New Delhi: The National Advisory Council, led by Congress president Sonia Gandhi, has dropped a controversial section in a draft legislation on communal violence that opponents have interpreted as placing too much authority on the federal government.
“The basis of the Bill is not at all on the intervention of the Centre in any of the states. This was one section and even by this one section being there... if there is a slightest fear or doubt that the Centre’s powers are being consolidated by reference to Article 355 and reference to internal disturbance in Article 355, we have simply recommended to delete it,” Farah Naqvi, NAC member and convenor of its working group on the Communal and Targeted Violence Bill, told reporters on Wednesday.
Article 355 of India’s Constitution enjoins the Central government to protect states against external aggression and internal disturbances.
“The occurrence of organized communal and targeted violence shall constitute internal disturbance within the meaning of Article 355 of the Constitution of India and the Central Government may take such steps in accordance with the duties mentioned thereunder, as the nature and circumstances of the case so requires,” Section 20 of the draft legislation said.
The clause, after Wednesday’s meeting, stood deleted “because it mistakenly created a fear that it may interfere the federal structure,” the NAC said in a press release.
India’s main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had criticized the NAC’s earlier draft legislation.
If the Bill is “ever enacted as a law, it will intrude in the domain of the state, damage a federal polity of India and create an imbalance in the inter-community relationship of India,” BJP leader Arun Jaitley wrote in a 26 May note on the party’s website.
Clause 30 of the draft Bill, which details the objectives of a national authority dealing with communal violence, has also been deleted. Naqvi said it has been done to “ensure there is no misapprehensions about any excessive powers to the national authority”.
The National Authority for Communal Harmony, Justice and Repatriation seeks to “exercise the powers and perform the functions assigned to it under this Act”.
In an unrelated development, NAC also finalized a draft of the national food security legislation and is expected to soon send it to the government.
“The way it was envisaged, it is accepted and endorsed and there are no amendments whatsoever,” said Harsh Mander, NAC member and convenor of the working group on food security.
The next meeting of NAC, which sets the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government’s social agenda and completed two years of its formation this month, is scheduled for 28 July.