The expert committee formed by the Uttarakhand government to examine ways for the implementation of a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) has launched a website on Thursday, seeking public opinion on the plan. Headed by retired justice Ranjana Prakash Desai (who is also the current head of the Delimitation Commission) the committee has sought suggestions and recommendations from residents on what was one of the BJP’s poll promise last year.
“The Committee will also prepare a report on implementing a UCC in Uttarakhand. In order to fully appreciate the relevant issues having a bearing on this important subject, the Committee appeals to the residents of Uttarakhand and organisations, including government agencies, non-government organisations, social groups & communities, religious bodies and political parties, to forward their opinions, views, suggestions and representations within a period of 30 days, that is till October 07,” retired IAS officer Shatrughan Singh said, while briefing the media.
The committee also has as members retired Justice Pramod Kohli, social worker Manu Gaur (heading Taxpayers Association of Bharat) and Vice-Chancellor of Doon University Surekha Dangwal, read a statement issued by the committee
The body has been tasked with examining the relevant laws regulating personal civil matters of residents of the State; it will also prepare draft law/laws or suggest changes in existing laws on the subject that includes marriage, divorce, property rights, succession/inheritance, adoption, maintenance, custody and guardianship.
Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami, on his part, said that the UCC will be a “big” initiative during the amrit kaal of the country’s independence. He appealed to the people of the State to give suggestions on UCC.
“People in the State have given positive response on UCC. The work done in good spirit always get success,” Dhami remarked.
Need for UCC questioned
However, this announcement has renewed the criticism that has been directed against the government for trying to bring about the UCC in the State. The Congress, which has been resisting the move, accused the government of playing divisive politics.
Former Chief Minister Harish Rawat tells The Hindu that the BJP is stuck with too many scandals and scams in the State and the preparations to implement UCC is just a move to divert the attention of the people from real issues.
“The BJP is forgetting that Uttarakhand has a large chunk of tribal population as well ,who also have their own rituals and traditions related to marriages, divorces, land division etc. Are they going to ensure that everyone’s rights are protected?” says Mr. Rawat.
The push for UCC in Uttarakhand is so that the BJP can take the benefits of the same in Himachal elections, as well as in neighbouring States that have almost a similar population ratio and issues, he claims.
Kartikey Hari Gupta, a senior lawyer practising in Uttarakhand High Court points out that the framers of the Constitution have enacted the provision of Uniform Civil Code for all citizens in Article 44 of the Constitution; consciously, it has been provided as a Directive Principle of State Policy. However, any such code will have to be in conformity with the provisions of Article 25 of the Constitution, he cautions.
“Article 25 guarantees Freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion. So any law made to secure the purpose of Article 44 shall need extensive deliberations so that it is in harmony with various diverse religious beliefs and practices. We have to take care that it only touches upon the practices of people which can be termed ‘civil’. The Courts have time and again ruled that core and fundamental part of religious believes should not be disturbed to maintain the secular character of State,” he elaborates.
Senior journalist from Uttarakhand, S.M.A. Kazmi believes that there is hardly any need for UCC in a State like Uttarakhand, where the Muslim population is only 14% and confined to just three districts.
“The BJP won the election this time only on UCC. But momentum for the same was being built since 2017. I personally feel that there is no need for such laws in the State, which is peaceful and has minimum presence of minorities. But we cannot neglect the fact that Uttarakhand can be an experiment for the BJP to start the UCC process and later implement it in the country,” he added.