It is a controversy that has erupted all of a sudden after an Ordinance passed by the Vasundhara Raje led-BJP government in Rajasthan was added in the Criminal Procedure Code by way of an amendment. The amendment that seeks to give immunity to judges, magistrates, and other public officers from a media trial is being chased down by activists and the media as move to encroach upon the freedom of press and civil liberties.
The furore broke out when the ordinance already in place was sought to be implemented as amendment. The opposition and the media took cues at the government for giving the freedom to criticise the government and its officers a good-bye.
The amendment attracted a response from Rahul Gandhi, soon to be President of the Indian National Congress, where he reminded Mrs Raje that this was 2017 not 1817.
While the bill was passed in the Rajasthan Assembly today, the Opposition leaders staged a walk-out subsequent to a boycott. They also claimed that they did not need the protection of such an anti-people law. The Editor’s Guild of India and Constitutional Expert Fali S. Nariman and Soli Sorabjee opined and declared that the bill passed by the Rajasthan Assembly was unconstitutional and it should be struck off with immediate effect.
The petition against the same has been filed in the Jaipur Bench of the high court by an activist Bhagwat Gour who contends that the Criminal Laws (Rajasthan Amendment) Ordinance, 2017, was “in contravention of fundamental rights as enshrined under Part-III of the Constitution of India”, his counsel A K Jain told the press.
The amendment bars the media from reporting on accusations of corruption till the sanction to proceed with the probe is given by the government, 180 days of immunity is provided to the officers. If no decision is taken on the sanction after the stipulated period, the sanction will be automatically granted.
This perspective does indeed tries to keep the citizens away from the mere accusation until proven, this bill has a broader perspective. the media in a frenzy to create reports and generate content has more than on one occasion subjected innocent officers to a horrifying media trial. The Rajasthan Government has also produced a report of officers whose names were publicised as being corrupt, but the charges were never proved. A whooping 73% of those who were branded by the media as ‘scoundrels and corrupt’ were never proved guilty at all from 2014-2017, let alone conviction!
The reports that reach the citizenry where the law officers or the administrative officers are portrayed as corrupt, sows the seeds of contempt and indifference towards the gubernatorial machinery. There have been incidents where the people have taken aggressive measures against public servants which is ample proof of growing mistrust in the system of the masses and the friction between the rulers and the ruled due to negative publicity.
The trend of media trials has no authority to parade a man who is being dealt with at the hands of the law, but the media won’t stop. The amendment may serve the most effective means of keeping the public aware of any real perpetrators of corruption, which will be disclosed but only at the right time. The bill may be changed to notify the media prior to institution of proceedings against an officer for corruption only on the premise that the media will not parade the man unless the government approves sufficient ground to question his integrity.
The bill will help enhance the trust deficit between the ruled and the rulers. Let us hope the High Court gives some sense to the move and does the right job.