Is It Right to Penalize Children for No Fault of Theirs?
Should children, born out of voidable or illegal marriages, be allowed rights over their parents' properties?
Ram Dulare Pandey left a mess behind when he died in 2013. The telephone mechanic married Sushila Devi in 1990 in Faizabad and had a son, Aman, in 1997. But what he didn't tell her was that he was already married to Geeta Devi and had two sons, Manoj and Saroj, with her. Both wives learnt the truth eventually but continued to stay married to him. One can only surmise that he died a happy, if busy, man.
After Ram Dulare's death, Sushila met his employers, Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd (MTNL), to claim Pandey's provident fund, family pension and other benefits, but was rejected repeatedly, on the grounds that she was not entitled to them.
In August 2014, she moved the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT), questioning MTNL's decision and seeking relief. MTNL officials defended their decision by citing Rule 54 (13) of Central Civil Services (Pension) Rules, 1972, which states that the "second wife is not entitled to the family pension as a legally wedded wife under the Hindu Marriage Act". They drew attention to two cases--T. Stella v. Metropolitan Transport Corporation Ltd and another, W. P. No. 4828 of 2008; and Smt Violet Isac and others v. Union of India, (1991) 1 SCC 725--where the Supreme Court had upheld this rule.
The Tribunal in its verdict, dated January 2015, found that both parties had not approached it "with clean hands" and called for an enquiry, but tended to side with MTNL and dismissed Sushila's application.
Aman Kumar Pandey, Ram Dulare's son from his second marriage, filed a writ petition in 2016 in the Delhi High Court challenging the Tribunal's order. He claimed that even though he was not a party to his mother's application, the Tribunal indirectly decided on his rights as his father's heir and found him ineligible for the benefits.
Justice Sanjiv Khanna of the Delhi High Court, in his judgement in the case Aman Kumar Pandey v. General Manager, Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited and Another, dated 27 January 2017, overruled the order dated 28 January 2015, passed by the CAT in Sushila Devi v. General Manager, Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited and Another, which indirectly decided on the son's rights along with his mother's, while rejecting her application to claim pension and other payments as the second wife.
Justice Sanjiv Khanna observed that the dispute between Sushila and Geeta, as to who was the legally wedded wife of Ram Dulare, would not apply to Aman, who was protected by the inheritance laws in Section 16 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, that treated all children alike, giving them rights to their parents' property, "whether born from the first or the second marriage". And that the Tribunal's order "would not be a ground to reject and negate the rights of the petitioner, who claims that he is the son of late Ram Dulare Pandey and, therefore, would be entitled to inheritance or family pension".
The high court also allowed Aman to approach the Tribunal to settle the dispute over his year of birth. MTNL claimed he was born in 1995 as per their records. This, in light of the fact that children are entitled to their parents' pension only till the age of 25, unless employed earlier with a minimum salary of Rs 3,500, becomes important. If Aman is 1995 born and is 22, he has three years to claim his inheritance. If it is, in fact, 1997, it gives him five years.
Justice Khanna added that the Tribunal's findings would not prevent Aman from claiming his entitlement as Ram Dulare's son, and encouraged him to "stake his claim and right".
He stated that Aman was eligible as a legal/rightful heir of his father, and the Tribunal's order "would not foreclose or prevent the petitioner from raising his claim as the son of late Ram Dulare Pandey and accordingly his entitlement to the retirement and claim for family pension".
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