Former and current members the Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council,which two years ago submitted a draft bill for the prevention of communal violence,have stressed the need for such a legislation against the backdrop of the current clashes.
The Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence (Access to Justice and Repatriation) Bill submitted in July 2011 remains in cold storage though the government successfully pushed through other contentious legislation such as those on food security land acquisition.
The draft bill clearly says public officials failure to prevent such violence should be treated as an offence. From 1984 to 2002,the role of public officials in failing to perform their duty in response to political direction made such a law important, says Harsh Mander,who was co-convener of the NAC working group on the bill.
At its heart,it is a law about creating legal accountability of public officials. There is no doubt that if an official,say the magistrate,wishes to control a riot,it can be done. No riot goes on for more than a few hours if the administration acts tough, Mander says,adding the government was unable to muster enough political will to push it through.
The legislation was first proposed in the wake of the 2002 Gujarat riots. The draft prepared by the NAC provides for a national authority for communal harmony,justice and reparation and similar state authorities with a mandate to ensure public functionaries act to prevent and control communal and targeted violence and ensure victims have access to justice.
The original draft prepared by the home ministry in 2005 gives local administrations the power to declare an area disturbed. Several states,political parties as well as the ministry objected to the NAC version,claiming it violated the federal structure.
The home ministry should expedite the bill. I spoke to the minister in the past and will speak to him again, says Minority Affairs Minister K Rehman Khan.
Speaking in a personal capacity,NAC member Ashish Mondal adds,It is crucial that the administration and bureaucracy play a tough role to curb such incidents and are not influenced by party politics. What is happening in Muzaffarnagar is an indication that we should bring this legislation as soon as possible and,more importantly,implement it.
With Rahul Tripathi