In a significant development, the Supreme Court on Wednesday thwarted an attempt to get a direction to the Centre to frame uniform religion and gender-neutral laws governing subjects such as marriage, divorce, inheritance and alimony by refusing to entertain a batch of petitions, saying it cannot direct Parliament to legislate.
A bench comprising Chief Justice DY Chandrachud and Justices PS Narasimha and JB Pardiwala took note of the submissions made by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta that the issue falls under the domain of the legislature and hence, the pleas cannot be entertained.
Disposing of a total of 16 petitions, including those filed by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Shazia Ilmi and lawyer Ashwini Upadhyay, the top court said, “After taking a considered view of the pleadings and submissions, we are not inclined to entertain the petitions under Article 32.
The grant of relief in these proceedings necessitates a direction for enactment of laws — gender-neutral and religion-neutral legislation as the petitioner has described it.
“This lies exclusively within the domain of the legislature. It is an established position that a mandamus cannot be issued to the legislature to enact laws,” it said.
The bench also refused to direct the Law Commission to prepare a report on such laws as sought in the petitions. “As far as a direction to the Law Commission to prepare a report is concerned, we see no reason to entertain the request. Ultimately, the issue of making a law will fall under the legislative domain…. The petitions are disposed of,” it ordered.
The bench, however, allowed Upadhayay, the lead petitioner, to take the recourse available to him to seek the framing of such laws.
It, however, kept a petition moved by a Muslim woman, having individual grievances, alive.
The bench was hearing petitions seeking a direction to the government for enacting uniform religion and gender-neutral laws on a wide variety of issues.
Upadhyay had filed five separate petitions seeking directions to the Centre to frame such laws on divorce, adoption, guardianship, succession, inheritance, maintenance, marriageable age and alimony.
Earlier, the top court had asked whether it could hear a range of pleas, including PILs, seeking a direction to the Centre to frame uniform religion and gender-neutral laws governing issues such as marriage, divorce, inheritance and alimony.
“The question is to what extent the court can intervene in these matters as the issues fall under the legislative domain,” it had said.
Upadhyay, in August 2020, filed a public interest litigation (PIL) matter seeking “uniform grounds for divorce” for all citizens, in keeping with the spirit of the Constitution and international conventions.
He filed another PIL through advocate Ashwani Kumar Dubey seeking uniform “gender and religion-neutral” grounds for maintenance and alimony for all citizens.
In another PIL, he sought the removal of anomalies in the laws governing adoption and guardianship and to make them uniform for all citizens.
He also filed a petition seeking the removal of anomalies in the succession and inheritance laws and making them uniform for all.