The Supreme Court on Monday sought a response of the Centre on a batch of petitions pertaining to the criminalization of marital rape.

A bench comprising Chief Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice PS Narasimha and Justice JB Pardiwala asked the Union government to file its response on the issue by February 15 and the final hearing on the pleas would commence on March 21.

One of the pleas has been filed in relation to the Delhi High Court's split verdict on the issue. The appeal has been filed by Khushboo Saifi, one of the petitioners before the Delhi High Court.

The Delhi High Court on May 11, last year delivered a split verdict on the issue.

However, both the judges, Justice Rajiv Shakdher and Justice C Hari Shankar on the bench concurred with each other for granting a certificate of leave to appeal to the Supreme Court in the matter as it involves substantial questions of law which requires a decision from the Apex Court.

While Justice Shakdher, who headed the division bench, favored striking down the marital rape exception for being "unconstitutional" and said it would be "tragic if a married woman's call for justice is not heard even after 162 years" since the enactment of the IPC, Justice Shankar said the exception under the rape law is not "unconstitutional and was based on an intelligible differentia".

Another plea has been filed by a man against the Karnataka High Court verdict which paved way for his prosecution for allegedly raping his wife.

The Karnataka High Court had on March 23, last year said exempting a husband from an allegation of rape and unnatural sex with his wife runs against Article 14 (equality before law) of the Constitution.

A few other pleas have also been filed in the Apex Court on the issue. Some petitioners have challenged the constitutionality of the marital rape exception under Section 375 IPC (rape) on grounds that it discriminated against married women who are sexually assaulted by their husbands.

Under the exception given in Section 375 of the IPC, sexual intercourse or sexual acts by a man with his wife, the wife not being minor, is not rape.

With PTI Inputs