NEW DELHI: Keen to bring the Prevention ofCommunal Violence Bill in the winter session of Parliament beginning December 5, the Union home ministry on Tuesday tried to bring the states on board, but countered opposition fromBJP and non-Congress-ruled states over its “anti-federal” provisions.
According to sources, the Union home secretary discussed the Bill clause-by-clause with the state home secretaries as well as secretaries of Central ministries of law, social justice, minority affairs and department of personnel, in a bid to address their concerns over the proposed anti-riots mechanisms. However, the home secretaries of BJP-ruled states like Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, apart from Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Odisha sought to throw a spanner in the Centre’s project to push the anti-riots Bill, terming its provisions as contrary to the federal mechanism enshrined in the Constitution.
The Centre, which has given some more time to the relevant ministries and states to submit their views, is planning to move ahead on the Bill. Once the comments come in, the home ministry will take a call on tweaking the Bill and then send it to the Union Cabinet for approval. Sources indicated that the government is looking at introducing the Bill mid-way through the winter session.
With the BJP and many regional parties questioning the Centre’s wisdom in enacting a law dealing with “law and order” and “public order” — both state subjects — home ministry officials conceded that it may be tough to muster the numbers in Parliament. “Though the communal violence Bill is being taken up on a priority basis, tabling it in Parliament is more a statement of intent by the ruling dispensation. The government wants to showcase its commitment to enacting a tough law against communal violence, whether or not it gets the support of other parties,” said a home ministry official.
Soon after the home ministry wrote to the state governments calling their home secretaries for consultations on the draft Bill, AIADMK chief J Jayalalithaa and senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley came forward to slam the timing of the move, with the latter dismissing it as a pre-poll gimmick to “polarize the country on communal lines”.
According to Jaitley, the draft Bill – based on a version submitted by the Sonia Gandhi-headed National Advisory Council (NAC) in 2011 – was skewed against the majority community as it only recognized religious and linguistic minorities as “groups” victimized by communal violence. Another contentious provision related to holding government officials and bureaucrats accountable for dereliction of duty in case they failed to take measures to prevent/control riots.
The provision in the 2011 draft for creation of a National Authority for Communal Harmony, Justice and Reparation to monitor communal build-ups and response of the state governments, also had the states and parties like the BJP up in arms. Critics interpret this as interference with functioning of the state governments, and consequently undermining relevance of elected governments.
However, minorities affairs minister K Rahman Khan on Tuesday rejected the “interference” charge, saying that it was for the states to declare the competent authority and disturbed areas under the measure.
“The objections are just for objections sake….Why should we not have the bill? If we talk about rape, it is a state subject. Then why did you want a central legislation? This (the communal violence bill) is therefore the need of the hour,” said Khan.