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UCC bill tabled in Uttarakhand Assembly; exempts tribals, acknowledges live-in relationships

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Dehradun: The Uttarakhand government on Tuesday tabled in the assembly the Uniform Civil Code bill, the first such move in any state after independence that could be followed by similar legislation in other BJP-run states.

The state’s tribal community is exempted from the purview of the proposed law, which also mandates registration of live-in relationships.

Children born of such relation will be considered legitimate and deserted women partner entitled to maintenance their partners.

Coming just ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, the Uttarakhand bill ticks off an important item on the BJP agenda — a common law on marriage, divorce, land, property and inheritance for all citizens, irrespective of their religion.

It is likely to be studied and implement by BJP governments in states like Gujarat and Assam. Only Goa has a common civil law, in operation since the Portuguese rule.

As it sets out common provisions, the bill effectively bans practices like polygamy –-  without specifically naming them. Marriages can be solemnised through separate rituals followed by different communities.

On Tuesday, the second day of a special session of the assembly, Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami entered the House with a copy of the original Constitution.

When he tabled the bill, treasury benches welcomed it with thumping of desks and chants of “Bharat Mata ki Jai”, “Vande Mataram” and “Jai Shri Ram”.

The original list of business for the day said the bill will be tabled, debated and passed by the House.

But Speaker Ritu Khanduri allowed more time after opposition members protested, raising slogans in the House. They wanted time to study the bill and then offer their views.

“It seems the government wants to pass the bill without a debate in violation of legislative traditions,” Leader of Opposition Yashpal Arya said.

The opposition also protested against the decision of the business advisory committee to suspend the Question Hour to table the UCC.

The bill applies to the whole of Uttarakhand and also to people from the state who live outside.

The state’s tribal population is exempted.

“Nothing contained in this code shall apply to the members of any Scheduled Tribes…. and the persons and group of persons whose customary rights are protected under the Part XXI of the Constitution of India,” the bill says.

On live-in partners, it says they must not be under 18. But if any one of them is under 21, the registrar is bound to inform their parents or guardians.

The bill stipulates a penalty of up to a month in prison or a fine of Rs 10,000, or both, if the partners do not submit a statement on their relationship to the registrar within a month.

They will face a higher penalty if they submit false information to the registrar.

If a woman in a live-in relationship is deserted by her partner, she can approach the court for maintenance from him. There is also a provision to terminate a live-in relationship.

The common civil code will become law once it is passed by the BJP-majority House and gets the Governor’s consent.

The BJP had promised a UCC in the state in the run-up to the 2022 assembly polls, which saw the party storm to power with a landslide victory for the second consecutive term.

Shortly after taking charge, CM Dhami appointed a five-member panel headed by Justice (rtd) Ranjana Desai to come up with a draft.

Participating in the debate, Leader of Opposition Yashpal Arya said the bill should be referred to a select committee of the House to examine its provisions.

He also said the committee of experts that prepared the draft should also have included theologists from different faiths.

Arya said there are 392 sections in the bill which runs into 172 pages, and it would have been better if the opposition members were allowed enough time to study it.

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