a suit unconditionally unless permission is sought to file a fresh suit on the same cause of action or when there is a counter claim.
THIS REVEALS THAT HOW SEVERAL COURTS HAVE REFUSED RELIEF TO WOMEN ON THE BASIS OF THIS JUDGMENT. IT DEMONSTRATES THAT IN INDIA WOMEN HAS LESSER PROTECTION THAN TENANTS, WHO CANNOT BE EVICTED EXCEPT BY THE PROCEDURE ESTABLISHED BY LAW.
COMMENTS
The Laudable 11 page judgment of the Supreme Court has become the corner-stone of personal laws and Constitutional Laws in India.  The Domestic Violence Act, enacted in October 2006, provides for, among other significant relief’s, the right to residence in the shared household, the right to protection orders, and the mandated return of Stree-dhan (dowry), besides giving courts the power to restrain the alienation of assets. It defines violence in all its dimensions, from the physical to the sexual and the economic. This definition was taken from the U.N. Model Code on domestic violence and from the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Violence against Women, to which India is a party. It applies to not only married women but also women in live-in relationships and daughters/mothers facing violence in domestic relationships.
The major breakthrough the law achieved was the declaration of the right to reside in the shared household. The law makes a clear distinction between the ownership of the shared household and the right to reside in it. What the law does is to grant the right to reside and not to be dispossessed, except by authority of law. Indira Jaising of Lawyers Collective wrote in an article published in Indian Express on October 26:
This provision suffered a major setback at the hands of the judiciary. The Supreme Court, even before the ink on the Act was dry, declared in a judgment (S.R. Batra v. Smt. Taruna Batra) that a woman could claim this right only in relation to a household owned/rented by her husband. This means that if her husband lives with his parents and she has her matrimonial residence there, she cannot claim right to residence there. The judgment not only overlooks the law itself, it also overlooks the existing social reality of the joint family, which continues to be the predominant pattern.
 
The court goes on to interpret the definition of 'shared household' in the Domestic Violence Act and the rights of a woman in the household. The Domestic Violence Act clearly defines 'shared household' in Section 2 (s) as a household where the aggrieved person "lives or at any stage has lived in a domestic relationship either singly or along with the respondent".
 
The definition covers households owned or tenanted, or joint family property, irrespective of whether the respondent or the aggrieved person has a right, title or interest in the shared household. Under Section 17 (1), the Act lays down categorically that "every woman in a domestic relationship shall have the right to reside in the shared household, whether or not she has any right, title or beneficial interest in the same". Section 17 (2) protects the aggrieved person from being evicted or excluded from the shared household. Section 19 gives power to pass 'residence orders' in case of domestic violence, restraining dispossession of the aggrieved person from the shared household, "whether or not the respondent has a legal or equitable interest" in the household.
 
The provision also confers powers on the magistrate to direct the respondent to remove himself from the shared household or to restrain the husband and his relatives from entering the part where the aggrieved person resides. The respondent can also be directed to secure the same level of alternative accommodation as that enjoyed by the aggrieved person in the shared household. The submission made on behalf of Smt. Taruna Batra was that the definition of 'shared household' in the Domestic Violence Act clearly included a household where the aggrieved person lives or at any stage had livedin a domestic relationship.
 
As Smt. Taruna Batra had admittedly lived in the premises at Ashok Vihar, it clearly constituted her 'shared household'. The accepted principle of interpretation is that between two possible views, the interpretation that furthers the intention of the legislature and the object of the legislation, particularly in social welfare laws, is the one that should be preferred by the courts. The object of the Domestic Violence Act is "to provide for more effective protection of the rights of women". However the Supreme Court, in the face of the clear definition of 'shared household', rejected the submission that the second floor premises of Ashok Vihar were the shared household of the wife Smt. Taruna Batra.
 
Another sound principle followed by the courts is to give decisions based on the concrete facts and circumstances of the case before them. In the present case, the issue before the court was whether Smt. Taruna Batra, who had admittedly stayed on the second floor of the house of the husband's mother, had a right to stay there under the Domestic Violence Act, as it constituted her 'shared household' under the law. Instead of interpreting the law based on the concrete facts of the case, the court ventures into hypothetical and imaginary situations that the husband and wife may have lived in dozens of places like the husband's parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews, etc. Therefore, according to the judgment, if places where the husband and wife lived together were to be accepted as 'shared household' then it would lead to chaos and would be absurd. On the basis of this specious reasoning, the judgment declares that "any interpretation which leads to absurdity should not be accepted".
Hence, the court, instead of applying the clear definition in the Act, observes that it is
"clumsily drafted" and goes on to give an interpretation clearly at odds with the objective of the Domestic Violence Act and against the interests of women facing domestic violence.
Significantly, the Bench of Justices SB Sinha and Markandeya Katju need a reminder of their own words that,
It is only the legislature which can create a law and not the court. The courts do not legislate and whatever maybe the personal view of a judge, he cannot create or amend any law and he must maintain judicial restraint.”
 
 
 


[1] Extracted from the decision of the High Court.
[2] Smt. Taruna Batra W/o Shri Amit Batra Batra D/o Shri Shore Lal Vs. S.R.Batra S/o Shri G.D. Batra and Smt. Dhanwanti Batra W/o Shri S.R. Batra
[3] B.R. Mehta v. Atma Devi & Ors. (1987) 4 SCC 183
[4] Anu Seth and Ors. v. Rohit Narain Seth and Ors, 87 (2000) DLT 486
 
[5] 2008(5)BomCR149.
[6] 2007 (6) KLT 1233.
[7] 2008(110)Guj.L.R.1797.
[8] 2008(5)MhLJ98
[9] (2008) 4 SCC 1134
[10] (2008) 9 SCC 34

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