BJP mulling defamation suit against Rahul Gandhi over claim that Narendra Modi govt passed a law allowing 'shooting of tribals'

Rahul Gandhi was seemingly referring to the draft of the Indian Forest Act, 2019, that proposes an overhaul of the Indian Forest Act, 1927

Pallavi Rebbapragada April 30, 2019 21:50:34 IST
BJP mulling defamation suit against Rahul Gandhi over claim that Narendra Modi govt passed a law allowing 'shooting of tribals'
  • The BJP warned the Congress chief that his remarks on Narendra Modi are

  • Rajya Sabha MP Prabhat Jha said the BJP has given Rahul three days to respond and if he doesn’t, a defamation case will be filed against him

  • Rahul was seemingly referring to the draft of the Indian Forest Act, 2019, that proposes an overhaul of the Indian Forest Act, 1927

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) vice-president Prabhat Jha has sent a legal notice to Congress president Rahul Gandhi for saying, “Narendra Modi Sarkar ne ek kanun banaya hai jisme ek line likhi gayi hai ki adivasiyon ko goli se mara ja sakega" (Narendra Modi government has passed a law in which one line allows the shooting of tribals). Rahul made the statement at a rally in Bhopal.

BJP mulling defamation suit against Rahul Gandhi over claim that Narendra Modi govt passed a law allowing shooting of tribals

File image of Congress president Rahul Gandhi. Twitter/@INCIndia

Rahul was seemingly referring to the draft of the Indian Forest Act, 2019, which proposes an overhaul of the Indian Forest Act, 1927. The draft law proposes providing indemnity to forest officers using arms to prevent offences. This is in addition to the immunity provided under Section 197 of Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, for certain categories of public servants.

The value of this ecosystem, protected by forest officers, amounts to Rs 6 lakh crore ($120 billion). As per Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI) data, over 30,382 wildlife crimes have been recorded till 31 December, 2016. Responding to complaints being received consistently by the forest department about illegal mining and encroachments, principal chief conservator of forests (PCCF) Jai Raj, in January, said any encroachment on forest land should be removed without delay. From safeguarding the green cover from encroachment, poaching, smuggling and ensuring the protection of tribals against insurgents, the forest department officials have a massive task on their hands.

“Even if such an Act was passed, where was Rahul and his 44 MPs at the time?” Rajya Sabha MP Prabhat Jha wondered. Jha said the BJP has given Rahul three days to respond and if he doesn’t, a defamation case will be filed against him. He added that the Congress party president is a parliamentarian and wondered that if such a law had been passed in his presence, why he chose to keep mum till election season.

In the 25-page legal notice, the BJP warned the Congress chief that his remarks on Narendra Modi are "defamatory, derogatory, lacking verification and without any substance." In the context of Rahul’s statement, the notice stated: “You, being the parliamentarian, and law maker carry equal responsibility in framing the rules of law for our country in the interest of citizens of India. Parliament frames and legislates any act or rules framed and notifications further is the constitutional duty of all parliamentarians including you.”

If the Congress president wanted to make a serious attempt to reach out to the Madhya Pradesh tribals, he could  have stuck to issues of malnourishment and displacement and the measures the newly-elected Congress government is taking to fix what went wrong during Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s tenure as detailed in this 2018 ground report from the tribal regions of Madhya Pradesh:  Mandla, Shahdol, Dindori, Umariya, Anuppur and Balaghat (Baihar).

In December 2017, the Department of Tribal Welfare responded to an RTI query regarding the status of implementation of the Forest Rights Act 2006 by stating that in Madhya Pradesh, 4,22,403 tribals filed personal suits for forest land by November 2017. Of these, the district level committee rejected 2,01,393 claims (47.7 percent of the total claims). Out of 8,466 claims in Satna, 6,398 (75.6 percent) were rejected. In Sidhi, 78.8 percent claims were rejected; in Umaria, 63.9 percent; in Seoni, 67.4 percent; 66.8 percent in Panna; 61.7 percent in Damoh. In Jhabua, where more than 80 percent of the population is tribal, 65.5 percent claims to forest land by tribals were rejected. Rahul's party is now in power in Madhya Pradesh, but the outreach to tribals isn't centred on delivery but on criticism of the central government.

The Congress party president today filed his reply before the Supreme Court in connection with a contempt case filed by BJP leader Meenakshi Lekhi, who sought action against him for misattributing his remarks to the top court. Rahul, in his reply, said he had made the 'chowkidar chor hai' remarks "in the heat of the moment", and expressed 'regret', but did not apologise. Rahul added he had no intention of dragging the court into the political arena, and claimed Lekhi, was seeking political mileage under the pretext of contempt proceedings.  The Supreme Court allowed Rahul to file a new affidavit on Monday after his lawyer Abhishek Manu Singhvi assured the bench Rahul would apologise and that the rectified affidavit would contain the word apology.

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