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The Delhi High Court has held that since the proceedings before a Maintenance Tribunal are summary in nature, it is not mandatory for it to record evidence or to permit any cross-examination.
Nonetheless, the Maintenance Tribunal is required to evaluate the material available on record before arriving at a decision, the Court stated.
The judgment was passed by a Single Judge Bench of Justice Vibhu Bakhru in a petition assailing an order passed by the Maintenance Tribunal. The Tribunal had cancelled a gift deed for a property made in favour of the petitioner Renu Anand, by her mother Satya Rani Chopra on the grounds of undue influence, fraud and misrepresentation.
In December 2014, the mother filed a petition under Section 23 of the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007, praying for the cancellation of the gift deed.
She alleged that the petitioner and her husband Naveen Anand had coerced her to sign certain documents on the premise that they would ensure equal distribution of the property amongst her five daughters. She also alleged that the petitioner and her husband had assured her that they would look after her and fulfil all her basic necessities.
The Tribunal accepted the contentions raised by the mother and cancelled the gift deed.
Before the High Court, the petitioner argued that the order was without jurisdiction as there were no averments claiming that the gift deed was executed on the assurance that she would be looked after in her old age.
The petitioner also stated that the Tribunal had passed the order without recording evidence in the case, and without affording the petitioner an opportunity to cross-examine the mother. It was also contended that the petitioner was not permitted to take the assistance of an advocate before the Tribunal.
At the outset, the Court recorded that the Act was a beneficial legislation to address the issues faced by senior citizens. Therefore, the provisions of the Act must be interpreted liberally in their aid.
The Court, however, held that that the contention that the Tribunal was bound to record evidence before proceeding to adjudicate any claim under Section 23 of the Act, was unpersuasive.
“The Tribunal is required to follow a summary procedure and it is not mandatory for the Tribunal to record evidence or to permit any cross-examination”, it said.
The grievance with respect to the absence of an advocate was also rejected in view of Section 17.
Analyzing the facts at hand, the Court observed that although an assurance for meeting her basic necessities was made, it was not the main thrust of the mother’s allegations before the Tribunal.
The Court also noted that there was “apparent inconsistency” in the averments made by the mother in her complaint.
“On one hand, Smt. Satya Rani Chopra had asserted that she was persuaded to sign blank documents and in the same breath, also asserts that she was forced (coerced) to sign blank papers…“
It was further pointed out that the gift deed was presented for registration before the registering authority by the mother herself and that it was difficult to accept that she was forced to do so. Further, the fact that the mother was well conversant in Hindi would indicate that she was not unaware of the contents of the documents executed by her.
The Court considered the fact that the mother was being looked after and there was no material to conclude that the basic needs of the mother were not being met.
Lastly, the Court remarked that the gift deed was made in the name of another daughter as well, but there was no allegation that she had coerced or forced the mother to execute the gift deed in question.
The Court thus concluded that although proceedings under the Act are summary proceedings, the Tribunal was required to evaluate the material available on record. It held that in totality, there was little material to conclude that the mother was defrauded to execute the gift deed.
It further added that Section 23 of the Act provides recourse to senior citizens to avoid the transfer of their property to relatives if their needs are not met. However, in the present case, the basic needs of the mother were being met, even if not by the petitioner.
In view of the above, the petition was allowed and the order was set aside.
The petitioner was represented by Advocate KK Chuchar.
Read the order: