Communal Violence Bill
When price rise, corruption, security, and all over policy paralysis in the governance are key issues for the people, the Congress led government wants to vitiate the political environment by racking up the proposed Prevention of Communal Violence (Access to Justice and Reparations) Bill, 2013.
The Chief Minister of Gujarat and BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate Shri Narendra Modi has expressed his strong opposition to the proposed Bill in his letter written to the Honourable Prime Minister of India, Dr Manmohan Singh. Shri Modi described the Bill as being ill-conceived and poorly drafted and a recipe for disaster. He also described the bill as an attempt to encroach upon the authorities of the State governments.
While agreeing that there is a need to be vigilant on communal violence, Modi expressed his reservations about the contents and timing of the Bill.
Modi shared various shortcomings in the individual sections of the proposed Bill as follows:
p The Section 3(f) that defines “hostile environment” is wide ranging, vague and open to misuse. Likewise, the definition of communal violence under Section 3 (d) read with Section 4 would raise questions on whether the Centre is introducing the concept of “thought crime” in the context of the Indian criminal jurisprudence. These provisions have also not been examined from the view of the Evidence Act.
p To make public servants, police and security agencies criminally liable can adversely impact the morale of our law and order enforcement agencies. It may also make them vulnerable to political victimisation.
p Section 10B (Breach of command responsibility) that penalises a public servant for the failure of his subordinates is absurd as it tries to deal with incompetence by trying to criminalise it. With this provision, senior officials would shy away from intervening due to the fear of criminal liability and leave the junior officials to fend for themselves on the field. Such issues need structural responses rather than legislative solutions.
p The proposed legislation would further divide Indian society on religious and linguistic lines, as religious and linguistic identities would become more reinforced and even ordinary incidents of violence would be given a communal colour thus giving the opposite result of what the Bill intends to achieve.
Shri Modi has been extremely critical of the manner in which the Centre in bringing the Communal Violence Bill has showed no consideration for the nation’s federal structure. He wrote that the Centre’s attempt to legislate on issues of “law and order” and “public order” that are a part of List II (State List) of the Seventh Schedule show the Centre’s contempt for the federal structure of the nation and the principle of separation of powers. He added that if there is something the Centre wishes to share it is free to prepare a “Model Bill” and circulate it among the various State Governments for their consideration.
Shri Modi recalled the Chief Ministers’ Conference on Internal Security where he had raised, among other things how certain individuals having links with anti-national elements have penetrated into bodies such as the Planning Commission, National Advisory Council, etc. and that these are the same individuals who may have drafted this new Bill on Communal Violence. He also expressed his concern that the law making powers of an elected government may have been usurped by extra-constitutional authorities like the NAC.
On the proposal to bring the NHRC and the SHRC into the process of exercising powers that are vested in the executive wing of an elected government, Shri Modi felt that these bodies are already empowered and burdened under the existing statute to deal with serious human rights violations during incidents of communal violence.
While welcoming the establishment of a Communal Violence Reparation Fund, Shri Modi termed the use of the word compensation as arguable, saying that Government should leave the issues of compensation to the competent courts and should instead provide ex gratia relief/assistance to the victims.
Stormy session as key issues ignored
Under attack over serious instances of corruption, abject failure to control inflation and mishandling of key governance issues including internal security, foreign policy and economy, the UPA-2 regime is making a desperate attempt to woo the electorate by listing an ambitious legislative agenda for the Winter Session of Parliament.
However, the Government is either fooling itself or the people at large if it hopes to get passed within a short span of 12 days some Bills including the one seeking to set aside 33% of seats in the Lok Sabha and state Assemblies for women and the anti-graft Lokpal legislation, which have been hanging fire for a long time now.
The ruling alliance’s own ally, the Samajwadi Party, has threatened to disrupt proceedings if the Women’s Reservation Bill and the legislation seeking to provide quota in job promotions for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes are taken up.
The main Opposition BJP has sought a discussion on internal security with a special focus on the October 27 blasts in Patna ahead of the Hunkar rally.
As Ajit Doval, former Director of the Intelligence Bueau, aptly put it, “in a setting consumed by ruthless electoral rivalries, the powers that be, have failed to assess the incident in its correct perspective and respond adequately. The event heralds a new genre of terrorist threat, where the objective was not so much to cause depredations as to prevent the people and the leaders from pursuing their lawful right of assembly and speech. The trend, if unchecked, could derail democratic process, undermine constitutional freedoms and seriously destabilise the country.
It is ironic that a party which has lost two of its major leaders to assassin’s bullets has sought to ignore this issue due to petty political considerations. The ever increasing incidents of crimes against women across the country also deserve a full fledged debate.
It is equally important that the Parliament discusses at length some of the major corruption cases involving lakhs of crores of rupee of public money and attempts to cover up the same. In the coal scam, post-monsoon session, one witnessed the Government acting against officers with honest credentials and harassing people not amenable to pressure while seeking to protect the Prime Minister whose role is increasingly getting murkier by the day.
The report of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on 2G Spectrum Allocation, which has been submitted by panel Chairman P C Chacko to Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar, is being viewed as an apparent attempt to save the UPA Government. No JPC report has seen as many as 14 members dissenting. Moreover, the fairness of the probe is also being questioned in view of the Committee neither calling the Prime Minister nor the Finance Minister.
Though the ruling coalition has been dilly dallying the formation of a separate State of Telangana, carved out of Andhra Pradesh, with a view to reap maximum electoral benefit during the Lok Sabha polls next year, pressure is mounting on it to table the Bill in this session only.
The skyrocketing prices of vegetables and other essential commodities, which has broken the back of the common man, is another major issue that should not be ignored.
Another area of grave concern to the people is the increasing belligerence of Pakistan and China on our borders.
The misuse of the CBI including the avoidable public confrontation with the Intelligence Bureau has the potential to demoralise the nation’s intelligence apparatus and the Parliament should condemn the same in one voice.
The BJP and several regional parties such as the AIADMK has expressed serious reservations about the provisions of the anti-Communal Violence Bill, which the Government is apparently seeking to introduce in the Parliament with an eye on vote bank ahead of the Lok Sabha polls. Apart from having the potential to divide sharply the different communities by seeking to blame the majority community alone for any sectarian violence, many of the provisions seek to interfere with the jurisdiction of the State Governments.
The plight of farmers, especially sugarcane growers, who have not got their dues, is another key problem which seeks the Parliament’s attention.
(The author is a Delhi-based Senior Journalist)