LUCKNOW: The Allahabad High Court on Friday directed the Uttar Pradesh government to file a counter-affidavit to a PIL challenging the constitutional validity of the newly-promulgated Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance-2020, against forced and dishonest religious conversions.
The ordinance was promulgated in the state on November 28 after the assent of Governor Anandiben Patel. The division bench, comprising Chief Justice Govind Mathur and Justice Piyush Agrawal passed the order while hearing the PIL filed by Saurabh Kumar, an Allahabad based lawyer. However, the division bench refused to grant any interim stay order on the ordinance and directed the state government to file a counter-affidavit by January 4, 2021 The court posted the matter for January 7 for the next hearing.
The petitioner’s primary argument was that the ordinance was an infringement of the "fundamental right to choice and the right to change of faith". According to the petitioner, the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020, is morally and constitutionally invalid.
The petitioner requested the court to declare the ordinance ultra vires or beyond the legal remit of the Constitution. Besides, he requested the court to direct the authorities not to take any action under the ordinance during the pendency of the petition.
However, during the course of the hearing, the bench refused to issue an order to grant an interim stay on the ordinance while asking the state authorities to present a detailed reply on January 4.
The petitioner had submitted that the provisions of the ordinance accorded the state policing powers over a citizen’s choice of life partner or religion and thus militated against the fundamental rights to individual autonomy, privacy, human dignity, and personal liberty guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution (right to life and personal liberty).
The ordinance also required every religious conversion to be scrutinised and certified by the state, contended the petitioner.
Underling this point, the petitioner submitted that the very concept of forcing an individual to explain and justify a decision, which is closely personal to him/her, before an officer of the state is contrary to the tenets of the Constitution of India, which ensures such rights.
The petitioner, in his petition, had mentioned that UP CM Yogi Adityanath had on October 31, 2020, had made a statement that his government would bring a law against forcible religious conversions to put a leash on an alleged conspiracy to convert Hindu women.
The petitioner claimed that during his public statement, TH CM had referred to a single-bench judgment of the Allahabad high court in the case of Priyanshi alias Shamreen and another versus the state of UP, in which the court had observed that religious conversion just for the sake of marriage was invalid.
The petitioner pointed out that a few days later, a division bench of the high court overruled the single bench verdict, which had disapproved of religious conversions for the sake of marriage in the Salamat Ansari and others vs State of UP and others.