Command responsibility must be fixed on decision-makers, says activist

Civil society activists on Friday launched a campaign seeking immediate tabling of the Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence (Access to Justice and Reparations) Bill, 2011, in Parliament. It was led by actor Rahul Bose, Teesta Setalvad, Dolphy D’Souza and advocate Yusuf Muchhala, among others.

Activists from the Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) have already met political parties which are keen on the law.

Justice for All campaign convener Teesta Setalvad told the media that public meetings would be held in Mumbai and Thane to mobilise support for the Bill. In addition, political support is being garnered by the campaigners who met leaders of political parties, including the of the Left who were supportive of the Bill with some suggested changes.

‘Say No to Violence’ and ‘Yes to Justice and Peace’ are the slogans of this campaign that was launched at a regional and national level.

Mr. Muchhala pointed out the urgent need for the law which had provisions to ensure the fixing of command responsibility on the decisionmakers.

Giving the example of the former city Joint Commissioner of Police R.D. Tyagi, who was discharged by courts in the case of Suleman Usman bakery firing in the 1992-93 riots, in which nine persons were killed, Mr. Muchhala pointed out that the officer stated he was standing outside on the road while his men went inside. “We want the principle of command responsibility to be established so that senior officers cannot give such excuses for actions which are taking place under their leadership.”

Civil society had a major role in debating and highlighting the need for this Bill, which would ensure an end to the culture of impunity, he said. The Bill was drafted by the National Advisory Council (NAC), but instead of the government placing it before the Union Cabinet, it was introduced at a National Integration Council meeting where there was opposition to it and the right-wing criticised it as being anti-majority community.

But the campaign hoped to revive interest in and support for the bill, said Ms. Setalvad.

Last month, during a series of programmes to commemorate the riots of 1992-93, “Bambai ki kahani, Mumbai ki zubani,” speakers at a public meeting who were working for justice for survivors of the anti-Sikh riots of Delhi 1984, and the communal riots of Mumbai (1992-93), Gujarat (2002) and Kandhamals (2008) emphasised the need for such a Bill to end India’s prevailing culture of impunity, according to the CJP.

Given the fierce opposition to such a Bill, it was also pointed out that the only way to bring it back into the public sphere was for civil society groups to launch a nationwide campaign. The campaign now aims at focusing on the need to get the NAC draft bill tabled once it is approved and reworked by government.

Any further discussions on finer points should be done through the Standing Committee of Parliament, which is always the option to get things reworked and changed, the CJP said.

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