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Riot bill ticks on Gujarat brass

New Delhi, Nov. 9: The Centre is getting ready to 'tighten the screws' on the Gujarat administration through a communal harmony bill.

Sources said police top brass, district magistrates, sub-divisional officers and sub-divisional magistrates would come under the ambit of the law that could be used to book them for 'bias' or 'negligence' in a communal riot. This is the first time the officers are proposed to be brought under a criminal law of this nature.

In Gujarat, the administration was accused of looking the other way when the post-Godhra riots broke out. 'The bill will take care of such situations,' a source said.

The move to bring the law comes when Zahira Sheikh, a key witness in a riots case, has made a turnaround and accused rights activist Teesta Setalvad of tutoring her to frame innocent people. The Gujarat government rushed to offer Zahira protection.

Under the IPC, the 'period of limitation' ' the time within which action should be initiated ' in a criminal case is three years. The Gujarat riots broke out in 2002 and if the bill is passed in this winter session, it could be used against errant officials.

The bill is still in the embryonic stage and further changes could be incorporated to amend the Criminal Procedure Code also, a source said.

The proposed law aims to prevent the spread of riots and to 'provide for accountability among officials'. Another provision is for 'collective fines', an official said. Under the 'British Raj, when in an area nobody came forward to identify culprits responsible for violence and riots and even shielded them from law-enforcing authorities, the entire village or town or even taluka could be ordered to pay a fine', the official pointed out.

The bill will go to the home ministry from the law ministry and then be sent for cabinet clearance before being introduced in Parliament.

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