Rajya Sabha passes marriage laws amendment bill
The Rajya Sabha Monday passed a bill to amend marriage laws to provide for irretrievable breakdown of marriage as a ground for divorce, subject to certain safeguards to the wife and affected children.
The Marriage Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2010 was passed by voice vote. It seeks to amend the Hindu Marriage Act 1955 and the Special Marriages Act, 1954.
Replying to the brief debate, Law Minister Kapil Sibal said there was need to protect women's rights as the society was still patriarchal.
"So let's be clear. Legislations are a message that MPs are on the side of women in a patriarchal society. With this intent we bring this bill," he said.
Speaking on the amendments, Sibal said the share of the wife in the husband's self-acquired property will be decided by a court. He said the wife also has a share in the movable property of her husband.
The wife does not have a share in inherited property but its value will be taken into account while fixing the amount of alimony to her, he added.
Terming it "a historic piece of legislation", he said either husband or wife can cite irretrievable breakdown of marriage as a ground of divorce.
He said that those not under the ambit of the Hindu Marriage Act can get covered by the legislation by getting their marriage registered under the Special Marriages Act.
Sibal said that under the present conditions for granting divorce, a party sometimes does not turn up for filing motion jointly and renders the other party hapless. He said it was proposed to do away with condition of moving such a motion.
"We in India believe in sanctity of marriage," he said and noted that countries where institution of marriage had seen a breakdown had seen disintegration of society.
Sibal said it certain stipulations made it difficult to seek divorce but times have changed.
"We are in the 21st century," he said.
Participating in the debate, members from some parties like Trinamool Congress and Nationalist Congress Party suggested that the bill should be made gender-neutral and the word woman should be replaced by spouse.
Bharatiya Janata Party member Najma Heptulla said that the bill should cover all the women of the country and not only those of a particular community.
Samajwadi Party member Arvind Kumar Singhconten ded that the bill will be misused.
There have been concerns that provisions of earlier marriage acts were inadequate in cases of irretrievable breakdown of marriage.
The Law Commission in its 71st report submitted in 1978 had recommended amendments to Hindu Marriage Act to make of irretrievable breakdown of marriage as a new ground for divorce. A bill was introduced in Lok Sabha in February 1981 but it lapsed.
The Supreme Court had also made recommendation to make irretrievable breakdown of marriage a ground for divorce in a few of its judgments.
A report of Law Commission in 2009 had also made similar recommendation.
The bill allows wife to oppose grant of divorce on the ground that a dissolution of marriage will result in grave financial hardships. The court can also restrict grant of divorce if it is not satisfied about adequate provision for maintenance of children born of marriage.
The bill also states that the court shall not hold marriage to have broken down irretrievably unless it is satisfied that the parties to the marriage have lived apart for a continuous period of not less than three years immediately preceding the presentation of the petition.