Communal violence bill gets deferred, government left red-faced
In a major embarrassment for the government, attempts to introduce a new version of the anti-communal violence bill in the Rajya Sabha were Wednesday thwarted as the entire opposition became united against the bill.
An ugly spat erupted between members of the ruling Congress and main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, as Leader of Opposition Arun Jaitley pointed out that the bill was against federal structure.
"The central government has no jurisdiction to formulate this bill," Jaitley said, opposing the motion to introduce the bill.
He was joined by several opposition leaders, including from the Left, DMK, AIADMK, Trinamool Congress and Samajwadi Party, who agreed that the bill impinged upon rights of the state governments.
Law Minister Kapil Sibal, however, offered a clarification that the central government will not have any powers to take a decision as that power will be with the human rights commission.
"No provision in the bill affects the federal structure. The centre can take action only if states consent, and the power has been given to the human rights commission," Sibal said.
Jaitley, however, said the issue was not of execution but of "legislative competence to enact such a law".
"The power to enact such a law is with the state legislature," he said.
The law minister retorted that the bill was needed when state governments disrupt law and order as it happened in Gujarat, leading to angry responses from the BJP.
He said the bill was needed in a situation where "... the state indulges in disrupting law and order... as it happened in Gujarat, if the state sponsors communal activity".
This led to a huge uproar from both sides.
Deputy Chairman P.J. Kurien thereafter deferred the introduction of the bill.
The attempt to introduce the bill was made by Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde Wednesday morning, on the first day of the second half of the winter session.
The upper house has already seen two adjournments by that time and another one followed after a protest against the bill.
In a blog published Wednesday, Jaitley said the bill, as proposed, creates a "new category of offences".
"It deals with declaration and notification of areas which are disturbed areas. It suggests steps for prevention of acts in relation to communal violence. It has a chapter dealing with maintenance of public order.
"It then deals with the compensation mechanism and action to be taken against officers of the state government and the penalties which can be imposed upon them," he wrote.
"All these matters are exclusively within the domain of the state executive," Jaitley said in his blog.
The opposition has said the bill deals with issues like public order, police and public services of the states.
The bill proposes that the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) can directly intervene in a riot-affected area.
The eariler version of the bill said the Centre would create a separate body for this.
However, as per this bill, the NHRC will require the state government's nod for it.
It also expects the NHRC to monitor performance of civil servants in preventing and controlling riots.
BJP leader Ravishankar Prasad said the government was trying to bring the communal violence bill in a hurry.
"They were bypassing the whole constitutional scheme to bring this bill, and it was deferred only because the government was afraid of losing the vote," Prasad said.
This came as a major embarrassment for the government, which has given huge emphasis to the bill, with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and United Progressive Alliance chief Sonia Gandhi promising on several occasions that they will pass the bill.
Sonia Gandhi, in a recent function, had promised passing of the bill in this session.
This bill also seeks to penalise district officials of a riot-hit area for dereliction of duty. It also seeks to establish a uniform standard of compensation and rehabilitation.
(Posted on 05-02-2014)