Now there is no use hiding salary slips from your wife. Going by the Madhya Pradesh High Court’s latest verdict, it is illegal. The court on May 28 ruled that a woman has the right to know the remuneration of her husband. Clubbing this judgement with an earlier Supreme Court ruling may offer a broader picture. The apex court had set a benchmark in April 2017 for maintenance to be paid by a husband to his estranged wife, stating that 25 per cent of his net salary might constitute a “just and proper” amount as alimony.
The court had directed a resident of West Bengal’s Hoogly, earning 95,527 a month, to set aside 20,000 as maintenance for his former wife and their son. The legal bench was of the view that the amount of maintenance or permanent alimony must be sufficient to ensure that a woman lived with dignity after separating from her husband.
The latest case involved a petition by one Sunita Jain, who had moved the court seeking a higher maintenance from her estranged husband. Sunita highlighted in her plea that Pawan Kumar Jain was giving her a monthly maintenance of just 7,000 while he was earning a high salary. A trial court had earlier turned down Sunita’s plea to see her estranged husband’s salary slip. She later filed a Right to Information application to seek his salary details.
The matter reached the Central Information Commission’s (CIC) doors. It directed the Central Public Information Officer of BSNL, the employer of her estranged husband, on July 27, 2007, to provide the required details to Sunita. That order was challenged in the Madras High Court by Pawan. A single-judge bench had then set aside the CIC order in March 2015. Jain then reportedly approached a two-judge bench of the Madhya Pradesh High Court which said a wife has the right to know the pay details of her husband. The whole process of seeking justice took more than a decade.
It is sad that the wives are being forced to use the RTI Act to get to know the salary of her husband. As Central Information Commissioner Professor Madabhushi Sridhar puts it, “The law, which is supposed to be a tool to secure transparency and accountability, has to be used to make husbands responsible.” In most cases, the husbands do not share the particulars of their salaries with their wives, while they exclusively operate the salary accounts of their spouses if they are employed. The wives, in most cases, hand over whole salaries either to the husband and seek allowances to go to office every day. Many times, a husband takes home loan and his wife pay the instalments.
To quote the CIC’s Sridhar, “Sharing love does not fall under RTI or personal laws. But ignoring responsibility would bring spouses to courts and tribunals. Then it is no more an issue of love but that of law and duty.” In some rare cases, wives too hide their actual salary from their spouse. One of my friends was under the impression, for years, that his wife gets only up to Rs30,000 per month. Only recently he discovered that her actual pay was 90,000. It may be fine to hide one’s salary slips for a month or two to surprise your spouse on his or her birthday or marriage anniversary. But cautiously keeping them secret for years may hurt the trust and relations between the two.