Uttarakhand set to pass Bill on Uniform Civil Code at a special Assembly session starting on February 5

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By Our Correspondent

NEW DELHI – In yet another action aimed at fulfilling its divisive agenda, the Bharatiya Janta Party government in Uttarakhand has convened a special four-day session of the Assembly on February 5 for the passage of a Bill to enforce the contentious Uniform Civil Code (UCC) in the state. The session, which will continue till February 8, will also witness the introduction of a Bill for 10% horizontal reservation for the statehood agitators and their dependents.

The Uttarakhand government had formed a committee in May 2022 to examine ways and means for the implementation of the UCC. The committee, which in June 2023 had claimed that a draft UCC was ready, is headed by former Supreme Court Judge, Justice Ranjana Prakash Desai, who is also the current chairperson of the Delimitation Commission. Justice Pramod Kohli, social worker Manu Gaur, former IAS officer Shatrughan Singh and Vice-Chancellor of Doon University Surekha Dangwal are other members of the committee.

The UCC was one of the electoral promises of the BJP in the 2022 Assembly election. The Justice Desai Committee is expected to submit the full report on the implementation of UCC to the Pushkar Singh Dhami government on February 2. Though the committee’s term had ended on January 26, it was extended by two weeks by the state government.

The committee, which started its work in May 2022, stated that it received around 2.15 lakh written submissions, which included submissions with multiple signatories. The committee has also met over 20,000 people in person via public outreach programmes. The final UCC draft has focused on an array of issues, such as gender equality, elimination of arbitrariness and discrimination, uniform laws on property rights and adoption rules.

The state government has given four extensions to the committee since May 2022 to finalise the draft which is at present in the printing stage. Chief Minister Dhami said earlier this week that the draft has been prepared by the committee and the government would implement it very soon.

It is speculated on the basis of selective information provided by the government officials that the report has stopped short of making any recommendations on the marriage age of women, though it has laid emphasis on women’s rights on ancestral properties. The UCC has, for years, been a constant in the manifesto of the BJP, along with the construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya, and the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution.

The Supreme Court had earlier ruled that the states are well within their rights to constitute committees to examine the feasibility of implementing the UCC. Dhami has justified introduction of the Bill on UCC, saying that it will provide uniformity in law to all religious communities and preserve the culture of ‘Devbhoomi’ (land of Gods), as promised in the BJP’s manifesto at the time of elections.

Uttarakhand has a 13.9% Muslim population, according to the 2011 census, mostly in the Terai area. A significant section of population in the state is against the UCC and argues that it violates the rights of religious and other minorities.

It is speculated that once the Uttarakhand Assembly passes the UCC, two other BJP ruled states – Gujarat and Assam – will pass almost similar Bills in their Legislative Assemblies. If everything goes as per the BJP’s plan, three states are likely to enact the UCC before the 2024 Lok Sabha elections in the next few months.

The Justice Desai Committee comprised two sub-panels for drafting the Bill and for holding discussions with the stakeholders and designing and printing of the report. The committee members were also asked to translate the report and the draft Bill into Hindi in order to keep the originality. The state government earlier intended to convene the Assembly’s special session in November 2023, but the plan was postponed because of the accident involving the collapse of Silkyara-Barkot tunnel in Uttarkashi district on November 12.

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