The Supreme Court on Friday declined to entertain the application by socialite Poonam Jaidev Shroff to allow her and her minor child to reside in her matrimonial home located in tony Pali Hill in Mumbai, and suggested she choose rented accommodation having maximum Rs 30 lakh monthly rent in posh areas like Juhu, Bandra, or Santacruz.
A bench of Justices L. Nageswara Rao and B.R. Gavai said: "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 dated March 6, 2020, to say the least is unreasonable".
In March 2020, the top court had directed the Bombay High Court registry to engage an architect to find an appropriate house in areas like Pali Hill-Bandra in Mumbai for socialite, who is in the middle of bitter matrimonial battle with her industrialist husband Jaidev Shroff.
"As many as 17 properties have been listed on the list sent along with the communication dated February 3, 2021. However, vide communication dated February 10, 2021, it was informed on behalf of the respondent wife that none of the properties shown in the list were similar to the said house," the bench said.
The bench noted that if it were to allow her to move into her matrimonial house, it will, rather than subserving the interest of the parties, 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," said the bench.
In a chart, the top court cited 11 properties, identified by the architect, in tony areas of Mumbai having monthly rent between Rs 12-30 lakh a month.
However, all these properties were rejected by the petitioner. "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 out a house identical to the said house having the same area, the same facilities and the same luxuries," it noted.
The top court clarified that if she decides to shift to any of the properties mentioned on the list prepared by the architect or she locates any of the rented premises as per her choice, the husband shall pay the rent. "However, taking into consideration that the highest rent of the properties identified by the architect is Rs 30 lakh per month, the appellant-husband would be liable to pay rent to the maximum of Rs 30 lakh per month," it said.
The top court also did not grant an alternate prayer seeking Rs 35.37 lakh maintenance per month.
In March 2020, the top court also added a clause that this rented house should be equivalent to her matrimonial house in Pali Hill and the rent will be paid by her husband. It asked the Registrar to file a report within two months.
In the previous hearing on February 26, the top court had asked Poonam Jaidev to identify a house, as her husband agreed to pay the rent till final disposal of their divorce plea by a family court at Bandra. Shroff is the executive director of United Phosphorous. In 2015, he filed a divorce suit against his wife on grounds of cruelty against him and his two daughters from his first wife. He got separated from his first wife in 2000 and married Poonam Jaidev in 2005.
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