The Centre has returned a bill passed by the Punjab Assembly last year seeking the addition of a section of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) to enhance punishment from three years to life imprisonment in cases related to sacrilege and desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib by saying that all religions are to be treated equally. It added that it’s not possible to add a section for one particular religion, as reported by The Indian Express.
“The Centre has asked the Punjab government to either withdraw the Bill or include all religions in the proposed amendment if it wanted the Bill to be looked at it afresh. The Punjab Home department has sent the returned Bill to the Chief Minister’s Office. The matter will be discussed with the Chief Minister before a call is taken on the next course of action,” a functionary was quoted as saying by The Indian Express. The report says that bill was sent back on 16th March itself, the day when captain Amarinder Singh took over as the new Chief Minister of the state.
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The Bill sought the addition of section 295 AA, in addition to the existing section 295 A, in the IPC. It deals with deliberate and malicious acts intended against a religion that can outrage the feelings of any class. Under this section, the culprit can be given a maximum punishment of three years. According to an official quoted in the report, the Centre observed that the enhancement of punishment sought under section 295 of the IPC “may not withstand judicial scrutiny.”
This issue was discussed in detail in SR Bommani judgement of 1994 while deciding on the misuse of Article 356 of the Constitution after President’s Rule was imposed in Karnataka to dislodge the Bommai government in 1989, and in other states. “The State is enjoined to accord equal treatment to all religions and religious sects and denominations,” the judgement said.