Under fire from Opposition, Rajasthan CM asks ministers to ‘reconsider’ controversial bill

Jaipur (PTI): Under-fire from several quarters over the introduction of a controversial bill in the legislative assembly, Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje on October 23 summoned ministers at her residence, asking them to “reconsider” the Ordinance that prohibits investigation without prior sanction against “a Judge or a Magistrate or a public servant”.
Earlier in the day, ignoring stiff opposition from several quarters, the Vasundhara Raje government had proceeded to table the controversial bill.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) enjoys a brute majority with 160 MLAs and, therefore, is unlikely to face major challenges in getting the bill passed.
What is the controversial bill?
The Code of Criminal Procedure (Rajasthan Amendment) bill, 2017 was introduced in the Assembly by state home minister Gulabchand Kataria to replace the Criminal Laws (Rajasthan Amendment) Ordinance promulgated last month.
The ordinance, promulgated by Governor Kalyan Singh on September 6, seeks to shield both serving and former judges, magistrates and public servants in state from being investigated for on-duty action without the government’s nod. Besides, it also prohibits the media from reporting on the accusation against such a person until the prosecution gets the approval from the sanctioning authority, which may take up to six months.
Making additions to sections 156 (3) and 190 (1) of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), the Ordinance empower a magistrate to take cognizance of an offence and order an investigation.
What are the objections raised by the critics?
Putting forward a strong opposition, Rajasthan Congress president Sachin Pilot vowed to not let the government pass the bill. Pilot and several party members were briefly detained by the police in Jaipur soon after they took out a march against the legislative measure. They were subsequently released.
Describing the ordinance as harmful, the Editors Guild of India urged the Rajasthan government to withdraw the ordinance. The body also called it a “pernicious instrument” to harass the media.
Related report: Rajasthan ordinance is against free speech, say legal experts
Activist Bhagwat Gour filed a petition in the Jaipur bench of the high court challenging the ordinance, while terming it “arbitrary and mala fide”. Gour’s counsel AK Jain said the Ordinance was “in contravention of fundamental rights as enshrined under Part-III of the Constitution of India”.
Jain also claimed that the insertion of CrPC sections 156(3) and 190(1) has helped extend the protection from investigation for on-duty action to each and every public servant defined under any law — panches, sarpanches, members or office-bearers of cooperative society, MPs, MLAs, members of cooperation and employees of universities.
A BJP rebel MLA, Ghanshyam Tiwari, also opposed the bill. “This is a kala kanoon (black law) and I am against it,” Tiwari told reporters and described it as “undemocratic and unconstitutional”. Rajya Sabha MP and BJP leader Subramanian Swamy also joined the chorus of those opposing the bill and urged the Vasundhra Raje government to take back her “ill-fated gag bill”. “It is a sterile exercise and receive a rap from SC when the apex court strikes it down,” Swamy wrote on Twitter.
What is the stand that the State government, Centre have taken?
The Centre on Monday threw its weight behind the bill, with Union Minister PP Chaudhury saying it was a “balanced” measure keeping interests of everyone in mind. On the other hand, the state government said the measure was needed to put an end to frivolous litigations against public servants.
According to Kataria, the only aim of the ordinance is that people do not misuse section 156(3) CrPC to tarnish the image of honest officers by levelling baseless allegations. Substantiating his argument, state home minister Kataria said 73 per cent of the people, from 2013 to 2017, who were probed under section 156(3) CrPC faced mental harassment, though they were not guilty.

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