Vikram Vir Vohra Versus Shalini Bhalla

                                       REPORTABLE

              IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
               CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION
            CIVIL APPEAL NO.2704 OF 2010
        (Arising out of SLP(C) No.19935/2009)
Vikram Vir Vohra                                ..Appellant(s)

                               Versus

Shalini Bhalla                                  ..Respondent(s)

                       J U D G M E N T
GANGULY, J.

GANGULY, J.

1.   Leave granted.
2.   This appeal by the husband, impugns the judgment  and order dated 27.07.09 of Delhi High Court  which    upheld    the    judgment     and    order   of   the  Additional District Judge passed in relation to  applications      filed    by   both   the    parties   under  Section     26     of     the      Hindu     Marriage      Act  (hereinafter “the Act”). The impugned judgment
  3.   The    material     facts    of   the   case    are   that    the  parties to the present appeal were married as  per the Hindu rites on 10.12.2000.                     A child,  Master Shivam, was born to them on 05.08.02. In  view of irreconcilable differences between the  parties they had agreed for a divorce by mutual  consent under Section 13-B of the Act and filed  a   petition   to    that    effect     and    on   05.09.06    a  decree of divorce on mutual consent was passed  by the Additional District Judge, Delhi.

4.   As regards the custody of the child there was  some     settlement         between     the     parties        and  according      to    the     appellant        the     same    was  incorporated in paras 7 and 9 of the petition  filed under Section 13-B (2) of the Act.                     Those  paragraphs are as under:
     “The parties have agreed that the custody  of the minor son Master Shivam shall  remain with the mother, petitioner No.1  who being the natural mother is also the  guardian of the son Master Shivam as per  law laid down by the Supreme Court of India.   It is, however, agreed that the   father petitioner shall have right of  visitation only to the extent that the  child Master Shivam shall be with the  father,   petitioner No.2,   once in    a  fortnight from 10 AM to 6.30 PM on a  Saturday.   Petitioner No.2 shall collect  the child Master Shivam from WZ-64, 2nd  Floor Shiv Nagar Lane No.4, New Delhi-58  at 10 AM on a Saturday where the child is  with his mother. And on the same day at  by 6.30 PM, the petitioner No.2 would  leave the child back at the same place  with the mother i.e. petitioner No.1 and  in case he does not do so petitioner No.1  the mother shall collect the child from  petitioner No.2 on the same day.     Both  parties undertake before this Hon’ble  Court that they would not create any  obstruction in implementation of this  arrangement.  The petitioner No.1 shall take adequate  care of the child in respect of health,  education etc., at her own cost. In case  the petitioner No.1 changes her address  or takes the child outside Delhi, she  shall keep petitioner No.2 informed one  week in advance about the address and  telephone nos. and the place where the  child would be staying with the mother,  to enable the petitioner No.2 to remain  in touch with the child.  The petitioner No.1 has received all her Stridhan and other valuables, articles  and   other   possessions,  and   nothing  remains due to her from the petitioner  No.2. The petitioner No.1 and the child  Shivam has no claim to any property or  financial commitment from petitioner No.2  and all her claims are settled fully and   finally”.

5.   Thereafter     the       respondent-wife    filed  applications dated 07.11.06 and 9.05.08 and the  appellant-husband also filed applications dated  17.11.07 and 16.02.09 under Section 26 of the  Act    seeking   modification          of   those   terms   and  conditions about the custody of the child.

6.   The respondent was basing her claim on the fact  that she wanted to take the child with her to  Australia where she was employed for gain with a  request to revoke the visitation rights granted  to the appellant for meeting the child. This she  felt will be conducive to the paramount interest  and welfare of the child.              The appellant on the  other hand sought permanent custody of the child  under the changed circumstances alleging that it  is not in the interest of the child to leave India permanently.

7.   The Trial Court vide its order dated 06.04.09 took    notice   of   the       fact   that   in    the   joint petition of divorce, parties voluntarily agreed that the custody of the child shall remain with the mother and father shall have only visiting rights, in the manner indicated in the mutual  divorce decree. The Court modified the terms and conditions of the custody and visitation rights of the appellant about the minor child. By its order the Trial Court had allowed the respondent to take the child with her to Australia but also directed her to bring the child back to India for allowing the father visitation rights twice in a year i.e. for two terms – between 18th of December to 26th of January and then from 26th of June to 11th of July.

8.   Being    aggrieved      by     that   order   of   the    Trial Court, the appellant appealed to the High Court. It was argued by the appellant since no decree was passed by the Court while granting mutual divorce, an application under Section 26 of the Act does not lie and in the absence of specific provision in the decree regarding the custody   and visitation rights of the child, the Trial   Court    has   no      jurisdiction     to    entertain     the   petition afresh after passing of the decree.

9.   The     High   Court     took    into   consideration       the   provisions of Section 26 of the Act and was of   the     view   that      the     aforesaid    provision      is  intended to enable the Court to pass suitable  orders from time to time to protect the interest of minor children.         However, the High Court held  that after the final order is passed in original  petition of divorce for the custody of the minor  child, the other party cannot file any number of  fresh    petitions     ignoring       the    earlier        order  passed by the Court.

10. The Court took into consideration that even if  the terms and conditions regarding the custody  and   visitation     rights      of   the    child    are     not  specifically contained in the decree, they do   form part of the petition seeking divorce by   mutual consent.      It was of the view that absence   of the terms and conditions in the decree does   not     disentitle    the       respondent     to     file     an   application under Section 26 of the Act seeking   revocation     of    the    visitation       rights    of     the   appellant.

11. It is important to mention here that the learned   Judge     of   the     High      Court      had     personally   interviewed the child who was about 7 years old  to    ascertain        his    wishes.          The    child    in categorical terms expressed his desire to be in  the custody and guardianship of his mother, the  respondent.       The    child      appeared    to    be    quite  intelligent. The child was specifically asked if  he wanted to live with his father in India but  he unequivocally refused to go with or stay with  him. He made it clear in his expression that he  was     happy     with       his    mother      and    maternal  grandmother and desired only to live with his  mother.     The     aforesaid        procedure        was     also  followed by the learned Trial Court and it was  also of the same view after talking with the  child.

12. Being aggrieved with the judgment of the High  Court the appellant has approached this Court  and hence this appeal by way of Special Leave  Petition.

13. We have also talked with the child in our  chambers in the absence of his parents. We  found     him     to     be       quite   intelligent         and  discerning. The child is in school and from  the behaviour of the child, we could make out  that      he    is   well   behaved    and     that    he   is  receiving proper education.

14.    The child categorically stated that he wants  to stay with his mother. It appears to us  that the child is about 8-10 years of age and  is   in     a   very   formative     and     impressionable  stage in his life. The welfare of the child  is     of       paramount       importance     in     matters  relating to child custody and this Court has  held that welfare of the child may have a  primacy even over statutory provisions [See  Mausami Moitra Ganguli vs. Jayant Ganguli –  (2008) 7 SCC 673, para 19, page 678]. We have  considered this matter in all its aspects.

15. The argument of the learned counsel for the  appellant, that in view of the provisions of  Section 26 of the Act, the order of custody  of the child and the visitation rights of the  appellant cannot be changed as they are not  reflected in the decree of mutual divorce, is  far too hyper technical an objection to be  considered seriously in a custody proceeding.  A child is not a chattel nor is he/she an  article of personal property to be shared in  equal halves.

16. In a matter relating to custody of a child,  this Court must remember that it is dealing  with a very sensitive issue in considering  the nature of care and affection that a child  requires in the growing stages of his or her  life. That is why custody orders are always  considered interlocutory orders and by the  nature      of   such    proceedings            custody   orders  cannot   be      made    rigid       and       final.   They   are capable of being altered and moulded keeping in mind the needs of the child.

17.   In   Rosy    Jacob      vs.       Jacob    A    Chakramakkal     – [(1973) 1 SCC 840], a three judge Bench of this Court held that all orders relating to custody     of    minors      were    considered          to     be temporary orders. The learned judges made it clear    that    with    the    passage      of    time,       the Court is entitled to modify the order in the interest of the minor child. The Court went to the extent of saying that even if orders are based on consent, those orders can also be varied if the welfare of the child so demands.

18.   The     aforesaid       principle      has        again        been followed in Dhanwanti Joshi vs. Madhav Unde – [(1998) 1 SCC 112].

19. Even      though    the    aforesaid      principles             have   been    laid     down    in     proceedings        under        the   Guardians        and    Wards        Act,    1890,         these   principles are equally applicable in dealin   with the custody of a child under Section 26   of the Act since in both the situations two   things are common; the first, being orders   relating to custody of a growing child and   secondly, the paramount consideration of the   welfare of the child. Such considerations are   never static nor can they be squeezed in a   strait jacket. Therefore, each case has to be   dealt    with   on   the        basis   of   its   peculiar   facts.

20.   In this connection, the principles laid down by   this Court in Gaurav Nagpal vs. Sumedha Nagpal   reported in (2009) 1 SCC 42 are very pertinent.   Those principles in paragraphs 42 and 43 are set   out below:
      “42. Section 26 of the Hindu Marriage   Act,   1955   provides    for   custody    o   children   and    declares   that    in   any   proceeding under the said Act, the court   could make, from time to time, such   interim orders as it might deem just and   proper    with     respect    to    custody,   maintenance    and   education    of    minor   children, consistently with their wishes   wherever possible.

      43. The principles in relation to the     custody of a minor child are well     settled. In determining the question as     to who should be given custody of a minor     child, the paramount consideration is the     “welfare of the child” and not rights of     the parents under a statute for the time     being in force”.
21.   That is why this Court has all along insisted on      focussing the welfare of the child and accepted      it to be the paramount consideration guiding the      Court’s discretion in custody order. See Thrity      Hoshie Dolikuka vs. Hoshiam Shavaksha Dolikuka –     [AIR 1982 SC 1276], para 17.

 22. In        the    factual    and       legal    background      considered above, the objections raised by      the appellant do not hold much water. 

23. Now coming to the question of the child being      taken     to    Australia     and     the    consequent      variations in the visitation rights of the      father, this Court finds that the Respondent      mother is getting a better job opportunity in      Australia.     Her   autonomy   on     her   personhood      cannot be curtailed by Court on the ground of      a prior order of custody of the child. Every      person has a right to develop his or her      potential. In fact a right to development is      a basic human right. The respondent-mother      cannot be asked to choose between her child and her career. It is clear that the child is  very dear to her and she will spare no pains  to    ensure       that    the      child      gets     proper  education and training in order to develop  his faculties and ultimately to become a good  citizen.      If    the    custody      of    the   child     is  denied to her, she may not be able to pursue  her career in Australia and that may not be  conducive either to the development of her  career   or    to    the    future      prospects       of   the  child. Separating the child from his mother  will be disastrous to both. 

24. Insofar as the father is concerned, he is  already established in India and he is also  financially        solvent.       His   visitation      rights  have been ensured in the impugned orders of   the High Court. His rights have been varied  but   have     not   been        totally     ignored.        The  appellant-father, for all these years, lived   without the child and got used to it.

 
25. In    the    application         dated     9.5.2008       filed    before the Additional District Judge, Delhi,    the mother made it clear in paragraph 12 that    she is ready to furnish any undertaking or    bond in order to ensure her return to India    and   to     make    available     to    the     father,    his    visitation rights subject to the education of    the child. This Court finds that so far as    the order which had been passed by the High    Court,      affirming      the     order    of     the    Trial    Court,       the     visitation          rights      of     the    appellant-father have been so structured as    to be compatible with the educational career    of the child. This Court finds that in this    matter judicial discretion has been properly    balanced between the rights of the appellant    and those of the respondent. 

26. In    that    view    of     the    matter,       this    Court  refuses to interfere with the order passed by   the High Court. The appeal is dismissed with the    direction      that       the    respondent-mother,before taking the child to Australia, must file an undertaking to the satisfaction of the Court of Additional District Judge-01, (West), Delhi within a period of four weeks   from date. No order as to costs.
                            …………………..J.
                          (G.S.SINGHVI)
                            …………………..J.
                            (ASOK KUMAR GANGULY)

New Delhi
March 25, 2010

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