Many of the readers might be already familiar with the constitution, functioning and the orientation of the National Advisory Council (NAC). NAC is an extra-constitutional body that was constituted by an executive order in the year 2004. In this regard it is similar to the Planning Commission of India, which has acquired allmost an indispensable role for itself when it comes to economic policy. The crucial difference being that the Planning Commission is chaired by the PM, where as the NAC was peculiarly designed to suit the politics of UPA,i.e to portray Smt. Sonia Gandhi, Chairperson of NAC, as the saviour of the poor and oppressed. Despite being an outcome of national politics NAC has off late come to represent and position itself as a government within government, allowing the ruling party to position itself both with and against the government.
The focus of this post is one particular bill drafted by NAC called the “Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence(Access to Justice and Reparations),2011”1. There is currently another version of this bill currently pending in the Parliament.2. Just one reading of the bill is sufficient for one to be concerned about the fallout of having such an act and seriously question the mindset and approach of the members of NAC.
Brief overview :
Under the new law any act of indulging in communal and targetted violence is defined as a non-bailable offense, procedures and resources for enquiry are laid out and punishment prescribed.
As every new law these days does, this law too prescribes the setting up of a new official structures and offices with vested power. A body known as National Authority For Communal Harmony, Justice And Reparation. In a token gesture to our federalism (which it later proceeds to undermine) it calls for similar bodies at the state level too. Having ensured ghoda, gaadi, kursi and a lifetime of pension for themselves and their ilk they proceed to brazenly forward their agenda, in no uncertain terms and with clinical precision. If this has caused any outrage in you, then I am certain what follows is sure to bankrupt you of it completely.
Definition of a group :
“group” means a religious or linguistic minority, in any State in the Union of India, or Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes within the meaning of clauses (24) and (25) of Article 366 of the Constitution of India.
Communal and targetteed violence is defined as :
“communal and targeted violence” means and includes any act or series of acts, whether spontaneous or planned, resulting in injury or harm to the person and or property, knowingly directed against any person by virtue of his or her membership of any group, which destroys the secular fabric of the nation.
All the provisions provided in the bill are centered around and built on “ targeting a person by virtue of his of her membership of any group”. It is very clear even to a layman like me what it’s implications would be. Firstly, any targeted violence on those who are not a part of the “group” would automatically not qualify as communal violence. Hence violence reported in the recent times from places like Deganga or Meerut would fall outside the bill’s scope. Secondly, in a situation where there is violence from two or more sides targeted at each other, the provisions, powers and punishment of this bill would be deployed only against one such side.
It is not that the drafters of this biased and unjust bill do not realise this, look at what the bill has to say about the process of payment of compensation.
“All persons, whether or not they belong to a group as defined under this Act, who have suffered physical, mental, psychological or monetary harm……”
Very kind of them indeed. The saving grace is that no such devious definition of group could be spotted easily in the draft currently tabled in the Parliament. The blatant fashion in which NAC has drafted this bill and invited comments suggests that they don’t have a very high opinion about the capabilities of ordinary Indians to comprehend and challenge their authority.
Having murdered the very idea of natural justice and equality they now turn to strangle federalism. It seems to be there either on-demand or as a chip for central government to pursue this act further. Fortunately for India, the post-liberalisation era has seen the emergence of many strong and financially sound states. They have used the space provided by privatisation and delievered growth and a better life for their people. The bill makes the following provision :
“The occurrence of organised communal and targeted violence shall constitute “internal disturbance” within the meaning of Article 355 of the Constitution of India and the Central Government may take such steps in accordance with the duties mentioned thereunder, as the nature and circumstances of the case so requires.”
This is again an open attempt to colour the constitution. The intention being to empower the central government to indulge in arbitrary and politically motivated use of Art 356. The provision is in clear violation of the clarification and procedure laid down by the Supreme Court in the S.R.Bommai Vs Union of India case3. The judgement records the following
The expression “internal disturbance” is certainly of larger connotation than ” armed rebellion” and includes situations arising out of “armed rebellion” as well. In other words, while a Proclamation of emergency can be made for internal disturbance only if it is created by armed rebellion, neither such Proclamation can be made for internal disturbance caused by any other situation nor a Proclamation can be issued under Article 356 unless the internal disturbance gives rise to a situation in which the Government of tile State cannot be carried on in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution
Leaving other issues like legitimisation of phone tapping and like aside the above two issues are sufficient to be really worried about this bill and it’s intended consequences. Sadly, but from a very few influential columnists this draft hasn’t received the treatement it deserves. Media apart, it is sad to see that the other stakeholders like the State government’s remain silent on such proposals. May be this bill won’t get passed, but it is important to use these opportunities to draw lines and set new thresholds which would stay etched in both institutional and individual memories. The biggest takeaway from this is that the NAC today feels much more confident and sure of itself. The many battles they fought with the PMO and the Cabinet has emboldened them to attempt such a thing.
With the public outrage solely focussed on the corruption cases, nobody has bothered to ask them the right question, which is : How dare you ?.