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Accepting the recommendations of an experts committee, the Ministry of Defence has instructed the military authorities to avoid ordering grant of maintenance allowance to estranged spouses from pay and allowances of military personnel, saying civil courts are the right forum to approach in such cases.
The MoD panel, set up last year, submitted its report in February this year and its recommendations were accepted recently. The panel had earlier criticised the defence services for passing such orders, especially in Army, without due investigation and scrutiny.
The MoD has also accepted the recommendation that the grant of maintenance by military authorities should be an exception and, wherever awarded, should be preceded by a proper probe some kind of an inquiry related to the allegations and counter-allegations of the parties and executed by a proper speaking order.
The Army, Navy and the Air Force Acts provide that the competent authority can impose a cut up to 33 per cent on pay and allowances which can be paid to the spouse as maintenance on an application.
There has been a rise of litigation on the subject in the past.
Recently, a Lt Col had averred his wife held a doctorate and was also working in a real estate firm, but still was awarded maintenance by the Army. Another officer complained his wife was an MSc and BEd and earning a huge amount from tuitions while he had elderly parents to look after, but still deduction of arrears of maintenance had resulted in disbursement of more than Rs 30,000 to the wife per month. Another serving Colonel stated he was being expected put his earnings at the disposal of his wife who was fully qualified and competent to work and was actually working.
With growing matrimonial disputes, the number of such applications has only increased in the last few years, especially with the Army granting maintenance to the spouses on almost all applications through non-speaking orders without providing reasons.
The MoD panel has observed that the exceptional provisions are being invoked in a routine manner by defence authorities. It has also found that the system does not have the wherewithal or ability to examine the veracity of the allegations and counter-allegations of both parties, which is basically a matter of evidence that can only be weighed and dealt with by civil courts.
The panel has said that this exercise can only be carried out under Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code and the relevant Marriage Acts, rather than the defence services getting into what may fundamentally be a civil or private dispute between a husband and his wife.
The panel has also observed that even the Army HQ has expressed concern on the issue and that maintenance is meant to tide over a difficult financial situation and not to lead life on someone else’s expense. It has recorded that the award of maintenance results in grave civil consequences for an individual wherein a cut is imposed on his pay.
The panel has stated that though defence personnel have a bounden duty to maintain their families, such issues should be left to courts to decide based on evidence.