Friday, August 12, 2011

Sikkim Public Order Bill termed a “black bill” by Opposition

Gangtok Aug. 11: The Sikkim chief minister today tabled a bill in the Assembly for a special law to address “social vices and offences” that might cause disturbances to public order.

The bill seeks to ban processions, hunger strikes, squatting, sloganeering and waving black flags or other forms of agitation that might “promote enmity or hatred between sections of the society”on the “grounds of religion, race or caste”. Such actions will be deemed disturbances to public order, the bill states.

The Sikkim Prevention and Control of Disturbance of Public Order Bill has been termed a “black bill” by Opposition parties, which have no representation in the Assembly where all 32 seats are held by Sikkim Democratic Front.

Legal experts described the proposed state law “unconstitutional” and said it would be scrapped if taken to court.

“The state government after due deliberations felt that there is a need to deal with such types of offences affecting public order. This can only be effectively addressed by having an appropriate law/rule in place,” chief minister Pawan Chamling said while introducing the bill in the House. Sources in the government denied that there had been any immediate provocation to put the law in place.

An entire gamut of offences has been listed in the bill that will be put to vote on August 26. From public nuisance, drunken behaviour, drug abuse and resorting to child labour, the proposed law also seeks to ban persons below 18 years from entering bars and discos.

Under the provisions of the bill, a special court will be set up with the concurrence of the Chief Justice of the Sikkim High Court by a notification by the state government. Each of the four districts of the state will have a special court. The bill also provides for punishment for offenders found guilty under the proposed law: a minimum imprisonment of five years with a fine not less than Rs 50,000. All offences under this law shall be considered cognisable and non-bailable.

“The provisions proposed in the bill are in total violation of the democratic values and norms. This is a black law that seeks to suppress the voice of the people and is against fundamental rights,” said Kumga Nima Lepcha, the acting president of the Sikkim Pradesh Congress Committee.

The state BJP president, Padam Chhetri, said the bill was totally “undemocratic”. “Such laws are not implemented in a democracy. All the opposition parties should be united against this law. Just because there is no Opposition in the Assembly does not mean that such Taliban-like rules are to be passed as a law. By this law any dissenting voice will be crushed,” said Chhetri.

In recent times, the most vociferous protest in the state capital was by the Affected Citizens of Teesta (ACT) against the construction of mega-hydel projects in Lepcha reserve in Dzongu in North Sikkim. “The ban on agitation might be interpreted in any way. ACT activists Dawa Lepcha and Tenzing Gyatso Lepcha, who held hunger strikes for 53 days and 96 days in 2007 and 2008 respectively in Gangtok, had caused some embarrassment to the Chamling government that is into its fourth term now,” a political observer said.

Asked to comment on the bill, a former judge of Calcutta High Court, Bhagabati Prasad Banerjee, said: “Even though a portion of the laws related to public order has been placed on the state list and the state has the power to enact legislation on them, the bill placed by the Sikkim government will not be considered as valid if challenged in court.”

The judge said the state governments could enact laws on minor offences that affect public order like littering and committing nuisance. “But as far as public disorders like promoting enmity or hatred or disaffection among different communities are concerned, there are strong central laws for it. On these issues, a state government cannot enact any law,” Banerjee told The Telegraph in Calcutta.

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