The Opposition accused it of going against the spirit of federalism and encroaching upon States’ rights

The UPA government faced a major embarrassment on the first day of the extended winter session of Parliament on Wednesday as a united Opposition forced the government to defer the Communal Violence Bill in the Rajya Sabha.

As the Opposition parties, including the BJP, Samajwadi Party, CPI(M), AIADMK and DMK, stepped up their attack on the government, accusing it of going against the spirit of federalism and encroaching upon States’ rights, Deputy Chairman P.J. Kurien deferred the Prevention of Communal Violence (Access to Justice and Reparations) Bill, 2014, in view of the “mood of the House.”

The Bill was to replace the Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims) Bill, 2005, withdrawn by Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde.

Earlier, the House had a brief debate on whether Parliament had the jurisdiction to enact such a Bill that violates the spirit of federalism. Leader of the Opposition Arun Jaitley and Law Minister Kapil Sibal engaged in heated arguments.

Jurisdiction questioned

Mr. Jaitley said: “The Central government has absolutely no jurisdiction in bringing such a Bill ... This Bill is entirely beyond the legislative competence of Parliament. I am ... convinced that objections raised by Opposition have ... substance.”

Mr. Sibal said the Bill would not violate the federal structure and that any action by the Union government under the Bill would be with the consent of State governments. He attacked the BJP by referring to the 2002 Gujarat riots, and said the Bill was necessary to tackle “state-sponsored communal activity... like it happened in Gujarat.”

“If it is state-sponsored communal activity, then it is not a law-and-order issue ... Like what happened in Gujarat is not a law-and-order issue,” he said.

Sitaram Yechury of the CPI(M) said the Bill could not be introduced as the legislative competence of the Centre was in question. Trinamool Congress’ Derek O’Brien said that “the UPA has butchered the concept of federalism” and accused the government of encroaching upon the rights of States. V. Maitreyan of the AIADMK said as law and order was a state subject.

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