The Delhi high court on Monday allowed the Centre more time to file a response to a plea for framing of a uniform civil code (UCC) to promote national integration and gender justice, equality and dignity of women.
A bench of Chief Justice D N Patel and Justice C Hari Shankar was informed by the counsel for Centre that it has sought the stand of various states and was waiting for their response and prayed for some time to file a reply to the petition.
The court allowed the oral prayer of central government standing counsel Anil Soni and listed the matter for hearing on March 2, asking the Centre to file its reply to the petition filed by BJP leader and lawyer Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay.
Senior advocate Vikas Singh, appearing for Upadhyay, said the government has to make its stand clear, whether it has recommended for drafting a UCC to the Law Commission or not.
Beside Upadhyay's petition, there are four other similar pleas which are seeking for UCC.
The first plea seeking a uniform civil code was moved by Upadhyay in May this year and the high court had on May 31 issued a notice to the Centre, seeking its response within four weeks.
Subsequently, a similar plea was moved by lawyer Abhinav Beri in Aug for direction to the Centre to constitute a judicial commission or a high-level expert committee to draft a UCC for securing gender justice, equality and dignity of women.
A third petition was filed by Firoz Bakht Ahmed, the chancellor of Maulana Azad National Urdu University and grandnephew of first education minister Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, in Oct.
The fourth PIL for drafting a UCC was moved by Amber Zaidi, who claims in her plea to be a social activist and media personality.
Zaidi has contended that India 'urgently needs a UCC or Indian Civil Code in the spirit of Article 44 read with Article 14' of the Constitution.
She has claimed she moved the plea with the 'sole purpose to secure gender justice, gender equability and dignity of women'.
The fifth petition was filed by Nighat Abbass, who claims to be a social activist, media panellist and political analyst.
The court has not yet issued notice on the four PILs filed after Upadhyay's.
The five petitions have sought directions to the Centre to constitute a judicial commission or a high-level expert committee to draft the UCC within three months, while considering the best practices of all religions and sects, civil laws of developed countries and international conventions.
All the petitioners, in their respective pleas, have contended that India 'urgently needs a Uniform Civil Code' to promote national integration as well as gender justice, equality and dignity of women.
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 the Article 44 (the State shall endeavour to secure for citizens a UCC throughout the territory of India).
The petitions have claimed that a UCC would replace the personal laws, based on the scriptures and customs of various religious communities, with a common set of rules governing every citizen of the country.
The BJP, in its manifesto before the 2019 Lok Sabha Election, had mentioned the UCC saying that Article 44 of the Constitution lists it as one of the Directive Principles of State Policy.
Upadhyay, in his plea, has claimed that the issue of UCC is there in BJP's manifesto since the time of Jan Sangh in 1952.
He has contended that the Centre has "failed" to put in place a UCC as provided under Article 44 of the Constitution.
Beri's petition has sought that a direction be given to the Law Commission to draft a UCC within three months taking into account the best practices of all religions and sects, civil laws of developed countries and international conventions and publish that on its website for at least 90 days for wide public debate and feedback.
In last 70 years, the Constitution has been amended 125 times and judgment of the Supreme Court has been nullified five times but the executive has not taken serious steps to implement Uniform Civil Code, the plea has said.
In Dec 2015, the Supreme Court bench headed by then Chief Justice of India TS Thakur had declined to hear Upadhyay's petition in which he had sought to bring the civil code which brings all religious personal laws under one umbrella. He had then withdrawn the petition.
On Oct 12, 2015, while dealing with a divorce case under the Christian Divorce Act, a Supreme Court bench headed by Justice Vikramajit Sen had asked the government to take a quick decision on the UCC to end the confusion over personal community laws.
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.
The apex court was hearing a petition challenging section 118 of the Indian Succession Act, 1925, which prevents Christians from bequeathing property for religious and charitable purposes.
The simmering debate over the UCC hit the headlines in 1985 after the Supreme Court awarded maintenance to a 60-year-old divorced Muslim woman, Shah Bano.