21 Oct :The Law Commission of India has submitted its 211th Report on “Laws on Registration of Marriage and Divorce – A Proposal for Consolidation and Reform”. The report has been recently forwarded by the Chairman of the Commission, Dr. Justice AR. Lakshmanan, former Supreme Court Judge to the Union Law Minister, Dr. Hans Raj Bhardwaj.
The subject has been taken up suo motu in the light of the directions of the Supreme Court dated 14.2.2006 in Seema v. Ashwani Kumar [2006 (2) SCC 578] that all marriages shall be compulsorily registered and that the State Governments shall initiate action for rule-making in this regard. There is a great diversity in respect of laws for registration of marriages.
Although we have a 122 year old Central Act, viz., the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act, 1886 which states that “Births and Deaths” are to be registered under the Act by the Registrars of Births and Deaths appointed by the State but there is no provision for registration of marriages and hence the title of the Act is somewhat misleading. Under the Act, Registrar-General of Births, Deaths and Marriages is only to keep proper Indexes of the certified copies of Marriage Registers received by him under the provisions of the Special Marriage Act, 1954, Indian Christian Marriage Act, 1872 and Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act, 1936.
Then we have few other State laws on Marriage Registration in Bombay, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal but nowhere failure to register a marriage which is otherwise compulsory, affects the validity of marriage in any way. The administrative machinery for registration of marriages is not regulated everywhere by one and the same law. In different parts of the country it is regulated either by one of the three central laws – the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act, 1886, the Registration Act, 1908 and Registration of Births and Deaths Act, 1969 – or by a local law, or a combination of both. This creates a lot of confusion with registration officials as well as people wanting or required to register their marriages. There was a tremendous diversity of laws relating to registration of marriages making it complicated and confusing.
Similarly for registration of divorces, the laws which provide for any kind of registration of divorce is that of Muslims and Parsis but provisions of the State laws are dormant and hardly in practice and thus leave abundant room for misuse of law and cause great hardship to women.
In view of the above, the Law Commission recommends enactment of a “Marriage and Divorce Registration Act” to be made applicable in the whole of India and to all citizens irrespective of their religion and personal law and without any exceptions or exemptions.
The proposed law should deal only with registration of marriages and divorces and not with any substantive aspect now governed by various matrimonial laws – general and community – specific. Accordingly, the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act, 1886 be repealed and Births and Deaths Registration Act, 1969 be re-named as “Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act” with a provision that officials working and records maintained under the former Act shall be deemed to be working and maintained under the latter Act.
The recommendations, if accepted and implemented, will hopefully address the concern of the Supreme Court lying behind the Court’s repeated directive to the State Governments to ensure compulsory registration of all marriages in the country.