Communal Violence Bill under attack, UPA amends it to include all religious groups

UPAUnder the draft of the Prevention of Communal Violence (Access to Justice and Reparations) Bill, 2013, a person of any religious or linguistic identity could be a victim. PTI

The UPA government has scrapped a controversial provision from the Communal Violence Bill, that is facing stiff opposition from parties, which defined the victim of communal violence as essentially a person belonging to "religious or linguistic minority".

Under the draft of the Prevention of Communal Violence (Access to Justice and Reparations) Bill, 2013, a person of any religious or linguistic identity could be a victim. Copies of the draft were sent to the states 10 days ago by the Centre for comments. The 2011 Bill was also applicable to SCs/STs and even in cases of sexual assault, but these two groups have been removed from the latest draft.

The BJP and other parties had expressed apprehension that the Bill would divide the country on communal lines.

The other major objections were to the two super authorities the 2011 Bill proposed to implement the law. A seven-member 'National Authority for Communal Harmony, Justice and Reparation', and similar bodies in states. The UPA's new Bill replaces the two with the NHRC and state human rights commissions, but assigns them mostly similar powers and functions "related to maintaining communal harmony".

Effectively, bureaucrats have been made accountable to the NHRC. Similar powers vested in the 'National Authority' in the earlier Bill had been opposed by several states.

Both Bills made dereliction of duty by public servants, entrusted with powers under the provisions, an offence. One important change in the present Bill is that the responsibility of public servants in cases of breach of command and failure to exercise control over subordinates is applicable only when they are under his or her "direct command".

The NHRC, at present, is mostly a recommendatory body, as in that when it sends its probe reports to governments, they are only obliged to "forward their comments, including the action taken or proposed to be taken". There is no obligation to act. The commission has now been given wide powers, carried forwarded from the 'National Authority' provision of the 2011 Bill. So under the new Bill, the government is mandated to act on the NHRC's advisories. Besides, the NHRC shall observe, monitor and review performance of bureaucrats, and is to act as an appelatory body if there is any discrepancy in maintaining records of relief and rehabilitation of victims.

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