Next move on UCC after Law Commission report, Ministry officials tell House panel

Committee chairman Sushil Modi asks Law Ministry officials if tribal communities, especially those in the north-east, can be exempted from the Uniform Civil Code

Updated - July 03, 2023 10:04 pm IST

Published - July 03, 2023 09:34 pm IST - New Delhi

The process of public consultations will end on July 13. Following which the commission may call upon individuals or organisations for a personal hearing. File.

The process of public consultations will end on July 13. Following which the commission may call upon individuals or organisations for a personal hearing. File. | Photo Credit: R. ASHOK

Officials from the Law Ministry, at a meeting on Monday, informed a parliamentary standing committee headed by BJP MP Sushil Modi that they are awaiting the 22nd Law Commission report to proceed with their process on Uniform Civil Code (UCC), authoritative sources said.

Law Commission Member-Secretary Khetrabasi Biswal, who deposed before the panel, informed that since June 14, when the commission published a public notice inviting feedback on the subject, it has got over 19 lakh responses. The process of public consultations will end on July 13. Following which the commission may call upon individuals or organisations for a personal hearing.

Also read | Push for Uniform Civil Code turns spotlight on Supreme Court’s query on religious freedom

To pointed questions from the Opposition members on whether the government is considering bringing in a draft law, the Law Ministry officials, according to the sources, said they were awaiting the 22nd Law Commission’s report before taking any further step in this direction.

Several Opposition members, including Shiv Sena (Uddhav Thackeray) Rajya Sabha member Sanjay Raut, Congress MPs Manickam Tagore and Vivek Tankha, BRS MP K. Suresh Reddy and DMK MP P. Wilson, questioned the “timing” of beginning fresh consultations on the UCC. They also questioned the Law Commission’s “intentions” to reopen the debate on the UCC when the previous commission published a consultation paper on the subject.

The Opposition members also pointed out that the UCC might not be acceptable to the tribal communities, especially those in the north-east. Addressing their concerns, panel chairman Mr. Modi, the sources said, asked the Law Ministry officials to explain if such communities could be exempted from it while bringing in a “common civil code” for the rest of the country. The Ministry will submit a written reply later on.

Trinamool, NCP absent

Seventeen members out of the 31 in the panel attended the meeting. Trinamool Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) MPs skipped the meeting and out of the four Congress MPs, only three were present.

Defending the reason to call the meeting on the subject, Mr. Modi said no party had “outrightly” rejected the UCC, many of them were in fact awaiting a draft law before firming up their position on the issue. And the UCC could not be summarily dismissed quoting just two phrases from the previous Law Commission’s consultation paper — ”neither necessary nor desirable” at this stage.

BJP MP Mahesh Jethmalani, the sources said, forcefully argued in favour of the UCC, quoting Dr. B.R. Ambedkar’s speech from the Constituent Assembly debate where he spoke in favour of it. To which, Mr. Tagore said, “Mr. Ambedkar’s intentions were not questionable but the same can’t be said today.”

Also read | PM Modi’s pitch for Uniform Civil Code is on the same lines as Centre’s affidavit in Supreme Court

Both Mr. Tankha and Mr. Wilson made written submissions too. Mr. Wilson said the attempt by the Law Commission to reopen the subject was to “dilute the findings of the previous commission.” He asked, “Is this the sanctity accorded to the paper of the 21st Law Commission chaired by a retired Supreme Court judge?” Arguing against the UCC, he said, “While the idea of a Uniform Civil Code may seem appealing on the surface, it is crucial to consider the negative impact it could have on our diverse society. Preserving religious freedom, respecting cultural diversity and avoiding unintended consequences should be considered,” Mr. Wilson said. He advocated that the government must aim for “uniformity in rights rather than laws.” He also asked the Law Commission to submit details of expenditure incurred by the 21st commission in preparing the 2018 consultation paper. Mr. Reddy also wanted to know how many suggestions from the 2018 consultation papers have been adopted by the government.

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