Rajasthan’s questionable law aims to gag press, whistle-blowers

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The Rajasthan Government has come out with a Bill in the State Assembly to replace an ordinance that aims to protect serving and former judges, magistrates and public servants from being investigated without government sanction. Though under fire from various quarters, the State Government has now referred the controversial Bill to a select committee of the Assembly; the intent seems sinister. The Criminal Laws (Rajasthan Amendment) Bill, 2017, seeks to replace the September 7 Ordinance which was brought in a hush hush manner. The proposed law appears to shield the corrupt, threaten the independent media, by making it a punishable offence to disclose the names of public servants facing allegations of corruption before the government grants formal sanction to prosecute them. On the face of it, the new law appears to be a threat to freedom of press and the public’s right to free speech and expression. It gives immunity to serving government officials and members of judicial services from being investigated without prior sanction of the Government.

Rajasthan controversial bill (2)If this Bill becomes Law, the Vasundhara Raje government would be able to prohibit the media from writing or publicizing any story against public servants till the government approves their prosecution. The Rajasthan Government also calls for the insertion of a new provision that provides for imprisonment up to two years if the media violates this provision. The newly introduced Section 228-B of the Indian Penal Code clearly states that “Whoever prints or publishes the name or any matter which may make known the identity of any person against whom an offence under section 376, section 376A, section 376B, section 376C or section 376D is alleged or found to have been committed shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years and shall also be liable to fine”. It is a direct threat to the functioning of the media and whistle-blowers. The new love of Rajasthan Government for its public servants is tantamount to infringement of the public’s right to be informed about the conduct of public servants. Where was the need for such a law when there already exists a legal frame work for public servants under Section 197 of the Criminal Procedure Code? This is the first time a section prescribing punishment for disclosure has been introduced in the country. There was actually need for the Lokpal Act to be fully operationalized and for the Union Government to device a legislation to punish the corrupt and protect the media and whistle-blowers who raise issues in national interest.