Rajasthan HC issues notice to Centre, state over controversial criminal ordinance; next date of hearing 27 Nov

The Rajasthan High Court on Friday sent a notice to the Centre and state government on writ petitions against the controversial ordinance protecting both serving and former judges, magistrates and bureaucrats in the state from being investigated for on-duty action without prior sanction. The next date of hearing has been set for 27 November.

The Hindu reported that a division bench headed by Justice Ajay Rastogi clubbed all the seven writ petitions for hearing and posted the matter for 27 November. The petitioners include Congress leader Sachin Pilot and AAP's Poonam Chand Bhandari.

Ignoring criticism from various quarters, the BJP government, headed by Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, tabled the Criminal Laws (Rajasthan Amendment) Bill in the state Assembly. This bill seeks to protect serving and former judges, magistrates and public servants in the state from being investigated for on-duty action, without prior sanction.

The Criminal Laws (Rajasthan Amendment) Ordinance, 2017, promulgated on 7 September, also seeks to bar the media from reporting on accusations till the sanction to proceed with the probe is obtained.

"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.

It also bars the media from reporting on such accusations till the sanction to proceed with the probe is given by the government.

The petitions include a public interest litigation moved by the People's Union for Civil Liberties, the report added. The counsels for the petitioners argued that it restricted the freedom of media and amounted to violation of the right to free speech.

Rajasthan HC issues notice to Centre, state over controversial criminal ordinance; next date of hearing 27 Nov

Rajasthan High Court building. Image courtesy: hcraj.nic.in

Pilot's plea contended that the Rajasthan government's ordinance violates Article 14 (right to equality) and Article 19 (1) (a) (freedom of speech and expression) of the Constitution. He claimed that the BJP government in the state had referred its bill to a select committee only to safeguard its image. "But, the ordinance is still in existence," he added.

He also held the state government is responsible for the deadlock in the Assembly. The Rajasthan Assembly session was adjounrned on 23 October and several Opposition leaders were detained for taking out a march against the government's criminal laws amendment Bill.

The Congress opposed the bill, tabled in the Assembly on Monday, which seeks to replace the Criminal Laws (Rajasthan Amendment) Ordinance, 2017. Its legislators raised slogans against the government and the bill in the state Assembly.

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi also took a swipe at state chief minister Vasundhara Raje saying, that the year was "2017, not 1817".

Senior BJP leader Ghanshyam Tiwari walked out in protest of the bill.  "This is a kala kanoon (black law) and I am against it," Tiwari told reporters. "It is undemocratic and unconstitutional," he said.

The state government has also faced stiff resistance from journalist organisations. 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.

The Rajasthan government has however, continued to defend the ordinance. In a press release, it said that there was no provision in the ordinance to protect corrupt officials. It further said that measure was required to put an end to what it called an end to frivolous litigation against public servants. However, thanks to widespread protests, Raje government backed down and sent the bill to a Select Committee.

With inputs from agencies

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Updated Date: Oct 27, 2017 13:12:42 IST

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