The Delhi High Court Monday listed for hearing on December 1 a batch of petitions seeking a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) and observed that it “cannot do anything” if the issue has already been decided by the Supreme Court. A bench headed by Acting Chief Justice Manmohan observed that in March, a top court bench had already declined a plea for “gender neutral” and “religion neutral” laws filed by lawyer Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay, one of the petitioners before the high court as well.
The court deferred further hearing on the petitions while noting that none appeared for the petitioners during the proceedings and Upadhyay was yet to place on record his prayers in the petition before the Supreme Court.
“Supreme Court has already decided the matter virtually… If the matter is covered by Supreme Court then we can’t do anything,” the bench, also comprising Justice Mini Pushkarna said.
In April, a division bench headed by the then Chief Justice Satish Chandra Sharma had said that Upadhyay’s petition was prima facie not maintainable and asked him to place before it the “prayers” made by him before apex court.
The high court was informed that in March, the top court refused to entertain petitions by Upadhyay in respect of “gender neutral” and “religion neutral” laws as it observed that the matter fell in the legislative domain and that in 2015, he had even withdrawn a plea from there in relation to UCC.
The high court had then remarked that a “simpliciter withdrawal” has to be distinguished from a “withdrawal with liberty” to approach a court with the same grievance and directed the petitioner to file the “prayers” in these matters in four weeks.
Besides Upadhyay’s petition, there are four others petitions as well before the high court , which have contended that India “urgently needs a Uniform Civil Code”.
The petitioners have contended that gender justice and gender equality, guaranteed under Articles 14-15 of the Constitution and dignity of women, guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution, cannot be secured without implementing Article 44 (the State shall endeavour to secure for citizens a UCC throughout the territory of India).
The petitions have claimed that the UCC, with a common set of rules governing every citizen of the country, will replace the personal laws, which are based on the scriptures and customs of various religious communities.
In response, the Centre has said citizens from different religions and denominations following different property and matrimonial laws is an affront to the nation’s unity and the Uniform Civil Code will result in the integration of India.
It has however stated that a petition is not maintainable for formulation of the UCC as it is a “matter of policy”, which has to be decided by the “elected representatives of the people” and “no direction can be issued on with regard”.
The Centre has asserted it would examine in consultation with stakeholders the issue of formulating the Code after it receives the report of the Law Commission.
In May 2019, the high court had sought the Centre’s response on Upadhyay’s petition seeking constitution of a judicial commission to draft the UCC in order to promote national integration, gender justice and equality, and dignity of women.