Bill to crack down on communal violence languished in Parliament for 9 years
A bill to tackle communal violence, the Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims) Bill, languished in Parliament for nine years between 2005 and 2014 before it was withdrawn by the United Progressive Alliance government which wanted a stronger law.
The Union Cabinet did approve one, but the bill, the Prevention of Communal Violence (Access to Justice and Reparations) Bill, 2004, never came to the House for paucity of time. Then the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) was voted out.
There’s been no talk of the law since, either by the new National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, or the UPA, which is in Opposition — something that is significant in light of recent communal riots in Delhi that claimed at least 47 lives.
The withdrawn bill had provisions on speedy investigation and trials, and even provided for rehabilitation of victims.
On Tuesday, both Houses of Parliament faced protests and repeated disruptions, for the second consecutive day, over the recent riots in Delhi.
The Congress, which is in the forefront of the attack against the ruling dispensation over the riots, has demanded home minister Amit Shah’s resignation.
The Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims) Bill was introduced in the Rajya Sabha on December 5, 2005, by then home minister Shivraj Patil. It was reviewed by the standing committee on home affairs (then led by Sushma Swaraj), which gave its report in 2006. But the party failed to push for the passage of the bill during the tenure of its two successive governments — despite the law being one of Congress’ s poll promises in 2009 and 2004.
On February 5, 2014, replying to a question in the Upper House, then minister of state for home affairs RPN Singh stated, “The notices were given for consideration and passing of the Bill in the Rajya Sabha on several occasions, last being in February, 2010. However, the bill was not taken up for consideration on these occasions.”
Singh added: “Subsequently, a new bill titled ‘The Prevention of Communal Violence (Access to Justice and Repatriations) Bill, 2014, has been prepared and the same has been approved by the Cabinet. Notices have been given for introduction of said Bill and withdrawal of The Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims) Bill, 2005.”
The alternative bill was drafted after the Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council prepared a draft legislation to tackle communal violence in 2011. The BJP, then the principal opposition party, criticised the government for doing this after the first bill was reviewed by the standing committee.
Chaksu Ray of PRS Legislative Research said: “The old bill was withdrawn but the then government couldn’t introduce the new bill in the Rajya Sabha.”
The Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims) Bill not only gave a wider definition to communal violence, but also aimed for speedy investigation, trials, even provided for rehabilitation of victims. It empowered state governments to declare an area as “communally disturbed” . The bill also provided for stringent punishment and also made officials accountable for such instances. The law also paved the way for setting up a “Communal Disturbance Relief and Rehabilitation Fund” in every state.
The standing committee on home affairs, led by late BJP leader Sushma Swaraj, agreed with the need for the law but proposed many changes. It expanded the bill’s scope to include situations where no death may have occurred, but where many people are grievously hurt. It also suggested that the power to search, detain and seize arms, etc, in communally disturbed areas should be exercised by an officer not below the rank of Inspector of Police.
Senior Congress leader Abhishek Singhvi said such a bill was desperately needed. “The Congress government had proposed a bill to tackle communal violence even when times were much calmer and blatant state abuse of the kind we see today was out of question. Imagine how much desperately we need this kind of statutory structure now when the government is relentlessly trying to polarise and divide India. The Congress party is certainly not against constructive amendments to any such law, but nobody in the right frame of mind can question the necessity of a dedicated law to tackle communal violence.”
BJP parliamentarian Bhupender Yadav hit back at the Congress, saying the opposition party “follows the policy of communal politics”. He also said the BJP believes in following the rule of law and in peace, unity and harmony. “The riots in Delhi were controlled within 40 hours, taking all agencies on board,” he added.