The Guwahati High Court has ruled that all surviving widows of a deceased government employee governed by Muslim law are entitled to a family pension under the Assam Services (Pension) Rules, 1969.
Advocate YS Mannan said a Bench of the Guwahati High Court recently made this ruling while disposing of a Writ Appeal filed by one of the surviving widows of one Tarif Uddin Ahmed, who was a retired employee of the state's Health and Family Welfare Department at the time of his demise in 2015. Mannan represented the petitioner (widows) in the high court.
The Bench noted that the appellant Junufa Bibi was the third wife of the deceased employee while one Padma Begum was the first wife. As per provisions of the Assam Services (Pension) Rules, 1969, Padma Bibi was selected to be the recipient of the family pension by dint of being the first surviving wife of the deceased Tarif Uddin Ahmed.
The Bench took into consideration certain judgments of the Supreme Court and the Guwahati High Court regarding the entitlements of widows who are governed by Muslim personal law.
The Bench noted that a single judge of the Guwahati High Court had ruled in an earlier matter that the pension of a deceased Muslim employee can be divided proportionately between his widows.
The high court further noted that the issue involved two questions: whether the second or further wives of a deceased employee, where both are governed by the Muslim law, would be entitled to the benefits of the family pension of the deceased employee; and, if yes, to whom the family pension is payable under the Assam Services (Pension) Rules, 1969.
It noted that the Assam Services (Pension) Rules, 1969 stipulates that in cases where there are two or more widows, the family pension will be payable to the eldest surviving widow, and on her death, it will be payable to the next surviving widow and the term eldest would mean seniority concerning the date of marriage
The high court observed: "We hold that the family pension being payable to the eldest of the surviving widow or wife would not mean that the entire family pension so payable would be the personal property of the eldest of the surviving widow or wife… the family pension so payable would be held by the eldest of the surviving widow or wife as a trustee for all such other persons who are entitled to the benefits of the family pension in terms of Rule 143 of the Pension Rules of 1969.
“We also provide that in the event any such other persons who are entitled to the benefits of the family pension in terms of Rule 143 of the Pension Rules of 1969, including the second or further wives, in a case where the parties are governed by the Mohammedan law, are not appropriately maintained by the eldest of the surviving widow or wife to whom the pension would be paid, the remedy thereof would be to make a claim for maintenance in the appropriate forum under the law and not a claim for payment of the family pension by the State authorities directly to such persons.”
"However, if in a given case the State authorities on their own volition are of the view that under an acceptable circumstance, the authorities are agreeable or required to pay the pension separately to any such member of a family of a deceased employee, this judgment may not be construed to be an absolute bar on such separate payment," the high court said.