Freedom of Expression

Rajasthan Government Tables Criminal Laws Amendment Bill, Editors Guild Demands Withdrawal

The bill amends CrPC and bars media from naming a public servant until Rajasthan government sanctions the investigation

Vasundhara Raje

Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje. Credit: PTI

New Delhi: Riding roughshod over protests, the Vasundhara Raje-led Rajasthan government, on the opening day of its state assembly session on Monday, tabled the controversial Criminal Laws (Rajasthan Amendment) Bill. The move was met with opposition by the Congress party.

On Saturday, news reports drew attention to the Rajasthan government’s decision to bring the Criminal Laws (Rajasthan Amendment) Ordinance 2017, amending the Criminal Code of Procedure (CrPC), 1973, and restricting the media from naming a public servant until the Rajasthan government sanctions the investigation.

Under Section 197 of the CrPC, public servants, judges and magistrates across India currently enjoy immunity from prosecution without prior government permission. The Rajasthan government has now enhanced the levels of impunity, adding two more layers. According to the new rules, no investigation can be ordered by the police under Section 156 or a magistrate under Section 190 into allegations against public servants, judges and magistrates. Significantly, these rules bar journalists from reporting these allegations, unless and until the state government sanctions the prosecution.

Also read: Rajasthan Government Moves to Gag Media From Reporting on Official Wrongdoing

Not surprisingly, the Rajasthan government’s decision has been met with protests from various quarters. A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) has been filed by senior lawyer A.K. Jain in the Rajasthan high court, challenging the validity of the ordinance. In his petition, Jain has argued that the ordinance was a “licence to commit crime” and was “arbitrary and malafide”, according to an Indian Express report.

The Editors Guild of India, in a statement released last night, asked the Rajasthan government to “withdraw the harmful ordinance,” labelling it a “pernicious instrument” to harass the media.

“But in reality it is a pernicious instrument to harass the media, hide wrongful acts by government servants and drastically curb the freedom of the press guaranteed by the constitution of India,” the Guild has said.

Rather than take stern measures to prevent and punish those indulging in frivolous or false litigations, the Rajasthan government has passed an ordinance that is bent on “bludgeoning the messenger”, the statement said. It believes that the government-sponsored remedy is “draconian,” giving it “untrammelled power” to even imprison journalists for reporting matters of public interest.

“The Guild requests the chief minister Vasundhara Raje to withdraw the harmful ordinance and prevent any Act from being passed that would endanger the freedom of the press,” it said.

Also read: In Rajasthan, Rape Survivors and Officers Under Investigation Now Have the Same Privacy Rights

On Sunday night, the Rajasthan government had released a statement saying there was no provision in the ordinance to protect corrupt officials.

Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi, on Sunday, reacting to this, on Twitter, hit out at Raje, saying “Madam chief minister, with all humility, we are in the 21st century. It’s 2017, not 1817.”

(With inputs from PTI)

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  • alok asthana

    This will definitely be struck down as illegal. Someone should tabulate the several bills/laws passed by BJP governments that have been later struck down as illegal by courts. BJP will be found to be king there.