• The Supreme Court recently held that the Senior Citizens Act cannot have an overriding effect on the Protection of Women against Domestic Violence Act, 2005.
• In the case, the senior citizens sought an eviction order against daughter-in-law, which was upheld by the High Court.
• The Supreme Court quashed the eviction notice holding that even though the Senior Citizens Act has a non-obstante clause, it cannot be used to infringe rights enshrined under other special enactments.
• Maintenance And Welfare Of Parents And Senior Citizens Act, 2007 was brought to provide effective provisions for welfare of parents and senior citizens above age of 60
• Protection of Women against Domestic Violence Act, 2005 was brought to provide protection to rights of women and to protect them from any kind of violence occurring in the family.
BACKGROUND OF THE CASE
The case herein was instituted by the daughter-in-law (hereinafter, 'the appellant”), who was evicted from the premises wherein she was jointly living with her in-laws (who in fact got her evicted). The appellant got married in 2002, and her spouse allegedly deserted her to be in a relationship with another woman thereafter. The property in dispute here was a house, the land of which was initially bought by the spouse of appellant, and then later sold to her father in law. After constructing the house on the said land, the father-in-law gifted it to his wife (who is a Respondent party as well) in 2010.
Later in 2013, the estranged spouse instituted a suit for divorce against the appellant, in accordance with Hindu Marriage Act, which was allowed by a court. Immediately after the order for dissolution of marriage was passed, the appellant appealed before the High Court for quashing it. While the marital status was still in question, in 2015, the parents-in-law of the appellant invoked the provisions of the Senior Citizens Act, 2007 for getting the appellant evicted from the house where they had been jointly living up until now, on ground that the appellant does not have any right in the house, considering that the order of divorce was allowed.
ANALYSING THE SENIOR CITIZENS ACT, 2007
The Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007 ('Senior Citizens Act”) was brought to provide effective provisions for welfare of parents and senior citizens above age of 60, through various provisions regarding maintenance. The father-in-law and the mother-in-law both being 82 years and 72 years old respectively were eligible to invoke the provisions of this Act. In their Petition before the Assistant Commissioner, the sought the following reliefs against the appellant and their estranged son:
(i) Eviction of the appellant from the suit premises where she was residing;
(ii) A direction to the Fourth respondent to pay an amount of Rs.15,000 to the parents by way of monthly maintenance; and
(iii) A direction to the appellant and fourth respondent to pay an amount quantified at Rs. 25,000 towards legal expenses.
The Assistant Commissioner allowed the petition and directed the estranged son (appellant’s spouse) to pay certain maintenance and also issued an order for eviction against the appellant. Shortly thereafter, the appellant appealed against the impugned order of eviction first before the Deputy Commissioner and then before the Karnataka High Court, both of whom upheld the order on ground that since the marriage between the appellant and estranged spouse was already dissolved, she could seek maintenance from him but could not enjoy any right in the house which was owned by the Respondents (i.e. the parents-in-law).
The parents-in-law had initiated the proceedings under Section 4 and 5 of the Act, which provide that senior citizen, including parent, who is unable to maintain himself from his own earning or out of the property owned by him, shall be entitled to make an application for seeking maintenance from their children, grandchildren or any other relatives. The term ‘maintenance’ used in the act includes provision for a residence. The Maintenance tribunal has powers under Section 9 to order such maintenance for the senior citizen as it may deem necessary. However, there is no express provision for the Maintenance Tribunal to pass eviction orders.
The parents-in-law had also relied upon sub-section (2) of Section 23 according to which, in their submission, the Tribunal had the jurisdiction to pass an order directing the eviction of the appellant who is their daughter-in-law. According to the submission, the power to order eviction is implicit in the provision guaranteeing a 'right to receive maintenance out of an estate” and the enforcement of that right. Therefore, eviction, in other words would be an incident of the enforcement of the right to maintenance and protection. Section 23(2) reads:
'Where any senior citizen has a right to receive maintenance out of an estate and such estate or part thereof is transferred, the right to receive maintenance may be enforced against the transferee if the transferee has notice of the right, or if the transfer is gratuitous; but not against the transferee for consideration and without notice of right.”
It wouldn’t be out of place to mention that the Senior Citizens Act also contains a non-obstante clause under section 3, which primarily gave merit to the petition. As per the clause, the provisions of this Act would have effect notwithstanding anything inconsistent contained in any other enactment, or in any instrument having effect by virtue of any enactment other than this Act. Such clause usually gives the particular Act an overriding effect over any other legislation. However, it would be evident that the mandate even via such clause is not absolute and how it can be neutralized.
THE PROTECTION OF WOMEN AGAINST DOMESTIC VIOLENCE ACT, 2005
The Protection of Women against Domestic Violence Act, 2005 ('Domestic Violence Act”) was brought to provide protection to rights of women and to protect them from any kind of violence occurring in the family. The appellant, against whom the eviction order was passed, primarily relied upon this legislation for protection of her rights. The foremost premise built by the appellant was that the disputed house falls under the purview of 'shared household” under Section 2(s) of the Act, which is household where the person aggrieved lives or at any stage has lived in a domestic relationship either singly or along with the respondent.
Thereafter, the appellant relied upon Section 17 of the Act, which grants to every woman in a domestic relationship to have the right to reside in the shared household, whether or not she has any right, title or beneficial interest in the same. To establish that she has a ‘domestic relationship’ with her parents-in-law, she relied upon the fact that the High Court had set aside the order for dissolution of marriage till pendency of the matrimonial suit and that she is still the lawful wife of the Respondent’s (parents-in-law) estranged son.
It is notable that Section 17 of the Domestic Violence Act too has a non-obstante clause, which makes it a special enactment having overriding effects over other enactments in force. Section 19 contemplates the passing of a residence order by the Magistrate on an application under sub-Section (1) of Section 12 of the Act. Sub-section (a) of Section 19 empowers the Magistrate to pass an order restraining the respondent from dispossessing or in any other manner disturbing the possession of an aggrieved person from a shared household, whether or not the respondent has a legal or equitable interest in the shared household.
Now, other than putting forward as to how two separate non-obstante clauses would work out against each other, the Supreme Court also had to decide whether the aggrieved and helpless appellant should deserve a right to residence. Firstly, the Court relied upon Solidaire India Ltd. v. Fairgrowth Financial Services Ltd, to establish that when 'principles of statutory interpretation dictate that in the event of two special acts containing non obstante clauses, the later law would typically prevail.” However, despite the Senior Citizens Act being the latter act, the Court observed that the provisions of Section 3 of the it, giving it overriding force and effect, would not by themselves be conclusive of an intent to deprive a woman who claims a right in a shared household, and that the dominant purpose of both statutes would have to be analysed to ascertain which one should prevail over the other.
Ultimately, the Court came to a conclusion and made directions for setting aside of the impugned order of eviction and the order of the High Court upholding it, and restraining 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 in any manner whatsoever for a period of one year, to enable the appellant to pursue her other remedies in accordance with law. It observed that the provisions of Senior Citizens Act are meant to protect the interest senior citizens and ensure that they are not left destitute or at mercy of their children or relatives, but that it cannot be used for infringing the rights and/or interests of women under the Domestic Violence Act.
It kept it open for both the appellant and the respondents to pursue any remedy in accordance with law, while holding that at instances of two special enactments having conflicting provisions, the objective of the interpreter must be to harmonise the two enactments and not excise them.