Ignoring protests and pushing a highly controversial legislation that seeks to muzzle the press and shield judges and government servants from investigation into any wrongdoing, the Vasundhara Raje government Monday tabled The Criminal Laws (Rajasthan Amendment) Bill, 2017 in the state assembly.
Under fire, the Chief Minister called senior ministers to her residence in the evening. Sources said she asked them to have a “rethink” on the Bill. Ministers Gulab Chand Kataria, Rajendra Rathore, Arun Chaturvedi, Yunus Khan and state BJP president Ashok Parnami were present at the meeting, sources said.
The Bill was introduced in the House to replace The Criminal Laws (Rajasthan Amendment) Ordinance, 2017, promulgated on September 6 by Governor Kalyan Singh. It prohibits investigation without prior sanction against “a Judge or a Magistrate or a public servant” for any “act done by them while acting or purporting to act in the discharge of their official duties”. Under the new law, the media too cannot report on the accusation against such a person until the prosecution gets the go-ahead from the sanctioning authority, which may take up to six months.
The Opposition, led by the Congress, called it a “black Bill” and staged a walkout. It later took out a protest march with members wearing black bands.
Soon after the House met, Deputy Leader of Opposition and Congress MLA Ramesh Meena objected to the Bill. Congress Deputy Whip Govind Singh Dotasara too protested but senior minister Rajendra Rathore and BJP Deputy Chief Whip Madan Rathore were ready with counters.
Speaker Kailash Meghwal said statements of Meena and Dotasara would not be recorded. Most Opposition MLAs, led by Congress, staged a walkout. Rebel BJP MLA Ghanshyam Tiwari also walked out. Click here to read more
Home Minister Gulab Chand Kataria said the Opposition should debate the Bill’s merits and demerits, rather than disrupt assembly proceedings. “We have tabled it so that its merits and demerits can be discussed in the assembly,” he said.
Independent MLA Manik Chand Surana said that to amend a central Act, one needed the President’s assent which the government had not obtained. Calling the Bill unconstitutional, he wondered who had advised the Home Minister to bring in such a Bill.
“We MLAs don’t want you to protect us. Let the corrupt be caught. The sky didn’t fall in 70 years, so what is the urgency that you need to pass it now,” Surana said, calling it an “undeclared Emergency”. He said “the job that belongs to police and the magistrate, how can you bring it under the administration”.
The Bill was, however, tabled and proceedings were adjourned until Tuesday.
Speaking to reporters outside the House, BJP MLA Narpat Singh Rajvi said: “Today I read in newspapers about a former Rajasthan Administrative Service officer and his relatives whose properties worth Rs 100 crore were seized. If this Bill is passed, then a case won’t be registered against him before six months. there is no need to even wait six hours if one is corrupt.”
Later, state Congress president Sachin Pilot led party MLAs and leaders in a protest march to Raj Bhawan, wearing black bands and holding placards calling the Bill a “kala kanoon” (black law). They were detained briefly by police.
“Through these amendments, the government wants to bring in such provisions where no action will be taken against corrupt officials till the department concerned gives prosecution sanction,” Pilot said. “Just because BJP has majority, it does not give them the right to encroach upon democratic rights of the people. The Congress will oppose it at every level to prevent it from being turned into a law,” he said, adding that his party, when it comes to power in the state, will withdraw the amendments.
Within the Bill, in the statement of Objects and Reasons, the government said, “These amendments will provide protection to the public servants from scurrilous and non-substantial charges and also protect honest public servants from inquiries and processes of court and police as previous sanction has been made mandatory.”
“Public servants are entrusted with important task of policy formulation and decision and decision-making on matters of vital national interests. Such duties require a conducive and supportive environment, where they can operate in hassle free conditions. This is why they are given special protection under the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, to insulate their working from everyday allegations, many of which might be driven by vested interest, creating a fear psychosis and ultimately leading to indecision and policy paralysis,” it said.
The government did not detail the urgent need to bring in an Ordinance last month. The Bill’s statement merely said, “Since the Rajasthan State Legislative Assembly was not in session and circumstances existed which rendered it necessary for the Governor of Rajasthan to take immediate action, he, therefore promulgated the… Ordinance.” The government did not specify what it meant by “circumstances existed”.
Meanwhile, journalists have called a protest march in Jaipur Tuesday morning. Pink City Press Club general secretary Mukesh Meena said journalists will wear black arm bands and march from Press Club to the assembly. The District Advocates Bar Association of Jaipur too has called a strike Tuesday against the Bill.