The Delhi High Court has recently set a date for the hearing on a batch of petitions advocating for a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) on December 1. However, the court indicated that it might be constrained in its actions if the Supreme Court has already adjudicated on the matter.
This development follows a previous Supreme Court bench’s rejection of a plea for “gender neutral” and “religion neutral” laws in March, led by lawyer Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay, one of the petitioners before the high court.
The Acting Chief Justice Manmohan, heading the bench, emphasized that the Supreme Court had effectively addressed the issue, stating, “Supreme Court has already decided the matter virtually… If the matter is covered by Supreme Court, then we can’t do anything.” The court deferred further hearings, citing the absence of representation for the petitioners during the proceedings and Upadhyay’s pending submission of his prayers to the Supreme Court.
In a related development, a division bench of the Delhi High Court had earlier deemed Upadhyay’s petition as prima facie not maintainable in April. The court had instructed him to provide the “prayers” made before the apex court. The petitioners argue that India urgently needs a UCC to ensure gender justice, equality, and the dignity of women, as guaranteed under Articles 14-15 and Article 21 of the Constitution.
The central argument of the petitioners is that a UCC, governing every citizen with a common set of rules, would supersede personal laws based on the scriptures and customs of various religious communities. However, the Centre contends that citizens adhering to different property and matrimonial laws based on their religious beliefs are divisive and that implementing a UCC would foster national unity.
The Centre asserts that the formulation of a UCC is a matter of policy and should be decided by the elected representatives of the people. It argues that no direction can be issued in this regard. The Centre has committed to examining the issue in consultation with stakeholders after receiving the Law Commission’s report.
The legal landscape surrounding the UCC remains complex, with the high court seeking the Centre’s response to Upadhyay’s petition for the constitution of a judicial commission to draft the UCC in May 2019.
The petition aims to promote national integration, gender justice, equality, and the dignity of women. As the legal proceedings unfold, the fate of the UCC and its implications for India’s diverse legal framework hang in the balance.