Tribune News Service
New Delhi, January 6
The Supreme Court on Wednesday refused to stay the provisions of an Uttar Pradesh Ordinance and a Uttarakhand law aimed at checking unlawful religious conversions for inter-faith marriages.
A three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde, however, issued notice to the two states asking them to respond in four weeks to petitions filed by Vishal Thakre and others and NGO Citizens for Justice and Peace challenging the controversial UP Ordinance and the Uttarakhand law.
At the outset, a disinclined CJI said, “The challenge is already pending in high courts. Why don’t you go there? We are not saying you have a bad case. But you must approach the high courts in the first instance instead of coming to the Supreme Court directly.”
Later, the Bench agreed to issue notice after senior advocate CU Singh and lawyers for some other petitioners pointed out that the petitioners have challenged laws of two states and more BJP states were in the process of enacting similar laws.
Terming the provisions as “oppressive” and “obnoxious” Singh alleged that several innocent persons had been arrested based on UP Ordinance against ‘love jihad’.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said the Allahabad High Court was already seized of the matter.
Singh wanted the top court to stay the operation of the laws that mandated prior permission for religious conversions for marriage.
“You are asking for a relief which we cannot entertain under Article 32. Whether a provision is arbitrary or oppressive needs to be seen. This is the problem when you come directly to the Supreme Court,” said the CJI.
The top court was hearing PILs against the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020 and Uttarakhand Freedom of Religion Act, 2018 which criminalise fraudulent religious conversion for interfaith marriages.
The Uttar Pradesh Vidhi Virudh Dharma Samparivartan Pratishedh Adhyadhesh, 2020 (Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Religious Conversion Ordinance, 2020) – which was promulgated in November last– prescribes imprisonment from one year to 5 years, or Rs 15,000 fine (in normal cases) minimum three years and maximum 10 years, and fine of Rs 25,000, if the girl is a minor or from the SC/ST community.
It prescribes a jail term of a minimum three years up to 10 years, and Rs 50,000 fine in cases involving mass religious conversion. The offence is cognizable and non-bailable.
According to the Ordinance, no person shall convert or attempt to convert either directly or otherwise any other person from one religion to another by use or practice of misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or by any fraudulent means or by marriage nor shall any person abet, convince or conspire such conversion.
The petitioners have also challenged the validity of the Uttarakhand Freedom of Religion Act, 2018 which has similar provisions.
They questioned the validity of the UP Ordinance and the Uttarakhand law on the ground of alleged violation of fundamental rights of citizens, contending their provisions went against public policy.
“This ordinance can become a potent tool in the hands of bad elements of the society to falsely implicate anyone and there are probabilities of falsely implicating persons who are not involved in any such acts and it will result in grave injustice,” petitioners Vishal Thakre, Abhay Singh Yadav and Pranvesh submitted.