The Punjab and Haryana High Court has observed that in the exercise of its powers under Section 125(3) Cr.P.C., a court can impose composite civil imprisonment in case of default in payment of maintenance arrears/allowances, for a period of one month only, in a single stroke.
This assertion came from the bench of Justice Manjari Nehru Kaul who was dealing with a revision petition filed by one Bal Raj, who had moved to the High Court challenged a family court's order passed on an application moved under Section 125(3) of the CrPC.
Essentially, the family court had directed the petitioner to undergo a composite sentence of 12 months' civil imprisonment for default in payment of maintenance allowance for 66 months, aggrieved by the same, he filed the instant revision plea before the High Court.
It was argued before the Court that for default of payment of arrears, no composite sentence could have been ordered.
Perusing the mandate of Section 125 (3) CrPC, the Court noted that for breach of payment of maintenance for each month, the Court can impose a maximum sentence of one month only, unless of course, if the payment of the arrears is made sooner
Further, the Court referred to the ruling of the Supreme Court in the case of Shahada Khatoon and others Vs. Amjad Ali and others : (1999) 5 SCC 672, wherein it was held that the powers of the Magistrate are restricted and no sentence exceeding the maximum i.e. one month, can be imposed for default.
In this case, the Apex court had further held that if at all the default persists even after the expiry of one month, the only remedy available to the aggrieved party would be to approach the Magistrate concerned again, after the expiry of one month, for enforcing her claim of maintenance for sending the delinquent husband to civil imprisonment.
Therefore, the High Court ruled that the defaulter can under no circumstances be ordered to undergo composite civil imprisonment for a period beyond one month irrespective of the fact that the arrears, etc. claimed in a single application by the aggrieved party may be for more than one month.
As a sequel to the above, the impugned order dated March 16, 2020, of the family court (awarding 12 months civil imprisonment) was set aside as being wholly unsustainable and against the settled law.
Case title - Bal Raj v. Priya and others