Rajasthan HC Issues Notice to Centre, State On Immunity Ordinance

The ordinance aims to protect public servants from being probed for on-duty action without prior sanction.

4 min read
Vasundhara Raje. (Photo: Reuters)

The Rajasthan High Court on Friday issued notice to the central and state governments on an ordinance that aims to protect public servants from being probed for on-duty action without prior government sanction.

The Criminal Laws (Rajasthan Amendment) Ordinance 2017 was promulgated in September.

"A division bench of Justice Ajay Rastogi and Deepak Maheshwari issued notice and asked for responses by 27 November, the next date of hearing," AK Jain, advocate for Bhagwat Gour, one of the petitioners, said.

The court also clubbed all seven writ petitions and Public Interest Litigations (PILs), including the plea filed by Rajasthan Congress chief Sachin Pilot, against the ordinance.

The main contention of almost all petitions is the ordinance violates Articles 14 and 19 of the Constitution. Article 14 provides for equality before law, while Article 19 deals with protection of certain rights regarding freedom of speech.

Facing flak from various quarters, the Rajasthan government had on Tuesday, 24 October, referred the controversial bill to a select committee of the Assembly.

The 15-member committee will be headed by the state’s Home Minister Gulabchand Kataria. The committee has been asked to submit its report in the next session.

At the beginning of the Question Hour on Tuesday, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Rajendra Rathore informed the House that Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje had held a meeting of ministers, on Monday night, to discuss the bill and that the home minister would apprise the House of the development.

The home minister said that prior approval of the President was sought before introducing the ordinance in September.

Independent MLA Manik Chand Surana had on Monday, 23 October, raised the point that no approval of the President was attached with the bill. As opposition MLAs rushed into the Well of the House demanding withdrawal of the bill, Kataria said the government would consider the suggestions put forward by the members.

He then moved a proposal to refer it to the select committee. The proposal was passed by the Assembly.

Opposition Leaders Protest

Senior lawyer AK Jain, on 23 October, filed a PIL challenging the ordinance in the Rajasthan High Court. The ordinance was tabled in the Rajasthan state assembly for enactment by state Home Minister, even as the opposition led by Congress’s Sachin Pilot threatened to stage a walkout. Amid an uproar from the opposition Congress, Kataria, on 23 October, tabled the a bill in the Assembly.

The Criminal Laws (Rajasthan Amendment) Bill, 2017, seeks to replace the 7 September ordinance, which drew widespread criticism from various quarters.

The opposition Congress strongly opposed the bill and staged a walkout. BJP MLA Ghanshaym Tiwari, who had expressed opposition to the ordinance, walked out of the Assembly twice when he was not allowed by the Speaker to raise a point of order.

Quoting sources, The Indian Express reported that on Monday night, CM Raje asked the senior ministers to “rethink” the Bill. Among those present were ministers Gulab Chand Kataria, Rajendra Rathore, Arun Chaturvedi, Yunus Khan and state BJP president Ashok Parnami.

Several Rajasthan Congress leaders, including Sachin Pilot, were detained by the police while on a protest march towards Raj Bhavan in Jaipur.

Speaking to ANI, Sachin Pilot said that the government was looking to cover up its own corruption with the ordinance.

We will continue to fight and protest against the ordinance. We are going to submit a memorandum to the President. 

Donning black bands around their heads, the leaders were protesting the tabling of the Criminal Laws (Rajasthan Amendment) Ordinance in the state Assembly. The ordinance seeks to shield lawmakers and bureaucrats from probes unless they have prior sanction.

The protest march was preceded by pandemonium in the state assembly, caused by Congress members, which resulted in the Speaker adjourning the session till Tuesday.

What Exactly Does the Ordinance Do?

The ordinance shields serving and former judges, magistrates, and public servants in Rajasthan from being investigated regarding on-duty action – ie while acting or purporting to act in the discharge of their official duties – without prior government sanction.

The Criminal Laws (Rajasthan Amendment) Ordinance 2017, promulgated on 7 September, also gags the media from reporting the accusations till the sanction to proceed with the probe is obtained.

Move Triggers War of Words

Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi took a swipe at CM Raje over the ordinance, pointing out that the year was "2017, not 1817".

On 23 October, Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad defended the ordinance, saying it was aimed at preventing motivated complaints. MoS PP Chaudhary said the idea was not to defend the corrupt or wrong-doers, but to ensure that honest judges, magistrates and public servants were not harassed.

Also Read: “Raje’s Ordinance Unconstitutional, Attempt to Legalise Graft”

(This story has been updated.)

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