The apex court said it is the obligation of the husband to see that the wife does not become a destitute, a beggar and directed family courts to dispose of cases of maintenance, divorce, custody of child, property disputes as expeditiously as possible to ameliorate the agony and financial suffering of a woman who left her matrimonial home.
"In fact, it is the sacrosanct duty to render the financial support even if the husband is required to earn money with physical labour, if he is able bodied. There is no escape route unless there is an order from the Court that the wife is not entitled to get maintenance from the husband on any legally permissible grounds," a bench of justices Dipak Misra and V Gopala Gowda said.
Holding that wife is entitled in law to lead a life in the similar manner as she would have lived in the house of her husband, the bench said social status be also considered while fixing amount of maintenance.
"The concept of sustenance does not necessarily mean to lead the life of an animal, feel like an unperson to be thrown away from grace and roam for her basic maintenance somewhere else. She is entitled in law to lead a life in the similar manner as she would have lived in the house of her husband.
"That is where the status and strata come into play, and that is where the obligations of the husband, in case of a wife, become a prominent one. In a proceeding of this nature, the husband cannot take subterfuges to deprive her of the benefit of living with dignity," it said.
The apex court said it is impermissible that a wife is compelled to resign to her fate and "think of life dust unto dust", considering the solemn pledge at the time of marriage and also in consonance with the statutory law that governs the field. "It is the obligation of the husband to see that the wife does not become a destitute, a beggar.
A situation is not to be maladroitly created whereunder she is compelled to resign to her fate and think of life 'dust unto dust'. It is totally impermissible," the bench said.
The bench passed the order on an appeal filed by a man challenging the Rajasthan High Court order directing him to pay maintenance from the day his wife filed an application in a family court which took nine years to pass order.
The bench expressed displeasure over the delay in proceeding in family court, saying it is unfortunate that the case continued for nine years before the Family Court which is against human rights.
"This delay in adjudication by the Family Court is not only against human rights but also against the basic embodiment of dignity of an individual," the bench said.
"The approaches, as we perceive, not only defeat the command of the legislature but also frustrate the hope of wife and children who are deprived of adequate livelihood and whose aspirations perish like mushroom and possibly the brief candle of sustenance joins the marathon race of extinction," the bench said.