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Bid to rush talaq bill hits hurdle

Muslim visitors coming out of Parliament House in New Delhi on Friday. Picture by Prem Singh

New Delhi: The Opposition on Friday refused to yield to the government's efforts to push through amendments to the instant triple talaq bill on short notice before the monsoon session closes, despite realising the BJP would use any delay to its advantage.

The cabinet had on Thursday cleared the amendments, which dilute the criminality provisions in the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2017. The amendments had originally been mooted in the Rajya Sabha last December when the draft legislation was brought to the House.

The matter was on the revised list of business for Friday and the amendments were circulated. But no consensus could be reached on taking the bill up for consideration and passage, with the Opposition insisting on referring it to a House select committee.

Through the day, the issue simmered inside and outside the House, resulting in one short adjournment of proceedings in the morning. Law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad tried to bring up the bill at the fag end of the session after the passage of two agreed bills in the evening.

Flashing newspaper clippings of women suffering because of the practice of the instant triple talaq, he accused the Congress of using the demand for a select committee referral as a ploy to oppose the draft legislation.

Chairman Venkaiah Naidu, however, said the matter would be taken up only after a consensus was reached in the House.

Even if the Rajya Sabha had cleared the amendments on Friday, the bill would have had to be referred back to the Lok Sabha as the amendments need the approval of the Lower House too. However, the monsoon session ended on Friday.

"Had the government been sincere, the matter could have been referred to a select committee in December and the report would have been out by now," CPI member D. Raja said.

Another Opposition member questioned the government's motive in waiting till the penultimate day of the session to secure cabinet approval for the amendments and then trying to push it through at the eleventh hour.

"This is just an attempt by the government to keep the triple talaq issue alive as the BJP thinks it will bring electoral benefits," he said.

"Without fail, they bring it up before an election. Enacted or stalled, the BJP will take mileage from the bill; so we might as well scrutinise it properly.''

The Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, one of the petitioners in the instant talaq case in the Supreme Court, welcomed the amendments and urged the Opposition to help pass the bill.

Under the amendments, an FIR against a man for invoking the instant talaq will only become cognisable if it is lodged by the victim or a relation. The bill passed by the Lok Sabha had allowed anyone to file such a complaint.

While the practice of the instant triple talaq will continue to be a non-bailable offence, another amendment allows a magistrate to grant bail after hearing the wife.

A third amendment makes it a compoundable offence. If the wife and the husband agree to settle their differences, the magistrate can compound the offence on appropriate terms and conditions.

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