In India, marriages continue without registration. Even though many states have made it compulsory to register a marriage, but nonregistration is a common practice as there is no central law on it. Nonregistration of marriages has led to an increase in the cases of fraudulent marriages. In order to avoid this, the SC in the case of Seema Vs. Ashwani Kumar (2006) pointed out that it is important to get a marriage registered to protect the rights of women. Registration of marriage is even more important in case of NRIs. The story of Gurveen can be taken as an example. Gurveen got married to Manpreet in Punjab who was an NRI living in Canada. Soon after the marriage, he left for Canada without taking Gurveen along and with promises that he will send her visa soon. But even after 4 years of marriage, no visa was sent. Gurveen’s marriage was not registered which made it difficult for her to get a divorce and claim maintenance from her husband. In order to curtail such cases, “The Registration of Marriage of Non-Resident Indian Bill, 2019” has been introduced in the Rajya Sabha.
The bill aims at acting as a deterrent and preventing NRI spouses from committing fraudulent marriages. The salient features of the bill include-
- The bill defines an NRI as an Indian person who lives abroad. But it doesn’t specify the minimum number of days a person must live abroad to qualify as an NRI.
- Every NRI who gets married needs to get marriage registration completed within 30 days of marriage. If the NRI fails to register the marriage within the stipulated time period of 30 days then the Passport authorities have the authority to impound his passport. This might have consequences like deportation. If the marriage takes place outside India then the couple must register their marriage with the designated Marriage Officer in the Indian consulate. If the marriage is solemnized in India then it must be registered as per the personal laws.
- The bill makes an amendment in the Criminal Procedure Code and adds a provision which states that if the summons could not be served on a person then it may be deemed to be served by uploading them on the website. If the person fails to appear before the court then the arrest warrant may also be uploaded on the website. He might also be declared as a proclaimed offender. If the accused fails to appear after the proclamation, the court may issue a written statement stating that a proclamation to that effect has been uploaded. This will act as convincing evidence for the same.
- The bill allows the courts to attach the movable and immovable property of NRIs who are declared as proclaimed offenders. This affects the person’s records and will act as an impediment if he applies for the citizenship of any other country. The bill also amends the Passport Act.
- The bill does not provide for an extension if the couple fails to get their marriage registered within 30 days. Moreover, non-registration can have severe consequences like impounding of passport which might result in deportation. Even the states that have mandatory registration provide for condonation of delay but this bill fails to do so.
Criticism of the Bill-
- It does not properly define who constitutes an NRI. This makes it unclear on whom this bill will apply.
- The bill does not provide for the extension of 30 days’ time period if the couple fails to register their marriage on time. If the NRI couple by any chance fails to register their marriage within time, their passport might get impounded. He might get deported and also lose his job. This might also lead to attachment of his property by the court. If he fails to appear before the court on time, then he might be declared as a proclaimed offender. This will create an untoward situation for the couple if they fail to register the marriage within 30 days’ time period, even if they have a genuine reason.
This bill is a positive step taken by the government to reduce the number of fraudulent NRI marriages. It will protect the rights and dignity of women. The Ministry of External Affairs in a report to the Parliament has stated that around 4,307 complaints filed by Indian women who got deserted by their NRI husbands between 2016-2018. So, if the bill gets passed by the Parliament, then the NRIs must get their marriages registered within 30 days with the help of a lawyer to avoid any future complications. If the marriage takes place outside India then it must be registered with the designated Marriage Officer and if it gets solemnized within India then it must be registered with the Registrar of marriages. Nonregistration might lead to attachment of property and arrest, so registration must be taken seriously.