Former Supreme Court Justice Madan Lokur on Tuesday criticised Uttar Pradesh’s new anti-conversion law, suggesting that it has many defects, PTI reported. Lokur said that a judge does not need to get into politics, but has to check the constitutional validity of a law.

The law, which was passed in November by the Adityanath-led state government, is aimed at tackling “love jihad” – a conspiracy theory espoused by right-wing Hindutva activists, alleging that Hindu women are forcibly converted by Muslims through marriage.

“Constitution requires an ordinance to be passed if there is immediate action required,” he said. “What is the need of passing this ordinance when the Vidhan Sabha is not in session? Absolutely nothing. There is no way that this ordinance can be sustained.”

Lokur was speaking at a panel discussion on the topic “Personal Freedom and Judiciary” during a book launch. Congress leader Kapil Sibal, former Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi and social activist Medha Patkar also attended the event, reported Live Law.

During the discussion, Lokur also asserted that the idea of social justice has been undermined in the judiciary in the past couple of years. The former judge added that due to the pandemic, the court should have been a lot more “pro-active than it ever was”.

Rohatgi agreed with Lokur and said that the role of a traditional judiciary was now lost. “Cases such as habeas corpus petitions are taking six months to a year to decide,” he said. “Initially such cases would have been taken up immediately. But now some other things have taken over.”

Sibal claimed that the Supreme Court had lost its way. “What is happening today is issues that are highly political are taken up,” he said. Issues which deal with liberty are brushed under the carpet...Whether it was electoral bonds issue, CAA [Citizenship Amendment Act] issue. It’s not at the roster of the court at all.”

Last week the Allahabad High Court issued notices to the Uttar Pradesh government, asking it to file counter affidavits to a batch of petitions challenging the new anti-conversion law. The petitioners have submitted that the law impinges upon their fundamental rights and violates Article 14 (Right to Equality), 15 (Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion), 21 (Right to life) and 25 (Freedom of conscience, etc) of the Constitution.

In a separate case, the High Court also stayed the arrest of a man, who was one of the first to be charged under the law, noting that the couple involved in the matter were adults with “a fundamental right to privacy”.

The ‘love jihad’ law

The anti-love jihad legislation makes religious conversion a non-bailable offence, inviting penalties up to 10 years in prison, if found guilty of forcing someone to convert their faith. Violations provide for a jail term of one to five years with a penalty of Rs 15,000 for forceful religious conversion. For conversions of minors and women of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes community, there will be a jail term of three to 10 years, with a Rs 25,000 penalty. In cases of forced mass conversions, the ordinance has provisions for a jail term of three to 10 years with a Rs 50,000 fine.

According to the new law, if an individual wants to marry after converting to any other religion, they will need to take permission from the district magistrate two months before the wedding.

Apart from Uttar Pradesh, four other BJP-ruled states have also decided to introduce laws aimed at preventing inter-faith marriage. The Madhya Pradesh government last month doubled the jail term for forced religious conversions for marriage from five years to 10 years in its draft bill against “love jihad”, while the Haryana government has formed a three-member drafting committee to frame a law on the matter. Karnataka and Assam governments have made similar announcements.

These actions are despite the fact that in February, the Centre told the Lok Sabha that no “case of ‘love jihad’ has been reported by any of the central agencies”.