Terming the approach to be unreasonable, the Supreme Court on Friday rejected the plea of socialite Poonam Bhagat Shroff who is engaged in a bitter matrimonial dispute, to allow her to live in the posh home of her estranged husband Jaidev Shroff. Jaidev Shroff and Poonam Bhagat Shroff’s divorce is considered to be the most expensive divorce battle in India.
In the plea, Poonam Bhagat Shroff has stated that she be either permitted to live in her matrimonial house i.e. 82, Pali Hill residence or should be paid ₹ 35.37 Lakhs per month for staying out on rent.
In the earlier directions, the court had asked Poonam to pick a house of her choice in Mumbai. But later issued the directions to the Registrar of the Family Court at Bandra in Mumbai to engage an architect from the panel of expert architects maintained by Bombay High Court to help in finding appropriate accommodation for her.
The directions were issued after Jaidev Shroff had agreed to pay a rent of ₹ 30 lakh per month over and above ₹ 12 lakh interim maintenance.
The apex court bench comprising Justice L Nageswara Rao and Justice B R Gavai was hearing the matter. They took a serious note of the continuous rejection of the properties searched by the court-appointed architect for Poonam and her daughter.
“In our view, to stretch the word ‘similar’ as used in the order dated March 6, 2020, to be totally identical to the said house would be unrealistic. It will be difficult to find a house identical to the said house having the same area, the same facilities, and the same luxuries,” the bench said.
“The word ‘similar’ has to be construed as providing the same degree of luxury and comfort as is available in the said house. We have no hesitation in observing that the conduct of the respondent-wife in firstly not choosing any house as per her choice and secondly, in rejecting all the properties, which have been identified by the Architect, only on the ground that they are not similar and therefore, not in accordance with the order…, to say the least, is unreasonable,” said Justice Gavai.
The court rejected her plea for permission to move into 82, Pali Hill residence of her estranged husband.
The bench observed, “As already discussed…, if we allow the prayer and allow the respondent-wife to move into the said house, rather than subserving the interest of the parties, would be detrimental to their interests. The record and the pendency of the criminal proceedings would show that the relations between the parties are so strained that if they are permitted to live in the said house, it would lead to nothing else but further criminal proceedings.”
While coming to the other prayer for paying a monthly rent of ₹ 35.37 lakhs, the court referred to the 2018 Family court’s order.
After recording the details about the income of the parties, the Family court had directed interim maintenance to be paid to the wife at the rate of ₹ 7 lakhs per month and to the minor at the rate of ₹ 5 lakhs per month.
“If the prayer for payment of an amount is allowed, it will be giving an additional amount to the respondent-wife. It will amount to awarding an amount which is much more than the one to which the respondent wife was found entitled by the Family Court…We, therefore, find that the alternate relief as prayed also cannot be granted,” the apex court said.
The Supreme Court bench has directed the Family Court to expedite the divorce proceedings which is pending since 2015 and decide as expeditiously as possible.
“In the result, we do not find merit in both the interlocutory applications, and the same are rejected. However, we clarify that in the event, the respondent-wife decides to shift to any of the properties mentioned in the list annexed with the report of the Architect dated 3rd February 2021 or she locates any of the rented premises as per her choice, the appellant-husband shall pay the rent of the said premises from the date on which such premises are taken on rent,” said the court.
“However, taking into consideration that the highest rent of the properties identified by the Architect is ₹ 30 lakhs per month, the appellant-husband would be liable to pay rent to the maximum of ₹ 30 lakhs per month,” added the bench.
When she was asked to find suitable accommodation for her, she told the court that instead of being asked to look for a house, she would be given monthly rent of ₹ 30 lakh by her estranged husband.
However, Advocate AM Singhvi, appearing for Jaidev Shroff, submitted that his client was willing to pay the rent and would not like to pay cash in lieu of the rent.
The husband had also lodged a complaint against the wife for allegedly trying to administer drugs through orange juice with the help of a ‘Bengali Baba’.
Advocate Singhvi also mentioned that they have offered to pay ₹ 90 crore towards the full and final settlement of the divorce dispute but the other party had denied the offer.