After Narendra Modi and Jayalalithaa, Naveen Patnaik has become the latest Chief Minister to oppose the Prevention of communal violence (Access to Justice and Reparations) Bill, 2013. Urging Prime Minister Manmohan Singh not to table the proposed Bill in the ongoing Parliament session in haste, Naveen has sought wider debate and consultations.
“An impression is being conveyed that the government of India is more concerned about communal disturbances and law and order in states, as compared to the states themselves... In my view, the response to inadequacy in handling of a particular incident should not be the creation of new laws. Rather we should focus on strengthening the capacity of existing ground-level institutions. Such a serious matter of national importance like communal violence Bill should not be subject to political marketing, particularly when elections are round the corner,” the Orissa CM has written in a letter to the PM.
Naveen has expressed concern over Clause 3(f), which defines hostile environment, saying the definition of crime in it leaves for liberal interpretation and misuse. In the Bill, hostile environment has been defined as any act, whether or not it amounts to an offence under the Act, that has the purpose or effect of creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive environment.
Similarly, he questioned Section 6 regarding hate propaganda and clauses 10A, 10B and 10C, which relate to dereliction of duty by public servants. “Communal situations as such are sensitive and stressful for field officers. If officers carry the psychological burden of impending criminal liability, they are more liable to make mistakes or to abandon responsibility instead of fully committing themselves to resolve the situation,” Naveen wrote.
He has also questioned the provision of mandatory judicial probe in all communal disturbances, arguing that states should take a call on this depending upon the scale and magnitude of the communal disturbance.
The CM has further expressed fears of confusion regarding the chain of command, given the provision for a “competent authority” under Section 13, including additional powers to the NHRC and State Human rights Commissions.