Varun Gopal story pic-22

The story of Australian NRI Varun Gopal shows the Indian courts are getting very strict these days when it comes to dealing with applications by Indian women, abandoned or ex-wives, claiming to be victims of their NRI or Non Resident Indian husbands who enjoy life abroad.

The reason is simple. The number of such women victims – abandoned wives has risen to above 40,000.

And in India where social scanning can literally “kill” you, the status of any woman in that circumstance is perennially in limbo.

It was not thus surprising that when the case of Shilpi Shrivastava, ex-wife of Australia based NRI Varun Gopal came up for final hearing in the Supreme Court on October 20 before Justice Ravindra Bhat, who was retiring the same day, the judge it seems had had enough and wanted to decide the case, once and for all.

Justice Bhat who led the bench with Justice Arvind Kumar needed to provide financial relief to the ex-wife who had had been waiting for years to receive maintenance payments ordered by the court in 2016 to be Rs 1 lakh and in 2021 increased to be Rs 1.27 Lakhs per month.

The background
Mr. Varun Gopal got married to Shilpi Shrivastava  sometime in or around 2012. At the relevant time, Varuna was employed and working in Australia.

Within two years of marriage,  the matrimonial relationship  deteriorated leading  to various legal proceedings which included applications by Shilpi for maintenance as well criminal proceedings against the husband Varun Gopal.

Varun Gopal, who anticipated potential arrest if and when he goes to India, applied for anticipatory bail but was refused.

Since then, Varun has not participated in the court proceedings and chose to stay away in Australia.

According to the court documents, Varun Gopal applied for divorce in Australia and without Shilpi Shrivastava attending, also managed to get an ex-parte divorce decree here in Australia on 21.12.2017.

Shilpi has challenged the validity of the divorce granted by the Australian court in the absence of any finalization of financial settlement of her ruined marriage.

Varun Gopal who has since remarried and lives with his wife and two children in Australia; he is the only child of his parents.

It was argued against Shilpi that her claim for any payment can only be against her ex-husband Varun’s assets who no longer lived in India.

If Varun was so advised and he hoped to be safe, it was wrong.

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Being the only child of his parents, who have huge property assets which at least included 11 multistorey shops in Delhi, it was not good strategy for him, particularly when his Australian divorce decree has also been challenged in India, to stay away from the courts in India.

The aggrieved ex-wife Shilpi has not only pursued her claim for maintenance against Varun and now also against his parents.

When she did not receive any payments and the maintenance in arrears added up to more than Rs 40 Lakhs, she made the application to go after Varun’s parents’ property.

As an interim measure, the court ordered them (the parents) to deposit Rs 40 Lakhs towards arrears of maintenance, which they promised but failed to pay. Poor parents were taken into custody and spent 10 months in jail before being released on bail on 12 July 2019.

According to the court documents, the arrears amount remains unpaid to date.

Shilpi’s lawyers told the court that their matrimonial house was sold ofr Rs 2 Crores and there was an agreement / understanding between the two sides, signed by the husband’s mother dated 22 October 2018 whereby Shilpi would be paid Rs 1.2 Crores and settle all her claims.

The court was told despite the agreement recorded in the Memorandum duly signed by her mother-in-law (who has since passed away), Shilpi has received no money.

Her lawyers prayed to the court and the court accepted that Shilpi should get her relief against the properties currently belonging to Varun’s father Mohan Gopal and the rental incomes thereof.

Lawyers of the father of Varun Gopal submitted to the court that the father-in-law was willing to pay the amount of Rs 97 Lakhs as the full and final payment if Shilpi was willing to settle all execution orders, civil and criminal cases she has against them.

Looking at the history of litigation, Justice Bhat criticizing the conduct of Varun Gopal in  particular and the family in general said:

“The past  history  of  this   case,  and the orders  of  this  court have demonstrated the utter obduracy of Varun Gopal, who abandoned the wife, and virtually fled to Australia.  The documents  placed on record of this  court, including the affidavits filed by the petitioner, and the bank account statements, reveal that considerable amounts of money were remitted to Varun Gopal, over a period of time.”

“The court is not powerless, but can issue  appropriate  directions,  and even decrees,  for  doing complete  justice between the parties”, Justice Bhat further said.

“The present case – as discussed  earlier, has displayed  persistent defiant conduct by Varun Gopal, and the petitioner, Mohan Gopal, who have, through one pretext or another stalled compliance with the orders of this court. It is the responsibility of Petitioner and Varun Gopal who are held liable to fulfil  the payment of entire sum”, Justice Bhat added.

Not only granting everything the ex-wife Shilpi Shrivastava had prayed for and rather going to the nth degree to make sure she does not have to struggle with the procedures and processes, the court, as part of its orders, directed Delhi High Court to assist in implementation of the court orders.

The court order said:

(1)   Six contiguous shops bearing municipal  numbers 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31 shall be put  to sale by the Registrar of the Delhi High Court, who shall ensure that the best prices are realized. The amounts realized from the sale shall be deposited in a fixed deposit receipt, initially for six months, and its interest, disbursed to the second respondent/applicant. In the event of no sale, the attachment of property shall continue in favour of the applicant.

 (2)  The attachment of rents of M/s Fitness Factory Gym & Spa on the First Floor shall be continued, till the petitioner, and his son, Varun Gopal, pay the amount constituting the balance between the amount realized by direction (1) and Rs. 1.25 crores.

 (3)   In the eventuality the directions in (2) are not complied within one year, the Registrar is directed to take steps, and within three months, and seek  option from the applicant regarding  whether  she would wish  the transfer of title to the said premises in her name, or its sale. In the event she opts for the transfer, the Registrar Delhi High Court, is directed to take all necessary steps to execute a conveyance deed (under the present directions) to that effect, the sale shall be registered by the concerned authorities, and the applicant shall be handed over symbolic possession.

 (4)  In the event the applicant  does not seek conveyance,  the Registrar shall take all necessary steps to auction the said property (on the first floor described in (2) above, within 18 months from today.

 (5)  All amounts realized in the process of compliance with directions (1) and (4) above shall be paid to the applicant. Decree shall be drawn to the above effect. Decree shall also reflect total amount due and payable to the applicant in lieu of which sale of shops are hereby ordered.

First of its kind
This is the first order by the Supreme Court ordering the sale of an NRI’s share in his ancestral property in India after he abandoned his wife and refused to pay maintenance.

Of those 40,000 plus Indian women abandoned, struggling to make sense of their lives, some may be married to NRIs living in Australia.

As the Supreme Court has now decided to allow the ancestral property to be attached, it was never advisable and no longer useful to think not going to India for some time while the ex-wife is still fighting, will help.

The ex-wife Shilpi, although living with her widow mother as a dependent, has shown a remarkable fighting, unyielding and indefatigable spirit to get justice.

Those NRIs who have issues pending in India, will be better served talking to some good lawyer and cleaning up their past than going for shortcuts which never help.

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