The Criminal Laws (Rajasthan Amendment) Bill, brought in by the Vasundhara Raje government in Rajasthan, carries echoes of the draconian Defamation Bill which then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi tried to enact and was forced to abandon in 1988. Consider the objectives stated in Rajiv Gandhi’s Bill: “It is proposed to make publication of imputations falsely alleging commission of offences by any person as an offence. Those who make such imputations often have no intention of pursuing the matter any further with the appropriate authorities. Their only intention appears to be to bring a person’s reputation in to question. It is considered necessary to check this tendency so that freedom of speech, which is the very essence of democracy, does not degenerate in to mere licence….”
The Rajasthan Bill has, ostensibly, a similar purpose.
Its statement of Objects and Reasons says: “Public Servants are entrusted with important task of policy formulation and decision-making on matters of vital national interests. Such duties require a conducive and supportive environment, where they can operate in hassle free conditions. This is why they are given special protection under the Code of Criminal Procedure 1973, to insulate their working from every day allegations, many of which might be driven by vested interest, creating a fear psychosis and ultimately leading to indecision and policy paralysis. Thus, the need of the hour is to fill in the existing gap, so as to retain protection for honest official while making corrupt realize that no one is above law…These amendments will provide protection to the public servants from scurrilous and non-substantiable charges and also protect honest public servants from inquiries and processes of court and police as previous sanction has been made mandatory.
“The main issue is that false and fictitious cases are being brought before the police or judiciary with the intention of maligning, bringing avoidable and unnecessary disrepute or settling scores with an unrelenting public officer,” the Bill states. “This position needs to be remedied and for this purpose publication of name, address, photograph, family details, or any other particulars which may lead to disclosure of identity of a Judge or Magistrate or a public servant against whom any proceeding is pending has been prohibited until the prosecution sanction is issued.”
Chapter III of Raje’s Bill stipulates that the guilty “shall be punished with imprisonment …for a term which may extend to two years and shall also be liable to fine”. Rajiv Gandhi’s Bill also stipulated a two-year prison term — and for a subsequent offence, it said the term could go up to five years.
Rajiv Gandhi’s Bill, incidentally, offered some safeguards against misuse of the legislation. It said that in case anybody made a false allegation, he could be sentenced to jail for at least one month, extendable to one year for a first-time offence, and up to two years, for a second-time offender. The sweep of the 1988 bill of Rajiv Gandhi, however, was wider than Raje’s Bill. It brought within its ambit even a deceased person if the imputation would harm his reputation “and is intended to be hurtful to the feelings of his family or other near relatives”.