Raj govt tables controversial bill, move challenged in HC
Jaipur: The Rajasthan government on Monday tabled a controversial bill that seeks to protect public servants and judges from prosecution and bar the media from reporting on allegations against them without its prior sanction sparking a legal challenge and protests inside and outside the state Assembly.
The Criminal Laws (Rajasthan Amendment) Bill, 2017 was introduced in the Assembly by Home Minister Gulabchand Kataria to replace an ordinance promulgated on September 7. It seeks to shield both serving and former judges, magistrates and public servants in the BJP-ruled state from being investigated for on-duty action without the government's approval. Monday was the first day of the 9th session of the Assembly.
As the move by the Vasundhara Raje government drew widespread flak from various quarters, a BJP rebel MLA Ghanshyam Tiwari opposed the Bill. "This is a kala kanoon (black law), and I am against it," Tiwari told reporters. "It is undemocratic and unconstitutional."
But the Centre defended the bill with Union minister for law and justice PP Chaudhury saying it was a "balanced" measure keeping interests of everyone in mind.
Rajasthan Congress president Sachin Pilot and several party leaders were briefly detained by the police in Jaipur soon after they took out a march against the legislative measure. They were later released.
"We will not let the government pass the bill. We are strongly opposing it," Pilot told reporters after being released.
In the 200-member Rajasthan Assembly, BJP has 160 MLAs while the Congress has 24 members.
The state government while defending the bill said the measure was required to put an end to what it called an end to frivolous litigations against public servants.
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, according to Kataria. From 2013 to 2017, 73 percent of the people probed under section 156(3) CrPC faced mental harassment although they were not guilty, he said.
The Editors Guild of India urged the Rajasthan government to withdraw the ordinance calling it "harmful".
Activist Bhagwat Gour filed a petition in the Jaipur bench of the high court challenging the ordinance, calling it "arbitrary and mala fide".
The petition contends that the Criminal Laws (Rajasthan Amendment) Ordinance, 2017, was "in contravention of fundamental rights as enshrined under Part-III of the Constitution of India", said Gour's counsel A K Jain.
He said that the ordinance was violative of Article 14 (equality before law), Article 19 (Freedom of Speech) and Article 21 (protection of life and personal liberty) of the Constitution).
In the Assembly, the opposition Congress strongly opposed the bill and staged a walkout. BJP MLA Ghanshyam Tiwari, who had expressed opposition to the ordinance, walked out of the Assembly twice when he was not allowed by the Speaker to raise a point of order.
Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad defended the Rajasthan government bill to protect judges, magistrates and public servants from being investigated without its prior sanction, saying the move seeks to stop motivated complaints and let honest officers work.
"What I have gathered is that the idea is that there should not be any motivated complaint. Officers were feeling harassed in discharging their duties," he told a press conference at the BJP headquarters.