By Yashi Jain
The Vasundhara Raje government’s noticeable attempt to curb the fundamental right of people offered by the constitution has encountered a lot of critiques. The Criminal Laws (Rajasthan Amendment) Bill, 2017 (the Bill) to a massive extent, curbs the right of freedom of speech of people, and has led to numerous politicians and lawyers filing a petition against the ordinance in the Rajasthan High Court, with the next hearing to be on 22 November.
A dig in the gag law
The Bill that is now being dubbed by many as a “gag law” was made public on 7 September. Even after receiving a lot of condemnation, Raje and her team went ahead with proposing the idea in the State Assembly on October 23. The Bill forbids examination of any judge, magistrate or public servant without the state government’s sanction. The Media has been disallowed from reporting about accusations against the concerned person unless the sanction is passed and the court is also rendered helpless, providing inoculation to the workers. Should the media contravene the aforementioned provisions, imprisonment has been prescribed for the defaulters.
The Bill also amends the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. The Bill states that “The main issue is that false and fictitious cases are being brought before the police or judiciary with the intention of maligning, bringing avoidable and unnecessary disrepute or settling scores with an unrelenting public officer.”
The Bill has received opposition from all stakeholders, i.e. Opposition members and members of the Raje government, both. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Members of Parliament (MPs) and lawmakers like Ghyanshyam Tiwari and Subramanian Swamy opposed the ordinance and said that the directive was a step backwards in the progress that the BJP government has been trying to bring about. Both urged Raje to take back her Bill as it would lead to gratuitous controversy.
Rahul Gandhi tweeted “Madam Chief Minister, with all humility we are in the 21st century. It’s 2017, not 1817.” Sachin Pilot, another Congress leader has said: “We will not allow this law to come into force under any circumstance. This is their plan to cover up their own corruption.”
Backlash in the media
Naturally, the media was not happy with the Bill and have been protesting ever since the contents of the Bill were made public. “Rajasthan Patrika”, a leading Hindi daily announced that it would not carry any news related to the Chief Minister Raje until she decided to extract the proposal. From November 2, the daily has been publishing its front page news story shaped like a lock and on National Press Day, it published a blank editorial page.
The Editors Guild of India were also deeply concerned about the issue and the President, General Secretary and the Treasurer have issued a statement, detailing their concerns. According to them, the Bill represents an attempt to protect wrongful people and harass the media.
Implications of the Bill
India, being the largest democracy in the world must know its true meaning and constantly abide by it. Freedom of speech and the role of media in a democracy are two very vital cornerstones of democracy. This Bill is restraining that freedom, turning India into almost a totalitarian state. The scheme to protect officers from false allegations is a noble thought but must not come in the way of freedom and democratic policies.
The ordinance will automatically lapse on 4 December, owing to the 6-month validity of all ordinances. A vast majority of India’s populace is hoping that the Bill lapses and does not re-surface again.
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