The Telegraph
Sunday , August 13 , 2017

Religion, land bills passed

- 4-year RI or Rs 1 lakh penalty or both for forced conversions; JMM vows statewide protests

Chief minister Raghubar Das is congratulated by BJP workers in Harmu, Ranchi, after the Assembly passed the two bills on Saturday. Telegraph picture

Ranchi, Aug. 12: The state government passed by voice-vote two contentious laws, one to curb religious conversions and the other to make land acquisition easier for public projects, in the Assembly today amid a walkout by the JMM that vowed to hit the streets to foil, what it referred to as the BJP-led government's divisive policies.

The Jharkhand Freedom of Religion Act-2017 mandates four-year rigorous imprisonment or penalty of up to Rs 1 lakh, or both, to individuals and organisations forcing religious conversion of a woman, minor, and persons belonging to SC/ST categories through inducement and blackmail.

In the case of forced religious conversion of persons belonging to other categories, the penalty would be three-year rigorous imprisonment or Rs 50,000 fine or both.

"We haven't banned wishful religious conversions. It (the law) only aims to tighten the noose round the neck of individuals and organisations who are taking advantages of ignorance and poverty of poor people, mainly tribals and dalits living in remote areas," chief minister Raghubar Das told The Telegraph after today's Assembly session.

As per the new law, those seeking voluntary conversions, would have to seek permission of the deputy commissioner, who would examine the circumstances under which the conversion was being sought.

"Such a law is already there in several other states, including Odisha, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. These states weren't ruled by the BJP then," Das added, seeking to counter Opposition criticism.

Jharkhand Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Amendment) Act-2017, that has amended certain provisions of the land acquisition law, seeks to facilitate quicker acquisitions for public projects.

According to its provisions, social impact assessments would not longer be mandatory in case of land being acquired for public welfare projects like schools, colleges, universities, panchayat secretariats, roads, rail, angawadi centres, irrigation, hospitals, waterways, houses for the poor, drinking water and power supply.

But, in scheduled areas, consent of gram sabhas would be compulsory, in tune with the provisions of Panchayati Raj Extension to Scheduled Areas Act.

The chief minister argued that several states, including Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Goa and Telangana, had enacted similar laws for smooth execution of public welfare projects.

"Under the existing law, land acquisitions for public welfare projects often took nearly two years. Now, both the laws (the freedom of religion act and right to fair compensation act) will go a long way in bringing about positive and revolutionary changes in Jharkhand," Das said.

Today, the acts were passed without a hitch unlike November last year when the controversial amendments to the Chhotanagpur Tenancy Act and Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act were tabled and passed in the House.

The state government had tactfully circulated the drafts of the two laws among MLAs on August 8, the first day of the ongoing monsoon session. Today, it was taken up for discussions barely two hours before the House was adjourned sine die.

But Opposition MLAs put up a brave front. JMM MLA Stephen Marandi advocated that the anti- conversion bill be referred to the Assembly's select committee for discussions with a directive that a committee should examine it and submit a report within a fortnight.

Another JMM MLA, Amit Mahto, proposed that the land acquisition amendment bill be also sent to the Assembly select committee.

But, both these proposals were defeated by voice-vote.

Congress MLA Irfan Ansari questioned the logic behind asking DCs to certify voluntary conversions. "The BJP has made all fight with each other," he lamented.

Later, JMM working president Hemant Soren vowed to fight against the two laws legally, politically and constitutionally.

"We will knock on all available doors, the Governor, President and judiciary. The RSS and the BJP had been trying for decades to divide Jharkhand on religious lines and today, the Jharkhand Freedom of Religion Act was passed to meet that objective," he said,a adding that they would be meeting Governor Droupadi Murmu tomorrow.

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