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Anti-religious conversion bill passed in Rajasthan
March 20, 2008 22:01 IST
A controversial bill banning religious conversions, returned by the then Governor Pratibha Patil [Images] in 2006, was on Thursday passed by the Rajasthan assembly amid noisy protests by the opposition.
The Rajasthan Dharma Swatantraya Bill, 2008, reintroduced by Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje last week, prohibits conversion by use of force, allurement or fradulent means. It was passed by voice vote, even as Congress, Communist Party of India-Marxist and Lok Janshakti Party Legislative Assembly members demanded that it be referred to a select committee.
They also objected to the remarks of Home Minister G C Kataria and Law Minister G S Tiwari against Patil, who turned it down and referred it to the then President A P J Abdul Kalam.
Interestingly, the Bharatiya Janata Party government in neighbouring Gujarat had recently withdrawn a similar legislation, after it was returned by the state governor.
Kataria said a fresh bill was introduced last week as the old one passed by voice vote in 2006 was caught between the then state Governor and the President for assent.
"Whether Patil had made any suggestions, objections, or rejected it is not known to the government. Moreover, whether the bill was sent to the President through the Home Department officially is also not known. Hence, the bill has been taken up again," Kataria said.
Opposition MLAs demanded that Deputy Speaker R N Vishnoi protect the dignity of the highest office of the country and were further irked when Tiwari said, "I am telling the House that the then governor took the wrong way of action on the bill".
Kataria then tabled his reply and the bill was passed by voice vote by ruling party members to avoid a deadlock on the issue with the opposition.
He said the bill was necessary to maintain communal harmony and to curb alleged conversion activities in tribal areas of Dungarpur, Banswara, Udaipur, Kota and Ajmer district in recent years.
Congress members raised the issue, saying they had no confidence in the deputy speaker for his 'pro-government attitude' which led to an insult to the then governor, who is now the President.
The bill envisages prison terms of one to three years and fines up to Rs 25,000 for general offenders while for those proselytising minors, women, or persons belonging to Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes, the punishment would not be less than two years and may extend to five years apart from fines up to Rs 50,000.
The registration of organisations under the Rajasthan Societies Registration Act, 1958, would also be cancelled if found guilty of converting people.
Another clause of the bill holds that those intending to convert must give a 30-day notice to the district magistrate or senior official of the district, but not for reverting back to his/her original religion.
It deems all offences cognizable and non-bailable to be investigated by officers not below deputy superintendent of police rank while prosecution requires sanction of at least a sub-divisional magistrate.