The Pushkar Dhami-led Uttarakhand government tabled the long-awaited Uniform Civil Code (UCC) Bill amid opposition on the second day of the special four-day session called to pass the legislation. Soon after the bill’s introduction this morning, the house was adjourned till 2 pm as the opposition demanded time to examine the same.
The draft of the 749-page Bill drawn by a government-appointed panel led by ex-Supreme Court judge Ranjana Prakash Desai was submitted on Friday and approved on Sunday.
The bill aims to introduce uniformity in marriages, divorces, and inheritance across religions and for the first time – mandates registration of live-in relationships. The law brings in uniformity of marriage age and bans polygamy. The bill however excludes tribals which constitute 2.9 percent of the state population.
The bill mandates the registration of marriages, divorces, and live-in relationships. If passed, the Uttarakhand will become the first state post-independence to adopt a uniform code for personal rights. Failure to comply with the law will result in a fine of up to Rs. 25,000.
Though Goa follows a religion-neutral law, the legislation was introduced by the Portuguese in 1867. However, the Portuguese Civil Code is not completely uniform as it also makes certain provisions on religious grounds.
UCC in Uttarakhand is a significant development in the run-up to the elections that are now just mere months away. Taking inspiration from Uttarakhand, Gujarat and Assam have also shown an inclination to implement similar laws in their state.
BOOM breaks down the important points from the bill.
Can marry as per religion, but divorce as per UCC
To put it simply, a couple – where at least one party is a resident of Uttarakhand, can marry according to their religion but must register their nuptials with the state. However, if the couple decides to divorce, then provisions of the UCC and not personal laws will apply.
If passed, the provisions of the bill will apply to all marriages, including those that have been solemnised before the commencement of the bill. However, the bill clarifies that a marriage that is not registered will not be deemed invalid.
Only women above 18 years can marry while men must be at least 21 years of age. This applies to all irrespective of religion. Marriage between a couple who are in a prohibited degree of relationship is also banned.
According to the bill, a couple cannot file for divorce if their marriage is less than a year old. Divorce is allowed only as per the laws of the UCC, personal laws will not apply. Flouting this law will attract a three-year jail term or a fine or both.
The bill bans polygamy (more than one wife) and nikah halala (where a Muslim woman must marry another man and then divorce him before remarrying her ex-husband). The bill allows divorcees to remarry without conditions. failure to follow this law will attract a jail term up to three years and a Rs. 1 lakh fine, failure to pay the fine will result in an additional six months of jail time.
Children borne of null/voidable marriages are deemed legitimate. In case of divorce, maintenance is permanent “not exceeding the life of the applicant” and is payable by either spouse. This order can of course be modified if there is a change in circumstance.
The bill also allows for the consideration of a pre-nuptial agreement or a mutual agreement/settlement.
Compulsory Registration of live-in relationships
The bill mandates the registration (and break-up) of a couple in a live-in relationship. Parental consent is required in cases where a couple (or either one party) is below 21 years of age. District officials may also inform the parents of the couple if they (or either one of them) is below 21 years of age.
Failure to comply will result in one-six months in jail, and fine upto 25,000 or both. This applies to residents of the state or those living outside the state.
The bill does not allow for the registration of the relationship if the couple is in a prohibited degree of relationship, or where either one partner is a minor, married, in another relationship, or if the partner’s consent is obtained by fraud or force.
A couple in a live-in relationship must submit a statement of their living situation to the nearest registrar who will then examine the same and conduct a summary inquiry. During the inquiry, the couple may be called in for verification following which the registrar must submit a certificate within 30 days of the submission.
In case the registrar refuses the couple’s statement, the reasons for the same must be given in writing. Local police can be informed to take appropriate action if the live-in relationship fails scrutiny or registration.
Equal rights to all, including unborn child in the womb
According to the bill, following a person’s death, their spouse, children, and their parents will inherit equal share in the property. This is significant since till now, only the mother had a right to their child’s property.
Equality in property rights for the son and daughter. All biological offspring are equal – there is no distinction between legitimate and illegitimate children. This also includes children who have been legally adopted or borne from surrogacy or assisted reproductive technology.
More significantly, the bill recognizes the unborn child in the womb as a legal heir. Such a child born alive (after the death of the father) will also be considered as a successor.
A person convicted of murdering (or abetting) the person they stand to inherit from is disqualified from such inheritance.