What does Uttarakhand’s UCC entail?

How will the Uniform Civil Code Bill impact divorce, inheritance of property, and live-in relationships? What are the penalties if the new law is violated? Has any community been left outside its purview? Are other BJP-ruled States also considering formulating a UCC?

February 11, 2024 03:11 am | Updated 12:45 pm IST

BJP supporters celebrate after Uttarakhand CM Pushkar Singh Dhami tables the Uniform Civil Code Uttarakhand 2024 Bill in the State Assembly, in Dehradun on February 7. File.

BJP supporters celebrate after Uttarakhand CM Pushkar Singh Dhami tables the Uniform Civil Code Uttarakhand 2024 Bill in the State Assembly, in Dehradun on February 7. File. | Photo Credit: ANI

The story so far: On February 7, the Uttarakhand Assembly passed the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) Bill, becoming the first legislature in independent India to pass a law that proposes common rules on marriage, divorce, inheritance of property, and live-in relationships for all citizens, irrespective of their religion. This stems from Article 44 of the Constitution (Directive Principles of State Policy) which although not enforceable, obligates the State to strive to implement such a uniform law. The Bill will now be sent to the President for her assent after which it will become a law.

Editorial | Towards uniformity: On the UCC adopted by the Uttarakhand Assembly

Who is the Bill applicable to?

It applies to all residents of Uttarakhand except the tribal community which constitutes 2.9% of the State’s population. The community has been averse to a UCC from the very beginning. Accordingly, Section 2 stipulates — “Nothing contained in this code shall apply to the members of any Scheduled Tribes within the meaning of clause (25) of Article 366 read with Article 142 of the Constitution of India and the persons and group of persons whose customary rights are protected under Part XXI of the Constitution of India.”

How does it regulate live-in relationships?

The Bill imposes an obligation on all heterosexual couples (irrespective of whether they are residents of Uttarakhand or not) to register their live-in relationships by submitting a “statement” to the concerned Registrar. Even if such a relationship is terminated, the Registrar has to be kept informed. In case either of the partners is less than 21 years old, the declaration will also be sent to their parents or guardians.

Subsequently, the Registrar will conduct a “summary inquiry” to ensure that the relationship does not fall under any of the prohibited categories mentioned under Section 380 — if a partner is married or in another relationship, if he or she is a minor, and if his or her consent was obtained by “coercion, fraud or misrepresentation”. The Registrar will then have to decide within 30 days. If the registration is refused, reasons have to be conveyed in writing.

Notably, a woman is eligible to claim maintenance in case she is “deserted” by her live-in partner.

In case a couple has spent a month without registering their live-in relationship, they can face a jail term of up to three months or a maximum fine of ₹10,000, or both. Any false statement by them will also attract the same jail term, but a higher fine amount of ₹25,000, or both. Upon being issued a notice, if they still do not register, they may face six months of imprisonment or a fine of ₹25,000 or both.

The Bill abolishes the concept of “illegitimate children” by extending legal recognition to children born in void and voidable marriages, as well as children born in live-in relationships.

Is bigamy or polygamy permitted?

One of the conditions stipulated under Section 4 for a valid marriage is that neither party should have “a spouse living at the time of the marriage” thus prohibiting practices such as bigamy or polygamy. The minimum age of marriage, however, will remain the same.

Do marriages have to be registered?

Marriages that occur after the enactment of the law have to be compulsorily registered within 60 days. This applies to marriages solemnised within the State or outside its territory, provided that at least one party to the marriage is a resident of Uttarakhand. Although non-registration of marriage will not invalidate it, parties can attract a penalty of up to₹10,000. A three-month jail term and a fine of ₹25,000 will be also awarded in case false information is intentionally rendered during marriage registration.

Marriage ceremonies can be conducted in accordance with any religious and customary rites detailed under legislations such as The Anand Marriage Act, 1909, Arya Marriage Validation Act, 1937, and The Special Marriage Act, 1954, among others.

What about divorce proceedings?

No marriage can be dissolved without a court order or else it can attract imprisonment up to 3 years. Grounds for divorce also include religious conversion but not “irretrievable breakdown of marriage” despite the latter being recognised in several Supreme Court judgments.

Importantly, Section 28 prohibits the initiation of divorce proceedings unless one year has elapsed since the date of marriage. However, an exception can be made if the petitioner has suffered “exceptional hardship” or if the respondent has exhibited “exceptional depravity”. Women can specifically seek a divorce in case the husband has been found guilty of rape or any kind of unnatural sexual offence or if he has more than one wife. Following a divorce, the custody of a child up to 5 years remains with the mother.

How are inheritance rights affected?

A distinct feature of the Bill is that it abolishes the coparcenary system governing ancestral property under the Hindu Succession Act, 1956. Thus, the same scheme of succession will now apply to both ancestral and self-acquired property for Hindus.

In the event of intestate succession, the Bill guarantees equal property rights for the spouse, children, and parents — a departure from existing personal laws that limit such rights. If there is no immediate family, the property will be equally divided among second-line relatives — first cousins from the paternal side. Others can also stake a claim if no eligible claimants are found.

Does the Bill criminalise Muslim personal law practices?

Existing Muslim personal law practices governing marriage and divorce such as nikah halala, iddat, and triple talaq have been criminalised without explicitly naming them. For instance, Section 30(1) stipulates that the right of a person to remarry the divorced spouse can only be exercised without any condition, such as marrying a third person before such a marriage. This therefore prohibits the practice of nikah halala.

Section 32 further provides that anyone who “compels, abets or induces” to observe any such condition before remarriage will be punished with imprisonment up to three years and also be liable to pay a fine of ₹1 lakh.

What do experts have to say?

“The mandatory registration of live-in relationships is intrusive and definitely in breach of the fundamental right to privacy as it forces you to submit yourself to the State on something as intimate as a personal relationship,” says Alok Prasanna Kumar, Co-Founder and Lead at the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy in Bengaluru.

Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat have also appointed committees to initiate the formulation of a UCC. This, Mr. Kumar says, effectively defeats the purpose of Article 44 since the Constitution framers did not intend for every State to have its own different version of a UCC.

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