The draft Communal Violence Bill, prepared by a Working Group (WG) of the Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council (NAC), goes beyond existing legislation in four significant ways: it recognises identity-based or targeted crimes and organised mass violence as special offences, while placing accountability of public officials at the heart of the law, with varying penalties for dereliction of duty. Finally, it provides for the creation of a National Authority and State authorities to ensure both accountability of public officials as well as to ensure justice and reparation once in the wake of violence.

After months of discussions amongst civil society groups, and with government representatives, the NAC has placed the draft Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence (Access to Justice and Repatriation) Bill, 2011 on its website on Friday for public comment. Simultaneously, it has been sent to the Union Ministries of Home Affairs and Law and Justice for their comments.

The NAC's WG draft Bill seeks to address the lacunae in the government's draft bill, while taking on board criticism from government officials that the NAC — and the civil society groups it represents — were encroaching on government turf, trying to disempower the existing administrative and justice mechanisms.

The Bill therefore stresses that the proposed National Authority/ State authorities are not intended to supersede the existing law enforcement machinery; neither will their advisories and recommendations be binding on any state government. What they will do is to monitor, inquire into complaints, receive orsuo motuseek information, and issue advisories and recommendations only when there is alleged inaction ormalafideaction by public officials and governments. The object is to create a mechanism to make the administrative and criminal justice system work, free from favour or bias ormalafideintent, and prepare a ‘paper trail' to ensure accountability of public officials in a court of law.

The NAC's WG wants the new law to cover religious and linguistic minorities as well as Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and, if possible, extend it to Jammu and Kashmir, so that its protection may extend to Kashmiri Pandits, a religious minority in that State.

Regional minorities such as migrants from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in Maharashtra will also be covered as linguistic minorities.

The draft bill specifically defines acts that could create an intimidating or hostile environment against members of groups , including economic boycott, denial of public services, and forced migration.

It, therefore, mandates that public servants must identify the creation of such a ‘hostile environment' and prevent any communal and targeted violence against such members of groups.