In an elegant, exemplary, eloquent, and effective judgment titled K Raju v. Union of India & Ors. in W.P. No. 29988 of 2019, the Madras High Court has rightly, remarkably, and recently on 19 February 2021 held that only senior citizens/parents are entitled to file an appeal against an order passed by the Tribunal under the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizen Act, 2007. It must be mentioned here that while holding thus, a Division Bench of Madras High Court comprising of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy dismissed a petition seeking a declaration that any aggrieved party to an order passed under the Act can file an appeal under Section 16. Very rightly so!
At the outset, it is stated in the prayer by the petitioner that, “Petition filed under Article 226 of the Constitution of India for issuance of a Writ of Declaration, declaring that any aggrieved party to an order passed under The Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizen Act, 2007, Act No.56 of 2007, can file an Appeal under Sec.16(1) of the said Act, with reference to the case in Balbir Kaur v. Presiding Officer-cum-SDM of the Maintenance & Welfare of Senior Citizen Tribunal, Pehowa District, Kurukshetra and others dated 29.06.2015 and consequently, direct the 2 nd respondent to take the appeal on file.”
To start with, this notable judgment where the order of the Court was made by Chief Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy sets the ball rolling by first and foremost observing in para 1 and which we must take note of is that “The petition is complete without any basis.”
While continuing in a similar vein, the Bench then points out in para 2 that, “A perfectly simple provision lucidly enunciated is sought to be twisted to imply something that it clearly does not permit.”
To put things in perspective, the Bench then specifies in para 3 that, “The matter pertains to Section 16 of the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007. Sub-section (1) of such provision permits only any senior citizen or a parent, who is aggrieved by an order of a tribunal passed under such Act, to prefer an appeal to the appellate tribunal. The first proviso to such provision adds that merely because an appeal has been filed by a senior citizen or a parent aggrieved by the quantum of maintenance allowed would not permit the children or relative who are directed to pay the maintenance to suspend the payment of the maintenance as directed. The second proviso enlarges the period of receiving an appeal upon sufficient cause being indicated. Subsection (2) through sub-section (7) of Section 16 of the Act pertain to the conduct of the appeal and do not reflect anything on who may prefer an appeal and who may be regarded as a person aggrieved.”
For the sake of clarity, the Bench then makes it a point to state in para 4 that, “Section 16(1) of the said Act of 2007 is quoted:
“16. Appeals.- (1) Any senior citizen or a parent, as the case may be, aggrieved by an order of a Tribunal may, within sixty days from the date of the order, prefer an appeal to the Appellate Tribunal:
Provided that on appeal, the children or relative who is required to pay any amount in terms of such maintenance order shall continue to pay to such parent the amount so ordered, in the manner directed by the Appellate Tribunal:
Provided further that the Appellate Tribunal may, entertain the appeal after the expiry of the said period of sixty days, if it is satisfied that the appellant was prevented by sufficient cause from preferring the appeal in time.”
Needless to say, it is then stated in para 5 that, “The words used in the provision are lucid and, by no stretch of imagination, can such clear words of the statute be read or understood or interpreted to imply that any class of persons other than any senior citizen or a parent may be entitled to prefer an appeal under such provision. The terms “senior citizens” and “parent” are defined in Section 2 of the Act. The word “Tribunal” is also defined to mean the Maintenance Tribunal as constituted under Section 7 of the Act.”
Significantly, the Bench then observes in para 6 that, “It is elementary that an appeal is a creature of a statute and no right of appeal inheres in any person unless such right is expressly conferred by any statute. It is possible for a right of appeal to be hedged with conditions or even a right of appeal to be granted to a class of persons and not granted to another. It is the wisdom of the legislature to decide what classes of persons would be entitled to the right of appeal and what conditions may be attached to the exercise of such right and how such right may be exercised.”
More significantly, the Bench then elucidates in para 7 stating that “At the highest, an appellate provision may be assailed as unreasonable as falling foul of the constitutional principles, particularly under Article 14 thereof. But merely because a class of persons has been conferred the right to prefer an appeal while another class may have not been given such right, ipso facto, would not make the appellate provision vulnerable to any challenge under Article 14 of the Constitution. Indeed, the right of appeal that inheres in a party to the lis at the time of initiation of the lis may also be subsequently taken away by the legislature, the only caveat being that such a right must be expressly taken away and such right cannot be seen to be extinguished by implication.”
While mentioning about the relevant ruling relied on by the petitioner, the Bench then observes in para 8 that, “The petitioner relies on a judgment of the Punjab and Haryana High Court reported at AIR 2014 P&H 121 (Paramjit Kumar Saroya v. The Union of India). There is no doubt that such judgment concludes, upon a reading of Section 16 of the Act, that any person aggrieved by an order of the Tribunal may prefer an appeal. However, we have not been able to persuade ourselves to concur with the view. For the reasons indicated hereinabove, we respectfully disagree.”
Most significantly and most remarkably, what forms the cornerstone of this brilliant judgment is then stated in para 9 wherein it is put forth that, “When the clear words of a statute do not permit any other meaning or interpretation, particularly when it pertains to a right of appeal, additional words cannot be read into the provision to discover a right in favor of a class of persons excluded by necessary implication in the appellate provision. When the words used in Section 16 of the Act are “Any senior citizen or a parent ... aggrieved by order of a Tribunal may ... prefer an appeal...” and the other words govern the time or describe the senior citizens or the parent in the alternative, there is no room to imagine that others aggrieved by an order of the tribunal may also prefer an appeal on the ground that the scales must be balanced between the two sides.”
Finally, it is then held in the last para 10 that, “In the light of the above and there being no other issue involved, W.P.No.29988 of 2019 is dismissed. It is recorded that the petitioner says that the parties have come to a settlement, but no conclusive finding needs to be rendered in such regard in the context of the present lis and also since the private respondents are not represented. There will be no order as to costs. Consequently, W.M.P.No.29889 and 29890 of 2019 are closed.”
To sum it up, the Division Bench of Madras High Court comprising of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy has very rightly dismissed a petition seeking a declaration that any aggrieved party to an order passed under the Act can file an appeal under Section 16. They have explained in detail also the reasons for doing the same as stated hereinabove. We saw how the Division Bench of Madras High Court was not convinced with the ruling delivered by the Punjab and Haryana High Court in Paramjit Kumar Saroya v. Union of India, AIR 2014 P&H 121 and differed with them on the interpretation of Section 16(1) on the right to appeal to any of the affected parties. The Division Bench of Madras High Court rightly held that it is a settled law that an appeal is a creature of a statute and no right of appeal inheres in any person unless such right is expressly conferred by any statute. It rightly observed as stated above which we must repeat now that, “It is possible for a right of appeal to be hedged with conditions or even a right of appeal to be granted to a class of persons and not granted to another. It is the wisdom of the legislature to decide what classes of persons would be entitled to the right of appeal and what conditions may be attached to the exercise of such right and how such right may be exercised.” Very rightly so! Only senior citizens/parents are entitled to prefer an appeal against the order of Tribunal under Senior Citizens Act, 2007 as has been held so very rightly by the Madras High Court in this leading case also!