Updated: March 26, 2021 10:33:12 pm
The Opposition in Bihar has called a statewide bandh on March 26 to protest, among other things, the “assault on democracy by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar in the state Assembly and the beating up of legislators”, according to RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav.
The Bihar Assembly witnessed bedlam on Tuesday, as it passed the Bihar Special Armed Police Bill, 2021 amid protests by the Opposition inside and outside the House. As some MLAs were marshalled out of the House, they were beaten up by security forces. On Wednesday, the Bill was passed by the Legislative Council, even as the Opposition boycotted the proceedings, demanding an apology from Nitish.
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The mahagathbandhan in Bihar has called the Bill “draconian”, objecting, among others, to its provisions empowering Special Armed Police officers to carry out searches and arrests without warrant, and courts being able to take congnizance of certain offences by the officers only after government sanction.
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The government, on the other hand, has said the Bill is aimed at boosting security, and will have limited scope as it is applicable only to certain specified areas.
Why the Bill was brought in
According to the Bihar government’s press statement on the legislation, it “aims to develop the Bihar Military Police into a well-trained and fully equipped armed police force with multi-domain expertise to cater to the development needs and the larger interest of the state.”
— IPRD Bihar (@IPRD_Bihar) March 25, 2021
At present, the Bihar Military Police is entrusted with the security of the Mahabodhi Temple in Gaya, the Darbhanga airport, and other industrial and commercial establishments. The new Bill renames the Bihar Military Police as the Bihar Special Armed Police, and gives the force more teeth, on the lines of the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), so it can better secure the commercial and industrial assets of the state.
The press statement says the mandate of the force will be the “maintenance of public order, combating extremism, ensuring the better protection and security of specified establishments in such manner as may be notified and perform such other duties, as may be notified.”
The Bihar government also says that over the past decade, the state’s dependence on Central forces has grown, and an organised armed police force of its own will save government expenses and create more jobs for locals.
Reasons for protests
The Bill allows the Special Armed Police officers to carry out searches and arrests without a warrant. This is on par with CISF, which can arrest people, including on suspicion, “without any order from a magistrate and without a warrant”, according to The Central Industrial Security Force Act, 1968.
Tejashwi Yadav, Leader of Opposition in the state Assembly, has tweeted about the Bill, “Draconian Act which will give absolute powers to Police, so that it can act as veritable arm of Nitish’s dictatorial politics, has been passed in police protection by throwing out battered MLAs using Police itself.”
According to the government, the legislation has provisions “to allow for search and arrest without warrant by a Special Armed Police officials engaged in protection of such notified premises. The powers of search and arrest without warrant are already available to the district police (in their jurisdiction) in all states as per provisions of section 41, 165 etc. of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. This Act however gives such powers of search and arrest without warrant to the Special Armed Police Officers only for the purposes of security of notified premises.”
The government statement also adds that provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 relating to searches will apply under the new legislation, ensuring that the “rights of citizens remain fully protected.”
RJD’s Ramgarh MLA Sudharkar Singh, one of the 12 legislators dragged and marshalled out of the Assembly, said, “We also want scrapping of Section 15 that says a court cannot take cognisance if a special armed police officer is involved in a serious case barring some exceptions.”
According to the government, this provision is only about offences under the Act. “The punishable offences under this Act relate to internal acts of gross indiscipline, insubordination etc. Accordingly, the Act provides that in case a Special Armed Police officer commits any offence under this Act, the court shall take cognizance of the offence only on receipt of a report and with the previous sanction of an officer authorized by the government. However if any State Armed Police Officer commits an offence under any other law such as IPC etc, there is no protection for him under this Act and action shall be taken against him as per law,” the government statement says.
Jitendra Kumar Rai, RJD’s Marhaura MLA, told the indianexpress.com the Bill should have specified in which areas it would be applicable. “The government says the Bill is applicable only to certain areas. But it has not specified which areas, nor has it said on what basis would these locations be notified. For a Bill with such strict provisions, the areas that will be affected are entirely left to the government’s discretion, creating the scope for misuse and targeting of those who protest against the government. Also, I was in the Assembly the day the Bill was passed. The government made no efforts for outreach or discussion – instead, it called in the police against Opposition MLAs.”
CM Nitish Kumar, who holds the state’s Home portfolio, has said that “a special trained force” is needed “in order to strengthen internal security”. Over the Opposition’s objections, the CM said, “The Opposition could have asked for debate and waited for our explanation. I have been a legislator since 1985 and have not seen the Opposition behaving like this.”
At a press conference on Thursday, Bihar DGP S K Singhal, flanked by Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Chaitanya Prasad and Bihar Military Police DG R S Bhatti, said the proposed law has made it clear that if anyone is arrested by the special force, they will be immediately handed over to the district police, which will have powers to investigate as usual.
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