The Supreme Court on Monday said the right to maintenance of a wife was absolute and no exceptions could be made, ruling that Section 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which embodies this rule, would apply to divorced Muslim women as well.
"If the husband is healthy, able-bodied and is in a position to support himself, he is under the legal obligation to support his wife, for the wife's right to receive maintenance under Section 125 CrPC, unless disqualified, is an absolute right," a bench comprising Justices Dipak Misra and PC Pant said.
SC clarified maintenance under the section cannot be restricted in any way for divorced Muslim women who would be entitled to the allowance as long as they do not remarry.
"The amount of maintenance to be awarded under Section 125 CrPC cannot be restricted for the iddat period only," the court said, citing an earlier ruling by a Constitution bench. The clarification would help divorced Muslim women whose right to maintenance was curtailed by a law passed in Parliament by the Rajiv Gandhi government in the wake of the top court's Shah Bano ruling.
Though family courts have over the years whittled down the rigour of the law to give relief to divorced Muslim women too, the court's ruling settles the issue that civil law of the land would prevail over any personal laws. "There can be no shadow of doubt that an order under Section 125 CrPC can be passed if a person, despite having sufficient means, neglects or refuses to maintain the wife," the bench said.
Sometimes, a plea is advanced by the husband that he does not have the means to pay for he does not have a job or his business is not doing well. These are only bald excuses and, in fact, they have no acceptability in law."
The court said this in a case involving one Shamima Farooqui from Lucknow. She was ill-treated by her husband Shahid Khan, who later remarried. Her application filed in 1998 was taken up in 2012. Khan was a Nayak in the Army who earned `17,654 per month, including perks. The family court initially granted her Rs.2,000 per month and later Rs.4,000 per month after recording that she had no other means of supporting herself.
However, the high court reduced it to Rs.2,000 per month, taking note of the fact that the husband had retired from the Army in 2012. This drew the top court's ire. "In today's world, it is extremely difficult to conceive that a woman of her status would be in a position to manage within Rs.2,000 per month The inherent and fundamental principle behind Section 125 is for amelioration of financial state of affairs.