A day after the Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill, 2021, commonly known as the anti-conversion Bill, was tabled in the Karnataka Legislative Assembly, media persons were briefly stopped from entering Suvarna Soudha Wednesday before the scheduled debate on the Bill.
In the morning, when media personnel reached the Assembly, the Marshals, who did not cite an exact reason, said directions had come from the Speaker’s office to stop media persons from entering the House. However, Speaker Vishweshwar Hegde Kageri said that he was not aware of it.
Former Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy condemned the media restrictions by the BJP-ruled Karnataka government and said it is an attempt to break a leg of the Constitution. In a tweet, Kumaraswamy said, “they(BJP) who are saying that they will change the Constitution have now broken a pillar of our Constitution by not allowing the fourth pillar of our democracy which is the media.”
“The Speaker says he doesn’t know about the media ban, but how come the media was sent a message not to attend the assembly, this is lapses of the speaker office,” Kumaraswamy further said.
Meanwhile, media persons staged a protest against the move. A message which was circulated that the media was barred from entering also went viral at the same time. Kageri came to the place where the protest was being staged and said he was not aware and no such order was issued by his office.
Although media personnel were allowed to enter the Assembly after Kageri met them, the debate on the Bill was postponed to Thursday morning.
Congress legislative party leader Siddaramaiah told the House that issues pertaining to north Karnataka must get priority and the proposed Bill can be discussed on other days. He also demanded the Speaker to extend the session by a few more days when the Bill can be discussed.
However, Karnataka Minister of Law, Parliamentary Affairs and Legislation and Minor Irrigation J C Madhuswamy told the Speaker that he needs time to place the Bill before the council if it gets cleared by the Assembly.
Eventually, the Speaker, after a brief discussion, said the question and answer hour in the morning will be postponed to the evening and the Bill will be debated in the first half of Thursday.
Meanwhile, sources in BJP said it is unlikely that the Bill will be placed before the council even if it gets approved in the Assembly as the saffron party lacks a majority. As of now, the House is split between BJP with 32 MLC seats, Congress with 29, JD(S) with 12 and an Independent candidate.
“If JD(S) opposes the Bill in the council, it will be a setback and they might table it in the next year’s joint session,” said a source in BJP.