SC roots for Uniform Civil Code, cites Goa as 'shining example'

Supreme Court
Supreme Court of India.
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New Delhi:The Supreme Court on Friday batted for framing of a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) for citizens of the country and rued that no attempts have been made to achieve this object despite "exhortations" by the apex court.

The top court observed that Goa is a "shining example" as it has a UCC applicable to all, regardless of religion "except while protecting certain limited rights".

A bench of justices Deepak Gupta and Aniruddha Bose observed this in a verdict in which it held that the Portuguese Civil Code, 1867 shall govern rights of succession and inheritance in respect of properties of a Goan domicile situated anywhere in the country.

The UCC if implemented, would replace personal laws based on the scriptures and customs of each major religious community in India with a common set of rules governing every citizen.

"It is interesting to note that whereas the founders of the Constitution in Article 44 in Part IV dealing with the Directive Principles of State Policy had hoped and expected that the state shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a Uniform Civil Code throughout the territories of India, till date no action has been taken in this regard," the bench said.

"Though Hindu laws were codified in the year 1956, there has been no attempt to frame a Uniform Civil Code applicable to all citizens of the country despite exhortations of this court...," the bench said in its 31-page verdict.

The top court dealt with the question as to whether the Portuguese Civil Code can be said to be a foreign law and the principles of private international law are applicable.

It said that these laws would not have been applicable unless recognised by the Indian government and the Portuguese Civil Code continued to apply in Goa only because of an Act of the Parliament of India.

"Therefore, the Portuguese law which may have had foreign origin became a part of the Indian laws, and, in sum and substance, is an Indian law. It is no longer a foreign law. Goa is a territory of India; all domiciles of Goa are citizens of India; the Portuguese Civil Code is applicable only on account of the Ordinance and the Act referred to above," the bench said.

It also dealt with another question as to whether the property of a Goan domicile, situated outside the territory of the state, would be governed by the Portuguese Civil Code or by the Indian Succession Act or by personal laws, as applicable in the rest of the country.

"There are no Goan citizens; there can be domiciles of Goa but all are citizens of India. As Indian citizens, under Article 19 of the Constitution, they are free to move to any part of the country, reside there and buy property subject to the local laws and limitations," the bench noted.

It said that the Portuguese Civil Code, being a special Act applicable only to domiciles of Goa, would be applicable to Goan domiciles in respect to all the properties within and outside Goa.

The simmering debate over the UCC hit the headlines in 1985 after the Supreme Court had awarded maintenance to 60-year-old divorcee Shah Bano.

This judgement was referred to in the present case along with another judgement of 1995 in Sarla Mudgal case which deals with issue of bigamy, conflict between the personal laws existing on matters of marriage.

The Sarla Mudgal case is considered as a landmark verdict which highlighted the need for a UCC.

On July 23, 2003, an apex court bench led by the then CJI V N Khare had said that Article 44 was based on the premise that there was no necessary connection between religious and personal law in a civilised society.

On October 12, 2015, while dealing with a divorce case under the Christian Divorce Act, a Supreme Court bench headed by the then Justice Vikramajit Sen had asked the government to take a quick decision on the UCC to end the confusion over personal community laws.

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