Law Commission again seeks inputs on Uniform Civil Code; Congress sceptical

A notice from the 22nd Commission on June 14 asked all stakeholders for their views via a questionnaire. The topic was last examined in 2016 by the 21st Law Commission

Law Commission of India (Photo: NH File Photo)
Law Commission of India (Photo: NH File Photo)

NH Political Bureau

The 22nd Law Commission of India on Wednesday, 14 June, sought fresh suggestions from various stakeholders, including the public and recognised religious organisations, on the Uniform Civil Code (UCC).

The public notice issued by the Commission reads: 'With regard to reference dated June 17, 2016, sent by the Ministry of Law & Justice, the 22nd Law Commission of India is examining the subject matter of UCC.'

Views and suggestions are to be submitted within 30 days from the date of notice via email or through an online link provided in the notice.

The notice further states that the concerned stakeholders are also at liberty to make their submissions to the Member Secretary, Law Commission of India in the form of consultations, discussions or working papers on any of the issues pertaining to the UCC.

'[The] commission may call upon any individual or organisation for a personal hearing or discussion,' it adds.

The notice notes that the 21st Law Commission of India had examined the topic in 2016 and asked for the views of all stakeholders via a questionnaire too.

'...bearing in mind the relevance and importance of the subject and also the various Court orders on the subject, the 22nd Law Commission of India considered it expedient to deliberate afresh over the subject,' the notice adds. 'Accordingly, the 22nd Law Commission of India decided again to solicit views and ideas of the public at large and recognised religious organisations about the Uniform Civil Code.'

In its consultation paper issued on 31 August 2018, the 21st Law Commission headed by Justice BS Chauhan (now retired) had said that while the diversity of Indian culture can and should be celebrated, specific groups or weaker sections of the society must not be "dis-privileged" in the process.

It finally said that the Commission would deal with laws that were discriminatory rather than providing a uniform civil code, "which is neither necessary nor desirable at this stage".

The consultation paper said most countries are now moving towards the recognition of difference, and the mere existence of difference does not imply discrimination but is indicative of a robust democracy.

In short, a uniform civil code means having a common law for all citizens of the country, a law that is not varied by religion. Personal laws and laws related to inheritance, adoption and succession are likely to be covered by a common code if an uniform civil code comes into being. These currently differ considerably across cultures and religious communities in India.

Implementation of a uniform civil code has long been part of the BJP's election manifestos. At the state level, some such as Uttarakhand are in the process of framing a common code. The BJP had also promised a uniform civil code in Karnataka ahead of the recent assembly elections.

The then-law minister Kiren Rijiju had told the Rajya Sabha in a written reply in December 2022 that the states were empowered to enact personal laws on succession, marriage and divorce in their endeavour to secure a uniform civil code.

Article 44 of the Constitution, part of the Directive Principle of State Policy, provides that the State shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India, it was noted.

However, the Indian National Congress said in a statement from party general secretary and MP Jairam Ramesh that "[it] is strange that the Law Commission is seeking a fresh reference when in its press release it acknowledges that its predecessor, the 21st Law Commission had published a consultation paper on the subject in August 2018".

The statement also notes that "No reasons were given for why the subject is being revisited except for vague references to 'the relevance and importance of the subject and also the various court orders'".

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