Shimla: With the state failing to reply to a notice issued in a petition challenging the constitutional validity of the stateâ€™s anti-conversion law, the Himachal Pradesh High Court on Tuesday asked the government to respond by August.
A division bench consisting of Chief Justice Kurian Joseph and Justice Sanjay Karol heard the petition filed by Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) and Act Now for Harmony and Democracy (Anhad) who have petitioned that the HP Freedom of Religion Act of 2006 violates the fundamental right of freedom of conscience and freedom to profess, practice and propagate religion under Article 25 of the Indian constitution.
Holding the state as respondents, the petition was filed in January and the government was asked to reply by June 14. With the government having failed to respond, the court as a last chance granted two more months for filing of reply before posting the matter for 23rd August, said a court spokesperson.
Petitioners reverend Richard Howell (EFI) and Shabnam Hashmi (Anhad) in their writ beforethe court have pointed out that under the HP Freedom of Religion Ac any person wishing to convert to another religion has to give a prior notice of at least 30 days to district authorities.
Section 3 of the Act prohibits conversion “by the use of force or by inducement or by any other fraudulent means” and states that a person who is converted by unfair means shall not be considered converted.
Further, any offence under Section 3 is punishable with imprisonment up to two years which could also attract a fine of up to Rs 25,000.
In case of conversion of a minor, woman, Dalit or tribal, the act has made a provision of imprisonment that can extend to three years and the fine could go up to Rs 50,000.
Besides Himachal, anti-conversion laws are in force in five states, which include Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Gujarat.
The state anti-conversion law has also been challenged in the Gujarat High Court, where a petition by Catholic Bishops Conference of India was admitted in the year 2009.