If there is a good chance of settlement, time limit can be extended, says Bench

The Supreme Court has directed all the family courts to make all efforts to settle matrimonial disputes through mediation.It said cases must be referred to mediation centres in adherence to Section 9 of the Family Courts Act.

Giving this direction, a Bench of Justices Aftab Alam and Ranjana Desai said: “Even if the counsellors submit a failure report, the courts shall, with the consent of the parties, refer the matter to the mediation centre. In such a case, however, the courts shall set a reasonable time limit to complete the process of mediation because otherwise the resolution of the disputes may get delayed. In a given case, if there is a good chance of settlement, the court in its discretion can always extend the time limit.”

Taking note of the increasing number of complaints of dowry harassment being filed against husbands and their families under Section 498-A of the Indian Penal Code, the Bench said: “The criminal courts dealing with the complaint under Section 498-A of the IPC should, at any stage, and particularly before they take up the complaint for hearing, refer the parties to mediation centres if they feel that there exist elements of settlement and both the parties are willing. However, they should take care to see that in this exercise, rigour, purport and efficacy of Section 498-A of the IPC is not diluted. Needless to say, the discretion to grant or not to grant bail is not in any way curtailed by this direction. It will be for the concerned court to work out the modalities taking into consideration the facts of each case.”

Writing the judgment, Justice Desai said: “All mediation centres shall set up pre-litigation desks/clinics, give them wide publicity and make efforts to settle matrimonial disputes at the pre-litigation stage.”

In this case, the Bench said: “The conduct of the respondent wife, Ms. D.A. Deepa, in filing a complaint making an unfounded, indecent and defamatory allegation against her mother-in-law, in filing revision seeking enhancement of the sentence awarded to the appellant-husband, K. Srinivas Rao, in filing appeal questioning the acquittal of the appellant-husband and acquittal of his parents, indicates that she made all attempts to ensure that he and his parents are put in jail and he is removed from his job. We have no manner of doubt that this conduct has caused mental cruelty to the appellant-husband. In the ultimate analysis, we hold that [as a result of such conduct] the marriage has irretrievably broken down. Dissolution of marriage will relieve both sides of pain and anguish.”

While granting divorce, the Bench directed the appellant to pay Rs. 15 lakh to his wife as permanent alimony.

In the instant appeal, Mr. Srinivas Rao, who works as Assistant Registrar in the Andhra Pradesh High Court, was aggrieved by a judgment of the HC setting aside the decree of divorce that a civil court had granted in his favour. According to the appellant, the marriage between him and Ms. Deepa was solemnised on April 25, 1999, as per Hindu rites and customs.

Unfortunately, on the very next day, disputes arose between the elders on both sides, which resulted in their abusing each other and hurling chappals at one another. As a consequence, on April 27, 1999, the newly married couple got separated without consummation of the marriage and started living separately.

Thereafter, Ms. Deepa filed several criminal complaints against him and his family. His plea for divorce on the grounds of mental agony was allowed by the trial court. But the High Court set aside the order. The appeal was directed against this judgment.

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