On Monday, the Rajasthan government tabled a controversial bill that seeks to protect public servants and judges from prosecution and bar the media from reporting on allegations against them without its prior sanction. The move sparked off a legal challenge and protests inside and outside the Assembly.
As state unit of Congress and other Opposition parties protested against the 'draconian' law, chief minister Vasundhara Raje called four of her senior ministers and state BJP chief Ashok Parnami to her house on Monday evening to discuss the order.
Sources told The Times of India that apart from meeting the ministers, Raje also met senior bureaucrats and directed them to rework the ordinance so that apprehensions over the order in public and in media were addressed.
Sources told the newspaper that cabinet ministers Rajendra Rathore, Gulabchand Kataria, Arun Chaturvedi and Yunus Khan attended the meet at Raje's house.
The Criminal Laws (Rajasthan Amendment) Bill, 2017 was introduced in the Assembly by Home Minister Gulabchand Kataria to replace an ordinance promulgated on 7 September. It seeks to shield both serving and former judges, magistrates and public servants in the BJP-ruled state from being investigated for on-duty action without the government's sanction. Monday was the first day of the 9th session of the Assembly.
Union ministers defend move
The move was defended by two Union ministers who said that the move was aimed at insulating honest officers and prevent policy paralysis.
Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the bill was aimed at preventing motivated complaints. Minister of State PP Chaudhary said the idea was not to defend the corrupt or wrong-doers, but to ensure that honest judges, magistrates and public servants were not harassed.
"What I have gathered is that the idea is that there should not be any motivated complaint. Officers were feeling harassed in discharging their duties," Prasad told reporters at a press conference at the BJP headquarters.
The bill was met with stiff opposition and Rajasthan Congress president Sachin Pilot and several party leaders were detained by the police on Monday soon after they took out a march against the state governments criminal laws amendment bill. After the Rajasthan Assembly session was adjourned for the day, Congress MLAs and leaders assembled at Jyoti Nagar T-point in the city, from where Pilot was to lead a march to the Raj Bhawan to hand over a representation against the Criminal Laws (Rajasthan Amendment) Bill, 2017. Soon after the march began, the police detained Pilot and other Congress leaders and took them to the Bajaj Nagar police station.
The original ordinance on Monday became one of the top trends of Twitter with the hashtag "TughlaqiMaharani" trending on the site. It started with Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, who tweeted reminding Raje that it is 2017 and not 1817. Other political parties did not spare the Raje government either. AAP's in-charge in Rajasthan Kumar Vishwas, an active Twitter user, called Raje a female Kim Jong-un. Rebel BJP leader Ghanshyam Tiwari also opposed the ordinance, saying it was "aimed to strangulate democracy" in the state.
Original ordinance challenged in high court
The ordinance has been challenged in the high court by activist Bhagwat Gour who filed a petition before the Jaipur bench of the Rajasthan High Court challenging the ordinance, calling it "arbitrary and mala fide". The petition contends that the Criminal Laws (Rajasthan Amendment) Ordinance, 2017, was "in contravention of fundamental rights as enshrined under Part-III of the Constitution of India", said Gour's counsel AK Jain.
State president of civil rights group People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), Kavita Srivastava, said the amendments and provisos were to "gag the media" and "clipping" the powers of the magistrate to order an investigation, investigate or take cognisance of complaints against public servants including judges and magistrates. "We will go to the high court on Sunday against the government's move. The ordinance should be repealed," she said.
Meanwhile, the Editors Guild of India on Sunday expressed concern over the bill, claiming that the law will be a pernicious instrument to harass the media. The organisation also added that the law will be 'draconian" and potentially also imprison journalists for reporting on matters of public interest.
Possible reasons behind the move
An article in Firstpost speculated that the move could be an attempt to guarantee impunity to public servants in the election year, and could protect them from the inquisitive gaze of the media and the judiciary. Another reason could be to make Raje's own post-election life safer by bringing in provisions that make probes into scandals and scams almost impossible.
Yet another theory propounded by a lawyer claims many high-profile bureaucrats are under the radar of the Rajasthan High Court for illegally gobbling up priceless land. Raje's government is known as a government of the bureaucrats, for the bureaucrats, so this might be an attempt by the corrupt babus to pre-empt a probe, a major scandal that may be difficult to suppress without this draconian law.
With inputs from agencies
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Updated Date: Oct 24, 2017 14:20:19 IST