Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami of Uttarakhand announced on January 26, 2024, that Uttarakhand’s Civil Code Bill will be passed on February 5. The five-member committee, led by former Supreme Court Justice Ranjana Prakash Desai, submitted its report to the government today, February 2. This is a long-standing BJP campaign promise, that aims to create a uniform set of personal laws applicable to all citizens, regardless of religion, covering aspects such as marriage, inheritance, divorce, and adoption.
The BJP initially pledged the introduction of the UCC during the 2014 general elections, emphasising its commitment to Article 44 of the Indian Constitution, which advocates for a common civil code. The promise was reiterated before the 2022 state legislative assembly elections in Uttarakhand. After the BJP’s victory, the government appointed a committee led by Justice Ranjana Prakash Desai to draft the bill. However, it faced opposition from rival political parties, with accusations of disturbing communal harmony.
The committee received over 2.5 lakh suggestions from the public, including letters, registered posts, emails, and online portal submissions. Public interactions through 38 meetings across the state allowed citizens to voice their opinions. The deadline for the committee’s report was extended multiple times and finally set for submission in February 2024, as the 2024 general elections approach.
Key Considerations and Expected Changes
Gender equality is a paramount consideration in the report submitted by the draft committee. The proposed laws aim to treat men and women equally, particularly concerning inheritance matters. The UCC is anticipated to reject practices like polygamy, iddat, and halal, responding to demands from Muslim women. However, the minimum age for marriage is expected to remain unchanged (18 for women and 21 for men). The UCC will regulate live-in relationships, requiring a mandatory declaration to initiate or terminate such arrangements.
The rejection of polygamy, iddat, and halal in the UCC is seen as a response to the strong demands from Muslim women in the state. The legislation aims to empower women and promote gender equality in personal laws. These changes align with the broader principle of ensuring that the UCC addresses the needs and rights of all citizens, irrespective of religious affiliations.
Potential Ramifications and Broader Implications
The passage of the Uttarakhand Civil Code is expected to set a precedent for other states. Following Uttarakhand’s lead, Gujarat and Assam are likely to introduce similar bills. Gujarat had already formed a committee in 2022 to examine various aspects of common civil code. Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has expressed strong support for the UCC. The development in Uttarakhand may trigger discussions on the need for a comprehensive, common civil code at the national level.
The imminent passage of the UCC Bill in Uttarakhand represents a significant step towards realising a common set of personal laws for citizens. The committee’s extensive engagement with the public and consideration of gender equality issues underline the inclusive approach taken in crafting the legislation. As the state moves forward with this legislative change, its impact on gender dynamics, religious practices, and legal frameworks will be closely observed, potentially influencing similar initiatives in other parts of the country.
women and promote gender equality in personal laws. These changes align with the broader principle of ensuring that the UCC addresses the needs and rights of all citizens, irrespective of religious affiliations.