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Citizens for Justice and Peace has filed an additional petition challenging the anti-conversion laws of Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Haryana, Jharkhand and Karnataka. In its earlier petition, in which the Supreme Court had issued notice in January 2021, CJP had challenged the anti-conversion laws of Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand and consecutively, Madhya Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh laws were also added in this challenge. An additional petition has been filed, the reason being that Karnataka and Haryana laws were passed in 2022 and the amendment to the Gujarat law also came after CJP filed its first petition in December 2020. Notice was issued in this in the first week of January 2021.
Meanwhile, several petitions were filed in several high courts challenging the acts in respective states. In the order passed today, the Court suggested that in the event of one transfer petition being filed incorporating all these, the Court would consider whether those matters should be transferred or not..
Senior Counsel Mr CU Singh appearing for CJP, contended that all these laws are pari materia (with identical provisions) and hence they have been challenged together before a common forum, which is the Supreme Court. At the hearing today, the bench of CJI DY Chandrachud and Justice PS Narsimha and JB Pardiwala heard the petitioners and noted the status of various petitions filed before the High Courts of each of these states. The court was informed that 5 Writ Petitions have been instituted before Allahabad High court, 7 are before Madhya Pradesh High Court, 2 each before Gujarat High Court and Jharkhand High Court, 3 before Himachal Pradesh High Court, and 1 each before Uttarakhand and Karnataka High Courts.
The bench also allowed CJP’s amendment petition which wanted to incorporate a challenge to the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Act, 2021, and the Madhya Pradesh legislature passed the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2021, in place of the earlier Ordinances.
Accordingly, the bench has allowed Senior Counsel, Mr Kapil Sibal to file Transfer Petition to bring all these petitions before the court. Mr. Sibal appeared for the respondents in the appeal against Gujarat High Court’s order ruling that the provisions of the Gujarat Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Act, 2021, will not apply to inter-faith marriages that take place without force, allurement or fraud.
The court will consider the Transfer petition at the next hearing on January 30 and consider issuing notice for the same.
At the previous hearing, the bench directed that a brief note be filed about the laws and if petitions are pending before any High Courts then the details of those as well. The same was perused by the bench today and hence, the court asked that a Transfer petition be filed so that it can decide whether to transfer all of these petitions before it.
CJP has challenged 5 more laws before the court, in a separate petition, in addition to the four laws it challenged in 2021. In summation, the following laws have been challenged by CJP before the Supreme Court:
a. Chhattisgarh Dharma Swantantraya Adhiniyam [Freedom of Religion] Act, 1968 (as amended by the Chhattisgarh Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Act, 2006)
b. Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act, 2003 (as amended by the Gujarat Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Act, 2021)
c. The Haryana Prevention of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Act, 2022
d. Jharkhand Freedom of Religion Act, 2017, along with the Jharkhand Freedom of Religion Rules, 2017
e. Karnataka Protection of Freedom of Religion Act, 2022
f. Uttarakhand Freedom of Religion Act, 2018
g. Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Act, 2021
h. Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2021
i. Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2019
A comparative analysis of the four laws of Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Madhya Pradesh, may be read here.
The petition initially challenged the Uttarakhand Freedom of Religion Act (2018) and the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020. It raised detailed issues of privacy, extra-Constitutional powers to police and non-state actors, the fact that they violate the non-negotiable tenets of secularism, equality and non-discrimination. The three-judge Bench headed by Chief Justice S.A Bobde and including Justices V Ramasubramanian and AS Bopanna issued notice to the two states on January 7, 2021
The same bench then allowed CJP’s amendment petition on February 17, 2021 seeking addition of the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Ordinance, 2020 and Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2019 to also be challenged for their constitutional validity.