The Himachal Pradesh government has passed the Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Amendment Bill 2022 in the house on Saturday. The legislation has stringent provisions that literally criminalise any kind of forceful conversions or mass conversion.
It has also made a provision to deprive the convert of the benefits of reservation.
Opposing the Bill, member Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu (Congress) stated that it is ultra vires to the constitutional provisions of reservation and cannot be tampered by any state Assembly. “If any person gets converted in tribal areas he would also be deprived of the reservation benefits which he was getting by virtue of the geographical area,” he maintained.
He said although the Congress supports the legislation, the section inserted in the Bill affects the constitutional provision of reservations granted to Schedule Caste and Scheduled Tribe.
Lone CPI (M) member Rakesh Singha seconding the opposition to the amendment bill informed that the matter is pending in the Himachal Pradesh High Court.
The people belonging to Schedule Caste would be victimized if this bill gets passed in the house; he lamented and said that he would mobilize the people on the issue.
Member Jagat Singh Negi (Congress) also opposed it and stated that the state government is trying to coerce the bill in the house without having given sufficient time for the members to go through it.
“The disagreement of members is presumed and the state has no intention to tamper with the reservation,” said Parliamentary affairs minister Suresh Bhardwaj.
The Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur while replying to Singha said that Himachal Pradesh Assembly has the right to bring about any legislation in the house and the High Court has not put stay to bring about the legislation.
The legislatures should retain their mandate to enact the legislation and should not surrender the power, he added.
The members should understand the population of minorities in the country has crossed over 22 Crore, he informed.
“I too had the same thought as Congress members are stating. However, after receiving several complaints and visiting delegations drawing my attention about the forced conversions by giving allurements, I have come to think that the provisions that have been inserted are right to make it more stringent,” he said.
Former Congress Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh had brought the similar legislation, but now the present government has made it more rigorous, he said, adding that if two or more persons have been converted, then it will be considered as a mass conversion and there will be a provision of minimum imprisonment of five years, which can be increased to ten years.
Law Minister Suresh Bhardwaj said that only two provisions have been inserted in the Principal Act and rest is the same.
These include, whosoever contravenes the provisions in respect of mass conversion shall be punished with imprisonment which shall not be less than five years, and can extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine which shall not be less than Rs One lakh, but which may extend to Rs 1,50,000..
In case a second or subsequent offence is committed, the term of imprisonment shall not be less than seven years and may extend to ten years and shall also be liable to fine which shall not be less than Rupees One lakh fifty thousand which may extend to Rs Two lakh.
Furthermore, whosoever intends to marry a person of any religion other than the religion professed by him and conceals his religion in such a manner the other person whom he intends to marry, believes that his religion is truly the one professed by him shall be punished with imprisonment for a term, which shall not be less than three years, but which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine which shall not be less than Rs 50,000, but which may extend to Rs One lakh.
Furthermore, anyone cannot seek a job by “fraudulent means”, and to the effect that he shall not take any benefit of his parent religion or caste after conversion.
Whoever makes a false declaration or who continues to take benefit of his parent religion or caste even after conversion, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than two years but which may extend to five years, and shall also be liable to fine which shall not be less than Rupees fifty thousand and may extend to Rs One lakh.
In the inquiry or investigation in respect of complaint against any conversion of religion, no police officer below the rank of Sub-Inspector shall inquire or investigate into the complaints received on this behalf.
And also it shall be triable by the Session Court.