The Law Commission, headed by retired Supreme Court judge BS Chauhan, has called for making registration of marriages compulsory on the lines of births and deaths. In its 270th report to Law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, the panel said this will help prevent "marriage fraud" and protect women often denied the status of a wife due to absence of matrimonial records. The panel said women are duped into marrying without performance of the conditions of a valid marriage in the absence of compulsory registration, and a central law to this effect will prevent it.
"This deprives women of societal recognition and legal security. Such fraudulent marriages are especially on the rise among non-resident Indians. Compulsory registration can serve as a means to ensure that conditions of a valid marriage have been performed," the report by the panel, which advises the government on complex legal issues, said, adding that compulsory registration of marriages is a "necessary reform".
In its report, the Commission answered a query put forth by the legislative department whether the Births and Deaths Registration (Amendment) Bill, 2015, which was forwarded to the commission in February 2017 for an opinion, was enough to implement the SC's 2006 judgment making registration of marriages mandatory. The legislative department had asked whether this amendment to the 1969 law would serve the purpose.
In 2012, a bill was tabled in Parliament based on the observations made by the Supreme Court. The bill was introduced to amend the Registration of Births and Deaths Act, 1969, to provide for compulsory registration of marriages irrespective of religious denominations of the parties.
While making it clear that there is no need to amend the personal laws dealing with marriages, it said a minor amendment to the Registration of Births and Deaths Act, 1969 by including the provision of compulsory registration of marriage would serve the purpose..
The report also pointed out that the courts have repeatedly emphasised on making registration of marriage compulsory to prevent denial of status to women and to children born out of wedlock. "Instances of marriage fraud have also come to light in recent times. In the absence of compulsory registration, women are duped into marrying without performance of the conditions of a valid marriage," it said.
The panel pointed out that in India, because of its size, population and the sheer diversity of customary forms of marriages, it has often been canvassed that such an endeavour to register all marriages would be difficult.
"However, the difficulty in implementation does not overshadow the merits of such an enactment. Once enacted, the amended law would enable better implementation of many other civil as well as criminal laws.
"It would provide citizens, not new rights but better enforcement of existing rights under various family laws that grant and provide to protect many rights of spouses within a marriage," the commission said.
Crucially, the Justice Chauhan-headed commission said the amendment must create a central portal for compulsory registration of births, marriages and deaths. Linking registration of marriages to Aadhaar number "would make it possible to achieve universal tracing of records", it added.
In 2006, the Supreme Court in a case - Seema vs Ashwani Kumar, had observed that marriages of all persons who are citizens of India belonging to various religions should be registered compulsorily in their respective states, where the marriage is solemnised.
The amendment bill was passed by Rajya Sabha in July, 2013, but could not be taken up for consideration in the Lok Sabha. It lapsed on the dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha in 2014.