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Centre determined to make States accountable for communal violence: Sibal

Smita Gupta

New Delhi: The Centre is “determined” to make both State governments and individuals responsible for law and order “accountable” in cases of communal violence, Union Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal said on Thursday.

He was responding to a question on the criticism of the Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence (Access to Justice and Reparations) Bill, 2011, drafted by the Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council's Working Group, by Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley. In an article, Mr. Jaitley has argued that the NAC draft Bill attempts to encroach on the powers of the State governments, and that it wrongly assumes that the majority community cannot be victimised.

Mr. Sibal, who was addressing a briefing organised by the Group of Ministers on the media, said the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government was determined to take the Bill forward, in light of the horrific incidents of communal violence that had taken place in the past: “We are determined to make the State governments and individuals [responsible for law and order] accountable,” he said.

On Mr. Jaitley's point on the assumption in the Bill that the majority community could not be victimised, the Minister said, “A polity which is just, fair and equitable needs to protect the weaker sections, minorities, SCs and STs.” Citing the example of the SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989, Mr. Sibal asked, “Can the Leader of the Opposition say the majority is not protected?”

Constitutionally, the Centre can enact a law to tackle communal violence, say legal experts, but its implementation will depend on its acceptance by the State governments. In the case of the SC and ST Atrocities Act, the State governments found it politically difficult not to accept it, but, clearly, in the case of the Communal Violence Bill, the UPA government — which hopes to bring the Bill in the monsoon session of Parliament — will have to factor in resistance from the State governments, especially the BJP-ruled States.

The NAC sources, however, stressed that the Bill should be acceptable across the country as it made provision for all minorities — not just religious, but linguistic and regional as well. They pointed out that there were seven States — Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Mizoram, Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh and the Union Territory of Lakshadweep Island, where Hindus were in a minority.

Indeed, the NAC has made a specific recommendation that the Bill should be extended to Jammu and Kashmir, so that Kashmiri Pandits would also be covered; it also points out that migrants from east Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in Maharashtra — most of whom are Hindus — would also be covered by the Bill.

These sources added that the Bill was not intended for small incidents, but for incidents of mass violence, such as the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 in Delhi, the anti-Muslim riots in 2002 in Gujarat, or the anti Christian violence in Odisha's Kandhmal district. “These could be categorised as occasions when the law and order machinery broke down — after all, there is an Article 355 in the Constitution already,” these sources said.

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