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Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Punjab Deputy CM dusts off 2 bills of 2018, writes to Shah, seeking Presidential assent

The minister also said that the state wanted that “the Centre should either reject the Bills or give the assent”.

Written by Kanchan Vasdev , Navjeevan Gopal | Chandigarh |
December 21, 2021 6:43:25 am
Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa on Monday wrote to Union Home Minister Amit Shah asking him to obtain Presidential assent for the two Bills passed by Punjab Vidhan Sabha in 2018 (PTI Photo: Kamal Singh, File)

Amid alleged incidents of sacrilege of holy scriptures of the Sikh community and subsequent lynchings, Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa on Monday wrote to Union Home Minister Amit Shah asking him to obtain Presidential assent for the two Bills passed by Punjab Vidhan Sabha in 2018 which sought to provide imprisonment up to life for whoever causing injury, damage or sacrilege to Guru Granth Sahib, Bhagwad Gita, Quran and Bible with the intention to hurt the religious feelings of the people.

In the letter, Randhawa said the Bills were given assent by the Punjab Governor on September 12, 2018. “However these Bills have been pending for assent of the President of India since October  2018.”
An official in Punjab home department said the state government had taken up the matter with the Centre numerous times, but “there had been no response”.

Randhawa told The Indian Express that “the state has written to the Centre umpteen times about the pending assent to the state’s Bills”. 

He said that “the Ministry of Home, Government of India, had not sent the Bills to the President of India yet for his assent”. 

“The Bills are still lying with the Ministry of Home and keep oscillating between the ministry Writes to Shah and the state. They keep raising objections, one after the other. It has taken over three years. The Department of Home has replied to all the questions being raised by them. We have been arguing that Guru Granth Sahib is considered a live Guru of Sikhs. Then why sacrilege cannot be dealt with like a murder?” he asked. 

He said that “under sections 295 and 295 A, an accused could be bailed out in 15 days. Those who commit sacrilege are not scared of the law when it is not stringent”. 

The minister also said that the state wanted that “the Centre should either reject the Bills or give the assent”. He added, “If they do not want to give an assent, then they should simply say that. What they are doing is only delaying tactics. In case of rejection, we can find an alternative. Now, the criminals are only getting emboldened. These lynchings have taken place only because the people think that the culprits would not be given harsh punishment. They took the law onto their hands.” 

In August 2018, the Punjab Assembly had unanimously passed a Bill which proposed 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”.

Earlier, 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 10 years of imprisonment.

Section 295-A of Indian Penal Code deals with “deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage reli­gious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or reli­gious beliefs” and provides for an imprisonment up to three years and the amendment Bill aimed at inserting another section 295 AA for life imprisonment for the accused of desecration of Guru Granth Sahib.

The Indian Express had reported on April 22, 2017 the Centre had returned the Bills 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 the Congress won 2017 Assembly elections.

Subsequently, the Punjab Assembly where the Congress government was in absolute majority, in August 2018 withdrew the 2016 Bills, returned by the Centre, and passed the new Bill proposing life imprisonment for desecration of religious scriptures of all the four religions. The new Bill retained the earlier amendment proposed in another 2016 Bill pertaining to Section 295 of the IPC where enhancement of punishment was proposed from two to 10 years in jail.

During the discussion on the 2018 Bill SAD MLA Gurpartap Singh Wadala had 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.”

The then chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh had read out observations by the Centre which said, “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 had 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.”

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