Uttarakhand’s Uniform Civil Code: State’s iron fist on divorce, remarriage, live-in relationships

The bill allows inspection of marriage and divorce registers ‘by any other person’.

WrittenBy:Shivnarayan Rajpurohit
Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami.

The final draft of the Uniform Civil Code bill in Uttarakhand, advocating for uniform laws governing different aspects of life of all faiths, including live-in relationships, was tabled by Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami in the state assembly on Tuesday. 

As the CM presented the four parts of the 172-page document, which has 392 sections, lawmakers on treasury benches raised slogans like “Jai Shree Ram”, “Bharat Mata ki Jai” and “Vande Mataram”. 

The bill will govern marriage, divorce, custody of children, alimony, succession and even live-in relationships of all faiths except those from tribal communities.

Marriage, divorce, restitution of conjugal rights and punishment for violations constitute the first part of the draft bill. The second part is concerned with succession and inheritance, the third part deals with live-in relationships, and the fourth part with miscellaneous aspects.

The bill suggests that violations of some sections will attract a prison term of up to three years or a fine of Rs 1 lakh, or both. At least two offences related to divorce and marriage have been categorised as “congnizable”, allowing police to make arrests without a warrant. 

Under the proposed UCC law, remarriage with the same person with a condition, such as an intervening consummate marriage with a third person, will be punishable up to three years. Divorce can be granted if the spouse has converted to another religion, or if the husband is involved in “unnatural sex”, or has more than one wife.

It will also mandate live-in relationships to be registered with the registrar, the violation of which would attract imprisonment of up to six months and a fine of up to Rs 25,000.

The state BJP leaders dubbed the bill “historic”. 

Notably, if the bill gets the required assent, Uttarakhand will become the first state in independent India to pass the proposed UCC law. Before this, a similar law was introduced in Goa by the erstwhile Portuguese rulers in 1870. 

Here are the highlights of the bill.

Marriage laws, inspection of registration by ‘any person’

Under section 4 of the proposed law, a marriage will be valid only if the persons in question do not have another spouse at the time of the marriage and if they are of sound mind, among other stipulations.

The legal age for marriage will remain unchanged, with the man required to be at least 21 years of age, and the woman 18 years or above. All marriages in the state will have to be registered with a registrar. 

Section 15 will allow inspection of marriage and divorce registers “by any other person”. The section says, “The registers of marriage and divorce, the registers of appeals and such other registers as may be prescribed, which are maintained under this Part, shall, at all, reasonable times, be open for inspection by any other person, and certified extracts therefrom, shall on application, be issued by such officer as may be authorized by the sub-registrar or the Registrar concerned or the Registrar General concerned, as the case may be, on payment of the prescribed fee and in the prescribed fee.”

Non-registration will not invalidate a marriage in certain conditions, as per the proposed legislation. Section 21 also provides for restitution of conjugal rights.

Divorce, special marriage, Hindu marriage laws

Chapter 4 of part 1 of the proposed bill deals with “nullity of marriage and divorce”. 

Under this chapter, section 25 says a petitioner may approach the court for dissolution of marriage in the event of sexual intercourse with any other person, cruelty, unsound mind, and desertion for a period of two years.

Another sub-section says the court may grant divorce if the petitioner has converted to another religion.

A wife may approach the court for divorce if her husband is guilty of rape or “unnatural sexual offence”, and if the man has “more than one wife from marriages solemnised/contracted before the commencement of this Code”, as per section 25 (3) (i) (ii).  

Most divorce provisions in the draft are "heavily borrowed” from the Special Marriage Act, 1958, said Namrata Mukherjee, senior resident fellow at Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy.          

“As far as provisions on divorce are concerned, the code borrows largely from the Special Marriage Act, 1954, and includes grounds such as cruelty, desertion, unsoundness of mind, failure to comply with order for maintenance, and adultery. It however adds certain new grounds for divorce which it has borrowed from personal law of other religions,” said Mukherjee. 

She added that under the code, “conversion to another religion, or renunciation of the world by any entering a religious order or otherwise are both grounds for divorce, which are also found in the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955. Further, it introduces a new ground for divorce namely, a party entering into a bigamous marriage which is explicitly prohibited under the Uttarakhand Code, which is not reflected in either secular or personal laws on marriage.”

Crime and punishment

The proposed law states that violations of provisions on divorce and marriage will attract a minimum of six months of imprisonment extending up to three years, while fines range from Rs 50,000 to Rs 1 lakh.

Section 32 (ii) mandates that anyone who dissolves a marriage in contravention of section 29 can be jailed up to three years and is liable to pay a fine, as it qualifies as a cognizable offence. Section 29 states that all marriages should be dissolved in accordance with the draft provisions regardless of personal laws, customs and tradition.

Any person who compels their spouse for remarriage with a condition that they should remarry a third person can face up to three years of imprisonment and Rs 1 lakh in fine. If the fine is not deposited, the prison term can be extended by another six months, as per the bill. 

"In some customs, remarriage between the same couple happens only after the woman has an intervening consummated marriage with a third person. In Islamic law, a woman may remarry after the expiration of the iddat (for around three months) period,” said Kartavi Satyarthi, research fellow at Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy.

Setting conditions for remarriage, and divorce in violation of the proposed bill have been categorised under “cognisable offences”. 

Violation of the permissible age for marriage, and marriage within an extant family, unless allowed under the community’s customs, could lead to up to six months of imprisonment and a maximum fine of Rs 50,000. This is in line with the existing secular and personal laws.

Registration of live-in relationship mandatory

The proposed bill lays out rules to bring live-in relationships under state scrutiny. It says partners in live-in relationship within the state are obligated to submit a statement about it to the registrar, irrespective of “whether they are residents of Uttarakhand or not”.  

Even those with Uttarakhand domicile, who are not currently living in the state, are required to register their live-in relationships.  

If the partners do not inform the registrar in their jurisdiction about their live-in relationship within 30 days, they could be convicted with a prison term of up to three months, and a maximum fine of Rs 10,000. 

On failing to respond to the registrar’s notice, the prison term could be extended up to six months, with a maximum fine of Rs 25,000.

“Any partner to a live-in relationship who fails to submit the statement of live-in relationship on being enquired by a notice to do so under section 386 shall be punished on conviction by a Judicial Magistrate with imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months or with fine not exceeding twenty-five thousand rupees or with both,” reads section 387(3).

The registrar will also inform the police in-charge of the police station concerned. If the partners are found to be below the age of 21, the authorities will inform their parents.

The proposed law also states that if a woman is deserted by her live-in partner, she will be able to claim maintenance. 

Proposed law on succession, heirs 

The preferred heirs under the bill are spouse, children and parents of the deceased, and certain heirs of predeceased children, said Rakshita Goyal of Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy. 

“All of them will inherit property together. This deviates from the Indian Succession Act, 1925 (secular law that applies to those married under the Special Marriage Act and to Christians), where parents of the deceased inherit only in the absence of lineal descendants like children and grandchildren,” she said. 

The bill has also proposed to abolish the coparcenary system under which four generations of Hindus hold ancestral property as coparceners, she said. The coparceners are persons who have equal share in the inheritance of an undivided estate. 

This report was published with AI assistance.

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