Anti-bandh legislation also proposes penalty, jail for government staff who refrain from work

A draft legislation aimed at controlling and regulating bandhs in Assam seeks to “control the press and publications” apart from various other legal measures. The draft says that any private declaration of bandh in the State of Assam will be wholly unconstitutional, illegal and void, the perpetrators thereof being liable to punishment under the appropriate provisions of this Act.

A Task Force that was set up by the State government, stated in its report that during 2012, as many as 52 Statewide bandhs were called by different organisations that “disrupted all the routine educational, economic, industrial and socio-economic activities of the people on all fronts to the detriment of the government and the people of Assam, particularly the students.” As recommended by the Task Force, the State government constituted a committee headed by Justice (retired) K.N. Saikia to draft the legislation.

The draft for the legislation — ‘The Assam Prevention of Unconstitutional Bandh Act, 2013’ — says the State government may, by order in writing, prohibit either absolutely or for a specified period, the bringing into, or sale or distribution or circulation within the State of any newspaper, periodical, book, leaflet or other document specified in the order, if it is satisfied that such action is necessary for preventing unconstitutional bandh and/or any activity which undermines the security of or tends to overthrow the State or any part of it. The draft states that any unauthorised, private, oral, print or electronic media publicity to, and/or observation of bandh will be unconstitutional and illegal.

The Political (A) Department, government of Assam, on Saturday issued a public notice stating that the drafting committee had put the draft legislation on the State government website and sought views of various stakeholders within 15 days.

Clampdown

A sub-clause in the draft says that the State government may, by order in writing addressed to any printer, publisher or editor of generally to all printers, publishers or editors or to such class of printers, publishers or editors as may be specified therein, prohibit either absolutely or for a specified period the printing or publication of any matter relating to a particular subject or class of subject in any particular issue or issue of a newspaper, or periodical or in any book or in any other document whatsoever.

The draft legislation states: “No private person or authority may give any valid bandh call for the State of Assam or any part thereof, in violation of the State holiday list and doing so will be punishable with simple imprisonment for two years or with fine or reimbursement not exceeding Rs. 10,000/- (ten thousand) a day. In case of default, he/ she may have to undergo a further imprisonment for two years. All those government servants who refrain from their routine work in response to such illegitimate bandh calls may also be liable to be punished with simple imprisonment of two years or with fine or reimbursement not exceeding Rs.10,000/- (ten thousand) a day and may also be deprived of their daily remuneration/wages.” In case of default, a further two-year imprisonment is proposed.

Collective fine

It has also proposed imposition of collective fine by notification in the official Gazette “if it appears to the State government that the inhabitants of any area are abetting an unconstitutional bandh prejudicially affecting the public functioning or the maintenance of public order, or the maintenance of supplies or services essential to the life of the community, or are harbouring persons concerned in the commission of such offences or are suppressing material evidence of the commission of such offences,”