The provisions of the proposal recommend a jail term up to 10 years for the guilty and a cash penalty up to Rs 10 lakh. Besides, unlawful conversion has been made a cognisable and non-bailable offence in the Himalayan state.
The move comes two days after the Supreme Court on Monday, calling “religious conversions by use of force or allurement a very serious threat to national security”, sought a detailed affidavit from the government on steps being taken to curb the “dangerous trend.” The apex court had said, “Everyone has the freedom of conscience to choose a religion. But religious conversions through force or any kind of temptation is a dangerous thing which must be stopped.” The court had also asked, “What have the Union and state governments done to stop this?” In 2018, the state government had passed the Uttarakhand Freedom of Religion Act, which has now been given teeth with the proposed amendment.
The 2018 law had a provision for jail term ranging from one to seven years whereas in the proposed amendment, the jail term would be from two to 10 years. In the 2018 law, the cash penalty had not been defined but according to the fresh amendment, the fine for those found guilty will range from Rs 25,000 to Rs 10 lakh. Besides, now the offences have been made cognisable and non-bailable.
In addition, the 2018 legislation had said that “one who desires to convert his religion, shall give a declaration at least one month in advance, to the district magistrate or the executive magistrate specially authorised by the district magistrate.” In the amendment, the state has now increased the time to give the declaration to 60 days. Moreover, the Uttarakhand Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Act sets forth a prison term of “up to 10 years if the person converted is a minor, woman or from the SC/ST community”, and the cash penalty would be “not less than Rs 25,000.” In cases of mass conversion, the jail term would now range from three years to 10 years, with a penalty “not less than Rs 25,000 or a maximum of Rs 5 lakh to the victim.”
The cash penalty would be doubled for a person found to be a repeat offender. While the CM, ministers and state officials remained silent over the issue, sources said that the government is all set to table the amendments in the Act in the forthcoming winter session of the House commencing on November 29 in Dehradun.
The BJP government had framed the existing law after the high court asked it to come up with one, on the lines of the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 1968 and Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2006 in November 2017.
Meanwhile, sources said that the process of drafting the provisions of the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) is also underway and once implemented, Uttarakhand would be the second state in the country, after Goa, to have UCC.