The Supreme Court on April 8, 2019, in the case of Ajay Kumar v. Latha @ Sharuti has observed that a court can order a brother in law to pay maintenance to a widow under Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005.
A Bench comprising of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and Hemant Gupta was hearing an appeal filed against the judgment passed by the Punjab and Haryana High Court whereby it had dismissed a petition against the judgment of the Additional Sessions Judge, Panipat confirming an interim order for the award of maintenance to the first respondent (widow) and her minor child.
In this case, the lady and her deceased husband were residing at a house which constitutes ancestral Hindu Joint Family Property. The deceased husband and the brother in law jointly carried on a business of a kiryana store.
In her complaint, the woman alleged that after the death of her husband she and her child was not permitted to reside in her matrimonial home. The Trial court passed an interim order granting monthly maintenance in the amount of Rs 4,000 to the woman and Rs 2,000 to the child. The brother in law was directed to pay the said amount. The High Court affirmed the said order which led the aggrieved brother in law to move the Supreme Court.
In his appeal, the Brother in law contended that there was no basis under the provisions of the Act to fasten liability on him.
However, the Bench rejected the said contention on observing that the substantive part of Section 2(q) indicates that the expression "respondent" means any adult male person who is, or has been, in a domestic relationship with the aggrieved person and against whom relief has been sought.
The Bench said: "The proviso indicates that both, an aggrieved wife or a female living in a relationship in the nature of marriage may also file a complaint against a relative of the husband or the male partner, as the case may be.. Section 2(f) defines the expression 'domestic relationship' to mean a relationship where two persons live or have lived together at any point of time in a shared household when they are related by consanguinity, marriage or through a relationship in the nature of marriage, adoption or are members living together as a joint family…. All these definitions indicate the width and amplitude of the intent of Parliament in creating both an obligation and a remedy in the terms of the enactment."
The Bench noted that the averments in the complaint prima facie indicate that the case of the complainants is that the house where she and her spouse resided, belong to a joint family.
Upholding the order, the Bench said: "Ultimately, whether the requirements of Section 2(f); Section 2(q); and Section 2(s) are fulfilled is a matter of evidence which will be adjudicated upon at the trial. At this stage, for the purpose of an interim order for maintenance, there was material which justifies the issuance of a direction in regard to the payment of maintenance."