Press Trust of India, New Delhi, March 11, 2007
Billed as an effective deterrent to rioters, a legislation is likely to be introduced in Parliament this week to give more teeth to law enforcement agencies for protecting religious minorities.
The Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims) Bill has gained momentum with the Union Cabinet recently approving the draft.
Sources in the Union Home Ministry said the bill will envisage prevention of communal violence, ensure speedy investigation and dispensation of justice and impose enhanced punishment on persons involved in such offences.
Providing relief and rehabilitation facilities to victims, creating institutional arrangement for speedy investigation, disposal of cases and empowering state and Central authorities to discharge their duties in assisting victims in the matter are some of the other provisions of the Bill.
The measure is expected to fulfil a major commitment of the UPA in the National Common Minimum Programme to bring a legislation for prevention of communal violence, they said.
The Bill, which had earlier been introduced in the Rajya Sabha, was referred to Parliament's Standing Committee for scrutiny.
With the Union Home Ministry trying to ensure passage of the Bill during the ongoing budget session itself, the legislation might soon see the light of the day.
The draft of the Bill has been prepared by the Home Ministry in consultation with the Law and Justice Ministry.
It seeks to provide special procedures of investigation, the establishment of special courts with powers of summary trials and day-to-day hearings as a means to deal sternly with perpetrators of sectarian violence.
The new law will make it mandatory for police to establish centres to record FIRs in riot-hit localities and at relief camps.
It has a chapter on special powers of the Central Government to deal with communal incidents in certain cases.
It says that if a state government fails to take appropriate action to prevent and control communal violence, the Centre may declare any area within a state as "communally disturbed" and deploy armed forces.
Sources in the security establishment said the new law will serve as an effective deterrent to potential perpetrators of such crimes and remove the false sense of comfort of impunity that they seem to enjoy.
The findings and recommendations of several inquiry commissions, National Commission for Minorities, National Human Rights Commission and National Integration Council have also been taken into consideration while finalising the Bill, they added.
The bill introduced in Rajya Sabha in 2005 had stirred the hornets nest with several states opposing certain provisions including one which empowers the centre to notify an area as "communaly disturb" and deploy central forces there.
The bill has been formulated in the backdrop of Gujrat communal violence in 2002.
The standing committee of Parliament on home affairs examined the reservations expressed by several states and political parties.
The committee observed that adequate safeguard had been provided in the clause, vesting the centre with power to issue direction to state government and issue notifications on communal violence.
A majority of states and political parties contacted by the panel had, however, opposed the proposal. The committee favoured retaining the proposal in its present form to maintain the countries secular fabric, unity and integrity.
The panel, however, objected to a provision in the bill that empowers the centre to transfer a case from one High Court to another, saying this power should remain with the judiciary. It also disagreed with the clause in the bill which provides that the state government shall establish one or more special courts for the trial of schedule offences committed during the period of disturbance.