When it comes to framing laws, we Indians are non-pareil. It is almost as if we believe that the passing of a law is tantamount to solving the problem it is meant to tackle. Now this trend has come under fire from former Chief Justice JS Verma, Justice BN Srikrishna and the National Commission for Minorities chairman Wajahat Habibullah who feel that rather than make new laws, efforts should be made to plug the lacunae in the existing ones. All three were referring to the draft Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence Bill put forward by the National Advisory Council that has come under fire from several quarters, not the least of which is the BJP. The bill leaves too many crucial issues up in the air, all of which could be misinterpreted and misused by vested interests. Justice Srikrishna who presided over the probe into the 1992-93 Mumbai riots is right when he says that what is required perhaps is amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code and not a separate Act altogether. The proposed bill seems to lack the provision for rapid response in the eventuality of a communal riot, rather it waffles on about the creation of a machinery to look into the matter. Then, of course, there is the tricky minefield of weightage to minorities in a country where all are meant to be equal under the law.
The communal violence bill is the latest in the line of bills which, though flawed, have been pushed through, with no thought to their implementation. That our penchant to frame bills is in inverse proportion to our willingness to act on them is unquestionable. This explains why though we have the largest number of anti-child labour laws in the world, we have the largest number of child workers in the world. There is no doubt that certain laws have to be framed to safeguard the rights of those who fall through the cracks of the legal system. But despite stringent anti-dowry laws and domestic violence laws, the conviction rate of those accused of crimes against women are minuscule.
It is not in the severity of the law but in the certainty of punishment that the legal system becomes effective. Communal violence is far too serious an issue to be made into a political hot potato. The legal minds who have been critical of the bill have based their arguments on logic and legality. Their suggestions should be taken into account before the bill is pushed any further. Otherwise, all we will do is make an already opaque legal system that much more complicated and cluttered.