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Don’t rush through Communal Violence Bill, Naveen tells PM

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OST Bureau
Bhubaneswar, Dec 7:

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Opposing the move of the Union government to introduce the “Prevention of Communal Violence (Access to Justice and Reparations) Bill,” 2013 in the ongoing winter session of Parliament, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik today urged the Centre not to move the proposed Bill hastily and go for a wider consultations with the states since it was a matter of grave national importance and may infringe on the autonomy of states.
In a letter to the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Patnaik also said such a serious matter of national importance like communal violence should not be a subject of political marketing, particularly when elections are round the corner.
“I would strongly urge upon you not to move the proposed Bill in the winter session of the Parliament. At best, the issue should be opened for wider debate and consultations instead of pushing a hastily incubated Bill on such a matter of grave national importance” said the Chief Minister in a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
In his letter addressed to the Union Home Minister in December 2011, the chief minister had also expressed concern over the proposed “Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence Bill, 2011, which has now been modified with certain changes.
Stating that though the new draft bill contains some modifications, he said most of the concerns conveyed earlier have still not been addressed.
“Barring cosmetic changes, changes of nomenclature and re-numbering of provisions, the import of the earlier Bill still remains substantially the same in the present draft Bill. Clause 3(f) which defines “hostile environment” includes in Sub-section (v) “any other act, whether or not it amounts to an offence under this Act, that has the purpose or effect of creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive environment’, which will leave the definition of crime, is wide open to liberal interpretation and misuse,” he said adding that similar is the situation with Section-6 regarding “hate propaganda” and the proviso is perfunctory.
“Communal situations as such, are sensitive and stressful for field officers. If officers carry the psychological burden of impending criminal liability, they are more liable to make mistakes or to abandon responsibility instead of fully committing themselves to resolve the situation,” said the chief minister.
He also opposed the provision of mandatory judicial inquiry in all communal disturbances, which he termed, as highly unjustified. “It should be left to the wisdom of the state government to assess the need for judicial inquiry depending upon the scale and magnitude of the communal disturbance,” said Patnaik.
Further, there is a dichotomy in Sec l0 (b) and Sec.11, the chief minister pointed out. Under Section 10(b), disobedience of the command of the superior officer is an offence, whereas the legality of the command of a superior officer is in question in Sec.11. The constitution of a competent authority u/s 13, if it happens to be different from the District Magistrate, will create confusion in the chain of command during actual ground situations.
As the role envisaged for the National and state authorities in the earlier draft Bill has now simply been transferred to NHRC and SHRC, he said, “The NHRC and SHRC can suo motu act under the existing powers wherever they deem necessary or are approached by the aggrieved citizens. Therefore, making it incumbent upon these Commissions to put in process their powers in every case of communal disturbance, has no logic. Secondly, giving powers to the National and State Human Rights Commissions to override or supervise the constitutional authority of the elected state governments is in direct conflict with the basic tenets of democracy. Hence, their role as envisaged in the draft Bill is not acceptable.”
Patnaik also said that an impression is being conveyed that the Centre is more concerned about the communal disturbances and law and order in the states, as compared to the states themselves. Obviously this view will not be subscribed to.
“In my view, the response to inadequacy in handling a particular incident should not be the creation of new laws; rather we should focus on strengthening the capacity of existing ground level institutions. Secondly, such a serious matter of national importance like communal violence should not be a subject of political marketing, particularly when elections are round the corner,” said the chief minister.
It is to be noted that the chief minister had conveyed his strong objections regarding encroachment of state’s autonomy as law and order is a state subject, loosely worded definition of offences, provisions liable for misuse to harass government officials, constitution of new over-riding authorities with directorial powers, besides others.