The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Rift puts riot bill on ice

New Delhi, Dec. 5: The bill against communal riots has been sent to the cold storage following several states’ resistance to a proposal that would have given the Centre special powers for direct intervention when violence spins out of control.

The Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims) Bill was introduced in the Rajya Sabha today. However, unsure of the support the legislation would have received in the Lok Sabha, the government decided to refer the bill to the parliamentary standing committee of home affairs.

Such a referral means that the bill is unlikely to be passed in a hurry. The bill will also be put on a web site for comments from citizens.

A clause that has turned controversial relates to the Centre’s special powers to intervene when the state administration fails to check riots as was the case in Gujarat ' the trigger that made the UPA government conceive the bill.

The clause says that if the Centre feels that its directives to tackle a riot have not been followed by a state, the federal government can notify any area within the state as a communally disturbed area.

However, pulls and pressures from several state governments have introduced a conflicting clause in the legislation.

According to the bill in its present form, after notifying an area as disturbed, the Centre can deploy armed forces only on a request from the state government. This clause virtually reduces the Centre to a mere spectator until the state government chooses to ask for help.

In the original draft, the Centre was not at the mercy of the state, thanks to two crucial words ' “or otherwise”. The words would have enabled the Centre to deploy forces on the request of the state government “or otherwise”.

The words were dropped following opposition from some state governments which felt that they went against the federal grain.

Home minister Shivraj Patil, whose department drafted the bill, said today that he had favoured inclusion of the provision “or otherwise”.

“The provision of ‘or otherwise’ would have enabled the Centre to act. But in view of the opposition, we decided not to change the shape of the Constitution till there is acceptance by all,” he said.

The bill also seeks to give sweeping powers and immunity to state and central officials dealing with communal riots.

Section 57 of Chapter XII says “no suit, prosecution or other legal proceedings shall lie against the state government, the central government or any officer” for “anything which is done in good faith” to enforce the rules of the bill.

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