Sacrilege row | Bring all religious scriptures under law or drop life sentence: AG to Punjab govt
The Punjab govt had sought advocate general Atul Nanda ’s opinion after IPC amendment Bill, passed by Punjab, was returned by Centre in March, stating that amendment for one religion could fail judicial scrutinypunjab Updated: May 16, 2017 09:47 IST
The Capt Amarinder Singh-led Congress government has been advised by its advocate general to go ahead with the proposed amendment to Section 295 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) to increase the term of imprisonment in cases of religious sacrilege.
Advocate general Atul Nanda has also suggested either dropping of the proposed insertion of a new section (295AA) that prescribes life imprisonment for sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib or making it more inclusive to cover all religious scriptures to uphold the secular ethos ingrained in the Constitution.
The state government had sought the legal opinion of advocate general after the Indian Penal Code (Punjab Amendment) Bill, 2016 was returned by the Centre in March this year, stating that amendment for one religion was not possible and it could fail judicial scrutiny. The bill proposed life imprisonment for sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib (by adding Section 295-AA) and enhancement of punishment (under Section 295 of the IPC) from two to ten years for injuring or defiling a place of worship.
In his advice to the state government, the advocate general has concluded: “As far as proposed Section 295AA is concerned, such amendment may be dropped given that a sacred book such as the Guru Granth Sahib already stands covered under Section 295 or, alternatively, an amendment may be proposed (that) would include all/any religious books which would then be in consonance with the principles of secularism and would not be in violation with Article 14 of the Constitution of India”.
BILL PASSED UNDER BADAL REGIME
The amendment to Section 295 and insertion of the new section were proposed by the previous Parkash Singh Badal-led Akali government. The bill, which was passed by the Punjab assembly in March 2016, got the state governor’s assent in April 2016. It was then sent for the Centre’s nod.
To become a law, the bill required presidential assent, since it was in conflict with the central legislation (295-A) that prescribes three-year imprisonment for deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage the feelings of any class by insulting its religion and religious beliefs.
The Centre had subsequently held no objection to amendment in Section 295 but refused to forward the bill in question for the assent of the President on the ground that the “proposed amendments would violate the principle of secularism enshrined in the Constitution of India, would prescribe a sentence which was excessive in law and was also unnecessary as the objective sought to be achieved by state government was already taken care of by the existing provision of law contained in Section 295, IPC.”
The advocate general has noted that the provision of the proposed Section 295AA “is restricted only to an offence of injury, damage or sacrilege to the Guru Granth Sahib which is the religious book of the Sikh community.” No other religious book or religion has been included, he pointed out.
The advocate general has also referred to the Constitutional tenets which imbue the State with a secular character and ethos, saying secularism is a constitutional goal and a basic feature of the Constitution, and “any step inconsistent with this constitutional policy is, in plain words, unconstitutional.”