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SHIMLA : The Himachal Pradesh Assembly on Saturday passed a bill that forbids "mass conversion" and increases the maximum punishment to 10 years imprisonment in its 2019 law against any change of religion through force or allurement. The bill stipulates that the complaints made under the Act will be investigated by a police officer not below the rank of a sub-inspector. The offences will now be tried by a sessions court.

The Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill, 2022, was passed unanimously with a voice vote. The Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill, 2022 is a more stringent version of The Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2019, which came into force just a little over a year and half ago.

Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Jairam Thakur had said on Friday the 2019 Act did not have a provision to curb mass conversion. "Therefore, a provision to this effect is being made."

The Jai Ram Thakur-led government introduced the bill on Friday. It is a more stringent version of The Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2019, which came into force barely 18 months ago.

The 2019 Act was notified on December 21, 2020, 15 months after it was passed in the state assembly. The 2019 version had in turn replaced a 2006 law, which prescribed lesser punishments.

The ruling BJP has been a vocal supporter of anti-conversion laws and many party-ruled states have introduced similar measures.

Provisions of the anti-mass conversion bill

Under the bill, "mass conversion" takes place when two or more people are converted at the same time. The bill seeks to amend sections 2,4,7 and 13 and insert section 8A in the 2019 Act.

The bill inserts the reference to "mass conversion", which is described as two or more people converting at the same time, in the 2019 Act and proposes to increase the punishment for forced conversions to a maximum of 10 years from seven years.

The bill stipulates that the complaints made under the Act will be investigated by a police officer not below the rank of a sub-inspector. The offences will now be tried by a sessions court.

The maximum punishment under the this draft law is 10 years, up from seven in the 2019 Act and three in the old Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2006, which was on similar lines.

The current law says no person or organisation violating its provisions will be allowed to accept a donation or contribution of any kind from within or outside the country.

The 2006 law was brought by Virbhadra Singh’s Congress government. The 2019 version introduced by the BJP government was passed unanimously. 

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