The Punjab Assembly on Tuesday unanimously passed a Bill which proposes life imprisonment for the desecration of Guru Granth Sahib, Gita, Quran and Bible in Punjab even as Shiromani Akali Dal sought to record its observation that there should be “differentiation” between Guru Granth Sahib and other holy scriptures since holy scripture of Sikhs is considered as “living Guru”.
On March 21, 2016, the then SAD-BJP government had passed The Indian Penal Code (Punjab Amendment) Bill, 2016, and The Code of Criminal Procedure (Punjab Amendment) Bill, 2016, recommending life sentence for desecration of Guru Granth Sahib by inserting section 295 AA in the IPC and enhancement of punishment under section 295 IPC (Injuring or defiling place of worship with intent to insult the religion of any class) from two to ten years of imprisonment.
The Punjab Assembly on Tuesday withdrew the 2016 Bill, returned by the Centre last year, and passed the new Bill proposing life imprisonment for desecration of religious scriptures of all the four religions. The new Bill retains the earlier amendment proposed in 2016 Bill pertaining to section 295 of IPC where enhancement of punishment was proposed from two to ten years in jail.
After Punjab Governor gave its assent to 2016 Bill, the Bill was sent to union government for its nod. The Indian Express was first to report on April 22, 2017, that the Centre had returned the Bill saying all religions needed to be treated equally as per the secular nature of the Constitution and that it could not single out religion to propose life imprisonment for defiling Guru Granth Sahib. The Centre had asked the Punjab government to either withdraw the Bill or include all religions in the proposed amendment if it wanted the Bill to be looked at afresh. The Union Home ministry had sent the Bill back on March 16, 2017, the day Amarinder Singh was sworn as new Chief Minister of Punjab after Congress won 2017 Assembly elections.
On July 5 this year, The Indian Express had first reported about the Punjab government preparing a new draft of the Amendment bill which along with Guru Granth Sahib, also proposed life imprisonment for the sacrilege of holy scriptures Gita, Quran and Bible.
During the discussion on the Bill on Tuesday, SAD MLA Gurpartap Singh Wadala said his party supported the Bill proposing life imprisonment for desecration of all the four holy scriptures, but demanded that since even “Supreme Court recognised Guru Granth Sahib as living Guru, it should be differentiated from other religious scriptures.”
While saying that SAD respects all holy scriptures, SAD legislator Bikram Singh Majithia too seconded Wadala saying that when the Amendment Bill seeking life imprisonment for desecration of Guru Granth Sahib was passed in 2016 during SAD-BJP regime, all legislators including of Congress and Independents were unanimous.
To this, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh said that though the 2016 Bill was passed by Assembly and even Governor had given his assent, the Bill was returned by the Centre. Amarinder read out in the Assembly the observation by Centre while returning the Bill.
“Since India is a secular country and it has no specific religions… So it may not be judicious to insert section 295 AA for any particular religious community. It may be mentioned that while examining the Bill, the government of India has also taken opinion of Mr Mukul Rohtagi, the then Attorney General of India,” Amarinder Singh read out.
The CM further read out that Rohtagi had observed “In my view the proposed insertion of section 295 AA will be contrary to the Constitution. Secularism is the basic feature of the Constitution. This has been held in S R Bommai case 1994. There is no State religion in India. The Indian State has not recognised any particular religion. People residing in India are entitled to profess any religion The proposed section 295 AA will be promoting/partial to only one religion. The same will offend the basic feature of the Constitution. Similarly the proposed punishment of ten years is proposed under section 295. The same is excessive. In my view, the President of India may not give assent to it.”
Wadala insisted that Guru Granth Sahib be distinguished from other holy scriptures as there was “nothing more secular than Guru Granth Sahib”.
As the new Bill was passed, Majithia said the demand of Wadala should be recorded while passing the Bill.
There was a verbal spat between Majithia and Congress legislator Charanjit Singh Channi after Channi said SAD was part of the central government which returned the 2016 Bill.