NEW DELHI: The Centre on Monday lent its in-principle support to a bunch of PILs in the Supreme Court in favour of gender- and religion-neutral uniform personal laws even as the Muslim sides opposed a judicial adjudication of the pleas, saying only the Centre and Parliament have the jurisdiction to deal with them.
Appearing for Muslim organisations and individuals, Kapil Sibal told a bench of CJI Chandrachud and Justices P S Narasimha and J B Pardiwala he had preliminary objections to the maintainability of these PILs led by one filed by advocate Ashwini Upadhyay. “The issues squarely fall within the domain of the government, Parliament or state legislature. How can the SC deal with it? It has no jurisdiction to legislate. The SC shouldn’t be seen passing any order in these issues,” Sibal said.

SG Tushar Mehta said, “In principle, there cannot be any objection to gender- and religion-neutral personal laws. It is for the government to initiate the process for legislation and Parliament to decide. But, the SC can examine what all it can do in these issues.”
Interestingly, for decades, the SC has been mocking the political class’s frozen feet on the ‘Uniform Civil Code’, which was to be envisaged by the government under Article 44 of the Constitution. And when some states made attempts to frame the UCC, their moves were challenged in the SC.
Appearing for Upadhyay, senior advocate Gopal Shankaranarayanan told the SC that the petitioners included women from the Muslim community who want uniform marriage, divorce, maintenance, adoption, guardianship and succession laws as the personal laws for Christians, Muslims and Parsis are not yet codified like those for Hindus. One of the petitioners, through senior advocate Mahalaxmi Pavani, told the SC that it had been passing judgment after judgment underlining the need for the UCC since 1985 (Shah Bano case) and has ruled on the entry of women into the Sabarimala temple in Kerala. Caught between contrasting arguments, the SC bailed itself out by asking the petitioners to give a short synopsis of each petition and the reliefs sought.

On December 16, 2020, the SC had entertained with trepidation two PILs seeking uniform divorce laws and uniformity in grant of maintenance and alimony to women. On January 29, 2021, the SC entertained another PIL seeking uniform adoption, succession, and guardianship laws.
Three decades after codification of Hindu personal laws, the SC in the Shah Bano Begum judgment in 1985 had ruled that under Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code, a divorced Muslim woman would have to be paid maintenance by her husband after iddat period till she remarries.
The Muslim clergy prevailed upon the then Rajiv Gandhi government to enact Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986, rendering the SC verdict a paper decree. Undeterred, the SC continued to rule – in Danial Latifi (2001), Iqbal Bano case (2007) and in Shabana Bano (2009) – that Muslim women could not be deprived of the benefit of Section 125.
In Shah Bano case, the SC in 1985 had said, “A common civil code will help the cause of national integration by removing disparate loyalties to law which have conflicting ideologies.”
In the Sarla Mudgal case, the SC in 1995 said, “Where more than 80% of citizens have already been brought under codified personal law, there is no justification whatsoever to keep in abeyance, anymore, the introduction of the UCC for all citizens in India.” In John Vallamattom case (2003), the Supreme Court highlighted the desirability of achieving the goal set by Article 44 of the Constitution.

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