The Editors Guild of India on Sunday expressed concerns over Rajasthan government's decision to bring a law protecting, both serving and former judges, magistrates and bureaucrats in Rajasthan from being investigated for on-duty action without its prior sanction.
Calling it a pernicious instrument to harass the media, the guild said that the law is an attempt by the Vasundhara Raje government to whitewash the corrupt practices of government servants and drastically curb the freedom of the press."
The ordinance, The Criminal Laws (Rajasthan Amendment) Ordinance, 2017, seeks to bar the media from reporting on accusations till the sanction to proceed with the probe is obtained.
The guild, which is headed by veteran journalist Raj Chengappa, urged the Rajasthan government withdraw the ordinance, promulgated on 7 September, and to not turn it into a law.
"Rather than taking stern measures to prevent and punish those who indulge in frivolous or false litigation, the Rajasthan government has passed an ordinance that is bent on bludgeoning the messenger," the press release said.
Stating that it has always stood for fair and responsible journalism, the organisation added that the law that the state government proposes to bring is 'draconian" and can potentially also imprison journalists for reporting on matters of public interest.
"The Guild requests the Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje to withdraw the harmful ordinance and prevent any Act from being passed that would endanger the freedom of the press," the press release concluded.
"No magistrate shall order an investigation nor will any investigation be conducted against a person, who is or was a judge or a magistrate or a public servant," reads the ordinance which provides 180 days immunity to the officers.
If there is no decision on the sanction request post the stipulated time period, it will automatically mean that sanction has been granted.
The ordinance amends the Criminal Code of Procedure, 1973 and also seeks curb on publishing and printing or publicising in any case the name, address, photograph, family details of the public servants.
Violating the clause would call for two years imprisonment.
The law has already come under Congress' fire.
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi took a swipe at Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje over a controversial ordinance, pointing out that the year was "2017, not 1817".
Rebel BJP leader in the state, Ghanshyam Tiwari also opposed the ordinance, saying it was "aimed to strangulate democracy" in the state.
"The bill that you will introduce in the assembly in next few days will pave the way to form a law, which will shield the open loot of the chief minister, ministers and public servants," Tiwari wrote in the letter.
However, the Raje government on Sunday defended its decision, claiming that it has zero tolerance policy towards corruption.
Rajasthan Home Minister Gulab Chand Kataria told a press conference there was no provision in the ordinance which will weaken action against corrupt officers.
Kataria said Rajasthan is not the only state to amend CrPC sections 156(3) and 190(1).The sections empower a magistrate to take cognizance of an offence and order an investigation.
Kataria said the only one aim of the ordinance is that people do not "misuse" section 156(3) to tarnish the image of honest officers by levelling baseless allegations.
With inputs from PTI
Updated Date: Oct 23, 2017 08:43 AM