One of the first decisions the Ashok Gehlot government in Rajasthan may be asked upon to take soon is whether the state should have an anti-conversion law.
The Centre is mulling sending back to the Rajasthan Government the Rajasthan Dharam Swatantrya Vidheyak,2008,which the previous Vasundhara Raje-led BJP government had got passed in the Assembly. The Bill is pending with the Centre for the assent of President.
The proposed law prohibits conversions by force,allurement,or fraudulent means and provides for a prison term of a maximum of five years and/or fine of Rs 50,000 for anyone convicted of the offence. Incidentally,five other states Arunachal Pradesh,Gujarat,Madhya Pradesh,Chhattisgarh and Himachal Pradesh already have anti-conversion laws almost similar to the one proposed by the Raje government,with Himachal having a Congress government when the law was enacted.
In his legal opinion,Attorney General Milon Banerjee told the Centre that the proposed law infringes the Constitution,violating Articles 24 (1),25 and 26. The Constitution states that there can be no restrictions on willful conversion from one religion to another, wrote the Union Law Ministry,advising the President to withhold assent to the Bill.
By sending the Bill back to the state,the UPA Government is hoping to give an easy way out to President Pratibha Patil. For,when she was the Rajasthan Governor,Patil had withheld assent to the Bill as well as forwarded it to the President for consideration.
Governor Patils action was unique as,under Article 200 of the Constitution,the Governor can exercise either of three options give assent to the Bill; withhold assent; or reserve the Bill for consideration of the President.
On March 20,2008,the state Assembly had again passed the Bill,with Governor S K Singh deciding to reserve it and send it for consideration of the President.
The irony of President Patil being asked to decide a contentious issue which she had already rejected as Governor isnt lost on officers.
Since the Bill passed by the Rajasthan Assembly was piloted by a party which is no longer in power,it would be appropriate if it is sent back to the new government for re-consideration, said a senior Home Ministry officer.