Hon`ble Supreme Court in Vennangot Anuradha Samir vs Vennangot Mohandas Samir passed an out of turn judgment wherein JUSTICE IS SEEN BEING DELIVERED WITH OPEN EYES
The petitioner and the respondent entered into matrimony in April 2010, adhering to Hindu Vedic Rites. At the time of their marriage, the respondent-husband was a bachelor, while the petitioner-wife was a divorcee. Their union blossomed from a love story that began when they first connected in October 2006. However, by 2013, misunderstandings arose, leading the petitioner to leave their shared home. Subsequently, in 2015, the respondent-husband filed a suit for divorce under Section 13(1)(1a) of the Hindu Marriage Act, citing the petitioner’s alleged acts of cruelty after marriage. It’s worth noting that the petitioner currently resides in Hyderabad with her parents. Consequently, she filed an application before the court, seeking the transfer of the divorce case pending before the Family Court Bombay to the Family Court in Hyderabad. The transfer petition was scheduled for hearing on August 28, 2015. At the parties’ request, the matter was referred to the Supreme Court Mediation Centre, where a Settlement Agreement was eventually reached on October 26, 2015.
As per the Settlement Agreement, the respondent-husband committed to paying Rs. 12,50,000/- (Twelve Lakhs Fifty Thousand) as full and final alimony, maintenance, or any other claim to the petitioner. This amount was to be remitted via a bank draft in the name of the Registrar, Supreme Court, upon the issuance of the decree of divorce by mutual consent. On November 6, 2015, the case was re-listed alongside the office report and the Settlement Agreement. Subsequently, an application was filed under Section 13B of the Hindu Marriage Act, seeking to treat the pending divorce petition before the Family Court, Bombay as an application under the same section. The petitioner-wife, who was grappling with a life-threatening illness, urgently required funds for medical treatment and self-care. On November 17, 2015, the case was adjourned at her request to allow her to submit additional documents supporting her health condition. The medical certificate revealed a breast lump with high suspicion of malignancy. Doctors recommended immediate surgery and chemotherapy spanning 6 to 8 cycles of adjuvant, with each cycle estimated to cost approximately Rs. 50,000/-.
Considering the admitted facts, it is evident that the petitioner urgently requires funds for breast cancer treatment. Consequently, it cannot be dismissed that she agreed to a settlement for dissolution of marriage in order to secure the necessary financial support. This raises the question: Is it justifiable for the court to grant a divorce decree based on a settlement when the wife is battling breast cancer and urgently needs funds for her treatment?
Hindu marriage, a sacred and profound union, transplants the wife into her husband’s household, granting her a new life. It intertwines their existence—bone to bone, flesh to flesh. For a Hindu wife, her husband is akin to a deity, and her life revolves around selfless service and unwavering dedication to him. She shares not only their life and love but also their joys, sorrows, troubles, and tribulations, becoming an integral part of his journey.
Colebrooke, in his book “Digest of Hindu Law Volume II”, eloquently describes the wife’s status: “A wife is considered as half the body of her husband, equally sharing the fruit of pure and impure acts. Whether she ascends the funeral pyre after him or survives for the benefit of her husband, she remains a faithful wife.” Additionally, Colebrooke cites the Mahabharata, emphasizing: “Where females are honored, there the deities are pleased; but where they are dishonored, all religious acts become fruitless.” These profound statements underscore the elevated position accorded to Hindu women by Shastric law. The study of Hindu Law and various religious texts leaves no room for dispute: post-marriage, the husband bears the duty not only to provide food and clothing but also to safeguard his wife from calamities, ensuring her health and safety. In the unique circumstances of this case, the instant settlement—a contract to dissolve the marriage—requires the court’s scrutiny to ascertain its legality and validity under the law’s discerning gaze.
Upon examining the case’s facts and the unfolding events, it appears that the petitioner-wife consented to mutual divorce under the condition that the respondent-husband would pay her Rs. 12,50,000/- as a full and final settlement. The petitioner-wife’s medical condition, which compelled her to agree to mutual consent divorce, raises a crucial question: Is the consent obtained from her truly free, as required by law for granting a decree of divorce by mutual consent?
Section 13-B of the Hindu Marriage Act provides for divorce by mutual consent. Here are the key provisions:
Section 23 imposes a duty upon the court to meticulously record its satisfaction before granting a decree in any suit or proceeding. Notably, Section 23(1)(bb) specifically states:
“When a divorce is sought on the ground of mutual consent, such consent must not have been obtained by force, fraud, or undue influence.”
This provision was extensively discussed by the court in the case of Sureshta Devi vs. Om Prakash (1991) 2 SCC 25. The court emphasized two critical points:
The assertion that such a decree cannot be regarded as a decree by mutual consent holds weight. Let’s delve into the legal aspects.According to the Indian Contract Act, consent is considered free when it is not influenced by “undue influence,” as defined in Section 16 of the Act. “Undue influence” occurs when one party dominates the will of the other due to their existing relationship, thereby gaining an unfair advantage.Another relevant doctrine is the “Pre-existing duty doctrine.” Under this principle, if a party is already bound by a pre-existing duty to perform, any modification of the contract lacks consideration and becomes voidable. In simpler terms, performing an obligation one is already bound to does not constitute valid consideration for a promise. Similarly, promising to fulfill an existing duty adds nothing to the obligation already in place.Applying this principle to the present case, the respondent-husband has a pre-existing duty to care for the health and safety of the petitioner-wife. It is incumbent upon him to provide facilities for her treatment. If he diligently fulfills this duty, it aligns with the legal framework and the principles of mutual consent in divorce proceedings.
In the present case, the respondent-husband’s promise in the settlement agreement—something he is already duty-bound to do—does not constitute valid consideration. Given the unique circumstances, The Hon`ble SC issued the following order: