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Q. Who are "dependents"  for the purpose of maintenance under Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956? What do you understand by maintenance? In what cases a wife can claim separate residence without forfeiting her right to maintenance from husband?

Historical Perspective
Joint family system has been a main feature of the Hindu society since vedic ages. In a joint family, it is the duty of the able male members to earn money and provide for the needs of other members such as women, children, and aged or infirm parents.
In Manusmriti, it has been said that wife, children, and old parents must be cared for even by doing a hundred misdeeds.

HAMA 1956 codifies a lot of principles governing the maintenance of dependents of a Hindu male. Under this act, the obligation can be divided into two categories - personal obligation and obligation tied to the property.

Dependents based on personal obligation
Personal obligation means that a Hindu is personally liable, irrespective of the property that he has inherited or his earnings, to provide for certain relations who are dependent on him. These relations have been specified in the following sections of HAMA 1956.

Section 18(1) declares that whether married before or after this act, a Hindu wife shall be entitled to claim maintenance by her husband during her lifetime.  Sec 18(2) says that a wife is entitled to live separately without forfeiting her right to claim maintenance in certain situations. 18(3) that a wife shall not be entitled to separate residence and maintenance of she is unchaste or ceases to be a Hindu.
In the case of Jayanti vs Alamelu, 1904 Madras HC held that the obligation to maintain one's wife is one's personal obligation and it exists independent of any property, personal or ancestral.

Section 20(1) declares that a Hindu is bound to maintain his children, legitimate or illegitimate, and aged or infirm parents. 20(2) says that a child, legitimate or illegitimate, can claim maintenance from father or mother, until the child is a minor. 20(3) says that the right to claim maintenance of aged or infirm parents and unmarried daughter extends in so far as they are not able to maintain themselves through their other sources of income.
In this case, a childless step-mother is also considered a parent.

Dependents based on obligation tied to property
A person has obligation to support certain relations of another person whose property has devolved on him. In this case, this obligation is not personal but only up to the extent that it can be maintained from the devolved property. 

Section 21 specifies these relations of the deceased who must be supported by the person who receives the deceased property.
  1. father
  2. mother
  3. widow, so long as she does not remarry
  4. son, predeceased son's son, or predeceased son's predeceased son's son until the age of majority. Provided that he is not able to obtain maintenance from his father or mother's estate in the case of grandson, and from his father or mother, or father's father or father's mother, in the case of great grandson.
  5. daughter or predeceased son's daughter, or predeceased son's predeceased son's daughter until she gets married. Provided that he is not able to obtain maintenance from his father or mother's estate in the case of granddaughter, and from his father or mother, or father's father or father's mother, in the case of great granddaughter.
  6. widowed daughter, if she is not getting enough maintenance from her husband's, children's, or father in law's estate.
  7. widow of predeceased son, or widow of predeceased son's son, so long as she does not remarry and if the widow is not getting enough maintenance from her husband's, children's or her father or mother's estate in the case of son's widow. 
  8. illegitimate son, until the age of majority
  9. illegitimate daughter, until she is married.
Section 22 (1) says that heirs of a Hindu are bound to maintain the dependents of the deceased out of the estate inherited by them from the deceased. Thus, this obligation is to be fulfilled only from the inherited property and so it is not a personal obligation. 22(2) says that where a dependent has not received any share, by testamentary or intestate succession, he shall be entitled to maintenance from those who take the estate. 22(3) says that the liability of each heir is in proportion to the estate obtained by him. 22(4) says that a person who himself is a dependent cannot be forced to pay any amount of maintenance if the amount causes his share to reduce below what is required to maintain himself.

Maintenance means the right of dependents to obtain food, clothing, shelter, medical care, education, and reasonable marriage expenses for marriage of a girl,  from the provider of the family or the inheritor of an estate. The basic concept of maintenance originated from the existence of joint families where every member of the family including legal relations as well as concubines, illegitimate children, and even slaves were taken care of by the family. However, maintenance does not mean unreasonable expectations or demands.

In the case of Ekradeshwari vs Homeshwar in 1929, Privy Council had enunciated certain principles in governing the amount of maintenance. It said that maintenance depends on a complete analysis of the situation, the amount of free estate, the past life of the married parties and the family, the requirements of the claimants, and a consideration regarding future changes.

How much maintenance
Section 23(1) says that courts will have complete discretion upon whether and how much to maintenance should be given. While deciding this, the courts shall consider the guidelines given in sections 23(2) and 23(3).
Section 23(2) says that that while deciding the maintenance for wife, children, and aged or infirm parents, the courts will consider:
  1. the position and status of the parties.
  2. the reasonable wants of the claimants.
  3. If a claimant has a separate residence, is it really needed.
  4. the value of the estate and the income derived from it or claimant's own earning or any other source of income.
  5. the number of claimants.
Section 23(3) says that while determining the maintenance for all other dependents the courts shall consider the following points:
  1. the net value of the estate after paying all his debts.
  2. the provisions, if any, made in the will in favor of the claimants.
  3. the degree of the relationship between the two.
  4. the reasonable wants of the dependent.
  5. the past relations between the deceased and the claimants.
  6. claimant's own earnings or other sources of income.
  7. the number of dependents claiming under this act.
Discretion of Court
    In the case of Mutyala vs Mutyala 1962 AP HC held that amount of maintenance cannot be a matter of mathematical certainty.
Position and Status of parties
    In the case of  Kiran Bala vs Bankim 1967 Calcutta HC observed the living standard of the wife, and her reasonable wants in determining the maintenance amount.
Reasonable wants
    In the case of  Kiran Bala vs Bankim 1967 Calcutta HC observed that the husband had a second wife and so the fact that the claimant is living separately will not go against her in determining the amount.
    In the case of Krishna vs Daimati 1966 Orrisa HC held that when a minor child lives with the mother, the necessities of the child constitute reasonable demands of the mother.
Separate earning of the claimant
    Whether the claimant has separate earning on income is a question of fact and not a question of presumption. It cannot be, for example, presumed that a college educated girl can maintain herself.
    In the case of Kulbhushan vs. Raj Kumari wife was getting an allowance of 250/- PM from her father. This was not considered to be her income but only a bounty that she may or may not get. However, income from inherited property is counted as the claimant’s earning. 
Arrears of Maintenance
    In the case of Raghunath vs Dwarkabai 1941 Bom HC held that right of maintenance is a recurring right and non-payment of maintenance prima facie constitutes proof of wrongful withholding.

Wife's right to separate residence without forfeiting the right to maintenance

Section 18(2) says that a wife can live separately and still claim maintenance from husband in the following situations.
  1. Desertion: It the husband is guilty of deserting the wife without her consent, against wife's wishes, and without any reasonable cause, the wife is entitled to separate residence. In the case of Meera vs Sukumar 1994 Mad, it was held that willful neglect of the husband constitutes desertion.
  2. Cruelty: If husband through his actions creates sufficient apprehension in the mind of the wife that living with the husband is injurious to her then that is cruelty. In the case of Ram Devi vs Raja Ram 1963 Allahbad, if the husband treats the wife with contempt, resents her presence and makes her feel unwanted, this is cruelty.
  3. If the husband is suffering from a virulent form of leprosy.
  4. If the husband has another wife living. In the case of Kalawati vs Ratan 1960 Allahbad, is has been held that it is not necessary that the second wife is living with the husband but only that she is alive.
  5. If the husband keeps a concubine or habitually resides with one. In the case of Rajathi vs Ganesan 1999 SC, it was held that keeping or living with a concubine are extreme forms of adultery.
  6. If the husband has ceased to be a Hindu by converting to another religion.
  7. For any other reasonable cause. In the case of Kesharbai vs Haribhan 1974 Mah, it was held that any cause due to which husband's request of restitution of conjugal rights can be denied could be a good cause for claiming a separate residence as well as maintenance. In the case of Laxmi vs Maheshwar 1985 Orrisa, it was held that if the husband fails to obey the order of restitution of conjugal rights, he is liable to pay maintenance and separate residence. In the case of Sobha vs Bhim 1975 Orrisa, mere drinking habit is not a sufficient cause for separate residence. 
Section  18(3) says that a wife is not eligible for separate residence and maintenance if she is unchaste or has ceased to be a Hindu.
In the case of Dattu vs Tarabai 1985 Bombay, it was held that mere cohabitation does not by itself terminate the order of maintenance passed under 18(2). It depends on whether the cause of such an order still exists.