The Madhya Pradesh High Court on Thursday held that a provision under the state’s anti-conversion law which requires a person to inform the district administration before converting, was prima facie unconstitutional, The Times of India reported.

The court has barred the state authorities from taking action against those who violate the provision.

Section 10 of the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2021, says that if someone wishes to convert their religion, they need to submit a declaration to the district magistrate 60 days in advance, stating that they are not doing so under any force, coercion, undue influence or allurement.

For violating the provision, the person can be punished with a jail term of three to five years and a fine at least Rs 50,000.

The anti-conversion law was notified last year, also has provisions for a prison term of up to 10 years for anyone found guilty of using marriage to force someone to change their religion.

On Thursday, a bench of Justice Sujoy Paul and Justice Prakash Chandra Gupta directed the state government to not prosecute individuals who have married out of their choice, and not after forceful conversion, Live Law reported.

The court was hearing a bunch of pleas challenging the constitutionality of the anti-conversion law. The petitioners had urged the court to restrain the government from prosecuting individuals under the law till the case was being heard.

The petitioners argued that the law gave “unbridled and arbitrary powers” to authorities to prosecute citizens. They also said that the legislation interferes with the fundamental rights of citizens to practice any religion and marry a person of their choice irrespective of the case and religion of their spouse.

“A citizen is under no obligation either to disclose his own religion or his intention to switch over to another religion,” the petitioners had told the court, according to Live Law.

On the other hand, the government argued that any interim relief by the court could amount to a final verdict on the matter. It also urged the court to uphold the constitutionality of the enactment.

The Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2021, replaced the Freedom of Religion Bill which was passed by the state Assembly in March 2021, amid opposition by the Congress and the treasury benches.

The law follows a campaign by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party against interfaith marriages. The party describes such marriages as “love jihad,” an unproven conspiracy theory used by its leaders and Hindutva groups to accuse Muslim men of converting Hindu women by the lure of marriage.