The government’s final version of the communal violence law empowers the Centre to take charge of an area where riots have broken out once it sends in central forces, if it finds the state government concerned reluctant to act against the rioters.
The new law still does not allow the Centre to send armed forces on its own to a riot-hit spot. But once a state has asked for central forces to quell violence, the Centre will have the right — under certain circumstances — of setting up a unified command, comprising these forces and the local police.
The amendment was cleared by the Cabinet last December and is expected to come for parliamentary approval next month.
The Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims) Bill, however, says the Centre can declare an area “communally disturbed” and take direct charge only if the state concerned refuses to act against the violence being perpetrated to such an extent that the secular fabric of the country, or internal security, is endangered.
To guard against political misuse, the law stipulates that the Centre must first draw the attention of the state government to the deteriorating state of affairs, and set a deadline for it to take necessary steps to suppress the violence.
Until now, central forces deployed in a state worked under the control of the local district administration. But henceforth, in special circumstances, it will work under the unified command, which will report to the Centre.
The amendment was conceived of in the backdrop of the 2002 Gujarat riots, when it was widely believed the state government had done little to discourage the rioters.
Even so, it is bound to anger state governments who will see it as an encroachment on their powers. Eight of 12 states that responded to a survey by a parliamentary panel had even opposed an earlier, milder version.