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Uniform Civil Code: Recent Developments And Their Background

Recently, the Uttarakhand government extended the term of the panel headed by retired Supreme Court Judge Ranjan Prakash Desai to study the implementation of the Uniform Civil Code in the state. According to ANI news, the panel has visited more than 30 places and has received more than 2 lakh suggestions, which include the registration of live-in relationships, increasing the age of women from 18 to 21, equal rights for daughters in ancestral property, legal rights for the LGBTQ community, etc.

What is the Uniform Civil Code (UCC)?

The uniform civil code finds its mention under Part IV, Article 44, of the Indian Constitution, which states: "Uniform civil code for the citizens The state shall endeavor to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India."

The Uniform Civil Code (UCC) seeks to enact a single Indian law that would be applicable to all people, irrespective of their religion, in matters like marriage, divorce, inheritance, and adoption. It means that personal laws of various communities, such as the Hindu Marriage Act, the Muslim Personal Law Application Act, the Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act, and so on, would be dissolved, and a common civil law would be in place to deal with the issue at hand, regardless of the person's religion.

Indian laws are mostly uniform, like the Indian Penal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure. Even in civil matters, uniform laws exist, like the Indian Contract Act, the Sale of Goods Act, the Code of Civil Procedure, etc. But the personal laws of different communities are still not uniform, hence UCC is needed for better governance and effective dispensation of justice.

A brief history of UCC

The history of UCC can be traced back to the 19th century when the rulers stressed the need for uniformity in the codification of Indian law related to crimes, evidence, and contracts but specifically recommended that personal laws of Hindus and Muslims should be kept outside such codification. Because they were monotheist Christians, it was a tedious task for them to understand the complexities of the personal laws of the people of the land, and they also didn't want to get into any conflict because they were only interested in profit-making.

Following independence, there were differing views on the UCC. Some members felt that the UCC would not be practical or preferable in a diverse country like India with so many different religions and sects, while others felt that the UCC, on the contrary, would bring harmony between the various communities.

Dr B.R Ambedkar was equivocal on the issue and felt that UCC was not an imposition but merely a proposal. Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru said, "I do not think that at the present moment the time is ripe in India for me to try to push it through."

The topic of whether UCC should be under Part III or Part IV of the constitution was also vehemently debated in the assembly, and finally, it was settled by vote, which resulted in it becoming one of the directive principles of state policies, which are neither justiciable nor enforceable in the court of law.

The stance of the Supreme Court on UCC

The Supreme Court has called upon the government to implement UCC in various landmark judgments, and from time to time the honorable court has asked the central government to clarify its stance on the same.

In the landmark judgement of Mohd. Ahmed Khan vs Shah Bano Begum, 1985, the apex court, while dealing with the maintenance plea of a divorced Muslim woman, gave judgement in favor of the petitioner and gave prevalence to the CrPC over personal laws of the community.

Also, in the judgment, it was observed that Article 44 of the Constitution has remained a dead letter.

In another judgment, Smt. Sarla Mudgal, President, vs Union of India & Ors., the honorable Supreme Court again came down heavily on the government for not even taking a step forward in the direction of implementation of the Uniform Civil Code.

Justice Kuldeep Singh opined that:
"it appears that even 41 years thereafter, the rulers of the day are not in a mood to retrieve Article 44 from the cold storage where it is lying since 1949." The Governments-which have come and gone, have so far failed to make any effort towards "unified personal law for all Indians. "The reasons are too obvious to be stated."

In Ms. Jordan Diengdeh vs. S.S. Chopra, AIR 1985, Chinnappa Reddy, J again stressed the need to have a UCC and stated that "the present case is yet another which focuses on the immediate and compulsive need for a uniform civil code."

Status of different states with respect to the UCC

Currently, Goa is the only state in India to have a uniform civil code. The code finds its roots in the Portuguese civil code of 1867, which was implemented by the Portuguese, and later they replaced it with a new version of it in the year 1966. Goa has uniform laws regarding marriage, divorce, inheritance, etc., irrespective of a person's religion.

The civil code of Goa has provisions like mandatory registration of birth, death, and marriage, during the course of the marriage, the property obtained by either spouse is owned jointly by them, the pronouncement of triple talaq is not valid, and many more.

After Goa, Uttarakhand is next in line to implement the UCC, and the work towards that has already started, apart from these two states, the home minister of Gujarat has also recently announced the formation of a committee in the state to implement the Uniform Civil Code.

To conclude, the implementation of the Uniform Civil Code in a diverse country like India is the need of the hour, and it's high time to implement what has been a dead letter for so many years. Of course, this will be a challenging task for the government and every stakeholder, and most importantly, the people should contribute and provide their valuable suggestions and inputs about the same.

The government should also clear the apprehensions of the people, especially the minorities, and assure them that their rights will not be violated, and this process would only make the dispensation of justice much easier and more effective.


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