Ban on polygamy and more: What Uttarakhand’s Uniform Civil Code bill will enforce

Uttarakhand is all set for what could be a historic moment. The Assembly will take up the final draft of the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) today, days after it was approved by the Pushkar Singh Dhami Cabinet.

The legislation, which seeks at establishing uniformity in civil laws across religions, was passed by the state Cabinet on 4 February and today it will be tabled in the Assembly. If the UCC is passed in the Assembly, the BJP-ruled Uttarakhand will become the first state in the country after Independence to adopt it. A UCC has been operational in Goa since the days of the Portuguese rule.

Prior to the start of the session, Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami said the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) will be “for the good of all sections” and there is no need to worry. “It will help realise Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of ‘Sab ka Saath, Sab ka Vikas, Sab ka Prayas, Sab ka Vishwas’ and ‘Ek Bharat, Sreshtha Bharat’, he told reporters.

“Not only Uttarakhand but the entire country was waiting for the UCC. The wait is coming to an end on Tuesday when it will be tabled in the state Assembly. The whole country will be watching how the bill is brought in the House here and passed,” Dhami said.

And ahead of the big moment, the police presence has also been increased with officials being asked to maintain peace and ensure “flawless security” in their respective districts.

But what are the features of this UCC? What do we know about it? And who are the brains behind it?

Here’s all we know about the proposed legislation.

What’s in the UCC draft?

The final draft of the UCC, submitted to Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami, is 740 pages long and separated into four different volumes. Moreover, it is written in ‘full’ Hindi and does not have a single word of ‘Urdu’ or any other language.

The lengthy UCC bill has put its focus on all sections of society, having around 400 sections. However, sources who have access to the bill say that the tribal communities in the state, who make up 2.9 per cent of the population, could be exempted from the purview of the legislation.

The UCC draft is 740 pages long and is written in ‘full’ Hindi and does not have a single word of ‘Urdu’ or any other language. Image Courtesy: @pushkardhami/X

The UCC draft has made practices like iddat — a period a woman must observe after the death of her husband or after a divorce, during which she may not marry another man — halala and triple talaq, that governs marriage and divorce in Muslim personal law, as punishable offences. Additionally, the practices of polygamy and polyandry have also been banned. A report by The Hindu had a member of the draft team saying that the bill is not to ‘hurt’ any community but to ensure equal rights of women in marriages and property.

The UCC bill also ensures equal rights in property for both sons and daughters, regardless of their category. It has been stated that women, irrespective of their religion will have equal rights to their father’s property.

On the matter of marriage, the Uttarakhand UCC draft recommends a fixed age of 18 and 21 for girls and boys, cut across all communities, and religions. Image used for representational purposes/Reuters

On the matter of marriage, the UCC recommends a fixed age of 18 and 21 for girls and boys, cut across all communities. The draft has also recommended for uniform use of the existing laws under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act to ensure same adoption laws for all communities.

Also read: Uttarakhand to be first state to implement Uniform Civil Code: Explaining what this means for India

The draft UCC has also proposed that live-in relationships are made legal but ensure mandatory registration of such couples.

However, some have voiced their dissent on the matter of live-in relationships. Liaqat Ali, a Roorkee resident, told CNBCTV18: “The proposal for registration of live-in couples is wrong. The government should do away with this system fully. Why are they giving it legal backing?”

Uttarakhand CM Pushkar Singh Dhami in May 2022 appointed a five-member panel to work on the Uniform Civil Code for the state. File image/PTI

Who’s behind Uttarakhand’s UCC legislation?

In May 2022, the Dhami government appointed a five-member committee to work on the legislation. While the committee is headed by Justice (retired) Ranjana Prakash Desai, it also comprises Justice (retired) Permod Kohli, agriculturalist and social worker Manu Gaur, 1983-batch IAS officer Shatrughan Singh and Dr Surekha Dangwal.

According to reports, they took suggestions from 2.3 lakh people, equivalent to 10 per cent families in Uttarakhand and held 72 meetings to discuss and finalise what points would go into the UCC draft.

समय की मांग है समान नागरिक संहिता कानून और हम इसे लागू करने की दिशा में तेजी से आगे बढ़ रहे हैं। #UCCInUttarakhand

— Pushkar Singh Dhami (@pushkardhami) February 4, 2024

It is only after much deliberation and discussion that the final draft was made and sent to the Cabinet late last week for its approval, before being tabled in the Assembly.

Also read: The Uniform Civil Code: If not by 2024, then when?

Why was there a demand for UCC in Uttarakhand?

The UCC envisages a common law for marriage, divorce, land, property and inheritance laws for all citizens irrespective of their religion in the state. A demand for this was first made by Pushkar Singh Dhami in February 2022 before the state went to the polls. At the time, Dhami had said that the UCC “will provide for the same laws governing marriage, divorce, property, and inheritance for all people, regardless of faith”.

And after returning to power in the state, Dhami accorded top priority to the issue and announcing the constitution of a committee to prepare the draft of the UCC at the first meeting of the state Cabinet.

Members of Uttarakhand Numainda Group protest against the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) bill during a special session of Uttarakhand Legislative Assembly, in Dehradun, Monday. PTI

Taking this forward, in September, a portal was launched on the same, asking for feedback and suggestions from people. “We want everyone’s cooperation to draft the UCC. People of the state must log into our portal and share their suggestions, grievances and complaints with us,” retired Supreme Court judge Ranjana Prakash Desai, who heads the committee, had then said.

The committee also sought four extensions in 20 months in order to prepare their final UCC draft. And it was only on Saturday (3 February) that the committee handed over the draft UCC report to the chief minister. “Finally, this auspicious day has come. After Ram temple consecration, this promise has also been fulfilled. I also want to thank PM Modi. Finally, work has started on UCC for which the people of this country had been waiting for a long time”, Dhami said after receiving the report.

It is being reported that once the UCC is passed by the Uttarakhand Assembly, it will serve as a model for other states to adopt. According to an Indian Express report, the Bill will immediately go to the Gujarat and Assam Assemblies for them to adopt their own bills. Sources in the Assam government said the State would adopt “more or less the same Bill”.

With inputs from agencies

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