The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Father loses child custody to in-laws

Who becomes a child’s legal custodian if the mother dies' The father. But what happens if the court finds that the child’s welfare is assured in the custody of a third party' The judge does not hesitate to hand over the child to the third party.

This was the judgment Calcutta High Court delivered on a case, in which Utpal Pal of Shantipur, Nadia, lost the custody of his daughter to his in-laws.

Nine-year-old Sunanda lost her mother two years ago, when Sumita Pal committed suicide at her husband’s house. Though Utpal petitioned the court for the custody of his child, Sunanda does not want to stay with her father and is “quite happy” with her grandparents at Gopal Nagar, Calcutta.

In its verdict, the high court observed that the apex court had clear guidelines on such cases. “The paramount consideration is the welfare of the child,” it observed, before handing over the child to her grandparents.

Utpal, a businessman, married Sumita in 1990. In 1994, Sumita gave birth to Sunanda. Trouble started a year later. According to Pal’s lawyer Ashim Ganguly, Sumita had a quarrel with Utpal in mid-1996.

“As a consequence, Sumita set herself on fire. She was hospitalised by neighbours with 100 per cent burns,” the lawyer said.

Sumita’s mother Purnima and father Dulal rushed to Shantipur and lodged a complaint against their son-in-law, alleging that their daughter had committed suicide due to “continuous mental torture” inflicted by her husband.

“Dulal and Sunanda returned to Calcutta with three year-old Sunanda. Since then, the child has been staying with them,” the lawyer told the court.

Meanwhile, Utpal filed a case at Nadia District Judges’ Court. His lawyer pointed out that no court had ruled that Sumita died because of Utpal’s torture. Second, he had not married again. So, he was the natural custodian of his own daughter.

Sumita’s parents, on the other hand, argued that the child had watched her mother suffer at Utpal’s hands. “She does not want to stay with her father. She hates him,” they claimed.

The district judge called the child and asked her who she would choose to live with. The child opted for her grandparents. The judge then handed over the custody of the child to Dulal and Purnima.

Utpal appealed before Calcutta High Court, seeking an order to set aside the verdict of the trial court. But on Monday, the division bench of Justices A.N. Roy and H. Banerjee rejected the petition.

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