For the second time in two years, the Manohar Lal Khattar government had to withdraw the Haryana Control of Organised Crime Bill on August 8, following objections raised by the Union Ministry of Law and Justice.
The Bill was first passed by the Haryana Assembly in 2019, and then 2020. While the Opposition has raised serious apprehensions regarding the provisions, the BJP-JJP government managed to get it cleared in the Assembly both times due to the strength of its numbers.
While announcing the withdrawal of the Bill in the Vidhan Sabha on August 8, Haryana Home Minister Anil Vij said, “Certain provisions… were found in conflict with the provisions of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substance Act, 1985 (Act 61 of 1985), by the Ministry of Finance, Department of Revenue.”
Vij said the Union Home Ministry had asked the Governor to consider withdrawing the Bill and submit a fresh one after “duly incorporating the suggestions” of the Ministry of Law and Justice.
Returning the Bill the first time, in 2020, the Centre had raised objections to the provisions pertaining to “phone interception and its authorisation” in the legislation. The Union government had said that provisions to intercept phones already existed under the Indian Telegraph Act and Information Technology Act.
Subsequently, the Haryana government had tabled a revised Bill without the provisions pertaining to phone interception.
The Opposition has expressed concerns that the Bill does not have enough checks to ensure it is not misused by the government to settle scores with its political rivals.
Objecting to the Haryana government’s repeated attempts to introduce the Bill – it has said it would again introduce it, after addressing the Centre’s concerns — Leader of the Opposition Bhupinder Singh Hooda said: “There is no logic in introducing such a Bill. There are already several provisions under several Acts to curb and control organised crime. The fact is that the law and order situation in the state has completely gone out of the government’s hands. They are bringing such Bills only to create a public perception.”
Speaking to The Sunday Express, Hooda called the Khattar government a “U-turn government”. “This Bill is also one of the attempts made by the government without application of mind. The provisions that the government wants to introduce already exist in Central Acts, be it the Indian Telegraph Act or NDPS Act. Now, when the Union Ministry has pointed this out, the government has had to withdraw it,” he said.
Congress leader B B Batra said the rejection by the Centre twice showed that the government had not applied its mind and was bringing such laws in a haste “without thoroughly studying the provisions and objectives”.
Expressing apprehension of misuse of the Bill to tap phones of political opponents, senior Congress leader Karan Dalal said: “The spirit behind all such kinds of new legislation is not right. If the government’s intentions are above board, they can curtail lawlessness, organised crime etc under present laws too. There are sufficient provisions under the IPC, CrPC, NDPS etc… But, through such new legislation, the government is trying to arm-twist political rivals and use it as a threatening tool against them, especially during polls.”
Dalal added that what was needed was strengthening of the investigation and prosecution system to ensure convictions. “Police reforms need to be brought in to break the chain of organised crime. Political interference in police functioning is quite high in Haryana. There are high chances of misuse of police machinery through such legislation now.”
Stressing the need for such a law, the government has cited “the emerging situation of organised crime in the state”. “Such a strong legislation will also suitably empower the police in a lawful manner to take strong and deterrent, but lawful, action against the criminals. Special provisions also need to be enacted for forfeiture of the property acquired from proceeds of crimes and to create a provision for special courts and special prosecutors for handling the trials of offences under this Act.”
On the law failing the Centre’s scrutiny twice, Vij said: “There are certain technical objections raised by the Union ministry. We shall address those and bring in a fresh Bill. I have already told the Home Department to study the observations made and prepare a revised version.”
The Haryana Control of Organised Crime Bill is similar to legislation passed by states such as Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka. Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh too have attempted to bring in such legislation, but have failed to get presidential assent. The Gujarat Bill was rejected multiple times before eventually getting presidential assent.