Indira Banerjee and R Banumathi
Indira Banerjee and R Banumathi
Litigation News

Division Bench split, now larger Bench of Supreme Court to decide on jurisdiction of Family Courts to hear maintenance pleas by Muslim women

Shruti Mahajan

After a split verdict delivered by a Division Bench, a larger Bench of the Supreme Court will decide whether family courts have the jurisdiction to hear applications for maintenance under Section 3 of the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act of 1986 (Rana Nahis @Reshma @Sana & Anr vs Sahidul Haq Chisti).

The Bench of Justices R Banumathi and Indira Banerjee, in an order passed on Thursday, disagreed on whether family courts had the jurisdiction to entertain such pleas.

While Justice Banumathi held that family courts lacked this jurisdiction, Justice Banerjee took an opposing view. The issue was ultimately referred to a larger Bench for decision, and will be placed before the Chief Justice of India, who will refer it to an appropriate Bench.

The split verdict came in a plea challenging the decision of the Rajasthan High Court by which an order passed by a family court was set aside. The family court had converted a maintenance plea under Section 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) into an application under Section 3 of the 1986 Act.

While considering the issue, Justice Banumathi held that family courts lacked the jurisdiction to hear maintenance plea under the 1986 Act and the same can be filed only before the Judicial Magistrate (First Class). Justice Banumathi's opinion states,

"...the Family Court not having been conferred the jurisdiction under Section 7 of the Family Courts Act, 1984 to entertain an application filed under Section 3 of the Muslim Women Protection Act, the Family Court shall have no jurisdiction to entertain an application under Section 3(2) of the Act of 1986."

In holding thus, Justice Banumathi agreed with the view taken by the Rajasthan High Court.

Justice Banerjee, on the other hand, said she has been unable to persuade herself to agree with Justice Banumathi's view. Justice Banerjee delved into the scope and object of the Family Courts Act of 1984, which essentially provides for setting up of family courts for speedy disposal of disputes arising out of marriage and family affairs. In her opinion

"Parliament enacted the Family Courts Act to provide for establishment of Family Courts with a view to promote conciliation in, and secure speedy settlement of disputes relating to marriage and family affairs, and matters connected therewith."

Justice Banerjee said that the intention behind the 1986 Act was not to deprive divorced Muslim women from taking benefit of the procedures as under the Family Courts Act or bar family courts from exercising jurisdiction over maintenance matters concerning Muslim Women. In this regard, it was states,

"A literal and rigid interpretation of the expression “Subordinate Civil Court” to single out divorced Muslim Women seeking maintenance from their husbands, access to Family Courts when all other women whether divorced or not and even Muslim Women not divorced can approach Family Courts would be violative of Article 14 of the Constitution."

Therefore, Justice Banerjee took a view opposing the one taken by Justice Banumathi as well as the Rajasthan High Court.

Read Judgment:

RANA NAHID @ RESHMA vs SAHIDUL HAQ CHISTI.pdf
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