Row over anti-conversion laws: SC asks parties to file common plea seeking transfer of cases from HCs to it

08:21 PM Jan 16, 2023 | PTI |

The Supreme Court on Monday asked the parties challenging the anti-conversion laws of several states to file a common petition seeking transfer of cases on the issue from various high courts to the apex court.


A bench comprising Chief Justice DY Chandrachud and Justices PS Narasimha and JB Pardiwala asked senior lawyer Kapil Sibal, appearing for one of parties, to file a common petition seeking transfer of all the pleas from high courts to the top court.

“In view of the pendency of matters before diverse High Courts, a transfer petition will be filed before this court for tagging and transferring of all cases before this court. List the matters after two weeks,” the bench said.

Meanwhile, it took note of the submission of senior advocate Dushyant Dave that one of the petitions, filed by lawyer Ashwini Upadhyay, casts aspersions on Christians and Muslims and asked senior lawyer Arvind Datar, appearing for Upadhyay, to file a formal plea for deletion of the “objectionable portions”.

Datar, however, said he was not pressing the alleged contents. The plea by Upadhyay against alleged “forceful religious conversions” was earlier being heard by another bench led by Justice MR Shah before it was transferred to the bench headed by the CJI recently. Attorney General R Venkataramani, who is assisting the bench in one of the matters, said the high courts should be permitted to continue with the hearing of petitions challenging the local laws.


“We are not transferring the cases. Mr Attorney (General), we will hear you on this as well,” the CJI said.

There any many “pari materia” (similar) provisions in all the anti-conversion laws and they can be transferred to the apex court, senior advocate Sanjay Hegde, appearing for one of the petitioners, said.

The solicitor general challenged the locus of NGO ‘Citizens for Justice and Peace’ of activist Teesta Setalwad, which is one of the petitioners. Mehta did not elaborate on the reasons for questioning the locus of the NGO. His submissions was opposed by senior advocate C U Singh, the counsel for the NGO.

The bench noted there were at least five such pleas “before the Allahabad High Court, seven before the Madhya Pradesh High Court, two each before the Gujarat and Jharkhand High Courts, three before the Himachal Pradesh, and one each before Karnataka and Uttarakhand High Courts” and said a common petition for their transfer can be filed.

Besides those, two separate petitions have been filed by Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh challenging the interim orders of the respective high courts staying certain provisions of their law on conversion.

The bench has ordered listing of all the petitions after two weeks. Earlier, a bench headed by Justice M R Shah had said religious conversion was a serious issue which should not be given a political colour. It had sought the assistance of the attorney general on the plea filed by Upadhyay. Another bench headed by the CJI had on January 2 sought to know the status of cases pending before different high courts challenging controversial state laws regulating religious conversion due to interfaith marriages, and said if all cases are similar in nature it may transfer them all to itself.

It had asked NGO ‘Citizens for Justice and Peace’ and the states of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh to apprise it about the status of cases challenging the state laws on conversion through marriage.

The apex court had on January 6, 2021 agreed to examine certain controversial new laws of Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand regulating religious conversions due to such marriages.

The controversial UP law relates to not only interfaith marriages but all religious conversions and lays down elaborate procedures for any person who wishes to convert to another religion.

The Uttarakhand law entails a two-year jail term to those found guilty of religious conversion through ”force or allurement”. The allurement can be in cash, employment, or material benefit.

The plea filed by the NGO alleged the legislations violate Articles 21 and 25 of the Constitution as they empower the state to suppress an individual’s personal liberty and the freedom to practise the religion of one’s choice.

Jamiat Ulama-I-Hind has also moved the Supreme Court challenging the anti-conversion laws of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, saying they have been enacted to ”harass” interfaith couples and implicate them in criminal cases.

The Muslim body, in its PIL filed through advocate Ejaz Maqbool, said the provisions of all the local laws of the five states force a person to disclose their faith and, consequently, invade their privacy.


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