A united opposition Wednesday prevented the government from introducing the prevention of communal violence Bill in the Rajya Sabha after Leader of the Opposition Arun Jaitley questioned the competency of the House to legislate a law that may impinge on the spirit of federalism.
Jaitley argued that there was a “lack of legislative competence to enact the Bill”. He questioned how this Bill could have a Chapter V on ‘Public Order’ when it was essentially a state subject and said “now these powers of state are being encroached upon through this Bill”.
The AIADMK, DMK, CPM and Trinamool Congress joined the BJP in opposing the Bill on the same grounds. Although Law Minister Kapil Sibal sought to clarify that the government was careful to ensure that the Bill did not violate the spirit of federal structure in any way, the opposition was not convinced. Deputy Chairman P J Kurien decided to defer the Bill “seeing the mood of the House”.
Sibal assured that the Bill contained “no provisions direct or indirect that interferes with state governments” and said that its focus was to ensure that help and compensation reached the victims. He said only the National Human Rights Commission would be able to investigate a particular incident if and when the state government gives its concurrence.
Raising the Gujarat riots issue, Sibal said even that kind of situation would require the state government’s consent. “If a state itself is indulging… 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… If the state is perpetrator of violence and gives consent for an investigation by NHRC only then can it be investigated,” Sibal said, sparking an uproar from the BJP benches.
AIADMK’s V Maitreyan said his party opposed the Bill as it “tramples upon the authority of states”. Trinamool Congress’s Derek ’O Brien accused the government of having “butchered federalism” repeatedly. DMK also expressed its opposition to the provisions of the Bill, saying the Centre had no power to legislate it as it encroached the rights of the state. Samajwadi Party’s Naresh Agarwal also registered his opposition.
In his blog, Jaitley later said, “The Bill as proposed creates a new category of offences. It deals with declaration and notification of areas which are disturbed areas… It has a chapter dealing with maintenance of public order….”
“All these matters are exclusively within the domain of the state executive. Almost all opposition parties supported the view taken by the BJP. The Bill has therefore rightly been deferred at the introduction stage itself.”