The government appears to have handed the Opposition an issue with which to beat it on a silver platter. The draft Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence (Access to Justice and Regulations) Bill 2011 appears to have re-energised the BJP which has torn it to shreds.
There is little doubt that the draft leaves itself wide open to criticism.
While the idea of a separate Bill to deal with communal violence is welcome, the fact that it makes provisions for punishment only for communal violence against the minority communities is its biggest flaw.
Surely if communal violence were visited on members of the majority community, the law cannot ignore this fact. This could mean that subversive elements in the minority community could indulge in communal violence without any fear of the law.
The ‘group’ which encompasses the religious or linguistic communities which may be subject to communal violence could also include SC/STs, says the draft Bill. This means that offences against SC/STs could come under the draft Bill and also the existing SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989.
Now this creates a great deal of confusion. The most disturbing aspect of this Bill is the underlying presumption that it is only the majority community which will cause communal violence. The law cannot distinguish among wrongdoers on the basis of religion, ethnicity, language or gender to name a few distinctions.
The Bill is to be implemented, when and if it comes into force, by a seven-member national authority of which at least four members must be from a minority community. This certainly goes against the principle of the best man or woman for the post.
This is bound to raise the hackles of those who believe in the law being a level-playing field. To have rushed to make public an ill-thought-out document will serve to politicise it as can be seen from the opening salvos fired by the BJP.
Communal violence is far too serious an issue to become a political football. The National Advisory Council, vested as it is with enormous power and resources, should have done its homework better and ironed out the glitches in the Bill before making it public. Granted, it is only a draft Bill and can be modified.
But given the sensitivities on communal issues, there is every chance that the Bill will become the victim of differences among political parties, and indeed the public at large. It would not hurt for the Bill to be withdrawn and redrafted after more broad-based consultations.
This way, it will not be dead in the water even before it gets past the drawing-board.