Smt. S. Vanitha V. The Deputy Commissioner, Bengaluru Urban District & Ors.
Civil Appeal No. 3822 of 2020 decided on 15.12.2020 (Arising out of SLP (C) No. 29760 of 2019)
Bench: Dr. D.Y.Chandrachudd, Indu Malhotra & Indira Banerjee, JJ.
The appellant’s husband owned property in his name before marriage. However, a few years later, he subsequently sold it to his father under a registered sale deed. Soon after a marital dispute arose between the couple and the appellant’s husband instituted divorce proceedings against her. After the institution of the divorce proceeding, the father of the husband gifted it to his wife, i.e., the mother-in-law of the appellant. The appellant instituted proceedings of harassment for dowry against her husband and mother-in-law. While the said proceedings were pending, the in-laws of the appellant filed an application seeking to evict their daughter-in-law from their residential in-laws house under the Senior Citizens Act 2007.
The application of the appellant’s in-laws was allowed by the Assistant Commissioner and appealed and upheld by the Deputy Commissioner. The appellant filed a writ proceeding under Article 226 of the Constitution before a Single Judge, and in appeal before a Division Bench of the High Court of Karnataka. The Division Bench held that the suit premises belonged to the mother-in-law of the appellant and the remedy of the appellant for maintenance and shelter lies only against her spouse (The Division Bench upheld the Order of the Deputy Commissioner and directed the appellant to vacate the suit premises.
Furthermore, the appellant moved to the Supreme Court under Article 136 of the Constitution of India challenging the jurisdiction of The Assistant Commissioner and the Deputy Commissioner to decree her eviction under Senior Citizens Act, 2007.
Whether the claim of the appellant(wife) that the premises constituted a shared household within the meaning of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005 [PWDV] which can be defeated by securing an order of eviction under the Senior Citizen Act, 2007?
The Supreme Court has held that the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007 does not have an overriding effect over the right of residence of a woman in a shared household under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005. Section 17 of the PWDV, 2007 provides 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. Here, the arising conflict between the provisions of PWDV, 2005 and Senior Citizen Act, 2007 was resolved by the court by relying on their legislative scheme. The bench noted that the Tribunal under the Senior Citizens Act 2007 may have the authority to order an eviction if it is necessary and reasonable to ensure the maintenance and protection of the senior citizen or parent. However, the remedy of eviction can be granted only after adverting to the competing claims in the dispute.
The court harmoniously interpreted the provisions of PWDV, 2005 and Senior Citizen Act, 2007. It noted that Section 3 of Senior Citizens Act, 2005 laid that its provisions will affect, notwithstanding anything inconsistent contained in any enactment. Moreover, Section 36 of the PWDV, 2005 stipulates that the provisions of the Act shall be in addition to, and not in derogation of, the provisions of any other law for the time being in force. The provision is intended to ensure that the remedies provided under the enactment are in addition to other remedies and do not displace them.
The court noted the principles of statutory interpretation dictate that in the event of two special acts, both containing a non-obstante clause, the latter will prevail over the former. However, the court held that in case of conflict between the provisions of two statutes, an enquiry is to be made between the dominant purposes of both the Act, to decide which should prevail over the other.
In this case, both pieces of legislation are intended to deal with salutary aspects of public welfare and interest. The PWDV Act 2005 was intended to deal with the problems of domestic violence which, as the Statements of Objects and Reasons sets out, “is widely prevalent but has remained largely invisible in the public domain”. The court enquired into the Statements of Objects and Reasons of the PWDV Act.
Therefore, the court held that allowing the Senior Citizens Act 2007 to have an overriding force and effect in all situations, irrespective of competing entitlements of a woman to the right in a shared household within the meaning of the DV Act 2005, would defeat the object and purpose which the Parliament sought to achieve in enacting the latter legislation.
The law protecting the interest of senior citizens is intended to ensure that they are not left destitute, or at the mercy of their children or relatives. Equally, the purpose of the DV Act of 2005 cannot be ignored by a sleight of statutory interpretation. Both sets of legislations have to be harmoniously construed.
Hence the right of a woman to secure a residence order in respect of a shared household cannot be defeated by the simple expedient of securing an order of eviction by adopting the summary procedure under the Senior Citizens Act 2007.
Issue: Whether the tribunals constituted under the Senior Citizen Act, 2007 can grant relief that obviates competing remedies under other special statutes?
The court held that the Senior Citizens Act 2007 was promulgated to provide a speedy and inexpensive remedy to senior citizens. Under Section 7 of the Senior Citizen Act, 2007 Tribunals were constituted having the power to conduct summary procedures for inquiry, with all powers of the Civil Courts. In the instant case, the remedies sought by the applicants would preclude the competing remedy and protection under PWDV, 2005.
The DV Act 2005 is also a special legislation that is enacted to correct gender discrimination that pans out in the form of social and economic inequities in a largely patriarchal society. In deference to the dominant purpose of both the legislations, it would be appropriate for a Tribunal under the Senior Citizens Act, 2007 to grant such remedies of maintenance, as envisaged under S.2(b) of the Senior Citizens Act 2007, that do not result in obviating competing remedies under other special statutes, such as the DV Act 2005.
Section 26 of the DV Act empowers certain reliefs, including relief for a residence to be obtained from any civil court in any legal proceedings. The present matter is like a composite dispute. The court held that here the suit premises are a site of contestation between two groups protected by the law, it would be appropriate for the Tribunal constituted under the Senior Citizens Act 2007 to appropriately mould reliefs, after noticing the competing claims of the parties claiming under the DV Act 2005 and Senior Citizens Act 2007.