The state cabinet on Tuesday gave its nod to the Maharashtra Prohibition of Social Boycott Act — one of the first legislations in the country that aims to put an end to practices of social boycott and excommunication.
The draft bill by the state home department will now be tabled in the upcoming budget session of the state legislature, a year after the BJP-led government’s assurance on the floor of the state assembly. Those found guilty of imposing such a boycott can face imprisonment of up to three years with a maximum penalty of Rs1 lakh. The offence is bailable.
In a first-of-its-kind initiative, the draft bill has also proposed the case against the accused can be compounded if the victim is agreeable and on the condition that the accused agrees to do community service. The kind of community service has been left to the discretion of the magistrate concerned.
The final legislation cleared by the cabinet, however, is a diluted version of the earlier draft that sought imprisonment of up to seven years and a maximum penalty of Rs5 lakh.
The law was promised by chief minister Devendra Fadnavis during the budget session of the state legislature last year, following a debate initiated by the Opposition on growing incidents of such practices, largely in cases of inter-caste marriages and personal relationships. Typically, extra judicial bodies such as caste panchayats or ‘gavkais’ or community and religious heads order such boycott dictats. Last year, around 60 such cases (conservative figure) had been reported in the state.
“We feel the law should have be made non-bailable as that means bail is granted under court supervision and those committing the offence will be more accountable. Also, we felt a stricter punishment was needed along with a penalty. Making it a bailable offence takes the sting out of the law, but on the whole we are happy the government deliberated with us and has prepared a legislation to tackle a menace that is far spread,’’ said advocate Asim Sarode. Sarode and his wife Rama first highlighted the need for such a law following a case they represented from Harihareshwar, Raigad. This had led to the court in Raigad to ask the government to forumulate guidelines.
While the draft law has not abolished caste panchayats or such groups, it has prohibited the assembly of any such groups with the intention of imposing a boycott. The law covers all religions, castes and communities in the state.