Jharkhand Governor Draupadi Murmu on Tuesday gave approval to the two crucial bills – Freedom of Religion Bill, 2017, and the bill to amend Land Acquisition 2013 Act – passed by the Jharkhand Assembly in the recently concluded monsoon session on August 13.
The development has given a shot in the arm to the BJP-led government, which had to withdraw the proposed amendments in tenancy Acts – Chhotanagpur Tenancy Act (CNTA) and the Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act (SPTA) – during the same session, more than eight months after it was passed by the assembly.
According to an official communication, the Freedom of Religion Bill, 2017, is likely to be notified soon by the state government, while the amendments to the Land Acquisition Act, 2013, would be sent to the President for his assent.
Under the Freedom of Religion Bill, 2017, converting anybody through coercion or allurement would be a punishable offence inviting a prison term of three years. If the person converted is a member of the scheduled caste/ scheduled tribe, a minor or a woman, the prison term would be four years, besides a fine.
Also, one of the salient features of this Bill is that anybody willing to convert on his own volition will have to inform the Deputy Commissioner and also give the details about the date, place of conversion and who supervised over it.
The proposed amendments in the Land Acquisition Act, 2013, pertained to earmarking a six-month period to give compensation to the tenure holders, whose land is acquired by the government. Further, the requirement for social impact assessment (SIA) for at least 10 specific kinds of projects such as water supply, power transmission lines, roads, schools etc was done away with.
The state BJP has welcomed the development, claiming that it would put brakes on the activities of ‘anti-national’ forces, who were involved in converting people, mostly poor tribals. “The anti-national forces involved in religious conversion in Jharkhand will now have to face a jail term. This is also a major setback for the opposition parties, who were raising such issues only to create impediments in the development of the state,” said state BJP spokesperson Pratul Shahdev in a statement. He added that the amendments in the Land Acquisition Act would also speed up the development process in the state.
Both the bills were vehemently opposed by the Church and other Christian bodies such as the Rashtriya Isai Mahasangh, which had petitioned the Governor urging her not to grant assent. Opposition parties, JMM and Congress too had approached the Governor on the issue.
However, unlike the previous occasion, when the Governor took nearly eight months before returning the amendment bill pertaining to the CNTA and the SPTA, the approval came within 21 days.
The Christian bodies and the Church, besides the main opposition parties in Jharkhand, had opposed the proposed amendments in the CNTA and SPTA last year. Some of the delegations had also met the then President Pranab Mukherjee and urged him not to grant assent to the amendments that pertained, among other things, to granting rights to the tribals to make commercial use of his land without changing ownership. There were widespread protests across the state, some of which also turned violent. Consequently, the government finally withdrew the bill in the monsoon session which concluded recently.
Efforts to reach the office of the Cardinal did not yield results.