Gujarat religion bill gets Governor's nod

GANDHINAGAR April 9. The controversial Gujarat Freedom of Religion Bill has finally received the nod of the Governor, Sunder Singh Bhandari, who signed the bill and sent it to the State Government "as it is".

Briefing presspersons after a Cabinet meeting held under the chairmanship of the Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, here today, the Cabinet spokesman, I. K. Jadeja, said the Government had received the Bill from the Raj Bhavan on Tuesday in the form it was when passed by the State Assembly on March 26. The Government would soon frame the necessary rules under the Bill and publish in the gazette for the Act to come into force.

It was one of the seven bills passed by the Assembly on the day of the murder of the former Minister of State for Home and Revenue, Haren Pandya. While giving his assent to the remaining six Bills ignoring the plea of the Leader of the Opposition, Amarsinh Chaudhary, on Pandya's murder, the Governor had held back the religion bill which seeks to prevent any religious conversion without the expressed consent of the concerned district magistrate.

Mr. Jadeja said the Governor had delayed signing the bill only to satisfy himself about certain constitutional provisions and that he was not aware what discussions the Governor had with the Legal Department or the Advocate-General. The Law Minister, Ashok Bhatt, said his Department had received no query from the Governor.

The delay on the part of the Governor had created doubts about the sanctity of the Bill with some legal experts feeling that some of its provisions went against the spirit of the Constitution. It was also pointed out that in no State where similar restrictions were in force had the consent of the district magistrate been made mandatory.

Meanwhile, the All-India Christian Council has accused the State Government of being "anti-minority" citing the example of some schools preparing the examination schedule for primary classes on April 18, Good Friday. The Council joint secretary, Samson Christian, said that after the introducing the religion bill and other anti-minority measures, the Government wanted to deny the Christian students their religious holidays. In 2001, the Government had scheduled mid-term examinations on Christmas Day but was forced to revise the schedule at the directive of the Gujarat High Court on a petition filed by the Council, he said.