April 22, 2017 5:27:46 am
THE CENTRE has returned a Bill passed last year by the Punjab Assembly seeking the addition of a section in the Indian Penal Code (IPC) to enhance punishment from three years to life imprisonment in cases related to sacrilege and desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib. In its reply, the Centre said that “since all religions are to be treated equally, the addition of a section for one particular religion was not possible” in the IPC, a senior Punjab government functionary told The Indian Express.
According to sources, the Centre cited portions relating to secularism and religion in the landmark S R Bommai versus Union of India case verdict to explain its position.
“The Centre has 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 it afresh,” said the government functionary.
“The Punjab Home department has sent the returned Bill to the Chief Minister’s Office. The matter will be discussed with the Chief Minister before a call is taken on the next course of action,” said the functionary.
Sources said that the Union Home Ministry sent the Bill back on March 16, 2017, the day Amarinder Singh was sworn as the new Chief Minister of Punjab. It has sought comments from the Punjab government, said sources.
The Bill sought the addition of section 295 AA, in addition to the existing section 295 A, in the IPC. Section 295 A deals with deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs, with a maximum punishment of three years.
The Bill also sought enhancement of punishment under section 295 of IPC — injuring or defiling place of worship with intent to insult the religion of any class — from two to 10 years.
According to an official, the Centre observed that the enhancement of punishment sought under section 295 of the IPC “may not withstand judicial scrutiny”.
The S R Bommai judgment of 1994 had discussed the issue of religion in detail, while deciding on the misuse of Article 356 of the Constitution after President’s Rule was imposed in Karnataka to dislodge the Bommai government in 1989, and in other states.
“The State is enjoined to accord equal treatment to all religions and religious sects and denominations,” the judgment stated.
The Indian Penal Code (Punjab Amendment), Bill, 2016 was passed by Punjab Assembly on March 21 last year during the tenure of the previous SAD-BJP government. It was sent to the Centre after the state Governor’s asset was obtained.
The Bill was passed after the SAD-BJP government came under criticism following incidents of desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib at Bargari in October 2015.
Interestingly, the Centre’s stance is in line with the Congress’s position when the Bill was passed in the Punjab Vidhan Sabha. The Congress, in Opposition then, had sought the same punishment for disrespect to all religions, but an amendment moved by the then Congress MLA Tarlochan Soondh was rejected by voice vote.
The Sikhs revere the Guru Granth Sahib as the “living Guru of Sikhs” and Akali legislators had strongly pushed for life imprisonment as punishment for desecration during the discussion on the Bill.
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