Polity Notes


1. UCC Bill Passed by the Uttarakhand's Legislative Assembly

Uttarakhand has taken a significant step toward implementing a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) by introducing the state Uniform Civil Code Bill 2024 in its Legislative Assembly. Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami, representing the Bhartiya Janta Party, which has long advocated for a UCC, tabled the bill. The bill has been passed by the Legislative Assembly by voice-voice. Now, the bill will be sent to the Governor for his assent. After getting the Governor’s assent, the bill will convert into an Act. Thereafter, state government will notify its date of implementation. The UCC aims to unify and standardize laws regarding marriage, divorce, inheritance, and maintenance, superseding customary laws across different faiths and tribes, excluding the notified scheduled tribes of Uttarakhand.

The proposed legislation, comprising 392 sections across four parts and seven chapters, emphasizes equal rights for women in matters of marriage, divorce, alimony, and property inheritance. It prohibits certain relationships, outlaws polygamy, and mandates the registration of marriages and live-in relationships. The bill sets the marriageable age at 21 years for men and 18 years for women and allows religious marriage ceremonies such as Nikah, Saptpadi, Anand Karaj, etc., provided they comply with the new law. Notably, it overrides Muslim personal law regarding the age of marriage and polygamy.

The bill also introduces regulations for live-in relationships, requiring couples to register their union and granting legal rights to children born from such relationships. Failure to register can lead to penalties including jail time or fines. Regarding property inheritance, the bill mandates equal distribution among immediate family members in the absence of a will, ensuring sons and daughters receive equal shares. This provision extends the concept of equality in inheritance, contrasting with current practices under Hindu and Muslim personal laws where discrepancies in entitlements exist.

The bill has been introduced shortly after a committee submitted its report on drafting a Uniform Civil Code; this bill represents a crucial part of the BJP's election promises, aligning with the directive principles of state policy outlined in the Article 44 of the Indian Constitution. Article 44 of the Indian Constitution says that “The state endeavour to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code through the territory of India”. This is really unfortunate that even after 74 years of implementation of our constitution; uniform civil code has not been implemented due to vote bank politics. Goa is the only state where Uniform Civil Code already exists. Uttarakhand is going to be the second state to have the Uniform Civil Code. Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) ruled state, e.g. Rajasthan, Gujarat, Assam, Madhya Pradesh, etc. have expressed their desire to implement UCC. It reflects a comprehensive approach to legal reform, aiming to modernize and standardize personal laws across different communities within the state, promoting gender equality and legal uniformity.

Salient features of the UCC:

• Minimum marriage age set at 21 years for men and 18 years for women.

• Prohibits marriages within immediate family relations such as parents and grandparents.

• Recognizes various forms of religious marriages like Nikah, Saptpadi, Anand Karaj, etc.

• Application to seek divorce can be filed only after completion of one year of marriage.

• Requires marriages to be registered within 60 days.

• Stipulates that marriages cannot be dissolved without a court order.

• Live-in relationships must be officially registered with the government.

• Children born from live-in relationships are granted legal rights.

• If any partner in a live-in relationship is under 21, the registrar must inform their parents.

• Failure to register a live-in relationship could result in up to 3 months in jail or a fine of 10,000.

2. Election Commission Verdict on NCP Faction Dispute

The Election Commission of India (ECI) has recently made a pivotal decision concerning the internal dispute within the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), significantly impacting the political landscape in Maharashtra. The ruling in favor of the faction led by Maharashtra's Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar marks a defining moment in the party's history. According to the ECI, Ajit Pawar's faction is now recognized as the true NCP, inheriting not only the party's name but also its emblematic clock poll symbol. This verdict comes as a notable defeat for the party's founder, Sharad Pawar, particularly with the general elections looming on the horizon.

This decision by the ECI was heavily influenced by Ajit Pawar's substantial support among party legislators, thereby strengthening the coalition government in Maharashtra, which comprises three parties. The ruling parallels a similar judgment by the ECI approximately a year prior, which recognized the faction led by Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde as the legitimate Shiv Sena. This sequence of decisions by the ECI underscores its influential role in adjudicating disputes within political parties.

The culmination of a protracted feud between Sharad Pawar and his nephew Ajit, the ECI's verdict, comes after Ajit's unexpected alliance with the BJP and Shinde in 2023. The ECI's comprehensive 140-page order establishes Ajit Pawar's faction as the rightful NCP, granting it entitlement to the party's name and the "clock" symbol, in accordance with the Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order, 1968. This ruling not only clarifies the legal standing of the NCP's factions but also sets a precedent for future disputes within political entities in India. The party name of NCP Sharad Pawar faction will be Nationalist Congress Party (Sharad Chandra Pawar) and their symbol is expected to be ‘Banyan Tree’.

3. Lok Sabha Passes Bill to Combat Cheating in Public Exams

The Lok Sabha has recently passed the Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Bill, 2024, marking a significant move to clamp down on cheating and other malpractices in public examinations. This legislation, introduced on February 5, aims to ensure the integrity of exams conducted by key government bodies and departments, including the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC), Staff Selection Commission (SSC), Railway Recruitment Board (RRB), National Testing Agency (NTA), Institute of Banking Personnel Selection (IBPS), as well as central government departments and their recruitment offices.

The bill outlines a comprehensive list of activities considered as unfair means, ranging from unauthorized access to or leaking of question papers, assisting candidates during exams, tampering with computer networks or documents for merit lists or ranks, among others. It sets forth stringent punishments for violations, including fines of up to Rs. 1 crore and imprisonment ranging from three to ten years, depending on the severity of the offense.

Important key points from the new Bill

• Scope of the Bill: Excludes examinations conducted at the school level, focusing on higher-level public examinations.

• Entities Liable for Punishment: Targets three groups for penalties - individuals, organized groups, and institutions.

• Nature of Offences: All offences are classified as cognizable, non-bailable, and non-compoundable.

• Defined Offences: The bill categorizes 15 types of offences, including:

  • o Leaking question papers
  • o Colluding to leak question papers.
  • o Unauthorized access to question papers
  • o Unauthorized provision of answers
  • o Assisting candidates in any form
  • o Tampering with answer sheets or assessment processes
  • o Violating examination norms
  • o Tampering with candidate selection documents
  • o Violating security measures
  • o Manipulating computer networks or seating arrangements
  • o Threatening exam authority personnel
  • o Creating fake websites or conducting bogus exams
  • o Issuing fake admit cards or offer letters for profit.

By introducing such comprehensive measures, the bill seeks to enhance the transparency, fairness, and credibility of the public examination system. It reassures candidates about the integrity of the assessment process, ensuring that their efforts are fairly evaluated and rewarded. This move by the Lok Sabha, expected to proceed to the Rajya Sabha for further consideration, is a testament to the government's commitment to maintaining the sanctity of educational assessments and is a step forward in the efforts to deter individuals and entities from undermining the examination system through unfair means.

4. Iran Introduces Visa-Free Entry for Indian Travelers

The Iranian government has recently announced a significant change to its visa policies, allowing Indian citizens visa-free entry for short stays. This initiative is part of Iran's broader visa-waiver program, which now includes 33 countries such as India, Russia, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Brazil, and Mexico. Announced in December, the program aims to stimulate tourism and combat the negative perceptions associated with "Iranophobia campaigns”.

Key Conditions for Visa-Free Travel:

• Entry and Stay Limit: Indian travelers can enter Iran without a visa for a maximum of 15 days, provided they arrive by air. This visa-free entry is permitted once every six months and cannot be extended.

• Purpose of Visit: The exemption specifically caters to tourists, meaning those traveling for reasons other than tourism, such as longer stays, multiple entries within six months, or other visa types, must still obtain the necessary visas through Iranian diplomatic missions in India.

• Effective Date: The visa abolition for Indian citizens took effect on February 4, with the Iranian embassy highlighting four main conditions for eligibility.

The decision to waive visas for Indian citizens and nationals from other included countries is expected to significantly boost Iran's tourism sector. This move by the Iranian government reflects a strategic effort to open up the country to international visitors, showcasing its rich cultural heritage and natural beauty while fostering closer ties with countries like India. The visa-free entry policy not only simplifies the travel process for Indian tourists but also signals Iran's commitment to enhancing its tourism industry and improving its image on the global stage.