Govt stand: Personal law review only if ‘sizeable majority’ seek change

At a time when the need for a review of personal laws and a uniform civil code is being vigorously discussed, such as in Goa, where the 155-year-old Portuguese-era law is still in force, the Ministry of Law and Justice has called for a parliamentary The Committee has been informed that such laws can be reviewed when a “large majority” of the population demands amendments to existing laws or a new law is enacted.

Even in the case of Goa, where the Portuguese Civil Code of 1867 continues, the ministry has told the committee that the original law should be changed over the years, and if it needs to be reviewed, it should be looked into.

It is learned that the government conveyed its stand to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice, which selected the review as a subject for review of personal laws during its 2021-22 term.

The committee, headed by BJP member Sushil Kumar Modi, has 28 members – 7 from the Rajya Sabha and 21 from the Lok Sabha.

It is learned that the committee had visited Goa on June 26 to study the general family law relating to marriage, divorce, succession etc and applicable to all religious communities including Hindus, Muslims and Christians.

Goa’s Chief Secretary, the current and former Advocate Generals, and representatives of civil society organizations were said to have briefed the committee on the state’s experience of implementing a uniform civil code related to family laws over the years.

Goa is the only state in India that has a uniform civil code regardless of religion, gender and caste. A former Portuguese colony, it inherited the Portuguese Civil Code, of 1867 that is still applicable in the state even after it joined the Indian Union in 1961.

In other parts of the country, different personal laws apply to different religious communities. For instance, the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 applies to Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs, the Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act, 1936 applies to matters related to Parsis, the Indian Christian Marriage Act, 1872 for Christians and the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat Application), 1937 applies to Muslims in personal matters.

Article 44 of the Constitution – in Part IV which deals with Directive Principles of State Policy – states: “The State shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India.”

The issue of the uniform civil code has been the subject of political debates and judicial scrutiny for a long time now and has been figured in the election manifesto of the BJP.

In the Uttarakhand Assembly elections earlier this year, the BJP promised that if it is re-elected, it would enact a uniform civil code for the state. Soon after returning to power, the Pushkar Dhami government formed a five-member expert committee, headed by retired Supreme Court judge Ranjana Prakash Desai. The committee held its first meeting this month.

Since family and succession laws are under the concurrent jurisdiction of the Center and the states, a state government can bring in state law, but for a uniform law throughout the country, which can only be enacted by the Parliament.

The 28 members of the parliamentary committee represent 10 parties – BJP (11), Congress (4), TMC (3), DMK, TRS and Shiv Sena (2 each), and BSP, LJSP, TDP and YSRCP (1 each). They come from 16 states and union territories: Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu, Gujarat, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and West Bengal.

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