Punjab plans life term for desecration of religious texts

The Centre had refused to forward the Bill for President’s assent and noted that proposed amendments would violate the principle of secularism enshrined in the Constitution.

Written by Navjeevan Gopal | Chandigarh | Updated: July 5, 2018 7:19:49 am
Punjab plans life term for desecration of religious texts The Centre had asked Punjab government to either withdraw the Bill or include all religions in the proposed amendment if it wanted it to be looked at afresh. (File photo)

The Congress government in Punjab has prepared a new draft of the Amendment Bill that sought life imprisonment for desecration of Guru Granth Sahib. The new draft proposes similar punishment for the desecration of holy scriptures Gita, Quran and Bible as well.

In March last year, the Centre had returned the Bill passed by the Punjab Assembly in 2016 that sought the addition of a section in the Indian Penal Code (IPC) to enhance punishment from three years to life imprisonment in cases related to desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib.

The Centre had asked Punjab government to either withdraw the Bill or include all religions in the proposed amendment if it wanted it to be looked at afresh. The Centre had refused to forward the Bill for President’s assent and noted that proposed amendments would violate the principle of secularism enshrined in the Constitution.

“As far as proposed Section 295AA is [concerned], such amendment may be dropped given that a sacred book such as the Guru Granth Sahebji already stands covered under Section 295 or alternatively an amendment may be proposed [which] would include all/any religious books which would then be in consonance with the principles of secularism and would not be in violation with Article 14 of the Constitution of India,” Punjab Advocate General Atul Nanda had said in his opinion in May last year when Bill was sent to him for legal opinion after Centre sent it back to Punjab.

In its concerns over the earlier Bill, the Centre had, however, also underlined that life imprisonment for desecration of scriptures was “excessive”. The Centre had also noted that such a term of imprisonment would also create an imbalance within the IPC, as the damage, destruction or defilement of an actual place of worship (under Section 295) invites a lesser sentence of two to 10 years of imprisonment.

Nanda had concurred with the Centre’s observations in his advice saying, “There is also substance in the view of the Government of India.” Still, the government has gone ahead with drafting the Indian Penal Code (Punjab Amendment) Bill 2018 and the related The Code of Criminal Procedure (Punjab Amendment) Bill 2018.

The Indian Express has learnt that both were sent to the State’s Legal Remembrancer for his advice in May.

The new draft retains the proposal of the earlier Bill which sought to enhance the punishment from two to ten years for damage, destruction or defilement of an actual place of worship under section 295 of the Indian Penal Code.
A senior functionary of Punjab government said the proposed Bill was being finalised and would be put before the Assembly. Nanda, when contacted, said he did not know about the proposed new amendment legislation.

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