PUDR condemns the Criminal Laws (Rajasthan Amendment) Ordinance promulgated by the Rajasthan government on 7 September 2017, preventing magistrates from taking cognizance of complaints against serving and former Judges, Magistrates, and public servants without sanction of the government. This ordinance further gags the media from naming the accused till sanction is given by the government. The amendment made in the Code of Criminal Procedure, sections 156 and 190, gives the government 180 days to decide whether to give its sanction for investigation against a public official.
A press release issued by the Rajasthan Government on October 22, claims that there is zero tolerance against corruption by the State Government and this particular amendment does not protect corrupt officials. It goes on to defend the ordinance by stating that there is a need to prevent demoralisation of honest officials who have been implicated in false cases.
There was no need to bring in a new ordinance since The Prevention of Corruption Act already exists to deal with matters related to corruption by public servants. Prior permission is required in this Act before prosecuting government officials. The safeguard for public officials is also provided in Section 197 of Cr.PC which states that no court can prosecute public officials unless sanction is given by the government.
However unlike section 197 where investigation does not require sanction, the Rajasthan government’s ordinance requires sanction for even initiation of investigation by the police into anything public officials do while ‘on duty’. The ordinance also prevents a magistrate from ordering an FIR to be filed if approached by a complainant, which was permitted under section 197. This legal immunity extended to civilian government officials is similar to the immunity provided to the armed forces. Thus the ordinance makes it virtually impossible for ordinary citizens to criticize the government for any offence.
Other states like Maharashtra also have State laws which give the government 90 days to decide whether to sanction prosecution. However the Rajasthan government’s ordinance is highly dangerous as extending the time period to 180 days ensures additional security to officials who already enjoy impunity under section 197. The ordinance serves to entrench corruption and exposes the Rajasthan government’s anti corruption rhetoric.
With this ordinance the government has attacked the media as well. The media is prohibited from naming accused officials for a period 180 days. Violating this clause carries a punishment of two years imprisonment and fine. It is well known how the media has played an important role in exposing several scams in the country. It is only because of the pressure generated by public opinion that the government is forced to investigate allegations of corruption. The timing behind this ordinance is also suspect since elections are due in Rajasthan next year and gagging the press in this manner will definitely have an impact on the election campaign with the media unable to report on corruption during election time.
This ordinance is another blow to journalism in a context where journalists are already victims of increasing attacks and restrictions. The ordinance institutionalizes censorship of the media, puts a halt to any investigative journalism and is in violation of Article 19 of the Constitution which provides for freedom of speech and expression.
This ordinance is an attack on democracy as it empowers the executive – the state govt – in being the final authority in deciding whether complaints against its own executive officials in addition to judicial, will be investigated or not. It curtails the power of the judiciary by placing the Judicial magistrate at the mercy of the executive sanction in ordering probe into any complaint. The ordinance therefore creates conditions for an authoritarian government above any sort of scrutiny.
PUDR demands that the Rajasthan government immediately withdraw this draconian ordinance and the review committee on the Bill recommend withdrawal of both the ordinance and the bill at the earliest.
Cijo Joy and Anushka Singh
25TH October 2017