The Himachal Pradesh Assembly passed a bill on Saturday forbidding "mass conversion" and enhancing the maximum punishment to ten years imprisonment in its 2019 law against any change of religion through force or allurement.
The Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill, 2022, was passed unanimously with a voice vote.
The bill inserts the reference to "mass conversion", which is described as two or more people converting at the same time, in the 2019 Act, and proposes to increase the punishment for forced conversions to a maximum of ten years from seven years.
The Jai Ram Thakur-led government introduced the bill on Friday. It is a more stringent version of the Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2019, which came into force barely 18 months ago.
The 2019 Act was notified on December 21 2020, 15 months after it was passed in the state assembly. The 2019 version had in turn replaced a 2006 law which prescribed lesser punishments.
It stipulates that the complaints made under the Act will be investigated by a police officer not below the rank of a sub-inspector. The offences will now be tried by a sessions court.
Introducing the bill on Friday, Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur said the 2019 Act did not have a provision to curb mass conversion, and "therefore, a provision to this effect is being made." The bill seeks to amend sections 2, 4, 7 and 13 and insert another section 8A in the 2019 Act.
The ruling BJP has been a vocal supporter of anti-conversion laws and many BJP-ruled states have introduced similar measures.
The move comes ahead of the assembly election in the hill state later this year.