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Should communal violence bill be recast?

Monday September 19, 2011 01:57:13 PM, Prashant Sood, IANS

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New Delhi: Should the draft bill on communal violence be recast to obviate fears that it will encroach on the rights of states?

Analysts differ on the specifics of the draft, but many said that it should be framed in a way that it is broadly acceptable to political parties and honours public opinion.

Civil rights activist Colin Gonsalves said the proposed bill was a huge step forward, though the current draft needed improvement.

"Communalism is a national conspiracy," Gonsalves told IANS. "It hits at the basic tenets of the constitution, undermines the nation state. A law is needed at the national level."

The proposed bill, as drafted by the National Advisory Council (NAC), was discussed at a meeting of the National Integration Council (NIC) earlier this month and evoked sharp reaction from the main opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Even United Progressive Alliance (UPA) constituent Trinamool Congress expressed reservations.

Gonsalves felt communalism, like terrorism, could not be seen only as a law and order problem. "A hate speech, like a terror incident, may happen in a taluka but the (communal) conspiracy has to be uncovered nationally," he said.

Gonsalves called for improvement in the existing draft, saying that politicians and policemen continued to have immunity.

"There should be a special section for catching chief ministers, home ministers and DGPs (Directors General of Police), Gonsalves said. "If a riot continues for a sustained period, the chief minister of the state should be held criminally responsible."

Former Lok Sabha secretary general Subash C. Kashyap said that the draft communal violence bill went considerably against the distribution of powers between the centre and states.

"It is an affront to federal principles and goes against fundamental rights to equality and non-discrimination on grounds of religion. To that extent, it is divisive," he said.

"The proposed bill seeks to make a distinction between violence by one group and another group," Kashyap added. "Disturbance of peace is unlawful and should be equally punishable."

Political analyst S. Nihal Singh said the bill had been opposed by not only the BJP but even the Left parties and needed to be restructured for broader acceptance.

He said the government had also recognised the need to rework the draft. "It has not been thought through properly," Singh said. "It has to be recast. There is a problem with the definition (of) who is communal."

Aditya Mukherjee, Professor of Contemporary Indian History at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), said a separate bill was necessary to contain communal violence but more thinking was needed.

"The focus is on minorities," Mukherjee said. "Normally, it is the minority which is subjected to violence."

However, he added, there were many issues that needed to be ironed out in consultation with civil society and political parties.

BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman said the draft was unconstitutional as it "divides Indian citizens". She also felt it was against the country's federal structure.

"Tell me one chief minister belonging to (a party in) the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) who has spoken in favour of the proposed bill," Sitharaman told IANS.

Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader Basudeb Acharia said that provisions of the draft were against a federal structure. "The central government can intervene, send forces," he said.

Acharia said that there was a need for separate legislation on communal violence but it should broaden itself to other forms of violence.

Congress spokesman Raashid Alvi said the government wanted to build a broad consensus on the draft before it was introduced in Parliament.

He defended the draft, saying its provisions did not violate the federal structure and there was no discrimination between communities.

Asked if the bill could be introduced in the winter session of parliament, Alvi said, "It is too early to say."

Several parties with governments in states -- including Biju Janata Dal, AIADMK, Janata Dal-United and Shiromani Akali Dal -- have expressed reservations.

The draft bill says that public servants who fail to exercise authority or fail to prevent offences or act with prejudice shall be held guilty of dereliction, with penal consequences.

The bill also seeks creation of the National Authority for Communal Harmony, Justice and Reparation (NACHJR) and corresponding state authorities for grievance redressal.

(Prashant Sood can be contacted at




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