MP cabinet gives nod to the ordinance on freedom of religion bill

The BJP government in Madhya Pradesh on Tuesday gave its nod to an ordinance on the bill against religious conversion through fraudulent means, including those for the sake of marriage, that stipulates a jail term of up to 10 years for violators, and sent it to state Governor Anandiben Patel for approval.

The BJP government in Uttar Pradesh had also taken the ordinance route to notify a similar law.

The Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Bill, 2020, which also has a provision to impose fine of Rs 1 lakh for "conversion through marriage or by any other forceful means", was approved by the cabinet on Saturday.

The nod to the ordinance was given in a special meeting of the Madhya Pradesh Cabinet held earlier in the day.

The state government took the ordinance route as the bill couldn't be tabled in the winter session of the state Assembly, which has been deferred due to the COVID-19 situation, said state Home Minister Narottam Mishra.

He said this ordinance has been sent to Governor Anandiben Patel for approval.

"Several ordinances including the Freedom of Religion Ordinance were approved in the virtual cabinet meeting chaired by Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan on Tuesday," he said.

Mishra said the proposed law "will deal with those who marry our daughters by converting them by luring, influencing, threatening, or coercing. (I hope) the governor will soon give assent to the ordinance".

Mishra had recently claimed that once enacted, the law in MP will be the most stringent in the country.

Offenses under the proposed law will be cognizable and non-bailable. The bill seeks to replace the Religious Freedom Act of 1968, he had said.

The proposed law will prohibit religious conversion or such efforts by misrepresentation, allurement, force, undue influence, coercion, marriage or any other fraudulent means.

Abetment and conspiracy for religious conversion will also be prohibited under it. Any marriage solemnised in violation of the proposed law will be considered null and void.

Those willing to convert will need to apply to the district administration 60 days in advance, as per the provisions of the legislation.

Religious leaders facilitating the conversion will also have to inform about it 60 days in advance.

Violation of these provisions would attract a jail term of three to five years and a fine of Rs 50,000.

In cases involving religious conversion of members of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and minors, a provision has been made for imprisonment of two to 10 years and Rs 50,000 fine for violators.

There is a provision of three to 10 years of imprisonment and a fine of Rs 50,000 in cases of marriage carried out by "hiding religion, misrepresentation or impersonation", according to the bill.

In case of mass conversions (of two or more persons), a provision of five to 10 years of imprisonment and minimum fine of Rs one lakh has been made for offenders in the bill.

The MP bill in some ways is similar to the Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020, notified by the Uttar Pradesh government last month, which too provides for maximum punishment of 10 years for fraudulent conversions including those for the sake of marriage.

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