NEW DELHI—Jammu and Kashmir’s former chief minister and National Conference leader Omar Abdullah has been living in separation from his wife Payal Abdullah (Payal Nath of Delhi) for almost fourteen years but his plea for divorce was dismissed by the Delhi High Court on Tuesday. The decision came after seven years of a trial court’s verdict that dismissed his plea for divorce on August 30, 2016. They were married in 1994.
The High Court upheld the earlier decision of a family court not allowing Omar Abdullah to divorce his estranged wife. He has sought divorce because he was subjected to cruelty by his wife. In the sixty-eight-page ruling, the bench observed that Omar Abdullah was not able to prove any conduct of his wife Payal which could be termed as cruelty.
A bench of Justice Sanjeev Sachdeva and Justice Vikas Mahajan observed that there was no infirmity in the order of the family court. According to the court, the allegations of cruelty, physical or mental, were vague. The court did not find any merit in the appeal and dismissed that. The trial court had said that Omar Abdullah could not prove his allegations of cruelty or desertion.
Abdullah had claimed that his marriage had broken down. He informed the court that he and his wife have been living separately since 2009 while they were married on September 1, 1994.
Omar Abdullah contented that there was a lower threshold for a petition seeking divorce on the ground of cruelty under the Special Marriage Act as compared to the Hindu Marriage Act but the court rejected this plea. Omar and Payal’s marriage was solemnised under Special Marriage Act.
The court held that nearly all the provisions relating to the solemnizing of marriage, judicial separation, divorce and grounds for divorce were identical.
The court said that there was no basis to consider that a lower threshold should apply while considering a petition for divorce on the grounds of cruelty under the Special Marriage Act. The court said that after examining the evidence led by the parties in light of the allegations made by Omar Abdullah, it was of the view that the family court had rightly concluded that the appellant had not been able to prove that the respondent Payal had treated the appellant Omar Abdullah with cruelty which could constitute a ground for divorce under the Special Marriage Act.
Omar Abdullah had alleged that Payal had refused to move to Kashmir in 2002 when he went there for the elections but the court ratified the family court’s ruling that it was not Payal’s insistence or preference to be in Delhi but it was on account of the exigencies of Abdullah’s work.
The bench said, “The respondent in her testimony had deposed that the appellant had been attacked twice while he was in Jammu and Kashmir along with the respondent and the children. Further, keeping the children’s education in mind, they both made a conscious decision to put the children in a school in Delhi.”
The court observed, “This arrangement of respondent and children residing in Delhi while the appellant commuting to Srinagar on account of his work cannot be termed as an act of mental cruelty towards the appellant.”
Omar Abdullah had alleged that his wife had written a letter to the Prime Minister in 2016 and had also given an interview to a media channel.
To this, the court observed that even if one were to accept the above allegations, in the court’s view the same does not meet the threshold of cruelty as required for the grant of divorce under the Special Marriage Act.
The Delhi High Court directed in August this year Omar Abdullah to pay Rs. One and a half lakh to Payal every month as interim maintenance. In addition, Omar has been asked to pay Rs. Sixty Thousand for the studies of his two sons every month. Earlier in 2018, the trial court had fixed Rs. Seventy-five thousand for the interim maintenance and Rs. Twenty-five thousand for the studies.
Omar and Payal’s sons are pursuing law.