The Karnataka government on Thursday, May 12, decided to bring in the Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill, 2021, popularly known as the anti-conversion Bill, through an ordinance. The Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill, 2021 was passed in the Assembly on Thursday, December 23 but was not tabled in the Council.
The version of the Bill that was passed in the Karnataka Assembly will now be made into an ordinance that will be sent for the Governor’s consent. “For various reasons, we did not table the Bill in the council so we decided to pass an ordinance since we have provisions in the Constitution to do so. In the coming days, we will table and have it passed in the council too. We cannot do it now since the session is not in motion,” Karnataka Law Minister JC Madhuswamy told reporters in Bengaluru.
Under Article 213 of the Constitution of India, a state government is allowed to promulgate an ordinance when the Legislative Assembly is not in session, if the Governor of the state is satisfied with the need for such an ordinance. The ordinance will now have to be approved by the state legislature within 6 months of being passed.
The opposition in Karnataka, activists, citizens as well as legal experts had voiced concerns over the proposed law, that aims to prohibit “unlawful conversion” from one religion to another by misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or by any fraudulent means. The new Karnataka law is even more stringent than those introduced in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, with the minimum punishment in Karnataka being three to five years and a minimum fine of Rs 25,000 — compared to a minimum of one-year jail term and Rs 15,000 fine in Uttar Pradesh.
In addition to prohibiting conversion by or after marriage, the new Bill prohibits conversion by ‘promise of marriage’ as well. It also contains portions that were stayed by the Gujarat High Court last year as violative of individual’s right to freedom of religion and one that presumes marriage to be a medium for the purpose of unlawful conversion.
A year ago, a similar route was taken while bringing in an anti-cattle slaughter law in Karnataka wherein an ordinance was promulgated first before it was approved by both the houses.
Karnataka Congress chief DK Shivakumar has questioned the government’s decision to pass the anti-conversion bill through an ordinance. “I don't know why the Karnataka government is in such a hurry. They should promulgate an ordinance on some development agenda or giving employment to the youth,” he said on Thursday.