New Delhi: BJP may have strongly endorsed Sangh Parivar’s demand for a national law against religious conversions, but the central government is not competent to enact such a law, says the law ministry citing a Supreme Court ruling.
According to the law ministry’s opinion forwarded recently to the home ministry, the SC had in a 1977 ruling made it clear that ‘anti-conversion law’ falls within the purview of ‘public order’, a ‘state’ subject as per the seventh Schedule of the Constitution.
“The Supreme Court ruling (in the case Rev Stainislaus Vs State of Madhya Pradesh & Others) had upheld the laws on conversion enacted by Madhya Pradesh and Orissa (now Odisha), observing that they fell within the purview of ‘public order’, or Entry I of List II of the Seventh Schedule…since this is the law of the land, the Centre has no jurisdiction to enact an anti-conversion law,” a home ministry official said, citing the law ministry’s opinion.
The apex court had, in the 1977 verdict, observed that “the impugned Acts… fall within the purview of Entry I of List II of the Seventh Schedule as they are meant to avoid disturbances to the public order by prohibiting conversion from one religion to another in a manner reprehensible to the conscience of the community”.
Many states have their own laws on conversions, including Odisha, MP, Chhattisgarh, Arunachal Pradesh and Gujarat. Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan too have enacted laws banning illegal religious conversions. As for other states and Union Territories, forcible religious conversions have to be dealt with under Article 25 of the Constitution that guarantees freedom of religion.
The law ministry’s opinion against a central law on conversion comes less than a month after home minister Rajnath Singh’s called for a national debate on the need for such a law. “There are sometimes rumours and controversies about ‘ghar wapsi’ and conversions. Why should there by any conversion at all?” he had said on the sidelines of a conference of heads of state minority commissions in New Delhi last month.
“In other countries, it is the minorities which ask for anti-conversion law. Here, we are only saying that there should be an anti-conversion law. There should be debate over it. We must think on bringing anti-conversion law. I humbly request all of you to think over it,” Singh had said.
In the wake of a row over alleged forced conversions by some Sangh Parivar outfits, BJP members and some Union ministers had said that they were ready to bring an anti- conversion law even as they put the onus on the opposition parties for supporting such a move.