Himachal court strikes down parts of law on conversion

August 30th, 2012 - 9:46 pm ICT by IANS  

Shimla, Aug 30 (IANS) The Himachal Pradesh High Court Thursday struck down some provisions of a state law related to the freedom of a person intending to convert from one religion to another.

The court said section 4 of the Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2006, violated the provisions of the constitution.

Section 4 of the law, which was enacted by the previous Congress government in 2006, says a person intending to convert from one religion to another shall give prior notice of at least 30 days to the area district magistrate of his intention to do so.

The district magistrate shall get the matter enquired into by such agency as he may deem fit. No such notice shall be required if a person reverts back to his original religion, it adds.

The provision of giving prior notice for conversion and not making a similar provision for returning to one’s religion was challenged by petitioners Evangelical Fellowship of India and Act Now For Harmony And Democracy, both based in New Delhi.

Allowing to a limited extent the petitions against the law, a division bench of Justice Deepak Gupta and Justice Rajiv Sharma also struck down rule 3 of the Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Rules of 2007, framed under the act, as being violative of Article 14 of the constitution.

“Rule 5, only insofar as it relates to actions relating to Section 4 (of the law), is also held to be ultra vires. However, all other provisions of the act and the rules are held to be legal and valid,” the court observed.

The section 4 also says that any person who fails to give prior notice to the district magistrate ahead of his conversion shall be punished with a fine extending up to Rs.1,000.

Janata Party chief Subramanian Swamy appeared in court and defended the law, saying it did not violate any provision of the constitution.

The court allowed Swamy, who appeared as convener of the legal cell of the Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha, to intervene in the petitions.

Advocate General R.K. Bawa argued that “the right to privacy is not an indefensible right”.

“There can be no quarrel with this proposition. However, the state must have material before it to show what are the very compelling reasons which will justify its action of invading the right to privacy of an individual,” he said.

The petitioners had prayed to strike down parts of Sections 2, 4 and 8 of the act and rules 3, 4, 5 and 6 framed under the act.

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