Rajasthan government today 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 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. Today was the first day of the 9th session of the Assembly. As the move by the Vasundhara Raje government drew widespread criticism 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 lergislative 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 per cent of the people who were 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”. The ordinance is a “pernicious instrument” to harass the media, the Guild said while reacting to the ordinance that also bars the media from naming the public servant till the government allows the case to be investigated.
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. According to the counsel, the ordinance amends the provisions of sections 156 and 190 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) and inserts Section 228-B in the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
While section 156 gives police officers the power to investigate a “cognisable case”, Section 190 deals with cognisance of offences by magistrates. He claimed that by inserting CrPC sections 156(3) and 190(1), protection from investigation for on-duty action has been extended 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.
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 Ghanshaym 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.
Wearing black strips on their mouth, Congress MLAs led by the Leader of Opposition Rameshwar Dudi took out a protest march from the MLA quarters to the assembly building. Holding placards and shouting slogans against Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, the MLAs entered the assembly premises and accused the BJP government of patronising corruption. The pilot told reporters that the ordinance was promulgated as the chief minister feared that she might be in trouble due to corruption.