Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju today hit out at the West Bengal government over delay in setting up fast-track special courts to deliver swift justice in cases of sexual offence and alleged it was behaving as if the state was "outside the Indian Union".
Addressing the Times Now Summit, Mr Rijiju spoke in favour of the sedition law stating that punitive measures need to exist to ensure that the absolute right of freedom of expression is not used to damage the unity and integrity of the country.
He also said that by the end of the year, a "record" number of judges will be appointed.
On fast-track courts, the Union minister said he will ensure that enough pressure is exerted on the West Bengal government to set up such special courts.
"It is very unfortunate that the West Bengal government has not established any fast track courts. It is an injustice to the youth of the state. In fact, West Bengal is the only state which has not taken any steps in this regard. I have written to the West Bengal Chief Minister and I will remind her again.
"West Bengal is behaving as if the state exists outside the Indian Union. This is not good," he said.
After the passage of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act in 2018, the central government had decided to set up 1,023 fast-track special courts, including 389 to deal exclusively with cases related to violation of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, in 31 states and union territories.
According to government sources, 28 states and Union Territories have given their consent for the scheme.
West Bengal, which was earmarked 123 such courts, Andaman and Nicobar, which was to get one such court and Arunachal Pradesh, which was earmarked three, have not yet given their consent.
Arunachal Pradesh has told the Department of Justice in the Law Ministry that for the time-being, such courts are not required in the states due to a lower number of cases.
Goa was asked to set up two such courts. It gave consent for one, but is yet to operationalise it, the sources said.
The consent of states is a must as fast track special courts are part of a centrally sponsored scheme where both the centre and the state chip in with funds.
"I will ensure that enough pressure is exerted on the West Bengal government to set up fast-track courts," he said.
Mr Rijiju also pointed out the need for Lok Adalats, stating judiciary and justice should be delivered at the doorsteps of people to encourage them to seek legal aid.
The minister spoke on the often controversial topic of the appointment of judges and said that the government has become more proactive.
He said that it is not the government alone that appoints judges, but they are picked after a long process.
"The government cannot generate the names on its own. The last five months, the government has been very proactive and by the end of the year, you will see a record number of judges being appointed. After this, many misconceptions will be dispelled," he said.
Speaking on the oft-repeated allegation of the opposition parties on the government's influence on the judiciary, Mr Rijiju contended that such accusations were "unsavoury" and only worked to cast aspersions on its independence.
The minister also said that the government's differences in opinion with the judiciary in certain cases should not be seen in the light of "divisions and fissures".
"If you exist in a democratic society such differences exist and show independent thinking. We must appreciate differences of opinion," he said.
Replying to a question on possible inducement to judges with post retirement posts, Mr Rijiju said that such appointments were neither "unconstitutional or illegal".
"I believe as the law minister that unless a step is unconstitutional or illegal or is barred by a provision of law, there should not be any problem (in such appointments)," said Mr Rijiju, stating that the nomination of former Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi to Rajya Sabha was not barred under any law.
While the minister refused to comment on specific cases, he backed the sedition law stating that no freedom can be used to harm national interests.
"Actions that are detrimental to the national interest, there has to be something in law to ensure that no freedom should be given to a person that can destroy the unity and integrity of the country.
"To exist as a nation, you need certain things which must be a part of your thought process...
"While I would not like to comment on the provisions of the sedition law, generally speaking, while freedom of expression is absolute, it should not extend to a point that it will damage our unity and diversity," he said.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)