Punjab government withdraws bill proposing life term for sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib
The Punjab government has withdrawn the bill that proposed life sentence for the sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib.
It withdrew the bill in May 2018, more than a year after it was returned by the Centre. The Union ministry of home affairs (MHA) had sent back the bill on March 16, 2017, saying that the proposed amendments would violate the principle of secularism enshrined in the Constitution of India. Punjab’s advocate general Atul Nanda had also concurred with the view.
The Punjab assembly had on March 21, 2016, passed the Indian Penal Code (Punjab Amendment) Bill to insert Section 295A proposing life imprisonment for sacrilege of the Guru Granth Sahib and amend Section 295 to enhance punishment from two years to 10 years for injuring or defiling place of worship with intent to insult the religion of any class.
Another related bill was passed to amend the first schedule of the Code of Criminal Procedure 1973. The previous SAD-BJP government had brought the amendments following a series of incidents of desecration of the holy book in different parts of the state.
The governor gave his assent to the two bills on April 28, 2016.
Later, the bills were sent to the Centre for Presidential assent as they involved amendment to Central Acts. However, the home ministry refused to forward the Indian Penal Code (Punjab Amendment) Bill to the President and returned the same to the Punjab government following legal opinion that the proposed bills would violate the principles of secularism and the sentence (life imprisonment) prescribed was “excessive in law”.
Nanda, in his legal advice on May 12, 2017, said the state government may move a proposal for amendment of Section 295 with an increase in the term of imprisonment from two to 10 years which has already been accepted by the Government of India.
“The proposed Section 295AA may be dropped given that a sacred book such as the Guru Granth Sahibji already stands covered under Section 295 or alternatively an amendment may be proposed for 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,” he opined.
There are indications that the state government may opt for a 10-year sentence for sacrilege. However, home department officials refused to comment on the matter.
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