The Madras High Court today wondered as to why it should not direct the Tamil Nadu government to frame guidelines to arrest religious conversion in schools in the state.

A Division Bench of Justice R Mahadevan and Justice S Ananthi made an oral observation to this effect when a PIL petition from city-based Advocate B Jagannath came up for hearing, today.

The government, on its part, said it would not hesitate to take serious action against the perpetrators of such conversions but insisted the petition was not maintainable.

The petition prayed for a direction to the government to frame effective guidelines and take all steps necessary, including corrective measures, to prohibit/prevent and ban proselytisation and forced religious conversions in government and government aided schools and other educational institutions, both primary and higher secondary level.

In this connection, the petitioner cited the recent incident in Thanjavur district, where a minor girl student, ended her life allegedly over being pressured to convert to Christianity. The Court had ordered a CBI probe into the matter.

The petitioner also claimed that in a government school in Kanyakumari district a student was allegedly forced to kneel down for not acceding to the demand for conversion.

The petitioner wanted firm steps against conversion by some persons.

Framing necessary guidelines against forced conversion in government schools involving poor and innocent students will not come under the ambit, scope and purview of power to legislate, as the alarming situations and circumstances highlighted the fact that the government machineries and apparatus has miserably failed to protect these students and prevent such incidents effectively and that there is no other option except for the judiciary to interfere into the issue. Forcible conversions are against secular ethos, fundamental foundation of the Constitution and violative of Articles 21, 25, 14 and 19. This could be put an end only if the judiciary enters and issues guidelines, petitioner said.

When the petition came up today, Justice Mahadevan asked as to what will be the harm in directing the government to frame guidelines to stop religious conversion in schools. There is a right to profess any religion, but not to convert forcibly, the Judge added.

Raising a doubt over the maintainability of the petition, Additional Advocate General J Ravindran told the judges there were no more complaints of forcible conversions.

Appropriate action had been taken in the suicide case and in the Kanyakumari cases. The government would not hesitate to take serious action against the perpetrators of such conversions, he said and added that the petition is not maintainable.

The school authorities had made the child victim wash toilets and had insisted for fees before giving proper treatment to her after she consumed poison, as per the report of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights in the forced conversion-suicide case.

The Supreme Court which had refused to interfere with the order of the High Court ordering a CBI investigation into the matter, had permitted the NCPCR to file its report in a sealed cover.

The Bench has decided to hear the present case in detail on Friday.

With PTI inputs