Patna, Jan. 10: Bihar today became the first state to reject the questionnaire the Law Commission of India had sent to all states to seek their opinion on a uniform civil code for citizens.
State government sources said it was felt that the aim of the questionnaire was not clear and that people following different religions should be given the opportunity to discuss with each other before any recommendation is made on such a code.
The uniform civil code is a pet - and contentious - project of the BJP. According to the Law Commission - read Centre - the code is meant to end discrimination against vulnerable groups and harmonise various cultural practices.
The Centre's detractors see in it an attempt to impose majoritarianism.
The state government took the decision at a cabinet meeting that chief minister Nitish Kumar chaired this evening at the CM secretariat in between a meeting of the governing body of the Bihar Vikas Mission.
"The state government has decided not to accept the questionnaire or to give answers to the 16 questions included in it," law secretary Ujjwal Kumar Dubey told The Telegraph. "It has written to the Law Commission to clarify what it proposes to do."
Nitish, after consulting the cabinet, also wrote a letter to Law Commission of India chairman Justice B.S. Chauhan. The chief minister pointed out in the letter that no discussions have been held so far with any sect or community over the uniform civil code.
"Different customs and rituals have been in practice among followers of various religions in the country for centuries, yet only personal laws of the Hindu religion have been codified," the letter said, according to highly placed sources. "Other religions are bound by their separate rituals and rules, and none of them have raised the issue of changes or amendments in them."
Provisions pertaining to marriage, divorce, succession and property rights among different religions are guided by separate laws even today, the letter pointed out.
"In such a situation, we cannot arrive upon any decision on the possibility of a uniform civil code without consulting all the stakeholders," it said.
"We need to give opportunities to the followers of different religions for holding mutual discussions, publicity and debate and to get acquainted with each other's opinions before taking a decision on this sensitive subject."
The questionnaire contained 16 questions, including 11 multiple-choice questions and five questions in which written answers were to be given. The answers were to be followed by remarks on behalf of the state government.
The cabinet meeting also sanctioned Rs 944 crore for strengthening of embankments along the Bagmati river in Darbhanga and Samastipur districts.