THE WEST Bengal government is all set to table a new anti-lynching Bill in the State Assembly that proposes life term and a fine of Rs 5 lakh as maximum punishment for culprits, and free legal and medical assistance for victims.
The West Bengal Prevention of Lynching Bill, 2019, also proposes to set up a special task force with a state co-ordinator not below IG-rank and nodal officers to prevent incidents of lynching.
Sources said the purpose of the legislation, which is likely to be tabled on Friday, is “to provide for effective protection of Constitutional rights of vulnerable persons and to prevent lynching and to punish acts of lynching in the state”.
The Bill defines lynching as “any act or series of acts of violence or aiding, abetting or attempting an act of violence, whether spontaneous or planned, by a mob (group of two or more individuals) on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth, language, dietary practices, sexual orientation, political affiliation, ethnicity or any other grounds”.
It proposes three categories of punishment: maximum three-year jail and a fine of up to Rs 1 lakh if the act leads to the victim “suffering hurt”; 10 years and up to Rs 3 lakh in case of “grievous hurt”; and “rigorous imprisonment for life and fine not less than Rs 1 lakh and up to Rs 5 lakh” in case of death.
A specific law on mob lynching stems from an SC direction to Parliament to draft a tough, new law to deter and deal swiftly with the perpetrators. States were also told to take firm steps to curb hateful messaging on social media.
Moreover, according to the Bill, those found to be part of a conspiracy to lynching or have abetted an act of lynching shall be “punished in the same manner as if he had himself committed lynching”.
The Bill also proposes a maximum one-year jail term and a fine up to Rs 50,000 for those who spread or publish or communicate “offensive material”; and a maximum of three years and fine up to Rs 1 lakh for those who create “a hostile environment for a person or a group of persons”.
According to the new Bill, the state will provide protection to victims, who can also choose any advocate from the legal aid panel under the Legal Services Authorities Act 1987. The state will also provide free medical treatment and provide compensation as per the Compensation Scheme.
The Bill states that cases of lynching will only be investigated by police officers above the rank of inspector, except under “special circumstances”.
It also mandates nodal officers to track social media posts, and meet at least once a month with local intelligence units of districts and police commissionerates to “identify the existence of the tendencies of vigilantism, mob violence or lynching…”
West Bengal has witnessed a number of instances of lynching over the last few months, with rumours of “child lifters” spreading in different areas, especially North Bengal.