January 29, 2024
• On Republic Day, Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami unveiled plans to pass the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) Bill on February 5. This announcement follows the commitment made by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) during the 2014 general elections to implement a uniform set of personal laws, irrespective of religion, governing areas such as marriage, inheritance, divorce, and adoption. This move aligns with Article 44 of the Indian Constitution, embodying the Directive Principles of State Policy. We delve into the background, developments, and anticipated changes associated with the UCC in Uttarakhand.
The Genesis of the UCC Bill in Uttarakhand:
• The UCC proposal gained prominence in Uttarakhand as a pivotal campaign promise by the BJP, echoing their 2014 national pledge. The BJP’s commitment arises from Article 44 of the Indian Constitution, emphasizing the establishment of a uniform civil code for all citizens. This constitutional provision, classified under the Directive Principles of State Policy, guides the governance of the nation without being legally enforceable.
• Reaffirming their stance in the 2022 state Legislative Assembly elections, the BJP, post their triumph, formed a five-member committee led by former Supreme Court Judge Ranjana Prakash Desai. This committee was tasked with submitting a comprehensive report and a draft of the UCC Bill.
Challenges and Opposition:
• Despite its origins, the UCC faced opposition from political rivals, with Congress representatives, including MLA Pritam Singh, accusing the BJP of deviating from developmental priorities. Leaders like Asaduddin Owaisi and Syed Imtiaz Jaleel from the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) also expressed reservations about the UCC’s potential impact on communal harmony.
• The committee, initially set to conclude its work in November 2022, faced multiple deadline extensions, with the Chief Minister’s announcement in June 2023 declaring its completion. The imminent 2024 general elections have spurred the finalization of the UCC, scheduled for submission in February.
Public Participation and Gender Equality Considerations:
• Since its formation, the committee received over 2.5 lakh suggestions from the public through various channels, emphasizing the widespread interest in this legislative endeavor. Gender equality emerged as a focal point, with the UCC expected to introduce provisions ensuring equal treatment of men and women in matters of inheritance. Notably, the UCC aims to reject practices like polygamy, iddat, and halal, responding to the demands of Muslim women in the state.
• The legislation will likely maintain the existing minimum age for marriage but will bring regulation to live-in relationships, requiring mandatory declarations for commencement and termination.
Implications Beyond Uttarakhand:
• Uttarakhand’s move towards a UCC is expected to set a precedent for other states, with Gujarat and Assam contemplating similar bills. The Gujarat government formed a committee in 2022 to explore various facets of the UCC, while Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma expressed support during a Hindu Ekta Yatra in Karimnagar. Notably, Goa has already implemented the UCC, marking a significant step towards uniformity in personal laws.
• As Uttarakhand prepares to pass the UCC Bill, the implications extend beyond its borders, influencing the national discourse on uniform civil codes. The careful consideration of gender equality and the rejection of certain practices demonstrate a nuanced approach, reflecting the complexities of personal laws in a diverse society. The journey towards a uniform civil code in Uttarakhand serves as a noteworthy chapter in the ongoing quest for legal harmony and social cohesion.
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