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SMRUTI PAHARIYA Vs. SANJAY PAHARIYA

SMRUTI PAHARIYA Vs. SANJAY PAHARIYA

 

                                                  REPORTABLE

              IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
               CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION

 

         CIVIL APPEAL NO. 3465   OF 2009
 (@ SPECIAL LEAVE PETITION (CIVIL) NO. 17402 OF 2008)

 


Smruti Pahariya                          .....Appellant(s)

 

        - Versus -

 

Sanjay Pahariya                          ....Respondent(s)

 


                     J U D G M E N T


GANGULY, J.

 

1.      Leave granted.

 

2.      The wife, who is the appellant before this

        Court, filed this appeal seeking to impugn

        the     judgment   and   order    dated    5.6.2008

        passed by the High Court of judicature at

                             1
     Bombay, which in a detailed judgment, was

     pleased      to    set     aside      the    judgment        and

     decree      dated        5.12.2007       passed       by     the

     Family Court, Mumbai, in which the Family

     Court, dissolved the marriage between the

     appellant and the respondent by a decree

     of divorce on mutual consent under Section

     13B   of     the     Hindu          Marriage    Act,       1955

     (hereinafter "the said Act").

 

3.   Admittedly,        the        parties    are    Hindu        and

     governed by the provisions of the said Act

     and   they        were    married       on     5.3.1993       at

     Mumbai      following         the    Hindu    Vedic    rites.

     Marriage      was        also       registered.            After

     marriage, the parties resided together in

     Flat No. 601, 2nd Floor, Dinath Court, Sir

     Pochkhanwala        Road,       Worli,       Mumbai.         Two

     sons were born to them, one on 1.2.1995

     and   the    other       one    on    3.4.1997.        A    few

     years after that, serious differences and

     incompatibility surfaced between them and

                               2
all attempts of settlement failed.                                 The

parties       stopped           living        together            from

January       2005        and        decided      to        file     a

petition seeking divorce by mutual consent

under       Section      13B     of    the     said     Act.        A

joint petition to that effect was filed

before the Family Court at Bandra, Mumbai

and the same was registered on 19.5.2007.

It          was          averred             therein              that

incompatibility           with        each    other         made    it

difficult for them to co-exist and they

stopped       cohabiting         as        husband     and        wife

from January 2005 (para 6).                       In paragraph

13,     it    was     stated          that     there        was     no

collusion         between       the    parties         in    filing

the petition for divorce by mutual consent

and    in    paragraph          17    it    was   pointed          out

that there is no force or coercion between

the parties in filing the petition.                           Along

with    the       said    petition,          certain        consent

terms were also filed but with those terms

we are not concerned in this proceeding.

                           3
4.   Under the provisions of Section 13B (2) of

     the    said     Act,      a    minimum          period       of    six

     month has to elapse before such petition

     can    be    taken      up     for        hearing.           In   the

     instant case, the said period expired on

     or    about       19.11.2007.              In    between,          two

     dates    were      given,       namely,          14.6.2007         and

     23.8.2007 when the parties were given a

     chance      for    counselling             but    on   both        the

     days        parties           were        absent         and        no

     counselling took place.

 

5.   On 19.11.2007, after the mandatory period

     of six months, the matter came up before

     the    Family      Court.            It    appears     from        the

     affidavit         filed       by      the       wife     in       this

     proceeding        before       the        Bombay    High       Court

     that on 3.11.2007, advocate of the parties

     informed the husband that the matter will

     be     listed      on     19.11.2007             and     a     draft

     affidavit of deposition was sent to him

                               4
     through E-mail.           It is not in dispute that

     both the parties had the same advocate.

     It also appears from the affidavit of the

     wife     that       on    18.11.2007           the        advocate

     received a text SMS in his mobile from the

     respondent-husband            that       he    is     unable     to

     attend        the         court          on          19.11.2007.

     Therefore, on 19.11.2007, when the matter

     appeared      for       the   first      time        before     the

     Court,       the    husband        was     absent         and   the

     Family Court asked the advocate to inform

     the husband of the next date of hearing of

     the matter, which was fixed on 1.12.2007.

6.   On 19.11.2007 itself, an application was

     made    by    the     wife    to    summon          the    husband

     directing him to be present in the Family

     court    on     the      next      date.            Accordingly,

     summons       were       sent       by        the     Court      on

     23.11.2007         by    courier         and        the    courier

     returned with the remark "not accepting".

     In this connection, the order which was

     passed by the Family Court, on 1.12.2007,

                               5
         on    perusal   of    the   service   report    is   of

         some importance.           The following order was

         passed on the service return:

 

         "Perused   the    first   summons   and
     subsequent orders thereto.     I have seen
     service   affidavit   also,   states   that
     servant was present. Hence I am not able
     to accept it as a proper one. The courier
     endorsement is also vague.      Considering
     the   contents   in  affidavit,   I   allow
     petitioner No.1 to serve the notice by
     pasting on the address given in cause
     title to petitioner No.2.    EPSB allowed.
     It is made returnable on 4.12.2007."

 

7.       The petition was thus made returnable on

         4.12.2007.       It appears that the bailiff

         pasted    the   summons      on   3.12.2007    outside

         the door of the husband's residence and

         the matter came up before the Family Court

         on 4.12.2007 and on that day the husband

         was absent.          The Family Court adjourned

         the    matter     to       10.12.2007.        But    on

         5.12.2007,      the    wife,      filed   a   petition

         before the Family Court with a prayer that

         the hearing of the matter may be pre-poned

                                6
      and be taken up on the very same day i.e.

      5.12.2007.         On the aforesaid prayer of the

      wife,    though      the     matter      was    not    on    the

      board, it was taken on the board by the

      Family Court on 5.12.2007 and the decree

      of    divorce      was     passed     ex-parte        on    that

      date itself.

 

8.    It    may    be    mentioned     in      this    connection

      that     the       Family     Court       pre-poned          the

      hearing on wife's application and in the

      absence of the husband.                  Admittedly, the

      pre-ponement was done ex-parte.

 

9.    In     the        background        of     these        facts,

      basically         four   questions        fall        for    our

      consideration:

 

     I.        Whether impugned decree of divorce

          passed by the Family Court on 5.12.2007

          is vitiated by procedural irregularity?

 

                               7
II.         Whether               by          conducting            the

       proceeding,       in     the       manner       it    did,    the

       Family Court acted contrary to the avowed

       object of the Family Courts Act, 1984?

 

III.         Whether          from       the     absence      of     the

       husband      before          the        Family       Court     on

       19.11.2007,       1.12.2007             and    4.12.2007       it

       can   be    inferred          that       his     consent      for

       grant of divorce on a petition on mutual

       consent subsists, even though he has not

       withdrawn        the    petition          for       divorce    on

       mutual consent?

 

 IV.         Whether on a proper construction of

       Section 13B (2) of the said Act, which

       speaks      of    `the           motion        of    both     the

       parties', this Court can hold that the

       Family Court can dissolve a marriage and

       grant a decree of divorce in the absence

       of    one    of        the       parties        and    without

       actually ascertaining the consent of that

                               8
       party who filed the petition for divorce

       on mutual consent jointly with the other

       party?

 

10.   This     fourth      question            assumes        general

      importance        since       it         turns         on    the

      interpretation of the section.                    Apart from

      that, this question is relevant here in

      view of various recitals in the judgment

      and    decree   of     the    learned          Judge    of   the

      Family Court.          It appears that the Family

      Court    granted     the      decree       of    divorce     by

      proceeding        on         the         presumption          of

      continuing consent of the husband.

11.   While     dealing      with        the    first        question

      about     procedural          irregularity             in    the

      matter, this Court finds that the Family

      Court did not act properly even if it is

      held that it was correct in presuming the

      continuing      consent        of        the     respondent-

      husband.

 

                              9
12.   From the sequence of events, it appears

      that on 19.11.2007 when the matter came up

      before the Court, the first day after the

      mandatory        period         of       six        months,      the

      husband was absent.                  The Court directed

      service of summons on the husband on the

      request of the wife.                     The service return

      was     before       the        Court          on     1.12.2007.

      Looking at the service return, the Court

      found that service was not a proper one

      and the Court was also not satisfied with

      the   endorsement          of    the       courier.           Under

      such circumstances, the Court's direction

      on the prayer of the appellant-wife, for

      substituted service under Order 5 Rule 20

      of    the    Civil    Procedure            Code       is    not    a

      proper      one.      Direction            for       substituted

      service      under    Order          5    Rule       20    can    be

      passed only when Court is satisfied "that

      there       is   reason         to       believe       that      the

      defendant is keeping out of the way for

      the purpose of evading service, or that

                             10
      for any other reason the summons cannot be

      served in the ordinary way".

 

13.   In the facts of this case, the Court did

      not, and rather could not, have any such

      satisfaction as the Court found that the

      service was not proper.         If the service is

      not proper, the Court should have directed

      another service in the normal manner and

      should not have accepted the plea of the

      appellant-wife       for    effecting    substituted

      service.     From wife's affidavit asking for

      substituted service, it is clear that the

      servant      of       the      respondent-husband

      intimated     her     advocate's         clerk      that

      respondent-husband was out of Bombay and

      will   be    away     for     about      two     weeks.

      However, the appellant-wife asserted that

      the respondent-husband was in town and was

      evading.      But    the    Court   on    seeing    the

      service     return    did     not     come     to   the

      conclusion    that    the    husband     was   evading

                            11
      service.      Therefore, the Court cannot, in

      absence of its own satisfaction that the

      husband      is     evading          service,        direct

      substituted service under Order 5 Rule 20

      of the Code.

 

14.   Apart from the aforesaid irregularity, the

      Court, after ordering substituted service

      and perusing service return on 4.12.2007,

      fixed the matter for 10.12.2007.                   Then, on

      the application of the wife on 5.12.2007,

      pre-poned the proceeding to 5.12.2007 and

      on    that   very   day       granted    the   decree     of

      divorce even though the matter was not on

      the list.

 

15.   This    Court     strongly       disapproves        of   the

      aforesaid manner in which the proceeding

      was    conducted    in        this   case.     A    Court's

      proceeding        must        have   a   sanctity        and

      fairness.       It cannot be conducted for the

      convenience of one party alone.                     In any

                               12
      event, when the Court fixed the matter for

      10.12.2007,       it   could    not    pre-pone       the

      matter on an ex-parte prayer made by the

      appellant-wife on 5.12.2007 and grant the

      decree of divorce on that day itself by

      treating the matter on the board in the

      absence    of    the   husband.        This,     in   our

      opinion,    is     a   flagrant       abuse      of   the

      judicial process and on this ground alone,

      the decree dated 5.12.2007 has to be set

      aside.

 

16.   On this aspect, this Court endorses the

      dissatisfaction        expressed      by   the    Bombay

      High Court in paragraph 34 of its judgment

      under appeal about the manner in which the

      date of final hearing was pre-poned and an

      ex-parte decree was passed.

 

17.   While dealing with the second question it

      appears    that    the      Family    Court    has    not

      acted in a manner which is required of it

                             13
          having regard to the jurisdiction vested

          on it under the Family Courts Act.

 

18.       The Family Courts Act, 1984 (hereinafter,

          Act 66 of 1984) was enacted for adopting a

          human approach to the settlement of family

          disputes and achieving socially desirable

          results.   The need for such a law was felt

          as early as in 1974 and Chief Justice P.B.

          Gajendragadhkar,     as   the    Chairman       of   Law

          Commission,   in    the   59th   report    on    Hindu

          Marriage   Act,    1955   and    Special    Marriage

          Act, 1954, opined:-


           "In our Report on the Code of Civil
      Procedure, we have had occasion to emphasis
      that in dealing with disputes concerning
      the family, the court ought to adopt a
      human approach - an approach radically
      different from that adopted in ordinary
      civil proceedings, and that the court
      should    make    reasonable    efforts  at
      settlement   before   commencement   of the
      trial.   In our view, it is essential that
      such an approach should be adopted in
      dealing with matrimonial disputes.       We
      would suggest that in due course, States
      should think of establishing family courts,
      with presiding officers who will be well
      qualified in law, no doubt, but who will be
      trained to deal with such dispute in a
                              14
      human way, and to such courts all disputes
      concerning the family should be referred."

 

19.       Almost 10 years thereafter when the said

          Act 66 of 1984 was enacted, the words of

          the Chief Justice were virtually quoted in

          its    statement       of     objects       and    reasons.

          Consistent      with    the    said      human     approach

          which is expected to be taken by a Family

          Court Judge, Section 9 of the Act casts a

          duty upon the Family Court Judge to assist

          and    persuade    the       parties     to    come      to   a

          settlement.

 

20.       In the instant case by responding to the

          illegal and unjust demand of the wife of

          pre-poning       the    proceeding          ex-parte      and

          granting    an    ex-parte         decree     of   divorce,

          the    Family    Court       did   not   discharge        its

          statutory obligation under Section 13B (2)

          of the said Act of hearing the parties.

          When    a   proceeding        is    pre-poned       in    the

          absence of a party and a final order is
                                  15
      passed     immediately,             the        statutory     duty

      cast on the Court to hear the party, who

      is absent, is not discharged.                       Therefore,

      the Family Court has not at all shown a

      human and a radically different approach

      which it is expected to have while dealing

      with cases of divorce on mutual consent.

 

21.   Marriage is an institution of great social

      relevance     and    with          social       changes,     this

      institution               has             also         changed

      correspondingly. However, the institution

      of marriage is subject to human frailty

      and   error.    Marriage            is    certainly         not    a

      mere "reciprocal possession" of the sexual

      organs   as    was    philosophized               by   I.    Kant

      [The Philosophy of Law page 110, W. Hastie

      translation         1887]                nor     can    it        be

      romanticized         as        a    relationship            which

      Tennyson      fancied          as    "made        in   Heaven"

      [Alymer's     Field,       in       Complete       Works     191,

      193 (1878)].

                                16
22.   In many cases, marriages simply fail for

      no fault of the parties but as a result of

      discord      and   disharmony     between       them.       In

      such situations, putting an end to this

      relationship is the only way out of this

      social        bondage.      But         unfortunately,

      initially      the     marriage        laws     in     every

      country were `fault oriented'. Under such

      laws marriage can be dissolved only by a

      Court's      decree     within     certain           limited

      grounds      which    are   to    be    proved        in    an

      adversarial        proceeding.           Such        `fault'

      oriented divorce laws have been criticized

      as `obsolete, unrealistic, discriminatory

      and    sometimes      immoral'    (Foster,           Divorce

      Law Reform; the choices before State page

      112).

 

23.   As early as in 1920 possibly for the first

      time    in   New     Zealand,    Section      4      of    the

      Divorce      and   Matrimonial     Causes       Amendment

                             17
      Act, 1920 gave the Court the discretion to

      grant a decree of divorce to parties when

      they had separated for three years under a

      decree        of      judicial               separation          or

      separation         order        by     the    Magistrate         or

      under    a   deed    of     separation            or    "even    by

      mutual       consent".          Till     such          amendment,

      divorce      after    separation             by    parties       on

      "mutual consent" was unknown.

 

24.   Considering the said amendment of 1920 and

      exercising the discretion the amended law

      conferred on the Judge, Justice Salmond in

      Lodder Vs. Lodder, [1921, New Zealand Law

      Reports, 876], came to the conclusion that

      it is not necessary to enquire into the

      merits of the disputes between the parties

      since the man and the wife had put an end

      to their relationship 13 years ago and the

      learned Judge found that their alienation

      is   "permanent        and           irredeemable".             The

      learned      Judge     also           felt     that      in     the

                                 18
      circumstances of the case "no public or

      private interest is to be served by the

      further continuance of the marriage bond"

      and     a    decree       for   its     dissolution         was

      passed. (See page 881).

 

25.   This seems to be the first decision of a

      Court       granting      divorce     on     a     `no-fault'

      basis       and    because      of    the    fact     that     a

      marriage had broken down for all practical

      purposes          as       parties          were      staying

      separately for a very long time.

 

26.   The British society was very conservative

      as not to accept divorce on such a ground

      but     in        1943,     Viscount         Simon,         Lord

      Chancellor,         in    the    case       of     Blunt     Vs.

      Blunt, [1943, 2 All ER 76], speaking for

      the House of Lords, while categorizing the

      heads       of    discretion     which       should        weigh

      with the courts in granting the decree of

      divorce, summed up four categories but at

                                19
          page 78 of the Report, the Lord Chancellor

          added a fifth one and the views of His

          Lordship were expressed in such matchless

          words    as    they    deserve    to   be    extracted

          herein below:-

 

          "To these four considerations I would
      add a fifth of a more general character,
      which must indeed be regarded as of
      primary importance, viz., the interest of
      the community at large, to be judged by
      maintaining a true balance between respect
      for the binding sanctity of marriage and
      the social considerations which make it
      contrary to public policy to insist on the
      maintenance of a union which has utterly
      broken down.    It is noteworthy that in
      recent years this last consideration has
      operated to induce the court to exercise a
      favourable discretion in many instances
      where in an earlier time a decree would
      certainly have been refused".

 


27.       In India also, prior to the amendment in

          our laws by insertion of Section 13B in

          the     said    Act,     the     Courts      felt   the

          necessity for an amendment in the divorce

          law.     The Full Bench of the Delhi High

          Court    in    the    judgment   of    Ram   Kali   Vs.

                                 20
          Gopal Dass - ILR (1971) 1 Delhi 6, felt

          the    inadequacy    of     the   existing    divorce

          law.         Chief   Justice      Khanna     (as   His

          Lordship then was) speaking for the Full

          Bench came to the following conclusion:-

 


          "...It would not be a practical and
      realistic approach, indeed it would be
      unreasonable and inhuman, to compel the
      parties to keep up the fagade of marriage
      even though the rift between them is
      complete and there are no prospects of
      their ever living together as husband and
      wife." [See page 12].

 


28.       In coming to the aforesaid conclusion, the

          learned      Chief   Justice       relied    on     the

          observation     of   the    Viscount     Simon,    Lord

          Chancellor, in the case of Blunt Vs. Blunt

          (Supra).

 

29.       Within a year thereafter, Hon'ble Justice

          Krishna Iyer, in the case of Aboobacker

          Haji   Vs.    Mamu   Koya    -    1971   K.L.T.    663,

          while dealing with Mohammedan Law relating
                               21
          to   divorce   correctly    traced      the   modern

          trend in legal system on the principle of

          breakdown   of   marriage    in   the    following

          words:-

 

          "When an intolerable situation has
      been reached, the partners living separate
      and apart for a substantial time, an
      inference may be drawn that the marriage
      has broken down in fact and so should be
      ended by law. This trend in the field of
      matrimonial law is manifesting itself in
      the     Commonwealth    countries    these
      days."(See page 668)


30.       In coming to the said finding the learned

          Judge relied on the principles laid down

          by Justice Salmond in Lodder Vs. Lodder

          (supra).

 

31.       After the said amendment in 1976 by way of

          insertion of Section 13B in the said Act

          in the 74th Report of the Law Commission of

          India ( April, 1978), Justice H.R. Khanna,

          as its Chairman, expressed the following

          views on the newly amended Section 13B:


                             22
          "Marriage is viewed in a number of
      countries as a contractual relationship
      between freely consenting individuals.

          A modified version of the basis of
      consent is to be found in the theory of
      divorce by mutual consent.

          The basis in this case is also
      consent,   but   the  revocation  of   the
      relationship itself must be consensual, as
      was   the   original   formation  of   the
      relationship. The Hindu Marriage Act, as
      amended in 1976, recognizes this theory in
      section 13B."

 

32.       On   the   question     of   how   to    ascertain

          continuing consent in a proceeding under

          Section 13B of the said Act, the decision

          in the case of Smt. Sureshta Devi Vs. Om

          Prakash    -   (1991)    2   SCC   25,       gives

          considerable guidance.

 

33.       In Paragraph 8 of the said judgment, this

          Court summed up the requirement of Section

          13B (1) as follows:


      "8. There are three other requirements in
      sub-section (1). They are:-

(i)     They have been living separately for a
        period of one year.
                             23
(ii)   They   have   not       been        able     to     live
       together, and

(iii) They have mutually agreed that marriage
      should be dissolved."


34.      In paragraph 10, the learned Judges dealt

         with sub-section (2) of Section 13B. In

         paragraphs 11 and 12, the learned Judges

         recorded the divergent views of the Bombay

         High    Court    [Jayashree         Ramesh       Londhe   v.

         Ramesh Bhikaji Londhe - AIR 1982 Bom 302:

         86 Bom LR 184], Delhi High Court [Chander

         Kanta v. Hans Kumar - AIR 1989 Del 73],

         Madhya Pradesh High Court [Meena Dutta v.

         Anirudh Dutta - (1984) 2 DMC 388 (MP)],

         and    the    views   of    the    Kerala       High   Court

         [K.I. Mohanan v. Jeejabai - AIR 1988 Ker

         28:    (1986)    2    HLR    467:    1986        KLT   990],

         Punjab and Haryana High Court [Harcharan

         Kaur v. Nachhattar Singh - AIR 1988 P & H

         27: (1987) 2 HLR 184: (1987) 92 Punj LR

         321]    and    Rajasthan      High       Court    [Santosh

         Kumari v. Virendra Kumar - AIR 1986 Raj

                                24
      128: (1986) 1 HLR 620: 1986 Raj LR 441]

      respectively on Section 13B.

 

35.   In paragraphs 13 and 14 of the Sureshta

      Devi (supra), the learned Judges gave an

      interpretation to Section 13B (2) and in

      doing so the learned Judges made it clear

      that the reasons given by the High Court

      of Bombay and Delhi are untenable inasmuch

      as both the High Courts held that once the

      consent       is    given        by    the    parties   at   the

      time     of        filing        the     petition,      it   is

      impossible for them to withdraw the same

      to nullify the petition.

 

36.   We also find that the interpretation given

      by     Delhi        and     Bombay           High   Courts   is

      contrary to the very wording of Section

      13B (2) which recognizes the possibility

      of     withdrawing          the        petition      filed   on

      consent during the time when such petition

      has to be kept pending.

                                  25
37.       In paragraph 13 of Sureshta Devi (supra),

          the learned Judges made the position clear

          by holding as follows:

 

          "At the time of the petition by
      mutual consent, the parties are not
      unaware that their petition does not by
      itself snap marital ties. They know that
      they have to take a further step to snap
      marital ties. Sub-Section (2) of Section
      13-B is clear on this point. It provides
      that "on the motion of both the parties,....
      if the petition is not withdrawn in the
      meantime, the court shall....pass a decree
      of divorce...". What is significant in this
      provision is that there should also be
      mutual consent when they move the court
      with a request to pass a decree of
      divorce. Secondly, the court shall be
      satisfied about the bona fides and the
      consent of the parties. If there is no
      mutual consent at the time of the enquiry,
      the court gets no jurisdiction to make a
      decree for divorce. If the view is
      otherwise, the court could make an enquiry
      and pass a divorce decree even at the
      instance of one of the parties and against
      the consent of the other. Such a decree
      cannot be regarded as decree by mutual
      consent."

 

38.       Therefore, it was made clear in Sureshta

          Devi (supra) that under Section 13B (2),

          the requirement is the `motion of both the
                            26
      parties'    and    interpreting         the    same,     the

      learned Judges made it clear that there

      should be mutual consent when they move

      the Court with a request to pass a decree

      of    divorce     and   there    should       be    consent

      also at the time when the Court is called

      upon to make an enquiry, if the petition

      is not withdrawn and then pass the final

      decree.

 

39.   Interpreting the said Section, it was held

      in     Sureshta    Devi       (supra)    that       if   the

      petition is not withdrawn in the meantime,

      the    Court,     at    the    time     of    making     the

      enquiry, does not have any jurisdiction to

      pass    a   decree,     unless     there       is    mutual

      consent.

 

40.   Learned Judges made it further clear that

      if the Court makes an enquiry and passes a

      divorce decree even at the instance of one

      of the parties and against the consent of

                              27
          the    other,     such       a    decree       cannot     be

          regarded as a decree by mutual consent.

 

41.       In    paragraph    14    of      the    said    judgment,

          learned Judges made it further clear as

          follows:-

 

          "If the Court is held to have the
      power to make a decree solely based on the
      initial petition, it negates the whole
      idea of mutuality and consent for divorce.
      Mutual consent to the divorce is a sine
      qua non for passing a decree for divorce
      under Section 13-B. Mutual consent should
      continue   till  the   divorce   decree  is
      passed. It is a positive requirement for
      the court to pass a decree of divorce.
      "The consent must continue to decree nisi
      and must be valid subsisting consent when
      the case is heard." {See (i) Halsbury's
      Laws of England, 4th edn. Vol. 13 para 645;
      (ii) Rayden on Divorce, 12th edn., Vol. 1,
      P. 291; and (iii) Beales V. Beales}."

 

42.       In    paragraph    15    of      the    judgment,       this

          Court held that the decisions of the High

          Courts of Bombay, Delhi and Madhya Pradesh

          cannot be said to have laid down the law

          correctly       and      those         judgments        were

          overruled. We also hold accordingly.
                                  28
43.   The decision in Sureshta Devi (supra) was

      rendered by a Bench of two learned Judges

      of this Court. In a subsequent decision of

      two learned Judges of this Court in the

      case of Ashok Hurra Vs. Rupa Bipin Zaveri

      -     (1997)       4    SCC       226,     the       judgment     in

      Sureshta        Devi         (supra)       was       doubted     as

      according to the learned Judges some of

      the observations in Sureshta Devi (supra)

      appear       to        be     too        wide     and     require

      reconsideration in an appropriate case.

 

44.   Learned Judges in Ashok Hurra (supra) made

      it clear that they were passing the order

      in     that        case       on     the        peculiar        fact

      situation.             This Court also held that in

      exercise of its jurisdiction under Article

      142     of     the      Constitution,            a    decree     of

      divorce       by       mutual      consent       under    Section

      13B    of    the       Act    was    granted         between     the

 

                                   29
          parties. (See paragraph 16 and 22 of the

          report).

 

45.       It    appears    that       those     observations      were

          made     by     the       learned       Judges    without

          considering the provisions of the Family

          Courts Act. In any event, the decision in

          Ashok Hurra (supra) was considered by a

          larger Bench of this Court in Rupa Ashok

          Hurra Vs. Ashok Hurra and Anr. - (2002) 4

          SCC 388.        No doubt was expressed by the

          larger Bench on the principles laid down

          in Sureshta Devi (supra). It appears that

          a petition for review was filed against

          the    two    judge     decision       in     Ashok    Hurra

          (supra)       and     the      same     was    dismissed.

          Thereafter,         the        question       before     the

          Constitution        Bench       in    Rupa    Ashok    Hurra

          (supra) was as follows:-

          "Whether the judgment of this Court
      dated 10.3.1997 in Civil Appeal No.1843 of
      1997 [1997 (4) SCC 226] can be regarded as
      a nullity and whether a writ petition
      under Article 32 of the Constitution can

                                    30
      be maintained to question the validity of
      a judgment of this Court after the
      petition for review of the said judgment
      has been dismissed are, in our opinion,
      questions which need to be considered by a
      Constitution Bench of this Court."
46.       In the Constitution Bench decision of this

          Court in Rupa Ashok Hurra (supra), this

          Court did not express any view contrary to

          the views of this Court in Sureshta Devi

          (supra).


47.       We endorse the views taken by this Court

          in Sureshta Devi (supra) as we find that

          on a proper construction of the provision

          in Section 13B (1) and 13B (2), there is

          no scope of doubting the views taken in

          Shreshta    Devi    (supra).      In     fact      the

          decision   which    was   rendered     by    the   two

          learned    Judges   of    this   Court      in   Ashok

          Hurra (supra) has to be treated to be one

          rendered in the facts of that case and it

          is also clear by the observations of the

          learned Judges in that case.

 


                              31
48.   None of the counsel for the parties argued

      for     reconsideration               of     the        ratio     in

      Sureshta Devi (supra).


49.   We are of the view that it is only on the

      continued         mutual    consent          of       the   parties

      that decree for divorce under Section 13B

      of    the    said    Act        can    be        passed     by   the

      Court.        If    petition          for    divorce        is   not

      formally      withdrawn          and        is    kept      pending

      then on the date when the Court grants the

      decree,       the        Court         has        a     statutory

      obligation          to     hear         the           parties     to

      ascertain their consent.                    From the absence

      of one of the parties for two to three

      days,       the    Court    cannot          presume         his/her

      consent as has been done by the learned

      Family Court Judge in the instant case and

      especially          in      its        facts           situation,

      discussed above.


50.   In our view it is only the mutual consent

      of the parties which gives the Court the

                                 32
      jurisdiction to pass a decree for divorce

      under       Section       13B.     So    in   cases     under

      Section 13B, mutual consent of the parties

      is a jurisdictional fact.                 The Court while

      passing its decree under Section 13B would

      be    slow    and     circumspect         before      it   can

      infer the existence of such jurisdictional

      fact.       The Court has to be satisfied about

      the    existence      of        mutual   consent      between

      the    parties       on    some     tangible        materials

      which demonstrably disclose such consent.

      In    the    facts    of    the     case,     the    impugned

      decree was passed within about three weeks

      from the expiry of the mandatory period of

      six    months    without         actually     ascertaining

      the consent of the husband, the respondent

      herein.


51.   It is nobody's case that a long period has

      elapsed between the expiry of period of

      six months and the date of final decree.

 


                                 33
52.      For the reasons aforesaid, we affirm the

         view taken by the learned Judges of the

         Bombay    High      Court       in    the    order       under

         appeal.


53.      The appeal is disposed of as follows:-

  (i)      On      receipt      of      the    copy     of       this

           judgment,         the         Family       Court        is

           directed to issue notice to both the

           parties to appear in the Court on a

           particular        day        for    taking      further

           steps in the case.

  (ii)     On     that    day,        the     parties      are     at

           liberty to engage their own counsel

           and     they   may      be    personally        present

           before the Court and inform the Court

           as to whether they have consent to

           the      passing      of      the      decree      under

           Section 13B of the Act.                   If both the

           parties        give        their       consent         for

           passing of the decree under Section

 


                                 34
            13B, the Court may pass appropriate

            orders.

  (iii)     If   any   of    the        parties    makes     a

            representation       that    he/she    does    not

            have consent to the passing of the

            decree, the Court may dispose of the

            proceedings     in     the     light    of     the

            observations made by us.


          There shall be no order as to costs.

 


                             ...................C.J.I.
                             (K.G. BALAKRISHNAN)

 

                             .......................J.
                             (P. SATHASIVAM)

 

                             .......................J.
New Delhi                    (ASOK KUMAR GANGULY)
May 11, 2009

 


                             35

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SMRUTI PAHARIYA Vs. SANJAY PAHARIYA. The questions which arose for consideration in this appeal are: (i) whether impugned decree of divorce passed by the Family Court is vitiated by procedural irregularity; (ii) whether the Family Court acted contrary to t