Dehradun/New Delhi | The Uttarakhand government on Tuesday tabled in the assembly the Uniform Civil Code bill, the first such move in any state after Independence that could be followed by similar legislation in other BJP-run states.
The hill state’s small tribal community is exempted from the proposed law, which also mandates registration of live-in relationships.
Children born of live-in relationships will be considered legitimate and deserted women will be entitled to maintenance from their partners.
Coming just ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, the 192-page Uniform Civil Code, Uttarakhand, 2024 bill ticks off an important item on the BJP’s ideological agenda — a common law on marriage, divorce, land, property and inheritance for all citizens, irrespective of their religion.
“Makers of the Constitution had discussed the matter several times before putting in a provision for this,” Union minister Meenakshi Lekhi said in Delhi, in an apparent reference to Article 44 of the Constitution.
She called it the fulfilment of a promise made by “our ancestors”.
The bill is likely to be studied and possibly implemented by BJP governments in states like Gujarat and Assam. Only Goa has a common civil law, in operation since the Portuguese rule.
Without naming them, the bill effectively bans polygamy and 'halala' practised among a section of Muslims. Marriages, though, can be solemnised through separate rituals, like saptapadi, nikah and anand karaj, followed by different communities.
The All India Muslim Personal Law Board called the bill an interference in religious matters.
Khalid Rashid Farangi Mahali, its executive committee member, also questioned the relevance of a uniform code when Uttarakhand’s tribal community was exempted.
On Tuesday, the second day of a special four-day session of the Uttarakhand assembly, Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami entered the House with a copy of the original Constitution.
Ruling party members thumped their desks and chanted "Bharat Mata ki Jai", "Vande Mataram" and "Jai Shri Ram" as he tabled the bill.
The original list of business for the day said the bill will be tabled, debated and passed by the House.
But Speaker Ritu Khanduri allowed more time after opposition members protested, raising slogans in the House. They wanted time to study the bill and then offer their views.
"It seems the government wants to pass the bill without a debate in violation of legislative traditions," Leader of Opposition Yashpal Arya said.
The opposition also protested against the decision of the business advisory committee to suspend the Question Hour to table the UCC.
The bill applies to the whole of Uttarakhand and to people from the state living outside. But the state’s tribal population will not be affected.
"Nothing contained in this code shall apply to the members of any Scheduled Tribes... and the persons and group of persons whose customary rights are protected under the Part XXI of the Constitution of India," the bill says.
Like marriages, live-in relationships must be registered. Live-in partners must not be under18. But if any one of them is under 21, the registrar is bound to inform their parents or guardians.
The bill stipulates a penalty of up to a month in prison or a fine of Rs 10,000, or both, if the partners do not submit a statement on their relationship to the registrar within a month.
They will face a higher penalty if they submit false information.
If a woman in a live-in relationship is deserted by her partner, she can approach the court for maintenance from him. There is also a provision to terminate a live-in relationship.
The bill makes it clear that a marriage between a man and a woman can be solemnised if “neither party has a spouse living at the time of marriage.” In effect, this bans polygamy and polyandry.
It also spells out the right to remarry after divorce or the nullification of marriage, provided there is no appeal pending.
And in an apparent reference to ‘halala’, it specifies that this includes “the right to marry the divorced spouse without any condition, such as marrying a third person before such remarriage”.
The bill also deals with the issue of marrying when the spouses are related in some manner.
It gives the nod to marriages when the couple are “not within the degrees of prohibited relationship”. But it makes an exemption to “custom or usage” that permits such marriages, provided they are not against “public policy and morality”.
The common code will become law once it is passed by the BJP-majority House and gets the Governor’s consent.
The BJP had promised a UCC in the state in the run-up to the 2022 assembly polls, which saw the party storm to power with a landslide victory for the second consecutive term.
Shortly after taking charge, Dhami appointed a five-member panel headed by Justice (rtd) Ranjana Desai to come up with a draft.
Participating in the debate, Congress leader Yashpal Arya said the bill should be referred to a select committee of the House to examine its provisions.
The committee of experts that prepared the draft should have included theologists from different faiths, he said.