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Political landmines make Govt tread with caution

Although it has already indicated that it’s not averse to the idea of Section 377 being amended or repealed,the Union Home Ministry decided to tread cautiously on the next steps after the landmark Delhi HC ruling.

Although it has already indicated that it’s not averse to the idea of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) being amended or repealed,the Union Home Ministry on Thursday decided to tread cautiously on the next steps after the landmark Delhi High Court ruling.

A section in the government thinks that by linking the issue to one of civil rights and Constitutional guarantees,the court has made it relatively easy for the government to move on what is a political hot-button issue and more difficult for it to be seen as “actively opposing it.”

Sources said “no decision would be taken in a hurry” and that the Home Ministry is considering placing the matter before the Union Cabinet to evolve a “wider consensus” on the next step given the storm of protest from religious groups and conservatives.

The first step that the MHA will take is to organise a meeting of the Ministers heading three key ministries — Law,Home and Health and Family Welfare — as desired by the Union Cabinet at a meeting last year. The three ministers had been asked to sit together and iron out their differences.

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While then Home Minister Shivraj Patil and Law Minister Hans Raj Bhardwaj were vehemently opposed to any dilution of the law,Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss strongly supported the law being amended. In fact,Ramadoss’s ministry even filed a separate affidavit in the High Court stating that it was in favour of the contentious law being repealed,even though the Home Ministry,the nodal ministry for IPC,was against it.

All three are,significantly,no longer part of the government.

The government,or for that matter any other party,has 90 days within which it will have to move the Supreme Court if it wants to appeal against the High Court judgment. If it decides to go by the High Court direction,it will have to amend the IPC to bring it in tune with the verdict. But since IPC is on the Concurrent list,the government is also expected to hold consultations with state governments to gauge their stand. And,if the past is an indicator,this process could take quite a while.

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The Government is also considering the option of waiting for a private party — which could be either BJP leader BP Singhal or the Joint Action Council Kannur (JACK),both of whom had intervened in the case — to file an appeal and then formulate its stand. “We are waiting for a copy of the High Court judgment. A final decision on such a sensitive subject can’t be taken overnight. There will have to be wider consultations,” said a source.

First published on: 03-07-2009 at 08:58 IST
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