Supreme Court refuses to stay anti-conversion law, issues notices to UP and Uttarakhand govts

The apex court's decision came in response to a bunch of petitions which challenged the validity of the laws which regulate religious conversions due to inter-faith marriages

Press Trust of India January 06, 2021 13:50:42 IST
Supreme Court refuses to stay anti-conversion law, issues notices to UP and Uttarakhand govts

File image of the Supreme Court of India. PTI

New Delhi: The Supreme Court Wednesday agreed to examine controversial new laws of Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand regulating religious conversions due to inter-faith marriages.

A bench headed by Chief Justice SA Bobde refused, however, to stay the controversial provisions of the laws and issued notices to both state governments on two different petitions.

The pleas, filed by advocate Vishal Thakre and others and an NGO Citizen for Justice and Peace', have challenged the constitutional validity of the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Religious Conversion Ordinance, 2020 and the Uttarakhand Freedom of Religion Act, 2018 which regulate religious conversions of inter-faith marriages.

At the outset, the top court asked the petitioners to approach the Allahabad High Court after Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said that it was already seized of the matter.

The bench said that this was not the transfer petition where it could transfer to itself all the cases on the law after one of the petitioners said that the issue should be examined by the top court.

Senior advocate C U Singh, appearing for the NGO, referred to the judgement of Justice (retd) Deepak Gupta and said that similar laws were being made in various states.

He sought a stay on the provisions of the law and said that people were being "lifted" by authorities in the middle of wedding ceremonies.

Some provisions of these laws are "oppressive and horrible" in nature and require the prior consent of the government to marry which is "absolutely obnoxious", Singh added.

The bench said that it was issuing notice and sought a response from both the state governments within four weeks.

When Singh insisted on the stay of the provisions, CJI Bobde said it was being sought without the states being heard. How can it be done?

The Uttar Pradesh Ordinance was cleared by the state Cabinet in November and ascent was given by Governor Anandiben Patel on November 28. It relates not only to inter-faith marriages but all religious conversions and lays down elaborate procedures for those who wish to convert to another religion.

The Uttarakhand Act entails two-year jail term for those found guilty of religious conversion through force or allurement, which can be in cash or in-kind, employment or material benefit.

Thakre and others said they are aggrieved by the ordinance which curtails the fundamental rights of the citizens provided in the Constitution.

Their plea said the laws passed by Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand against Love Jihad' and punishments thereof may be declared ultra vires and null and void because it disturbs the basic structure of the Constitution as laid down by the Law.

It said the ordinance passed by Uttar Pradesh and the law passed by Uttarakhand is against the public policy and society at large.

Besides seeking to declare the laws as null and void, the plea sought a direction to the two states not to give effect to impugned provisions/ordinance and withdraw the same.

The plea Citizen for Justice and Peace' said that both the legislations violate Articles 21 and 25, as it empowers the State to suppress an individual's personal liberty and the freedom to practice the religion of one's choice.

It mandates that a series of complicated procedures to be followed before and after conversion, taking the State into confidence to ensure that the act was an informed and voluntary decision by the individual, the plea said.

The Mumbai-based NGO further said that the UP ordinance casts the burden of proof on the accused against the established criminal jurisprudence.

The plea by the NGO also sought a direction to declare both the laws of the states as ultra vires of the constitution.

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