States are empowered to enact personal laws that decide issues such as succession, marriage and divorce, in their endeavour to secure a uniform civil code (UCC), Law Minister Kiren Rijiju informed the Rajya Sabha on Thursday.
The Minister made these remarks in a written reply to a question posed by Communist Party of India (Marxist) member John Brittas, asking whether the Centre was aware of the States formulating their own laws with respect to the UCC.
“Yes, Sir,” said Mr. Rijiju. “Article 44 of the Constitution provides that the State shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India.”
The Law Minister added, ”Personal laws such as intestacy and succession; wills; joint family and partition; marriage and divorce, relate to Entry 5 of List-III-Concurrent List of the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution, and hence, the States are also empowered to legislate upon them.”
Mr. Rijiju’s comments assume significance given the backdrop of several Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled States announcing their intention to implement the UCC.
While Uttarakhand was the first to set up a panel to explore the possibility of a common civil code in the State, the Gujarat government also announced its intention of doing so just ahead of its Assembly elections, where the BJP returned to power earlier this month. The party had made the implementation of the UCC a part of its Himachal Pradesh manifesto as well, although it lost the Assembly polls in that State. Earlier this month, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said a committee would be constituted to implement the UCC in the State.
On December 9, BJP MP Kirodi Lal Meena moved a Private Member’s Bill on the UCC amid strong Opposition protests. As the Opposition sought the withdrawal of the Bill, Rajya Sabha Chairman Jagdeep Dhankhar called for a voice vote. The Bill was eventually introduced, with 63 members voting in favour of the motion while 23 members opposed it.
Defending Mr. Meena, Leader of the Rajya Sabha Piyush Goyal had said, “It is the legitimate right of a member to raise an issue which is under the directive principles of the Constitution. Let this subject be debated.”
Earlier, when the issue was raised in Parliament, the Law Minister had said that the Law Commission would examine the matter in detail.