Facing protests from all quarters over controversial bill that seeks to protect public servants and judges from prosecution without government approval, Rajasthan government on Tuesday buckled under pressure and referred the criminal laws amendment bill to an assembly select committee. The decision came a day after Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje asked her ministers to “rethink” the bill.
Rajasthan Home Minister Gulab Chand Kataria will head the Select Committee comprising 15 members, including oppositon MLAs.
The state government had tabled the controversial bill in the state assembly on Monday, prompting strong protests from the Opposition, civil society and the media.
The Criminal Laws (Rajasthan Amendment) Bill, 2017 seeks to protect serving and former judges, magistrates and public servants in the state from being investigated for on-duty action, without government’s prior sanction. The bill was introduced in the Assembly by Home Minister Gulabchand Kataria to replace an ordinance promulgated on September 7.
Raje, facing all out protest, called senior ministers to her residence in the evening and she asked them to have a “rethink” on the bill, the Indian Express reported. Ministers Gulab Chand Kataria, Rajendra Rathore, Arun Chaturvedi, Yunus Khan and state BJP president Ashok Parnami were present at the meeting, the daily reported, quoting sources.
Earlier in the day, Congress leaders took out a march against the state government's bill. Congress president Sachin Pilot and several party leaders were briefly detained by the police soon after they took out the march.
Rebel BJP MLA Ghanshyam Tiwari opposed the bill and staged walk out twice in the Assembly, when he was denied to raise point of order by Speaker Kailash Meghwal.
"This is a kala kanoon (black law) and I am against it," Tiwari told reporters. "It is undemocratic and unconstitutional," Tiwari said.
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.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) enjoys a brute majority with 160 MLAs in the 200-member Rajasthan Assembly, and is unlikely to face major challenges in getting the bill passed.
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 bill also bars the media from reporting on such accusations till the sanction to proceed with the probe is given by the government.
The Editors Guild of India has 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 has filed a petition in the Jaipur bench of the high court challenging the ordinance, calling it "arbitrary and mala fide".