The Bill places an “unreasonable burden” on public servants

Describing the proposed Prevention of Communal Violence (Access to Justice and Reparations) Bill as one that seeks to trample upon the authority of States, Chief Minister Jayalalithaa on Monday reiterated her opposition to the legislation and called upon Prime Minister Manmohan Singh not to move the Bill in the ensuing winter session of Parliament.

In her letter to Dr. Singh, the Chief Minister referring to the Centre’s reported move to introduce the Bill in Parliament said that with barely five months left for the term of the present Lok Sabha to end, “any hasty attempt to bring in such legislation without wide consultation amongst all political parties and stakeholders would be a completely undemocratic move.”

Recalling her previous objection to the earlier draft Bill in July 2011 and reiteration of her position at the 16 meeting of the National Integration Council in September 2013, she said the modifications made in the revised Draft Bill were “cosmetic at best” and “many of the serious issues with the earlier Draft Bill still remain.”

Expressing her apprehension that definitions of certain terms such as “hate propaganda” were prone to subjective interpretation and consequential misuse, the Chief Minister said some clauses of the proposed Bill placed an “unreasonable burden” on public servants and placed them at “grave risk of partisan and politically motivated victimisation.”

Ms. Jayalalithaa pointed out that “dereliction of duty (Clause 10A) and breach of command responsibility (Clauses 10B and 10C) need to be dealt with as administrative and disciplinary matters. Making them criminal offences will jeopardise the morale of public servants.” She added that communal violence was “a much more complex issue” and should not be reduced to a “simplistic prescription of penalising public servants.”

On conferring powers and functions on the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and the State Human Rights Commissions (SHRC), which were originally envisaged for the national and State-level authorities for communal harmony, justice and reparation, she pointed out that even under SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and Rules, powers were vested in the State governments and not in an external body in the matter of relief and rehabilitation.

“Law and Order is a State subject under the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution and any attempt to interfere with the State government’s power is totally unacceptable.”

Responsibilities and powers of the NHRC, SHRCs and similar bodies should be confined to policy issues and not to day-to-day monitoring of “build up of offences” or hate propaganda.

Adverting to renewed calls from certain quarters to enact the proposed law in the wake of recent incidents of communal violence in some parts of the country (not in Tamil Nadu), Ms. Jayalalithaa said, however, the Bill as drafted suffered from “too many lacunae.”

It would, therefore, be “extremely unwise” to pose the Bill as “a one-size fits allsolution” to a complex problem that required “sensitive cooperation” between the Centre and States.

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