Special Correspondent

Individual must apply to the District Magistrate

Severe punishment to those who violate law

GANDHINAGAR: The Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act, providing for stringent punishment in cases of religious conversions through force, lure or deceit, has come into force.

The Bill, passed in the last budget session of the State Assembly, was to have taken effect on April 1. But the government took time to formulate and notify the rules under the Act.

The Bill was originally passed by the House in 2005. But Governor Nawal Kishore Sharma refused to give his assent following a wave of protests from various religious sects. The Jains and Buddhists objected to the bill describing their religions as part of Hinduism and permitting free conversions between them.

The Bill was reintroduced in the last budget session, incorporating the amendments removing all the objections raised by the Governor. Raj Bhavan sources said the Governor gave his assent to the amended bill soon after the session ended in March.

The Act makes it mandatory for an individual seeking to convert to apply in a prescribed form to the district magistrate. He would be allowed to proceed only if the approval was granted within a month. The individual must inform the magistrate of the change of religion within 10 days.

In a bid to effectively ban religious conversions, particularly in groups, the Act provides for severe punishment to those who fail to comply with its provisions.

It includes jail term of up to three years and a fine of Rs.50,000 for general conversions, which will go up to four years in jail and a fine of Rs.1 lakh if the converted person is a minor, woman or an SC or ST.