Senior Citizens Act has No Overriding Effect over the Right of Residence of a Woman in a Shared Household: SC

Senior Citizens Act has no overriding effect over the right of residence of a woman in a shared household: SC

The Apex Court has ruled that the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act have no overriding effect over the right of residence of a woman in a shared household within the meaning of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act.

“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.”

Brief facts of the Case

A senior citizen couple filed an application under the provisions of the Senior Citizens Act seeking eviction of their daughter in law and granddaughter from a residential house. The Assistant Commissioner, and the Deputy Commissioner in appeal, allowed the application under the Senior Citizens Act 2007 and directed the appellant to vacate the suit premises. Aggrieved by this order, the appellant unsuccessfully pursued 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 by its judgment dated 17 September 2019 held that the suit premises belonged to the mother-in-law (the Second respondent) of the appellant and the remedy of the appellant for maintenance and shelter lies only against her estranged husband (the Fourth respondent). The Division Bench upheld the Order of the Deputy Commissioner and directed the appellant to vacate the suit premises before 31 December 2019.

Contentions of appellant before the Supreme Court

She contended that, she cannot be evicted from her shared household, in view of the protection provided under Section 17 of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005.

Reliance was made on Apex Court’s recent verdict in Satish Chander Ahuja vs Sneha Ahuja.

In sum and substance, it has been urged that the authorities constituted under the Senior Citizens Act 2007 had no jurisdiction to order the eviction of the appellant. Moreover, the proceedings have been utilised to secure the eviction of the appellant so as to deny her claim of a right to reside in the shared household under the PWDV Act 2005.

Observation made by the Court

“The Tribunal under the Senior Citizens Act 2007 may have the authority to order an eviction if it is necessary and expedient to ensure the maintenance and protection of the senior citizen or parent. Eviction, in other words, would be an incident of the enforcement of the right to maintenance and protection. However, this remedy can be granted only after adverting to the competing claims in the dispute. It is necessary to recapitulate that the situation in the present case is that the eviction was sought of the daughter-in-law, i.e. the appellant, “the judgment said.

Harmonising competing reliefs under the PWDV Act 2005 and Senior Citizens Act 2007

  • The Court stated that Section 36 of the PWDV Act 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. This is intended to ensure that the remedies provided under the enactment are in addition to other remedies and do not displace them. The Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act 2007 are undoubtedly a later Act and as we have noticed earlier, Section 3 stipulates that its provisions will have an effect, notwithstanding anything inconsistent contained in any other enactment. However, the provisions of Section 3 of the Senior Citizens Act 2007 giving it overriding force and effect would not by themselves be conclusive of intent to deprive a woman who claims a right in a shared household, as under the PWDV Act 2005. Principles of statutory interpretation dictate that in the event of two special acts containing non-obstante clauses, the later law shall typically prevail. In the present case, as we have seen, the Senior Citizens Act 2007 contains a non-obstante clause. However, in the event of a conflict between special acts, the dominant purpose of both statutes would have to be analyzed to ascertain which one should prevail over the other. The primary effort of the interpreter must be to harmonize, not excise.
  • In the present case, Section 36 of the PWDV Act 2005, albeit not in the nature of a non-obstante clause, has to be construed harmoniously with the non-obstante clause in Section 3 of the Senior Citizens Act 2007 that operates in a separate field.
  • 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 Statements of Objects and Reasons indicates that while Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code created a penal offence out of a woman’s subjection to cruelty by her husband or relative, the civil law did not address its phenomenon in its entirety. Hence, consistent with the provisions of Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the Constitution, Parliament enacted legislation which would “provide for a remedy under the civil law which is intended to protect the woman from being victims of domestic violence and to prevent the occurrence of domestic violence in the society”.
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  • The Statements of Objects and Reasons of PWDV Act 2005 indicates that a significant object of the legislation is to provide for and recognize the rights of women to secure housing and to recognize the right of a woman to residing in a matrimonial home or a shared household, whether or not she has any title or right in the shared household. Allowing the Senior Citizens Act 2007 to have an overriding force and effect in all situations, irrespective of competing entitlements of a woman to a right in a shared household within the meaning of the PWDV 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 PWDV Act 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.
  • It added that this Court is cognizant that the Senior Citizens Act 2007 was promulgated with a view to providing a speedy and inexpensive remedy to senior citizens. Accordingly, Tribunals were constituted under Section 7. These Tribunals have the power to conduct summary procedures for inquiry, with all powers of the Civil Courts, under Section 8. The jurisdiction of the Civil Courts has been explicitly barred under Section 27 of the Senior Citizens Act 2007. However, the over-riding effect for remedies sought by the applicants under the Senior Citizens Act 2007 under Section 3 cannot be interpreted to preclude all other competing remedies and protections that are sought to be conferred by the PWDV Act 2005. The PWDV Act 2005 is also in the nature of special legislation that is enacted with the purpose of correcting 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 PWDV Act 2005.
  • Section 26 of the PWDV Act empowers certain reliefs, including relief for a residence order, to be obtained from any civil court in any legal proceedings. Therefore, in the event that a composite dispute is alleged, such as in the present case where 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 PWDV Act 2005 and Senior Citizens Act 2007.
  • Section 3 of the Senior Citizens Act, 2007 cannot be deployed to over-ride and nullify other protections in law particularly that of a woman’s right to a shared household under Section 17 of the PWDV Act 2005. In the event that the “aggrieved woman” obtains a relief from a Tribunal constituted under the Senior Citizens Act 2007, she shall duty-bound to inform the Magistrate under the PWDV Act 2005, as per Sub-section (3) of Section 26 of the PWDV Act 2005. This course of action would ensure that the common intent of the Senior Citizens Act 2007 and the PWDV Act 2005- of ensuring speedy relief to its protected groups, who are both vulnerable members of the society, is effectively realized. Rights in law can translate to rights in life, only if there is equitable ease in obtaining their realization.
  • Noted thus, the bench set aside the eviction order passed by the Assistant Commissioner. The court further observed: The fact that specific proceedings under the PWDV Act 2005 had not been instituted when the application under the Senior Citizens Act, 2007 was filed, should not lead to a situation where the enforcement of an order of eviction deprives her of pursuing her claim of entitlement under the law. The inability of a woman to access judicial remedies may, as this case exemplifies, be a consequence of destitution, ignorance or lack of resources. Even otherwise, we are clearly of the view that recourse to the summary procedure contemplated by the Senior Citizen Act 2007 was not available for the purpose of facilitating strategies that are designed to defeat the claim of the appellant in respect of a shared household. A shared household would have to be interpreted to include the residence where the appellant had been jointly residing with her husband. Merely because the ownership of the property has been subsequently transferred to her in-laws (Second and Third Respondents) or that her estranged spouse (Fourth respondent) is now residing separately is no ground to deprive the appellant of the protection that was envisaged under the PWDV Act 2005.

Case Name: S Vanitha vs. Deputy Commissioner, Bengaluru Urban District

Citation: Civil Appeal No. 3822 of 2020

Coram: Justices DY Chandrachud, Indu Malhotra and Indira Banerjee

Senior Citizens Act has no overriding effect over the right of residence of a woman in a shared household: SC

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