Attorney General R Venkataramani said on Monday that the Supreme Court should refrain from ruling on the feasibility of a law banning religious conversion by force or inducement until the Indian Law Commission has examined the case.
“Once this court says something, there is nothing the Law Committee can do. Consultation with the Law Committee is appropriate only as a first step,” Venkataramani told the panel, which is chaired by Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of India Dhananjaya Y Chandrachod.
The bench, which included Justices PS Narasimha and JB Pardiwala, was considering a petition by Advocate Ashwini Upadhyay requesting the Law Commission to study the feasibility of the Penal Code to punish acts of forced conversion.
While the bench’s initial opinion was that it might be appropriate for the Legal Committee to consider the case after directions from the Supreme Court in the form of a judgment or some orders, Venkataramani disagreed.
According to the country’s chief law official, any word from the Supreme Court would limit the scope of examination by the committee, and therefore, the court should allow it to consider the issue of forced religious conversion in the first place.
Senior Advocate Arvind Datar, appearing in favor of Upadhyay, backed Venkataramani, saying that all parties before the court may be required to present their views before the Law Commission. However, the court adjourned the case, while asking Datar to ensure that some objectionable paragraphs of the 2022 petition against certain religious minorities were deleted. Datar said he had already made a statement during previous hearings that the petitioner did not rely on the impugned statements and would delete them.
The court also asked Upadhyay to clarify at the next date whether he had withdrawn the petition in 2021 which also raised the issue of forced conversion.
On Monday, the court dealt with Upadhyay’s petition along with a host of other petitions relating to legislation put in place by various state governments to penalize religious conversion in marriages.
In relation to these petitions, Venkataramani urged the Supreme Court to allow higher courts to examine relevant legislation dealing with the matter of religious conversion for marriage rather than allowing petitioners to jump to the first forum to adjudicate cases. He opposed moving cases from at least seven higher courts to the Supreme Court to deal with a range of cases arising from state laws against religious conversions for marriage.
“I would strongly urge this court to allow the high courts to hear these cases. Why should the matter jump here in the case of the petitioners?” , including Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Karnataka, and Haryana.
Venkataramani further noted that not only would the Supreme Court enjoy the advantage of rulings from higher courts once matters go to appeal, but the parties would also end up losing their right of appeal if the cases were to be heard directly by the Supreme Court.
In addition, the court panel said that it will hear from all parties before deciding whether or not the matter needs to be referred to the Supreme Court. Petitions will now be submitted to be heard after two weeks.