'Need To Protect Reputations': Rajasthan Minister Defends New Gag Law

Under the ordinance that will be tabled in Rajasthan Assembly on Monday, the government can take up to six months to decide if a court should order a probe into a private complaint against a public servant. If anyone reveals information that can identify the public servant before the government takes this call. they can be sent to jail for two years.

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The Ordinance that shields public servants from action will be introduced in Rajasthan Assembly on Monday

JAIPUR: 

Highlights

  1. Law calls for government approval for complaint against public servants
  2. Can take 6 months to decide if a complaint is probe worthy
  3. Revealing identity of person in question can result in 2 years of jail
The new law that shields public servants including lawmakers and ministers from being investigated for on-duty action without prior sanction was necessary to end frivolous allegations meant to defame officials, a top Rajasthan minister told NDTV, defending the law that the opposition Congress says was designed to "protect the interest of the corrupt" in the state.

The law, which requires a government approval for courts to take up such complaints against public servants, also made it a crime to identify the public servant against whom a complaint has been filed in the court.

The government can take up to six months to decide if a court should order a probe into a private complaint. If anyone reveals information that can identify the public servant before the government  takes this call. they can be sent to jail for two years.

The law, enacted by an executive order or an ordinance last month, will be introduced in the state assembly on Monday.

The Rajasthan Congress claims the Vasundhara Raje government had enacted the law since it was nearing the end of its five year tenure in 2018 and was attempting to cover its tracks.

"Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje wants to institutionalise corruption that has been a hallmark of her regime for four years," said Sachin Pilot, Rajasthan Congress president.

He called the provisions to outlaw reporting on allegations against public servants unless the government agrees to probe them "a draconian law is made only to protect the interest of corrupt individual".

Rajendra Rathore, Rajasthan's parliamentary affairs minister, is dismissive of the outrage around the law.

Mr Rathore told NDTV that the law was a response to a flood of "false allegations against public servants to demoralise them".

"People were filing false cases against public servants and that is the reason we have brought this law," the minister said.

Mr Rathore said a person can be punished only after being found guilty. "But before the court reaches this decision, his image can't be tarnished," he said.

There is no intention to curb media freedom or fundamental rights of people, he said, quickly adding that Maharashtra was the first state to enact a similar law.

The Devendra Fadnavis government did amend the criminal procedure code in 2015 which also barred courts from taking up complaints against public servants without the government's approval. The centre had proposed a similar provision in the anti-corruption law in 2013.

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But neither Maharashtra nor the central government criminalised reporting on allegations facing public servants.

Tariq Anwar of the Nationalist Congress Party, which is in the opposition in Maharashtra, said the Rajasthan government "was trying to put restrictions on media".

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