The same new

The communal violence bill still founders on the fundamental question: what does it add?

The communal violence bill was one of the earliest projects a freshly sworn-in UPA took on, in 2004. Conditioned by the Gujarat experience, it was meant to enforce accountability on public authorities, and set clear terms for relief and reparation. The bill has seen several iterations, notably the NAC's ill-considered Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence (Access to Justice and Regulations) Bill, 2011. That version was fiercely resisted not just by the BJP, but also by many non-Congress-ruled states, which saw an anti-federal impulse in the attempt to set up a Central panel to override their rightful control over law and order. Others objected to the way it set the defaults in favour of religious and linguistic minorities, its prior assigning of victimhood and agency. Now, in the last tired lap of its second term, the government has brought it up again, with the home ministry circulating a revised draft, deleting some of the contentious clauses. But in a Parliament session of barely 12 days, does the UPA want to fritter away its energies on debating a bill that will create a lot of political heat, and serve no real purpose?

The updated bill applies to all acts of group violence, rather than explicitly protecting minorities. Instead of setting up a whole new riots bureaucracy as the NAC bill had wanted to, now the NHRC is to monitor official action, and has been given much greater power. But once again, the UPA betrays its fundamental cognitive kink the notion that a caucus of good elders can set everything right, and that sticking a specially named law over an intractable social problem will make the problem go away.

Many of the bill's clauses tread the same ground as the Indian Penal Code. There is already an array of laws on inciting hatred, spreading propaganda, and duties are clearly laid out for the police and administration. The new bill does not identify and tackle what it is about premeditated group violence that the CrPC is not equipped for, whether it is clear guidelines on preventive action, working on intelligence tip-offs, or standard measures for relief and reparation. There is still no way to ensure that FIRs and investigations are taken seriously, despite the numerous reporting obligations to the NHRC. Legal fixes cannot dramatically solve social pathologies, and if communal violence persists, it is not because of the lack of laws.

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