Rajasthan ordinance on immunity for public servants lapses

A controversial criminal law ordinance of the Rajasthan government, which gave protection to public servants and imposed restrictions on the media, lapsed after creating a nationwide uproar. The Bharatiya Janata Party government was forced to reconsider the new piece of proposed legislation.

The Criminal Laws (Rajasthan Amendment) Ordinance, 2017, promulgated on September 6, provided immunity to serving and retired public servants, judges and magistrates from probe and prosecution on complaints about their alleged offences without prior sanction by the authorities. It also barred the media from reporting on such accusations till the sanction was given.

A Bill seeking to replace the ordinance was tabled in the state Assembly on October 23. However, the state government referred the Bill to a select committee of the House for its review following an all-round criticism.
After Bill’s introduction in the Assembly, the ordinance was valid for a six-week period, which ended on Monday. Home Minister Gulab Chand Kataria said the ordinance is no longer valid and had legally lapsed.

The select committee will decide the fate of the Bill, which has sought to amend the Criminal Procedure Code and Indian Penal Code and gives its recommendation either to withdraw the Bill or re-introduce it in the Assembly with some amendments. The committee’s next meeting is scheduled for December 27 and it is likely to submit its report during the next Assembly session.

Even during Bill’s reconsideration, the ordinance, which was in force, had made the journalists vulnerable to the government’s punitive action on revealing the names of public servants accused of being involved in corruption and committing other crimes. Leading Hindi daily Rajasthan Patrika had launched a campaign against the ordinance and left its editorial space blank in protest on November 16.

The Rajasthan High Court is also seized of the matter, with its Jodhpur and Jaipur Benches having issued notices to the Centre and the state government on as many as eight writ petitions challenging the ordinance. A petition filed by Jodhpur resident Aijaz Ahmed is listed for hearing in the court on December 5.

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