Uttarkhand High Court pulls up district magistrates for lapses in Freedom of Religion Act

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NEW DELHI: The Uttarkhand Freedom of Religion Act, 2018 –– a crucial piece of legislation on which the recently enacted UP Conversion Bill 2020 is modelled on –– has been seeing some lapses when it comes to implementation at the brass tacks as seen in a recent rap by the Uttarkhand High Court to the district magistrates of the state.

The court had, in a November 21 order, mentioned that it has been observing that many cases related to interfaith marriages/conversions not being reported to the district magistrates within the stipulated period as mandated by the law.

Seeing a recurrence of such incidents, the court observed: “We direct the district magistrate, Dehradun, to conduct a detailed inquiry into this matter, as many similar cases are repeatedly coming before us. Our intention is to inform the concerned persons about the illegalities and the legal implications in the matter, so that prior information is given to the concerned district magistrate, which is the mandate of the law.”

It further stated that “in all similar cases, which are coming before us, we find that such intimation is not given under sub-section (2) of Section 8 of the Uttarkand Freedom of Religion Act, 2018 by the concerned priest”.

The court was hearing a petition filed by two interfaith couples seeking protection. The court directed the Dehradun DM to conduct an inquiry into this matter in the November 21 order.

As per sub-section (2) of Section 8 of the Uttarkhand Freedom of Religion Act, 2018, it is duty of the concerned priest to give prior intimation to the concerned district magistrate before any conversion or marriage. Section 8 of the Act deals with “declaration before conversion of religion and pre-report about purification Sanskar”.

While Uttar Pradesh has modelled the latest legislation on the Uttarkhand model, the latter is facing hiccups in the implementation of the Act as not many cases are being reported in time.

“If we get any complaint in such matters, we initiate action,” Uttarkhand minister Madan Kaushik, who is also spokesperson of the state government, said.

“We are conducting an inquiry into the matter and a report is expected soon. I have already sought a report from the district police regarding this,” Dehradun DM Ashish Srivastava told ET on phone on Sunday evening.

Meanwhile, Ashok Kumar, who will take charge as Uttarkhand’s new DGP on Monday, said the Uttarkhand police are collecting data regarding the cases registered under the new law.

Garhwal IG Abhinav Kumar said he has already asked all the seven districts of his zone to compile and share the figures on the cases registered under this particular Act. “I have called a meeting of SPs in December where all the officers will be sensitised on the law. The meeting will also discuss the proper implementation of the Act,” he told ET on phone.

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