Orissa Home Secretary T K Mishra said on Tuesday that contrary to charges, the state government had received no complaint of Christians being forcibly converted to Hinduism in the riot-hit Kandhamal district.
He however admitted that the state government rarely receives complaints as conversions and re-conversions are a very private affair.
The Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI) has been stating that members of their faith had been converted forcibly and made to attack the very churches they used to pray in.
Mishra told HT on the phone from Bhubaneswar that "forced conversion is unlawful under the Orissa Freedom of Religion Act".
He said any priest performing a conversion is supposed to inform the district magistrate or collector concerned.
The state can intervene only if it finds that "any threat, compulsion or inducement" has been used, Mishra said.
On the continuing attacks on Christians and churches in Kadhamal despite deployment of the Rapid Action Force, Mishra said the remote and densely forested area made it difficult for security forces to operate in effectively.
Meanwhile, the CBCI said in New Delhi that it was "extremely distressed" to note that despite assurances given by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that the violence in Kandhamal would be brought under control, "we find that there has not been much improvement" in the riot-hit areas.
As the CBCI expressed concern over the continuing attacks, the Centre on Tuesday assured the Supreme Court that it would fulfill its responsibilities and take necessary steps in the riot-hit district.
Additional Solicitor General Gopal Subramanium said: “The Centre will fulfil its responsibilities. Necessary steps will be taken.”
He informed the bench headed by Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan when it was hearing a petition seeking a CBI probe into the violence against Christians in the state. The petition was filed by Archbishop of Cuttack Raphael Cheenath.
(With inputs from Bhadra Sinha, Delhi)