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Law Commission seeks public, religious bodies’ views on Uniform Civil Code

By, New Delhi
Jun 15, 2023 04:50 AM IST

The Law Commission on Wednesday set about to examine the issue afresh as it solicited views on UCC from the public and recognised religious organisations.

Almost four years after the Law Commission of India came out with a consultation paper stating that a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) was “neither necessary nor desirable at this stage”, the Commission on Wednesday set about to examine the issue afresh as it solicited views and suggestions on UCC from the public and recognised religious organisations.

The Jamiat Ulama Maharashtra during a demonstration against Uniform Civil Code, and seeking 5% reservation, at Azad Maidan in Mumbai on October 20, 2016. (HT Archive)
The Jamiat Ulama Maharashtra during a demonstration against Uniform Civil Code, and seeking 5% reservation, at Azad Maidan in Mumbai on October 20, 2016. (HT Archive)

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“Since more than three years have been lapsed from the date of issuance of the said Consultation Paper, bearing in mind the relevance and importance of the subject and also the various Court orders on the subject, the 22nd Law Commission of India considered it expedient to deliberate afresh over the subject,” stated the public notice, issued by the Commission, headed by former Karnataka high court chief justice Ritu Raj Awasthi.

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The notice mentioned that after the reference dated June 17, 2016 was sent by the Ministry of Law & Justice, the 22nd Law Commission has been examining the subject matter of UCC.

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“Accordingly, the 22nd Law Commission has decided again to solicit views and ideas of the public at large and recognised religious organizations about a UCC. Those who are interested and willing may present their views within a period of 30 days from the date of Notice,” it added.

In June 2016, the Ministry of Law and Justice, made a reference to the Law Commission to examine all matters relating to the implementation of a UCC. The Law Commission, however, did not submit a final report on the issue and furnished a consultation paper on “Reform of Family Law” in August 2018.

This consultation paper stated that a Uniform Civil Code was “neither necessary nor desirable at this stage” and recommended that existing family laws across religions required to be amended and codified to tackle discrimination and inequality in personal laws. The consultation paper was one of the last reports submitted by the 21st Law Commission, led by former Supreme Court judge BS Chauhan.

A Uniform Civil Code essentially means a common set of laws governing personal matters such as marriage, divorce, adoption, inheritance and succession for all citizens of the country, irrespective of religion. Currently, different laws regulate these aspects for adherents of different religions and a Uniform Civil Code is meant to do away with these inconsistent personal laws.

Article 44 of the Constitution, which is one of the Directive Principles of State Policy, lays down that the State shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India. However, directive principles, as Article 37 clarifies, are not enforceable by courts.

In the famous Shah Bano Case of 1985 that dealt with maintenance for Muslim women, the Supreme Court called it a “matter of regret that Article 44 has remained a dead letter”, adding common civil code will help the cause of national integration by removing desperate loyalties to laws that have conflicting ideologies.

Again, in Sarla Mudgal Case (1995), which dealt with issues of bigamy and conflict between personal laws in matters of marriage, the court highlighted the need for UCC again. It also requested the Prime Minister of India to have a fresh look at Article 44 and endeavour to secure for the citizens a Uniform Civil Code throughout the territory of India and wanted the Court to be informed about the steps taken.

However, the Supreme Court’s subsequent orders in Ahmedabad Women Action Group Case (1997) and Lily Thomas Case (2000) clarified that no direction was issued to the government for enactment of a uniform civil code in the Sarla Mudgal case.

As recently as March 23, the top court wrapped up a clutch of petitions demanding for UCC observing that such issues are meant for Parliament to decide and that courts should not be seen as directing the legislature to enact a law. “Entertaining these petitions would mean directing the enactment of law and a mandamus (command) cannot be issued to Parliament to enact a law,” said a bench led by Chief Justice of India Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud.

Responding to these petitions through an affidavit in October 2022, the Union government had told the court that personal laws based on religion is an “affront to the nation’s unity”, adding UCC will bring about integration of India by bringing different communities on a common platform through an unvarying legal regime.

At the same time, the government reminded the court that it is only for the elected representatives and the legislature to decide whether the country should have UCC and that no court can issue directives to the parliament for frame a specific statute.

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