In a significant ruling, the Bombay High Court recently held that only a legally wedded wife would be entitled to the Provident Fund (PF) and other related benefits of the husband, even if she has deserted him. The HC also said that just because a woman fails to perform the duties of a mother and a wife, she cannot be denied her entitlement.
The ruling was pronounced by a bench of Justices Atul Chandurkar and Nitin Suryawanshi while upholding a family court's orders, which allowed a woman, to claim her entitlement in the PF benefits of her husband, whom she had deserted some two decades ago.
The bench was seized with the plea of a husband, who worked as a watchman in the Security Section of the Indian Airforce's headquarters Maintenance Command (Unit) in Nagpur. The husband challenged the family court's orders on the ground that he had performed a second marriage and had that now his second wife would be entitled to such benefits.
The dispute was that the husband had deleted the name of his first wife from all the PF and other related schemes and had nominated his second wife for these benefits. However, amid all this, the husband had not given divorce to the first wife and his first marriage subsisted.
The bench while considering the pleadings, noted that the husband did not give divorce to his first wife and proceeded to perform a second marriage. The bench said that the second marriage was thus illegal since the first marriage continued to subsist even as the couple lived separately from the past 23 years.
Having heard the contentions, the judges referred to the provisions of the General Provident Fund (Central Services) Rules, 1960, which notifies as to who is entitled to these benefits. "Taking into consideration the definition of ‘family’ in the rules, only a legally wedded wife can be said to be included in the definition of family."
"Since the husband has performed a second marriage, while his first marriage was subsisting, the second marriage is void and the second wife thus cannot be said to be legally wedded one," the bench held.
The bench further said that even if the couple resides separately for over 23 years, "still that itself does not dissolve."
It further took into account the husband's contention that the first wife was leading an adulterous life and has failed to perform the duties of a mother and even of a wife and even that her desertion of over 23 years has forced him to perform a second marriage.
"All these allegations are unacceptable and they do not further the case of the husband in any manner, in absence of declaration and dissolution of his marriage with the first wife by decree of a competent Civil Court," the judges held.
"During the subsistence of the first marriage, he has performed a second marriage, which cannot be said to be legal. The allegations of adultery have no relevance in the present case as the same does not in any manner affect the merits of the claim by the first wife," the bench ruled.